Saturday, October 29, 2011

Everyday People

In the parlance of our times, to describe something as “everyday” is to diminish its value, uniqueness or strengths. Goofy magicians start their tricks with, “Behold! A common, everyday pack of playing cards,” before they make them disappear or make sparks shoot from the Queen of Spades’ ass or whatever. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen a decent magic show that didn’t involve coming back from a 10.5 game deficit in the wild card race, so I’m not really sure what the cool tricks are nowadays.)

But “everyday” means something entirely different when describing a Major League Baseball player. Being an everyday player on a big league roster means you’ve achieved a lot. For one thing, you’ve beat out every other aspirant in the bus leagues who would happily chop off a less-than-essential body part for a chance to be where you are. You’ve also beat out the collection of utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and backups who wear a big league uniform, yet don’t lay claim to an everyday spot in the batting order.

So perhaps it’s the very term “everyday” that leads us to underestimate just how good a player must be to meet that description. Hell, Lyle Overbay was the everyday first baseman for the Blue Jays for a long time, and he’s not exactly a superstar, but he was better than the alternative.

In the American League East, being an everyday player means you have to be something a little more than “better than the alternative”. You can go through other teams’ rosters and rhyme off their everyday players with relative ease – not just because of familiarity or media exposure, but because they’re generally excellent players, including names like Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Pedroia, Cano, Teixeira, Granderson, Zobrist, Longoria.

Can you do the same for the Blue Jays? We spend an entire spring every year speculating on who the everyday guys will be at every position on the diamond. The team settles on some, puts some form of platoon in place in others, and then goes with what they got – with an eye to improve where they can, when they can.

It’s been generally accepted amongst a swath of Jays fans (and been a source of extreme consternation amongst a seemingly much larger swath of others) that 2011 was a transitional season, a chance to see whether several players could be everyday guys over an extended period. That question, more than anything, seemed to inform the composition of the everyday lineup the team brought into April. The fact that the team looked as significantly different as it did by the end of September is a testament to just how transitional a season it was.

Our esteemed host Tao is promising to go through many of these examples in more detail, but let’s recap, at least offensively:

  • The everyday third baseman became the everyday right fielder and, granted, was pretty incredible all year.

  • The everyday shortstop was plagued by injuries here and there, but was otherwise a top performer in the division.

  • The everyday DH started very slowly, but from May 1 to September 30, he raised his OBP from .268 to .334, his slugging percentage from .346 to .453, and has a very reasonable $3.5 million team option for next year.

  • The rookie everyday catcher was solid, if unspectacular, putting up highly respectable power numbers, but less than sparkling on-base numbers.

  • The everyday left fielder was shuttled back and forth to Las Vegas.

  • The guys who got the most plate appearances in left field and at third base ended being guys who didn’t break camp with the club.

  • The everyday centerfielder got just over half the number of plate appearances as the everyday third-baseman-turned-right-fielder, and was replaced by a mid-season acquisition.

  • The everyday first baseman missed a month due to injury and his performance has many fans lighting candles in their windows in the hope a slugging free agent will follow the flame home.

  • The everyday second baseman struggled mightily as well, replaced late in the season with a player who, if re-signed, will open 2012 as the everyday second baseman.

Consider all that. It’s not a picture of consistency. There are a couple outstanding performances, but over the course of the season, changes had to be made to get the best out of almost every position.

This is not bad news, though. Getting better takes a long time, and fans aren’t naturally patient. Regardless, the changes made over the course of the 2011 season almost uniformly resulted in a better lineup. That’s progress, and a little bit of progress is much better than getting worse – and there are teams that indeed got worse this year.

It’s not always easy to recognize progress when you see it. It was a .500 season, and there are still be some easily identifiable holes to fill.

But by the end of this season, the Blue Jays had established a clear trend of adding players who are better than the ones who preceded them on the big league roster. There are fewer holes than there were at the start of 2011. The 2012 edition of the Blue Jays is going to have “everyday” players at almost every position who aren’t just preferable to the alternative. It’s not the end of the process, by any means. But it’s getting closer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Less Than Perfect Is Perfectly Fine

They say that baseball is a game of failure. The best players head back to the bench empty-handed six times out of ten. Good baserunners get thrown out. Good defensive players make errors, and good pitchers give up hits to bad players or walk players they shouldn't. Umpires miss calls. Managers get caught up in personal attachments or get lost in the action and make bad decisions. Front offices take chances by trading one asset for another, and sometimes, they get the wrong end of the deal.

This should not come as news, given that we've all watched the best teams in baseball stumble and fail and flail away over the past three weeks. Stuff happens, but teams move on to win another day. Ideally, we as fans should be able to slough it off, move on and accept that the other guys got over on us today.

And yet, to our eyes and ears, it seems as though the anger and disdainful, snarky exasperation has been cranked up to eleven over the past few months. Fans seem to want to hang someone by their thumbs with every outcome than falls for the other team. Take, for instance, Mike Napoli's big blast in Game Four of the World Series: While we heard a lot of praise, there was also a fair bit of blame being cast towards Tony La Russa for overmanaging - essentially, doing the same thing for which he was praised earlier in the week - and Mitchell Boggs was run through the wringer for throwing a pitch way up in the strike zone. Fire La Russa! Boggs is a bum!

For Jays fans, one big swing of Napoli's bat was enough to bring the self-appointed arbiters of the trade market out of the woodwork to emphasize how fallible Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is, given that he traded away Napoli for...what? Magic beans? 10 bonus airline miles? A $25 dollar credit coupon towards an oil change and wheel alignment, provided two other GM's also made the same trade?

In hindsight, it seems so blatantly obvious that the Jays should have kept Napoli, ate into J.P. Arencibia's playing time, made Adam Lind DH more often, released Edwin Encarnacion and looked elsewhere for a closer. (Well, to some it does.)

(The same hindsight also makes it completely obvious what a trainwreck the Boston Red Sox season was, and how lacking they were in moral fibre given their affinity for biscuits and beer...but that's probably a whole other series of posts.)

So what's happening here? Are we really all this angry? Is it the water supply? An airborne event? Is there no room for nuance? Can't we all just chill a bit?

Our best guess is that none of this is new, really. Rather, the Twitter feeds and comments and multitude of pundits - both new and old school - means that we're instantaneously plugged into the heated reactions of people which, in another age, would have been taken out on the couch cushions. Also, a lot of the comments are obviously designed to get a reaction, and nothing gets a laugh like put-down. (We don't really evolve much past our days on the playground. We just take on debt and put on weight and get hairier.)

Another thing that we see is how the vastly improved and accessible metrics have created a greater sense of understanding about game strategy. The downside to this is that there's a streak of absolutism that runs through baseball's chattering class, as fans feel as though they can speak with something close to certainty as to what was the right call in any given game situation. We're sure that we've indulged in such a thing here and there, but we're trying hard as of late to be a bit more accepting of managerial decisions with which we are not in agreement, because we sense that the game moves pretty fast when you have some actual responsibility for its outcome.

But don't mistake that last notion for some luddite pining for a simpler time, when men were men and geeks occupied themselves with rocket surgery or other boring stuff. It's stupid not to use the information at our disposal, or to misuse some dumber numbers. But there is a dimension of the game that we don't necessarily see - players' health, their confidence levels, a hitch in their mechanics, the cut of their jib - which we are a bit more willing to acknowledge as a factor in decisions.

It's a long season. Sometimes you're up. Sometimes, you're down. A little indignant rant here and there can be fun, but a high-pitched fit of pique for seven straight months is exhausting. To us, it is. But don't let us stop you from raging on.

Coming Up...Looking Back, Looking Forward
As delinquent as we've been in our blogging duties in recent weeks, we aim to make it up to you following the championship season with a series a pieces that look back on the 2011 campaigns of some of the most intriguing Jays, and look ahead at what we expect from them in 2012. (Not that we have any powers of clairvoyance. We're just making most of this junk up as we go along. But hopefully you find it entertaining.)

Feel free to drop us a line and let us know if there are players in particular that you'd like to see at the top of the pile.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me

When I watch the playoffs in any sport, they generally don’t feature any of my favourite teams. Yet I also feel awkward not cheering for someone, so after a short time, I usually pick one playoff team and halfheartedly root them on to victory. So, you know, GO RANGERS or something.

Besides, my thinking is that having complete and utter detachment from the post-season can put your mind in a very isolated place, and if you suffer from latent madness to begin with, it can lead you to do unthinkable things as a result. It’s the exact phenomenon we saw at play in The Shining.At least that’s my informed opinion as a certified psychoanalyst. (Note: I am NOT a certified psychoanalyst. But I did once run a roadside stand dispensing psychiatric advice for five cents a visit.)

Trying to generate one's own false attachment to the World Series has its drawbacks, however. For instance, it can lead to columns like this one from Damien Cox. He certainly heard the wrath of plenty of Blue Jays fans about his attempt to link the Cardinals' success to the Jays' perceived failures, and I don’t disagree with pretty much all of the criticism that was thrown his way. I thought the piece was uninformed by real facts, and delved into amateur psychoanalysis of clubhouse dynamics about which he couldn’t possibly have first-hand knowledge. (Note: As we’ve already clearly established, the amateur psychoanalysis should be left to me.)

But I’m also prepared to cut Cox a bit of slack. The fact of the matter is he’s hardly alone in trying to tie the sport's biggest event to the part of the sport with which he's most familiar (in his case, it's the Blue Jays, though you can quibble with how extensive that familiarity is).

Let's face it: the World Series is the culmination of an entire baseball season boiled down into seven games or less. Baseball is built around this, and MLB spares no expense or effort in trying to generate excitement about it – to try to make you, whether you’re a fan or a casual viewer or even a reporter or columnist, want to be a part of it. Major League Baseball wants you to feel like you’re involved, that you have a stake in the outcome, even though the chances are extraordinarily high that the team you support, or the team you cover, isn’t playing.

It’s only natural to want to be a part of the excitement. I get it. We wouldn’t be fans if we didn’t want to be part of it. Frankly, sports reporters would have never become sports reporters if they didn’t want to be part of it either.

The stakes are highly inflated around the post-season too. The language associated with it is rife with hyperbole: “The Fall Classic”, “Baseball’s Biggest Stage”, etc., etc. Even calling the championship “The World Series” has a certain false bravado to it, since it’s not like the winning team is going to have to face off against other international competition. If you’re not a part of it, if your team is out of it, it’s easy to develop a bit of an inferiority complex. And if there’s one thing Canadians, and Jays fans, know something about, it’s inferiority complexes.

In addition to this, one must consider the fact that all eyes in sport are on the exact same players, games, plays, pitches, and even post-game news conferences for the first time all season. Basically, it means everyone has to find a way to talk about the same stuff and make it sound relevant and interesting. Moreover, we generally try to do it in a way that we ourselves can relate to – as fans of other teams, as media from other cities, even as supposedly neutral observers.

Think about some of the things Jays fans have likely had rolling around in their heads the past three weeks watching postseason baseball. Cox was among many to question, based on remarks from Tony LaRussa, whether the Jays lost the Colby Rasmus trade with the Cardinals, who are now in the World Series. Maybe the Jays also blew it by dealing Mike Napoli to the Rangers after miraculously plucking him from the Angels. Or how about all those ex-Blue Jays who played for the Diamondbacks in the playoffs, while the Jays themselves sit another postseason out? The recurring theme is that we innately feel the need to somehow make the post-season about us.

The media want to make it about themselves too. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote a piece following World Series Game 2 that was similarly panned in the Twittersphere, blogosphere, and whatever other sphere you might care to name. His contention was that Albert Pujols, by not sticking around after the game to answer questions from the media in the wake of his costly 9th-inning error, showed a lack of leadership, but the prevailing reaction to the piece was that Passan was whining about his own plight as a member of the media. (To his credit, Passan responded to some of that criticism on Twitter today, reiterating that he didn’t intend to make it about himself.)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel like you have your own personal stake in a major occurrence. It happens with more than just sports. How many people who never met Steve Jobs felt at least some personal sorrow when he died, however irrational that feeling might have been? Furthermore, those who dared to point out the absurdity of getting sad about the death of the guy who paid a Chinese manufacturer to build your cellphone were called insensitive pricks.

When it comes to baseball, I’m all in favour of absurdity and irrationality, even if it results in ridiculous sports columns or other awkward scenarios. Case in point: tonight, in Game Three, I’m probably going to cheer for the Texas Rangers again. I’ll get more excited than I should about Nelson Cruz at-bats, or Elvis Andrus defensive gems.

What fun would the playoffs be if I didn’t?

Friday, October 21, 2011

A One-Sentence Post on...Absence

They say it makes the heart grow fonder...and given how much of our self-esteem is tied into your pageviews and praising comments, we're hoping that you miss us as much as we do you and all your questions about tubby free agent first basemen and other such nonsense.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kicking the Door In

The way-smarter-and-more-conscientious-than-me people who run the Sports Reference sites have sucked me into more than one wormhole of online sports geekery, but the one in which I found myself this week was of my own making.

The subject of my statistical spelunking was, of all things, the 1978-1980 Houston Oilers. In addition to having some of the sweetest uniforms in NFL history and arguably the game’s best player at the time in Earl Campbell, they also had the tobacco-spittingest, shit-kickingest coach that ever patrolled a sideline: Bum Phillips1.

In 1978, Phillips’ Oilers went 10-6, good for second in the AFC Central and a wild card playoff berth. In 1979, they improved to 11-5, again securing second in the division and earning a wild card. Campbell would lead the NFL in rushing both seasons and earn an avalanche of individual awards.

But in both seasons, Houston lost in the AFC Championship Game. In both seasons, Phillips’ “Luv Ya Blue” squad were denied a trip to the big game by their division rival, the team that finished a game ahead of them in the standings two years running, the team that would go on to win back-to-back Super Bowls: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After the second AFC Championship loss, in January 1980, Phillips told a capacity crowd at the Astrodome:

"Last year we knocked on the door. This year we beat on it. Next year we're going to kick the son of a bitch in."

And they tried, they really did. In 1980, they would again go 11-5 and make the post-season2, with Campbell leading the way, and coming away with yet more accolades.

To shore up Campbell’s supporting cast for 1980, the Oilers made an attempt to squeeze one more season out of some Oakland Raiders outcasts. The defense got better, giving up the second fewest points in the league, after adding a 32-year-old Jack Tatum for his final NFL season. Tatum recorded 7 interceptions, more than he’d had in any other season. On offense, they added 35-year-old Ken Stabler to play quarterback, though he wasn’t quite the player he was in Oakland, with 13 touchdowns to 28 interceptions. For the last 10 games in 1980, the Oilers acquired eventual Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper from Oakland. Casper made the Pro Bowl.

So: did Bum’s prediction pan out? With some proven veterans added to the mix, did they kick in that door? Another 11-5 season was great, but this year, it was ironically the Oakland Raiders themselves who dispatched the Oilers from the playoffs, this time in the first round, on their way to their own Super Bowl Championship. They may have tried to kick in the door, but their boots bounced pretty harmlessly off the doorknob.

And then they fell backwards onto their asses. The next season, Phillips was gone and the team went 7-9. They were 1-8 in 1982 before the season was called due to the labour dispute. Then, 2-14 in 1983, 3-13 in 1984… you get the picture. They didn’t have another winning season until 1987.

I’m going somewhere with this, I really am. I know that baseball and football are very different things, but those Oilers strike me as a team that fell into the mentality of seeing that they have a huge star on their hands and taking one big shot at a championship, consequences be damned. But it’s clear there are real risks to taking that approach to building a team, and those risks were realized in the subsequent years in Houston.

If your team doesn’t succeed in your one big kick at the door, it can be hard to marshal the resources to take another one. Sometimes you have to spend a few seasons just getting close enough to the door again for your foot to reach it.

Which brings me to baseball, and the Blue Jays. We’re about to enter an offseason where the discussion among many who follow the team is whether they can contend in 2012, or perhaps not until 2013. Me, I don’t want the people who run this team thinking about which year is the right one to take a mighty hoof to the door, because there is always going to be another team – maybe one year it’s the Yankees, maybe another year it’s the Red Sox or Rays – waiting on the other side. And those teams are likely to have made it to that side of the door not because they kicked it down, but because they continuously plan, use their resources wisely (whether their resources are vast or limited), and have cemented themselves as a perennial contender.

I don’t want the Toronto Blue Jays trying to kick in the door at all. I want them to be the team that’s always in the room on the other side of that door, waiting for some other team to take their one best shot. Sometimes, the team taking their one shot is going to be successful, sometimes they’ll fail and fade away. Regardless, I want the Jays to still be in the room when the next one-shot hopeful comes along.

1. Here’s an absolutely tremendous old article about Phillips. The sub-headline says it all: “Houston’s unflappable leader says the only things he understands are pickup trucks, beer, ribs, gumbo and chewing tobacco. But he knows enough football and psychology to make his Oilers contented contenders.”

2. Holy Crap! There were five teams in the three-division AFC in 1980 that finished 11-5. Have fun with those tiebreakers.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Four Random Postseason Observations

We're just about halfway through the postseason, if our finger-counting math is right, so we figured we'd toss out a few top-of-mind reactions that we've had to what's rolled out so far.

As much as we've enjoyed the first round-and-a-half of October baseball, we seem to be focused on the shortcomings of the teams. It's not that we want to be a wet blanket about the teams who remain, but rather, it makes us respect how hard the game of baseball is and how much failure you have to be ready to withstand as a fan.

Even good teams look bad sometimes: Not that we're insinuating that each of the remaining clubs should be the picture of a perfectly crafted and balanced franchise, but when we see each of the four teams, we notice just how many weak spots are present. The Brewers' top of the lineup is funny-ha-ha (Nyjer? Kotsay? Those are your tablesetters for Prince/Braun?), their defense is porous, and they've pretty much wrung the lifeforce completely out of Shaun Marcum.

The Rangers' starting pitching seems sketchier now than it did in the regular season, and most of their lineup seems to be walking wounded. Which is more than we can say for the Tigers, who we occasionally forget are without Carlos Guillen and Brennan Boesch, which explains how a team has made it to within six wins of a World Championship with Andy Dirks and Don Kelly getting regular playing time.

As begrudging as we are to admit it -- given our distaste for Tony LaRussa and his dubious mythology -- the Cardinals may be a lot stronger than we'd imagined when they snuck into the playoffs on the weakness of the Atlanta Braves' shredded bullpen arms. It's not that the Cards blow us away (outside of Albert Pujols, naturally), but they also don't seem to have the glaring holes that we see in the Brewers or Tigers.

Okay, Skip Schumacher playing centrefield isn't exactly stellar. But you get the broader point, right?

If we were the type who traded in perpetual exasperated disdain, we're sure that the relative weakness of some of these playoff teams as compared to the Jays would drive us crazy. But we're really pretty chill about this now. Although the plan to cultivate "all-stars at every position" probably still makes sense for the local team, it strikes us that it is possible to win with some flawed players. If only they could get themselves out of the AL East.

Pedestrian playoff heroes: Further to the focus on all-stars, we get so focused on superstars and their acquisition throughout the season that we sometimes forget how fun it is to see the admin and support staff step up at this time of year. Don Kelly? We seriously thought he was a fictional player generated by our MLB video game until a week or so ago. Jerry Hairston? He's a guy we pick up in deep mixed rotisserie leagues, mostly because of his multiple position eligibility.

It just struck us last night that the NLCS is a rematch of the 1982 World Series, which is one of the first that we can remember watching with a fair degree of interest, having chosen to root for Robin Yount and the Brewers. And the one thing that we took away from that year's championship series was that an average player like the massively bespectacled Darrell Porter can have a great couple of games in October, and be remembered forever for them.

So obviously, we're putting a fin down on Yorvit Torrealba to be this year's World Series MVP.

Hooray for the schedulemaker (and Mother Nature): Some of the relative weakness of the rosters that has been drawn out through the past few weeks has to do with the mercifully compressed schedule and the weather delays and postponements. Playoff teams are having to dig further into their pitching staffs (see Kyle Lohse versus Randy Wolf, for instance), and benches (George Kottaras, personal catcher for Randy Wolf).

Where travel days and extra days off to sync up with television schedules allowed teams to rest their bullpens and recycle three starting pitchers all the way through the World Series, we're happy to see teams required to dig into their roster depth to win. (We'd attribute part of the Yankees' downfall to the fact that they had so little starting pitching depth, and only managed to get 8.2 innings out of CC Sabathia through the five game series.)

People can look back fondly on the 2001 champion Diamondbacks and appreciate the extent to which two really good starting pitchers like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling could carry a team in the playoffs. But from our perspective, it's more fun to have to see a manager pull Phil Coke or Scott Feldman out to pitch important innings.

Managers, schmanagers: We'll confess to having consciously taken an amiable, happy-go-lucky tack when it comes to this year's playoffs, so we don't wring our hands and pound our fists on the upholstery with every managerial decision this post-season. But considering the near-constant uproar that we see on Twitter through the games and in the day-after analysis, we're led to make this conclusion: All four managers remaining in the playoffs are terrible.

Again, we don't necessarily espouse this opinion ourselves. But given the many people who are much smarter than me and, we gather, the remaining bench bosses, it appears that it's pure happenstance and lucky fumbling into success that has allowed Ron Washington, Jim Leyland, Ron Roenicke and Tony LaRussa to outlast their brethren. It's as though Chauncey Gardiner wandered from the grounds crew into the dugout in four different cities, and proclaimed "I like to manage."

This being the case, we wonder: How good or bad a manger is John Farrell? And does it matter? Because if any imbecile can manage a team through to the end of October, we're more than willing to offer up our own services. We imagine we'd look smashing in a pair of baseball pants and a windbreaker.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Sometimes I find myself at a loss as to how The Org Kids ever put on an ounce of weight. The oldest one will sometimes go five nights in a row without eating a single morsel of food put before him on his dinner plate. The youngest has decided that it’s quite often more fun put a few bites in his mouth and then allow the partially masticated foodstuffs to tumble, saliva-soaked, back onto his plate. Delightful. At this rate they’ll be Ecksteinian, rather than Winfieldian.

I, on the other hand, don’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t love eating. As a younger man, I’d wear my appetite as a badge of honour, although I realized as I got older that it’s not a sustainable lifestyle if I wanted to, you know, survive until something close to retirement age.

Thanksgiving? Back in the day, Thanksgiving was my World Series. Time to leave it all on the field. Even now, I don’t play around. The Org Wife is pretty much the greatest cook in the world, so it’s no chore to load up plate after plate after plate of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and even the odd vegetable. It’s not quite as gluttonous as the old days, but it’s still respectable.

(If Thanksgiving is my World Series, then my Winter Meetings are those little turkey buns I make with the leftovers. Dinner roll, mayo, leftover cranberry sauce and stuffing, some nice chunks of dark meat, salt and pepper. Repeat until supplies are exhausted.)

I already know what’s going to happen this Thanksgiving. Here’s THE NARRATIVE™: An incredible meal will be prepared. We will provide the tiniest of tiny portions to The Org Kids. They will pick at those portions. I will exhort them, plead with them, to eat. The Org Wife will do the same. I’ll go get a second plateful. I’ll finish that before the Kids have eaten four bites of their meals between them. I’ll get angry that the Kids haven’t eaten. Everyone will leave the table. Then I’ll finish the Kids’ plates too.

Man, it’s gonna be so great.

Since Thanksgiving is ostensibly about, er, giving thanks, let’s do that, shall we? Here’s what I’m thankful for as we watch teams that are not the Toronto Blue Jays attempt to win the actual World Series.

Alex Anthopoulos

The Jays’ wunderkind general manager has barely made a misstep since taking the reins of the team from JP Ricciardi. But forget about the miracle moves that come out of nowhere, the aggressiveness in the draft and in international free agent signings. I’m thankful that my favourite baseball team has a GM who, at the very least, seems eager and excited to please fans like me. He’s always unfailingly positive and upbeat, despite facing perhaps the longest odds of success of any GM in the game. It’s not uncommon for men in his position, in any sport, to come across publicly as smug assholes. He doesn’t – even after he’s done swindling some poor sap like Tony Reagins.

Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby

I’m not about to invoke Tao’s wrath by pissing and moaning about the eloquence and wit, or lack thereof, of your Tim McCarvers and Buck Martinezes. I also can’t claim to have spent a great deal of time listening to the radio broadcasts of many other teams, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a treat every single time to hear Jerry Howarth and Alan Ashby call a Jays game.

It’s remarkable how easy it is for Jerry and Alan to trade off from play-by-play to colour commentary and back after every couple of innings. It’s unconventional, yet the transition is seamless. If the broadcasters themselves were any less capable, I’m not sure it would work. I can’t think of another regular broadcasting duo that could do it. Tom Cheek would be proud, I think.

October baseball

FACT: Every sport is better in shitty weather. The Tuck Rule game from the 2002 NFL playoffs would’ve been just another referee’s screw-up that nobody remembered if it wasn’t being played in a blizzard. People like my dad still talk about the Ice Bowl from 1967. Hell, you can even get Americans to watch hockey if they play it outside on New Year’s Day.

It occurred to me last week how much I enjoy bad-weather baseball as The Org Wife and I drove past two teams playing what surely had to be a season-ending softball game on a chilly Ontario autumn afternoon. No midsummer tank tops or shorts to be seen, but long pants on everyone and even a toque or three dotted the outfield.

“Damn, that looks cold,” I said, before muttering, “Wish I was out there.”

It’s a mundane detail about playoff baseball, the weather is. But damned if it doesn’t make it just a little more gripping. I love seeing the odd puff of fog in front of a batter’s face as he exhales in anticipation of a pitch, or an infielder wearing one of those goofy headbands that cover their ears. Or a pitcher rounding the bases with a warm-up jacket on. Those things, plus the Blue Jays not playing, really make it feel like the post-season to me.

I’m thankful for a lot more than those things, but I’ve already committed the weekend to brining my turkey. If you know what I mean. Enjoy the long weekend.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weekend Whims and Notions

In lieu of actual thoughts and ideas, we offer up something somewhere in the neighbourhood. Be thankful. Gobble gobble.

Ricky Romero Will Hang In There
If there is one notion about the Jays that has continued to resonate with us in the time since the season concluded, it's just how much we're impressed with the way that Ricky Romero pitched down the stretch. Over his first two full seasons, Romero scuffled down the stretch as he wore down, posting ERAs over 5.00 in August and September of 2009 and over 4.00 in the same months of 2010. This season, he kept a tight 2.05 ERA in August and 3.32 in September to bring his season into dry dock with a 2.92 ERA for the full campaign.

(You can feel free to quibble now with your xFIPpery and what not. We don't particularly care. We're talking about the past, not projections. But have at it if it makes you happy.)

The numbers are one thing, but what we find impressive in retrospect is the manner in which Romero pulled those last two months together. It seemed as though he struggled with his stuff and with locating his off-speed pitched as he wore down through the seasons end...and yet he was still able to pitch (P-I-T-C-H!) himself out of bad counts and jams with guile and by pounding the zone.

It's one thing to be able to utilize an impressive arsenal to blow away hitters, but when this Jays team ends up playing October baseball, they'll need a pitcher at the front of their rotation who will be able to get outs when he's bagged and ground down from an endless season. Ricky Ro is going to be that sort of pitcher.

Sympathy for A-Rod
As we watched Alex Rodriguez leave the field to choruses of boos after a couple of high-leverage strikeouts, we felt more than a tinge of sympathy for the Yankees star. (Wait...Can we call him a "Yankees Star" if he's not a "True Yankee"? We forget how that works.)

Rodriguez is an easy punching bag because he has been so nakedly desirous of the mantle of the Most Important Player in Baseball. He seemingly works hard to be liked, in spite of the fact that he shouldn't care because, you know...he's a really good baseball player, and that should probably be enough for him and the braying hordes in the Bronx. Of course, his desire for stature is what led him to take the money that, ultimately, only the Yankees could pay, so maybe our sympathy should be tempered.

In that moment of pathos, there was a vaguely insane and overly sleep-deprived part of us that started to ponder what a change of scenery might mean to Rodriguez, and what he might look like in a Jays uniform as he closed in on Barry Bonds' all-time home run record. We realize it's a kooky notion, though we actually think A-Rod would find something resembling a warm-ish welcome in Toronto. Or at least something more than outright disdain.

Rodriguez would likely have to move from third base (supposing that the hot corner remains under the dominion of Brett Lawrie), though a move to first base and/or DH over the next six years wouldn't necessarily be the worst thing for his health. There's also a small matter of the six years and a whole lot of money ($128 million, give or take) that it would require to keep A-Rod fed and watered over that time, and the trade off of having the Yankees eat any of that would be giving up prime prospects to a divisional rival.

Maybe we just want to see Alex Rodriguez scamper into the sunset without the litany of brickbats tossed his way. One day, he'll be gone, and baseball fans will have spent so little time appreciating what a great ballplayer he truly was.

New Unis Here, New Unis There
As we wait with bated breath for the next iteration of the Jays' logo and uniforms to be unveiled, we noted with interest the confirmation of the new Miami Marlins logo this week. We hadn't paid much mind to the initial leaks of the logo last month, but now that it seems to be the real deal, count us in the minority who really likes it. Both the art deco font of the logo's "M" and the orange and blue exude Miami's own particular style, and we're looking forward to seeing how they can be executed through the full uniform itself.

An odd sidenote to this is that many of those who we've read mocking the unorthodox logo and it's lack of adherence to classic style are precisely the same people who hurl stats and lampoon those who are locked into an old perception of how the game should be played.

Why are new metrics good, but new looks bad?

Other Tired Memes
You know what is more annoying than the play-by-play and colour guys in the booth this postseason (and frankly, throughout the season)? Hearing bloggers and reading endless tweets about how terrible these guys are. Stop and relax. You don't need to agree with every word that comes out of their mouths over the span of four hours, nor do you need to pull apart every statement made therein. If you think you're smarter and better informed than the people broadcasting the games, so be it. But keep it to yourself, because it's tiresome to read all of the quibbles over every syllable that Ron Darling utters.

We're not saying that we always agree with what's said. But this is just another area where the hardcore baseball fans get whipped up into meaningless tizzies for the sake of their own aggrandizement. That's cute and all, but save your disdain for the dude next to you. He might be able to tune you out better than we.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I Missed It

When I laid my weary soul down to bed on Wednesday night, I was content. The Blue Jays had won earlier in the day, which always puts me in a pretty good mood. Later that evening, I got The Org Kids to bed, and settled in for some baseball. There were some rather important games on, you may recall. I wanted to catch as much of them as I could, knowing full well that The Org Kids would need to be fed and cared for the next morning before being shipped off to their respective educational facilities. The morning routine, as if often the case, limits my ability to watch baseball, or anything else, past about 10:30 PM.

So I watched for a bit, then went to bed. I went to bed with the New York Yankees leading the Tampa Bay Rays 7-0, and the Boston Red Sox/Baltimore Orioles game in a rain delay with Boston leading 3-2. In the National League, about which I care somewhat less, St. Louis held a 7-0 lead on Houston, and the Atlanta Braves were leading 3-1 over the Phillies (if I recall correctly. It may have been 3-2 for Atlanta at this point).

The worst case NL scenario was missing a Phillies comeback that would cap the Braves’ September collapse; otherwise, it’s a one-game Cards/Braves play-in. Worst case scenario for the AL: I miss an Orioles comeback after the rain delay, forcing a one-game Rays/Sox play-in, and unsheathing the rusty dagger that could potentially be plunged through the hearts of Red Sox Nation the next night.

This was my thought process. No matter what, I figured I would awaken to either:

  • the Sox and Cardinals having won their respective wild cards; or

  • a really awesome night of baseball coming Thursday night, with one or even two one-game showdowns.

I woke up to something substantially different, of course. I turned on the news and did a double take at the scrolling scores at the bottom of the screen. Then I got on Twitter, and it was like my friends had gone out to nondescript bar somewhere, I decided to stay home and take it easy instead, and then I found out later that The Who showed up and played an acoustic set. And also, my friends had come home and kicked me in the stomach several times while I slept.


It’s not always easy to be a Canadian baseball fan. It’s certainly not a very emotionally rewarding experience to be a Blue Jays fan, at least for the last 18 years or so. Those of us who follow the game, love the game, live for Opening Day – we’re not exactly the dominant force in the Canadian sports landscape. I’ve long since given up on explaining why I love baseball to those who ask how I can care so much for such a slow, boring game. From now on, I’m just going to carry around a copy of Joe Posnanski’s write-up from Wednesday night on laminated cards in my pocket and hand them out for those occasions.

I’m happy nowadays to simply feel like I’m part of a big, loosely-knit, yet dedicated club of Canadian baseball fans. We have our own inside jokes that devotees of other sports don’t get. Sometimes those jokes are at their expense; how many times have we taken the piss out of the people who call in to the Jays Talk to say the team should trade a player for draft picks? Most of our neighbours have never heard of the young prospects that get our hopes up, like Anthony Gose or Travis d’Arnaud or Jake Marisnick. Compare that to millions of hockey fans, both dedicated and casual, who’ve watched Nazem Kadri or Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby since they were 16 years old. Our enthusiasm for obscure-by-comparison prospects makes us feel like we’ve maybe got a bit more inside knowledge about our sport than they do about theirs.

Or at least that’s how I feel sometimes. I enjoy sharing these little idiosyncrasies with some like-minded people and not feeling like I have to apologize for it. Unfortunately, our clique is not often rewarded with big, amazing moments. As Posnanski said, “It’s all the years you spend waiting for Wednesday night that makes baseball great.” Wednesday’s baseball games are going to go down in history as some of the most stirring, memorable ones ever played. I had a chance to be part of it in a way that the non-fan isn’t. And I missed it.

When I tweeted this on Thursday morning, I was half-joking. I really did feel – I still do feel, in fact – like I missed out on something special.

In the end, though, I still got to wake up in the morning, hang out with my kids, and see them off to school. That’s a big, amazing moment I get to experience every day. They’re not big baseball fans, at least not yet. Maybe one day, they’ll get to see a night like Wednesday and won’t sleep through it like I did. I bet they’ll be two Canadian kids as hooked on baseball as I am.