I connected with Mark Shapiro two years ago at the Princeton Sports Symposium, and had a great time getting to know more about his professional career in Major League Baseball. He came from humble upbringings, but through his hard work and perseverance, he worked his way up to become the Vice President and General Manager of the Cleveland Indians and was recently promoted to become team president for the club next season. Mark’s journey has been an inspiring one and his zero-to-hero story has something that we can all take away in our own journey to success in the sports world.
In the following video, he explains the steps he took and what got him to where he is today:
There are three major themes within Mark’s interview that I believe can be applied to each of us and take you where you want to go, no matter if you want to become a professional coach, general manager, or team president:
Mark had worked in the business world for a couple years with a stable job, but he wasn’t satisfied. His passion for baseball is the fuel for all the success. Money and stability are great things to have, but they should not be the sole driving force behind your success. Working in sports for the ‘love of the game’ is an old cliche, but it holds true. Without passion, the second and third steps become that much harder.
2. Being Fearless and Taking the Lumps.
His own father had advised him not to become involved in the baseball front office, but the passion instilled in him by his father outgrew his father’s words. Mark followed his heart and went to work on 26 different cover letters to all the different teams. Most of them didn’t even bother replying, but he didn’t that discourage him because he was willing to do whatever it took, and then the God-awful (at the time) Indians came calling.
He jokes that he would have liked to go to any team except the Indians because they were so bad, but it was a blessing in disguise. Opportunity arose from the ashes that would not have been there for him had he went to a more established baseball club. And as luck would have it, Mark has spent his entire career thus far with the club – a rarity in professional sports management. By not being caught up in failure and willing to go work for whoever game him an opportunity paved the road for success.
When the Cleveland Indians offered Mark a job, they didn’t even bother giving him a title. At the time, not only were the on-field Indians bad, it was arguably the least respected franchise in all of professional sports. Staying open minded and being laser focused on his long term goals allowed Mark to look past the present. Some of you may often feel lost and unsure of where you’re headed, but every step you take fearlessly towards your passion is the right step.
For a lot of you, it may mean becoming an intern for little to no pay with local teams or small agencies but remember, success doesn’t happen over night. Mark didn’t go from no name to general manager once the job opened up and he put in his CV. He went from his initial position to become farm director, assistant general manager, general manager, vice president, and now team president. Look at each opportunity, dissect it’s long term benefits and you’ll win.
Above all, there is one golden rule that Mark may not have distinctly talked about. He worked his butt off. Passion is nothing without action, and he climbed the organizational ladder with his bare hands. I’m sure there were many tough days and sleepless nights but he stayed focused to get to where he is today. Stories like Mark’s are what inspired me to create programs like the Sports Executive Association and the Sports Internship Program, because I want to help you get as many opportunities to live out your passion as possible.
What do you think of Mark’s story? Do you have any experiences similar to his? I’m looking forward to your comments.