The next opportunity that awaits Antonetti is the general manager's post with the Indians -- a job currently occupied by soon-to-be team president Mark Shapiro. Antonetti will assume the GM position at the conclusion of a 2010 season that is already off to a difficult start for the youthful Tribe and could remain an uphill battle.
It was not long ago that this Indians club was a win away from the World Series and Antonetti was the top candidate for an attractive GM position with the St. Louis Cardinals, a team with a thicker attendance base, and hence a more reliable revenue stream.
Antonetti turned down that opportunity to run the Cardinals, and it's believed he's turned down similar opportunities elsewhere. He's remained in Cleveland -- his wife Sarah's hometown -- because he believes in an organizational path that, over the past two years, has become encumbered with hurdles. Some of those barriers have been self-imposed, and some of them have been imposed by the sport's economic system.
The team Antonetti will inherit -- or is essentially already running, when you consider the power bestowed upon him by Shapiro -- likely won't be a win away from the World Series this year. It is a team operating with the second-youngest 40-man roster in the Majors, and at times, will play like it.
A great deal of the intrigue surrounding this Tribe team rests not necessarily with the Major League roster, but with Minor Leaguers like Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana, Nick Hagadone, Jason Knapp, Lonnie Chisenhall and Alex White -- guys who were either acquired in recent Drafts or who were ushered in through the unpopular trades that have left the Indians with paltry attendance projections for the year ahead. Some fans are already counting the days until Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo become eligible for free agency, because they don't expect their favorite team to have the financial wherewithal to lock up its young stars.
Indeed, prospect acquisition, not payroll, will power the Indians in the years ahead, which means Antonetti's accuracy will dictate whether that aforementioned path reaches its ultimate destination.
"John Thompson is a very different person in private than in public. I learned so much from him. He spent as much time or more time talking about life decisions than he did basketball. Basketball was secondary. Life skills and the importance of boys growing into men and those responsibilities was the focus of it."
-- Chris Antonetti
The Indians, simply put, can't afford to miss the mark.
If that sounds a little daunting, that's because it is. But the 35-year-old Antonetti, who has been in this organization for 12 years, sounds up to the challenge.
"Every organization and every situation has its own challenges," he said. "I understand and embrace the challenges we have. It's our job to win with the realities we have. I'm confident we'll be able to meet those challenges and ultimately be successful."
Learning on the job
Antonetti believes that no matter the specific complexities of the sport's economic picture, his job has fundamental roots in team-building. And that's an area he happens to be passionate about.
That passion was what led him to John Thompson's office in the mid-90s.
Thompson was the accomplished head coach of the Georgetown men's basketball team, and Antonetti was a Georgetown business undergrad pursuing his athletic interests. Antonetti landed the student manager post on Thompson's staff, and he looks back on it as one of the best experiences of his life and career.
"I grew up in a relatively small town in Orange, Conn.," Antonetti said. "It was a small suburb. To go to school at the nation's capital was very culturally enriching for me. And add to that, to be immersed with a group of people [on the basketball team] with very different backgrounds, it was a great experience to gain a different perspective and to interact with those guys in an intimate setting for so long."
Those of us on the outside remember Thompson for the three Final Four appearances, the national championship in 1984, the white towel draped over his shoulder and the intimidating presence he had on the sidelines.
Antonetti remembers something else.
"John Thompson is a very different person in private than in public," he said. "I learned so much from him. He spent as much time or more time talking about life decisions than he did basketball. Basketball was secondary. Life skills and the importance of boys growing into men and those responsibilities was the focus of it."
Antonetti took those life lessons to his next step on the academic ladder at UMass. Many of his Georgetown business friends went on to Wall Street or consulting firms, but Antonetti wanted a job in sports.
The final requirement in the UMass sports management program was an internship. Expos farm director Dave Littlefield and his assistant, Neal Huntington, had ties to the UMass program and were looking for an intern.
"They told me," Antonetti recalled, "'We can't pay you anything, so we'll have to come up with other ways for you to earn money and defer expenses. But we've got a lot of work to do and could sure use some help.'"
When he wasn't selling ice cream, Antonetti was gathering reports and collecting information on the Expos' farmhands. He began a dialogue with as many scouts and baseball decision-makers as he could possibly meet -- a dialogue that continues to this day.
"At one point, I had the opportunity to work with the [NBA's] Miami Heat," Antonetti said. "I elected to stay with the Expos instead. There was a little less certainty in baseball, and the Heat position was probably more clear. But I had faith in Neal and Dave and the experience that they were providing. That was the right thing, and ultimately, where my passion was."
Huntington went on to the farm director's job with the Indians. And when the Tribe had an opening in baseball operations in 1999, he recommended Antonetti to Shapiro and former GM John Hart.
Advancement with the Indians
The view we have of Antonetti now, as Shapiro's right-hand man, obviously took time to evolve. But the two men didn't take long to discover that they had similar strategies -- in terms of gathering as much information from as many facets of the game as they could, and then applying that information as best they could.
"It was clear right from the start that [Antonetti] was very intelligent, had a great work ethic, discipline and character," Shapiro said. "All he had to do was develop his management and communication skills."
And Shapiro, who took over the GM reins from Hart in 2001, let him develop. Antonetti became the Tribe's director of Major League operations in '01, moved up to assistant GM in '02 and was given the title of vice president in '07.
"Mark, from the outset, was great about giving me opportunities and responsibilities," Antonetti said. "Then it was up to me to demonstrate the capability of doing the assignments he gave me and doing them to his expectations and meeting his expectations. I'm very fortunate Mark has continued to do that along the way."
In more recent years, those assignments included overseeing the Indians' professional scouting staff, clubhouse staff and player development staff, so that Antonetti could grow as a leader and manager. And as both he and Shapiro took on more responsibility within the organization, ownership began crafting a plan in which Shapiro would be elevated to the presidency and Antonetti to the GM job.
The plan was unveiled to the public in February and will officially take place at season's end. But it has been in the works for the better part of the past two years. And it began to reach its fruition last fall, when Antonetti had a large hand in selecting Manny Acta as the Indians' 40th manager.
As the Indians watch this current season, rooted primarily in the development of young players, play out, Antonetti will be the point man on all decisions that impact the club beyond 2010.
But while his official promotion is looming, Antonetti remains focused on his current responsibilities, just as he was when he was peddling ice cream.
"I try to have appreciation and value for what I do, day to day, and the people I work with," he said. "I really look at it as being fortunate to work in an industry and do something I'm passionate about. I never look past the current opportunity I have."