Canada’s One and Only

A stamp celebrating Canada’s ‘one and only’ Hall of Fame baseball player, Fergie Jenkins, were recently released.  Upon seeing the stamps, my eyes lit up at the post office and I said, “Fergie!”  The girl behind the cash knew at that moment she had a sale.  It’s probably most exciting time that I’ve ever had at the post office.  Man, am I a sucker for baseball collectibles under ten bucks?  This is what they look like:

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The designer did a wonderful job, in my opinion.  Graphically appealing in a traditionally sense, and I especially enjoy the added feeling of acquiring a ‘ball ticket’ upon purchase.

The stamps celebrate black history month and commemorate Fergie receiving the Order of Canada in 2007 for outstanding merit making a difference in the lives of Canadians.

Fergie has been a great supporter of baseball in Canada and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  I had the opportunity to meet Fergie at a baseball tournament near my hometown last year.  Being the Blue Jays fan that I am, I asked him what he thought about the Jay rotation.  He liked Ricky Romero, as I vaguely recall?  Anyway, Fergie was at the tournament selling signed bobbleheads, gloves etc.. all supporting his foundation, the Fergie Jenkins Foundation.  Obviously, I bought a bobblehead for those who know me.  I’m appreciative that Fergie took some time to talk baseball with me, being just some average fan.

Fergie was a hidden Canadian baseball treasure, coming from a very small farm town outside Chatham, Ontario to become a 3-time All-Star and Cy Young award winner.  He is very deserving of being invested to the Order of Canada and now a stylish member of Canadian postage history.              

 

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Taking on the Bull

Taking the bull and putting him in his place!  Or bulling the man and taking him with horns of fury?!  Or taking horns and throwing bulls all over the place.  However that expression goes?  Alex Anthopolous is doing it with the Blue Jays right now.

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Presented with the monumental tasks of dealing Vernon Wells‘ long and expensive contract, acquiring some team speed, revamping the Blue Jays minor-league prospects and solidifing a team manger, Anthopolous has taken the challenge head-on.

Wells

Alex Anthopolous (or the Silent Assassin as many call him) dealt Wells to the Angels in return for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli (who was later traded to the Texas Rangers for former closer Frank Francisco).  In process he has freed up the Jays from a large financial obligation that was not paying off.  Rivera and Francisco are decent players that will help the Jays in the 2011, and some will argue that Rivera could provide similar offensive production, even if we see him in a plattoon role.  The Jays will undoubtably be able to a lot of things financially in the near future, so many Jay fan are excited at those possibilties even if they did come at the expense of losing a good player.

The Need for Speed 

I did a prior post on this subject and I believe that it cannot be overstated.  The Jays are going to be a more athletic team.  The recent acquisitions of Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar (to lesser extent) and Corey Patterson has given the Jays a new dimension defensively and on the basepaths.  AA said that he was going to pursue more athletic players to give the team another threat.  He was true to his word.  I believe that this is an element of the game that the Jays have lacked in the past.  In my opinion speed isn’t vital to the success of a club, but it is important. 

A New Coach 

A Jays team without both Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells will seem unusual coming into the 2011 season.  Things will be different, but hopefully they will get better with changes on the managing front.  AA brought in a well-respected pitching coach from the Boston Red Sox, John Farrell.  A core of very good young pitchers consisting of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will have Farrell’s hands full.  Not to mention the young pitchers that are liking coming up in the near future Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart.  Farrell will likely be able to provide some valuable mentoring for these players along the way. 

Conclusion

The task of winning in what is usually the toughest (or among the toughest) divisions in baseball every year, is extremely challenging.  Blue Jay fans have experienced it.  Right now, I see AA developing a well-thoughtout strategy to make the Jays successful.  Notably, the Jays are improving their minor-league system and player development, they are focusing on the draft, improving scouting and they acquiring players with high-ceiling and loads of athletic ability.  Or in other words:  

AA has branded a Blue Jay bull with the Blue Jay logo, and he is going to eat a succulent medium-well cooked New York (Yankee) strip steak with it! 

Make sense?  ha ha.  So, the Blue Jay bull is a Yankee?        

Erase Your Face (despised Pettitte)

I can’t think of a pitcher that irritated me, as a Blue Jay fan, more than Andy Pettitte.  He seemed to always silence the Jays in ‘big games’ late in the season.  And some of the stats support my assessment here: 

Pettitte was notoriously his best in the months of the August and September.  He posted 50 wins, 19 losses, 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP for his career in August (a month that is argued by many to be the most crucial) and 36 wins, 19 losses, 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP for his career in September.  Any other month pales in comparison for Pettitte.  I thought that it was supposed to be the hitters that caught up late in the season?  Not Pettitte.  We’d be talking about Pettitte as one of the best pitchers in the game, if the MLB season was only played in August and September.   

We can therefore conclude that a good portion of those September and August performances would have come at the hands of the Blue Jays the way that the MLB schedule is usually set up.  Weighting most divisional games towards the end of the season.  

Although, Pettitte’s career ERA and his WHIP aren’t spectacular against the Blue Jays (4.16 ERA, 1.35 WHIP).   Pettitte struckout more Blue Jays than he did against any other team (206 career) and he won the second most amount of games (21W) in his career against the Jays (the Orioles (27W) being the first).

Not to mention, Pettitte’s 15W-5L record in the Rogers Centre/Skydome.  Countless times Pettitte would silence the Jays late season push, from my observation.   Him and his steroid buddy, former Jay defector/cancer Roger Clemens can stay far away from baseball.  Good riddance to you Pettitte!  I’m going to erase your face!  I hope that you are actually retiring this time, if not, I’ll put your face back.

 

(I know that Pettitte is older and probably not the pitcher he once was, but I have gotten very tired of him dropping that slide/cutter, low-and-inside on ‘every single freakin pitch,’ it seemed.)              

The Need For Speed

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The departure of Vernon Wells to the Angels, for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, has ushered in a new era for the Blue Jays.  Vernon, along with Roy Halladay, were the face of the Blue Jay franchise for more than a decade, and now they are both gone.  It is saddening to an extent, but exciting to another.  Now, the team looks to move forward in an unfamilar direction.  Previous acquisitions of Rajai Davis, young minor-leaguers CF Anthony Gose, 3B/2B Brett Lawrie and to a lesser extent Corey Patterson show that the Jays are looking to burn teams on the basepaths in the near future. 

The speed element has been lacking from the Jays in recent years.  I am not saying we didn’t have any speed.  Wells, Rios and a few others were moderately good basestealers.  The Jays have just never had an explosive basestealer, and many believe that Rajai Davis can provide that function.

Alex Anthopolous is making the team faster, and changing the team faster than we could have ever imagined.  It is an exciting time in Blue Jay land, it needed to be done and I hope it can work.  I have good feeling about it.   

Early Baserunning 101

There was a time in baseball where it was common practice that while running the bases you were to keep one eye on the ball and the other eye on the umpire.  If a player saw the umpire’s attention diverted elsewhere, a baserunner would often take the liberty of cutting 10 or even 20 feet in front of second or third base (missing the base completely) towards his next destination.

How did they get away with it?  Is the obvious question.  The early Detroit Tiger teams with Hall of Famer Sam Crawford, and of course, Ty Cobb, were notorious for using this method of cheating the rules.  But it was not limited to just one team, they did it everywhere.

I guess the rules were more loose back then?  It was easier to question the umpire’sBallUmp.jpg authority, I guess?  If the ump didn’t see it, then who is to say the player didn’t touch the bag (a manager would probably argue)? 

Whenever I ran the basepaths in a game, it never occurred to me to do something like that.  Maybe, its because I’m not a good thief.  I did get caught stealing a hot apple pie from my high school cafeteria, but thats another story.  Following the basepaths in an orderly fashion seems so basic to the integrity of the game, doesn’t it?  Although, back then players were always trying to cheat and tamper with the game.  Not entirely unlike the way players used steriods in the 80’s and 90’s.  Cheating and baseball are one in the same.

Anyway, I’d love to see a player actually try this techinque, we’ll call it, in a modern game.  Although, today there are more umpires, instant replay boards and the umpire’s authority is more absolute.  It would make for good comedy, though on a ball field.               

Catch the Taste

Everybody around Southern Ontario circa 1992-1994, and is also addicted to television as much as I am, remembers the McCain frozen drink commercial where Roberto Alomar catches a frozen ‘fruit punch’ can and says, “Catch the Taste.”  Somehow that is an iconic symbol of the time in this region, and so was Alomar.  He absolutely dazzled fans with his play.  And to him we weren’t just the “Blue Jays,” we were the “Blue Yays.”  As his latinoalomar_arms_getty_260[1] copy copy.jpg accent were only permit him to say. 

He definitely gave the fans a lot to go, “Yay” over.  He was our best player.  Alomar could hit, steal bases and play some of the most outstanding defense at second base that you have ever seen.  I’ve never seen a player cover as much ground defensively at second base as Alomar did.  If only they had Fangraphs and UZR back then?  I’m sure it would be off the charts!  Alomar really did it all for the team. 

No Blue Jay fan will forget the homer he hit off Dennis Eckersley, then A.L. Cy Young and League MVP, in the 9th inning, down 2 runs in game 4 of the 1992 ALCS.  It shifted the momentum in the series and launched the Blue Jays into their first World Series.  “Yay!” 

Many argue that the ‘Alomar ALCS homer‘ is the greatest moment in Blue Jay history, even ahead of Joe Carter’s World Series winning shot in 1993.  They also argue that Alomar is the greatest Blue Jay in history … bar none. 

When you look at Alomar’s ability to be a 5-tool player, and consider his importance to the two World Champion teams in 1992 and 1993.  It is hard to dispute that Alomar is not the greatest to have ever worn a Blue Jay uniform.  Just that fact is good enough for me to put him in the Hall.             

Life with Cito: A Blue Jay Story

Writing about Earl Weaver‘s coaching strategy made me reflect on a man that is now an afterthought in Toronto, Cito Gaston.  Cito’s time with Jays has recently ended, in a managing capacity at least, ushering in the former Red Sox pitching coach, John Farrell,
as the Blue Jays 2011 manager.  In my opinion, it was time for a change
as the Jays have been fruitlessly looking for managing talent ever
since Cito was replaced in 1997.  They found a well respected man in John Farrell, and he seems up to the challenge.    

Cito began in professional baseball playing 11 years (1967-1978) with the Braves, Pirates and Padres
His playing career peaked when he was 26 years old and hit
.318/29HRs/.364OBP and was selected to the 1970 All Star team.  When
you look over his playing stats, you

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will see that Gaston was never able to produce like he did in that
year, and for a hitter labelled ‘strike-out prone,’ that quickly landed
Gaston in a part-time role off the bench. 

In 1982, same that year I was born coincidently, Cito started as the Blue Jays hitting coach under former Jays managers Bobby Cox, and then Jimmy Williams.  It would begin a long, ‘off-and-on
relationship (that may still be going on in some capacity).  This
wasn’t the last time he’d be the hitting coach.  Cito would return to
the position from 1999-2001, two years after he was let go as manager,
then he’d return again to manage from 2008-2010.

When Cito
broke into managing, the year was 1982.  It was the tail-end of Weaver
and the Orioles’ reign over the A.L. East.  Weaver’s “save every
precious out,” and “wait for the 3-run-homerun” strategy was still
dominant in the American League, that had only adopted the DH (designated hitter)
in 1973.  Gaston was obviously influenced by this coaching strategy in
those early years.  Although Gaston was not nearly as involved of a
manager as Weaver, rarely substituting hitters in the game and hardly
ever arguing with the umpire, Cito’s ‘basic coaching strategy,’ in the
game, was definitely influenced by the Weaverian era.

Cito took over as manager in the 1989 season and he would lead the Jays to
four ALCS appearances (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993) and two World Series in 1992 and 1993
I was only 10-11 years old, but I will look back on those days as the
fondest memories of my life.  Cito was new to the managing gig when
team exploded with talent in those years.  The tremendous organizational praise starting with Team President Paul Beeston and General Manager Pat Gillick
(both considered among at what they do)
reached Cito with open arms as well, and deservedly so.  The people of
Toronto, southern
Ontario and all over the nation of Blue Jay fans were sitting on a
high, and tasting sweet victory.  Something that the Toronto Maple
Leafs had not enjoyed since the 60s, so it was long overdue.  Cito was
able to deliver with a great collection of talent, and a top payroll at
the time.  What he did for the team cannot be understated, but he had
all pieces in place to make it easier for him.           

What
worked well was the fact that Gaston was the proto-typical ‘players
coach,’ which fit the Blue Jay teams of the early 90s.  He was always
laid back, he’d rarely adjust the lineup and hardly ever substitute
guys, even in situations that called for it.  His message was always
that he had to establish that trust in his players.  “For every
ten times that a substitution worked, he’d show you ten times that it
didn’t,” he’d always say.  Cito maintained to be a student of hitting. 
He’d always let his hitters swing freely, but would preach that they ‘have a plan‘ established for every at-bat.  ‘Have a plan’
became his ‘mantra’ in his comeback to Jays after an 11-year absence. 
Cito would have one last ‘hurrah’ with the Jays from 2008-2010 after
leaving a failed and broken team in 1997.  The Jays seemed revitalized
upon Cito’s return, still falling short of the playoffs, but able to gather a few respectable MLB season records. 

It
was not all daisies, however, for Gaston with the Blue Jays.  His
incredibly laid back attitude, and sometimes inconcievable decisions
left members of the team, the fans and media baffled on many
occasions.  He accused respected members of the media of racism in
1997, and he also had the power to force media to face suspension for
questioning his on field tactics.  Gaston was criticized by the media
and even his for having a lack communication.  There was an apparent
‘mutiny’ reported in the Jays 2008 clubhouse, as players felt like they
were not being communicated with about their role on the team.  The
glorious years of 1992 and 1993 would turn into a bitter, cold
and desolate place around Cito.  Even though Cito had incredible early
success with the team, many baseball purists in the area could not
respect his coaching style.      

If you are a ‘great student’
of the game, and like to strategize, crunch numbers and play matchups?
  Gaston would be very tough to watch for you.   He seemed to manage by
instinct, and at times, not manage at all.  He would always maintain
that it is not what the fans, or the media can see that makes a good
coach.  His strength was with the players.  And it is hard to disagree
with that, especially considering the Jays offensive output the last
couple years, when nobody thought that they would do anything near to
what they did.    

Cito will forever be a key figure in Blue
Jay history.  In fact, he might never go away.  ha ha.  His body of
work with the team is most impressive, as not many managers can boost
two World Series rings.  With any long marriage you have to accept, and
live with the other person’s faults.  For all his faults, nothing can
replace the years that he contributed to in the early 90s.

It was a flawed marriage, but I’d challenge you to prove one that isn’t? 

Even though I would have, I wouldn’t have had the Jays managed any differently.  Cito this design is for you.