I've never met Rob Babcock. But, I did sit next to him on the TTC.
Last January I hoped on southbound train at University station just after 7 am. The train was essentially empty save for a tall, gangly individual in sweat-pants, an old-school turtleneck and a big winter coat. It was Rob Babcock.
Here was the guy charged with instigating and effecting the day to day workings for the second largest component of a billion dollar conglomerate, and he was slumped against his seat looking like he just slept on top of steam vent. In person, the vacant expression that provided so much copy for the local scribes really wasn't vacant at all. When Babcock called to action his travel weary legs and exited the train at Union Station, his body language was unmistakable; the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
Six months earlier, Rob Babcock graduated from an extensive interview process into his dream job. What went wrong?
The fraternity of NBA general managers is fantastically exclusive, and I suppose that, like any other fraternity, there is a process of initiation. Shortly after his hiring Rob Babcock astounded (and dumbfounded) his GM brethren by drafting Rafael Araujo. The 8th pick in the draft was best described as, "lumbering". Shortly thereafter, Babcock took what little money the Raptors had to spend due to cap restrictions and egregiously overpaid for Rafer Alston. This was the rough equivalent of a middle-class family taking their yearly savings and blowing it on a helicopter tour of downtown Hamilton.
Upon recognizing that the rookie GM was completely overmatched, Rod Thorn (the veteran GM of the New Jersey Nets) stepped forward and mounted the Vince Carter scenario, eventually prodding a panicked Babcock into what will eventually be widely regarded as the single worst trade in the history of professional sports. (I'm serious.)
Babcock had been initiated and it wasn't pretty; he should have been fired that November.
The only interesting storyline that emerges from this process is how MLSE is going to go about hiring a successor. If the Raptors brain trust has proved anything since they came under the MLSE umbrella, it's that they're the only management group that is a worse judge of talent than Rob Babcock. How's that for irony?
As for Mr. Babcock, I suspect that the sour expression I saw on his face last January is about to give way to a big smile. The prevailing theme in all of our mediums this morning was that, if anything, the GM had the proverbial ship pointed in the right direction. Richard Peddie, the CEO of MLSE who triggered Babcock's dismissal 18 months after giving him the keys to the castle would probably have to start happily endorsing "Need For Speed" to get any more of a negative slant from the press and public.
Truthfully, if you had no knowledge of Richard Peddie other than today's papers, you'd likely surmise that he wears Velcro shoes out of necessity.
Meanwhile, Babcock slips out the backdoor at - unbelievably - the best possible time. The Raptors are showing some promise, the Leafs skid is dominating headlines and Babcock's only connection to the publicly panned MLSE is that for the next 30 months they're paying him to cheer up.
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