Archive for February, 2008
Friday, February 29th, 2008
5:45 PM Eastern
The Blue Jays are 0-2, and have 10 hits combined in two games! Disband the parade committee.
Actually, the results of these first two games don’t matter at all. Neither do the results of the next 28, so long as no one gets hurt, so let’s nobody panic about the “slow start”.
Truth is, there were some pretty good things that happened, Blue Jay-ically, in this latest loss to the Tigers, among them:
- Roy Halladay got in a second and third, none out jam in the second inning, and then got two ground outs and a shallow fly to get out of it on just FOUR pitches! The first ground out scored a run but still, that was vintage Halladay.
- Frank Thomas absolutely destroyed a ball to left-centre in the fourth. I thought it was going to hit the scoreboard, and so did Frank, but the wind held it up and it banged off the wall for a double.
- Lyle Overbay, who didn’t play in either intrasquad game because of a stomach bug that saw him lose seven pounds in less than a week, went 2-for-3 with a sharp line single to centre off lefty Nate Robertson and a double over the first-base bag off righty Francis Beltran.
- Brandon League faced five hitters, struck out one and got three others to hit ground balls. If his power sinker is back as an effective weapon, look out.
Of course, it wasn’t all sweetness and light. Russ Adams’ glove reared its ugly head again. He came in to play third base in the fifth, and successfully handled neither ball that was hit his way. The first, a grounder by Jacque Jones in the 8th, went under his glove for an error. Adams fielded the next one cleanly, a two-hopper by Wilken Ramirez in the 9th. But his throw was horrendous, even by Russ Adams’ standards. He threw the ball almost straight into the ground – it hit the dirt behind the pitchers’ mound – and it slowly hopped over to first, where Chip Cannon couldn’t pick it off the dirt as it was rolling. It was generously scored a hit, not that that matters.
Methinks the “Russ Adams, infielder” ship has sailed. The last thing you want in a major-league ballplayer is to have him NOT want the ball to be hit to him, and it really seems as though that’s what’s going on with Russ. It’s time to move him to left field, let him not have to worry about throwing the ball to a spot, just to a general area, and see how that works. There’s no question the guy can hit.
Tomorrow, we’re on the air for the first time – Jerry, Alan and I will be broadcasting from St. Petersburg, starting with a full pre-game show at 12:30 pm Eastern. David Eckstein will be my guest on the pre-game show. Dustin McGowan starts for the Jays, to be followed by Casey Janssen, Jeremy Cummings, Ryan Ketchner, John Parrish, Tracy Thorpe, rule 5er Randy Wells and Jesse Carlson. Jamie Shields is scheduled to start for the Rays.
The Jays’ starting line-up for Saturday:
Reed Johnson cf
Shannon Stewart lf
Alex Rios rf
Scott Rolen dh
Marco Scutaro 3b
Rod Barajas c
Russ Adams 2b (obviously, they’re not listening to me)
John McDonald ss
Curtis Thigpen c
Comments are encouraged, as always!
Friday, February 29th, 2008
12:55 PM Eastern
We’re just about set for our first webcast of the spring, and I’m hoping that most of you will be able to listen in on mlb.com. Even starting my seventh season in the booth, it’s still a really exciting thing to sit down and be part of broadcasting a big league baseball game, and I’m sure Jerry and Alan have those butterflies rolling around as swell.
Since the game is on the web, I won’t be able to do a live blog. Those will only happen on games that we’re not broadcasting at all. I’ll slap up the broadcast schedule at the bottom of this post.
The regular starters are all in the line-up today, after none of them made the trip to Lakeland. It’s interesting to see how John Gibbons lined them up, even though he said this wasn’t necessarily the way the batting order will go on Opening Day, but health permitting, it’ll be the same 10 guys. I find it a little odd that all three of the left-handed hitters are bunched at the bottom of the line-up (it’s Stairs, Overbay, Hill and Zaun hitting 6-9). I figured that Rios would be hitting second so that Vernon could hit third, which is what’s happening today, but I thought that Stairs would be between Thomas and Rolen in Gibby’s line-up. We’ll see if it stays this way throughout the spring when all the regulars start, which isn’t going to happen very often.
The Tigers didn’t return the favour the Jays did them yesterday, though you couldn’t have blamed them if they had wanted to keep everyone at home. Curtis Granderson is here, along with Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones among the starters, and Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge made the trip as well. Also, Maxim St-Pierre is the starting catcher this afternoon for Detroit. The 27 year-old Quebec City native is back with the organization where he spent the first 10 years of his pro career, but he’s a long, long, longshot to see action anywhere outside Toledo this year. Still, always good to watch a Canadian play.
With Halladay on the mound in the spring, it’s fun to see how far under his planned pitch count he goes. Today, he’s probably expected to throw 30-45 pitches, and he’ll probably wind up with 18 in his two innings of work. He tends to have incredibly efficient springs, and I can remember at least three in which he wasn’t even scored on until his last or next-to-last spring start.
By the way, Halladay has a baseball card collection covering the nameplate on his locker. Four cards, all in a row – A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch. Does this mean the competition for the 5th starter’s job is over before it starts? Probably not, since that’s how the rotation looked at the end of last season and, ummm, Halladay doesn’t get to make that decision. But I know that I’ll be checking that gallery every day to see when Litsch’s card disappears and Casey Janssen’s pops up there instead.
Marcum’s card is also hanging on Russ Adams’ locker, and it’s autographed “To Russ”. I mentioned to Marcum that his card seemed to be a pretty popular one this spring, and he replied, “I guess people like me this year.”
I’ll be back with another post after the game. Until then, here’s our broadcast schedule. It’s not as busy as it was last year, which is unfortunate for me, because I get to do three innings of play-by-play during the webcasts (with the exception of today’s, because it’s Jerry and Alan’s only chance to get ready before we go on the air tomorrow), but Jerry and Alan need a bit of a break before they get into the everyday grind of the season.
Feb. 29 1:05 vs. Detroit – webcast
Mar. 1 12:30 @ Tampa Bay – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 2 12:00 vs. Cincinnati – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 4 1:05 vs. Yankees – webcast
Mar. 7 1:05 vs. Minnesota – webcast
Mar. 8 12:30 vs. Detroit – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 9 12:30 @ Philadelphia – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 12 1:05 vs. Pittsburgh – webcast
Mar. 15 12:30 vs. Pittsburgh – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 16 12:30 @ Minnesota – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 22 12:30 @ Yankees – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 23 12:30 vs. Philadelphia – Fan Radio Network (but not Fan590)
Mar. 24 7:00 @ Cincinnati – Fan Radio Network
Mar. 26 7:05 vs. Cincinnati – webcast
Mar. 29 12:30 @ Philadelphia – Fan Radio Network
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
5:10 PM Eastern
So the Jays are now 0-1 on the spring, having amassed just four hits in the opener. But then again, no one who will be in the lineup on Opening Day in the Bronx was in the line-up here in Lakeland today, so don’t get too caught up in Grapefruit wins and losses.
I hope you enjoyed the live blogging, that’s what it’ll be like most games – all over the first four innings or so, and then goodbye for a while. Please let me know what you thought, and whether I should keep doing it throughout the spring.
Tomorrow, it’s the Tigers again, but this time in Dunedin. Jerry, Alan and I will have it live for you on mlb.com (I’m pretty sure it’s free during the spring), and I’m hoping to incorporate an e-mail element into our webcasts, if for nothing else than to see where the heck all of you are who are listening to us. Roy Halladay will start for the Jays, followed by Jason Frasor, Brian Wolfe, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Scott Downs, Brandon League and Kane Davis. For the Tigers, it’s scheduled to be Justin Verlander, Nate Robertson, Preston Larrison, Rick Porcello, Francis Beltran and Freddy Dolsi. John Gibbons said to expect the Opening Day line-up (but not necessarily the Opening Day batting order), so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits the pieces together.
And by the way, I saw Rob MacLeod’s note on the Globe and Mail blog, and just want to offer my side of the story. It wasn’t a “tub” of french fries, it was the remainder of my lunch. As I mentioned in the live blog, I had to hit the concessions, and I got the chicken fingers and fries (would have gotten the panda, but damnit, it wasn’t real panda). It’s served in a cone-shaped apparatus that looks nothing like a tub, and I only ate about a third of the fries. See, the healthy eating part is all about portion size, and out of the sheer generosity of my heart, I offered the rest of it to MacLeod, Cathal Kelly and Jeremy Sandler, all of whom were sitting comfortably side by side on press row. And no, I’m no longer on Herbal Magic – they taught me enough that I’m able to maintain a healthy weight on my own, which is the whole idea, right?
No fries for lunch tomorrow – the Blue Jays’ press meal at Knology Park is catered by Boston Market.
Thursday, February 28th, 2008
1:00 PM Eastern
The plan is to do a relatively-live blog of the Jays’ grapefruit opener against the Tigers, but I forgot one major thing – the often-crappy internet connections at a lot of these ballparks. I’ve been betrayed once already today, so if I vanish for a long time without warning, you’ll know why.
Some notes from before the game: B.J. Ryan threw well and looked good in his first live batting practice session, he’ll get checked out by Dr. Timothy Kremcheck (as planned) in Sarasota later today. The Jays are hopeful he’ll get into a Grapefruit League game by the middle of March.
Nate Robertson isn’t starting for the Tigers because his wife Kristin had a baby (Wyatt Dale) at 1:23 this morning. Virgil Vasquez gets the call in his stead.
Also, the media dining room here at Joker Merchant Stadium is decidedly not Jew-friendly. Pork chops and chicken cordon bleu! CP’s Shi Davidi and I settled for the concession stands. Interestingly enough, one of the featured items here is the Panda Bear Panini. Sadly, it contains no actual panda meat.
The game blog follows below, to be updated around every half-inning, or whenever something really cool happens. If I leave to go down to the clubhouse, I’ll let you know.
3:25 PM Eastern
While I was gone, nothing happened. Actually, that’s not true. Lance Carter, Shawn Camp and Josh Banks pitched a perfect inning each, John McDonald almost killed Macay McBride with a liner back through the box, Matt Watson made a tremendous leaping catch against the left-field wall to rob Polanco of at least a double, if not more, and Russ Adams walked and stole a base. But we’re in the bottom of the 8th and it’s still 4-1 Tigers.
I have to do a lot of radio-type work now, cutting up and filing the clips I got from Litsch, Chacin, Purcey, Johnson and McDonald – all of which you’ll be able to hear throughout the day and night on the FAN590. I’ll throw another wrap-up post up there when it’s all done.
2:25 PM Eastern
This is going to be it for a while, I’m heading down to talk to Litsch and Chacin, but I wanted to stay and watch Purcey throw the 4th. He started by giving up a towering double into the right-field corner to Renteria – Lind almost got there to make a nice catch – but he stranded him there. Purcey followed by painting the outside black just beautifully to ring up Thames, and then retired two lefties – Jones on a routine fly to left-centre and Granderson on a sky-high pop up to short. So we’re through four, and it’s 4-1 Tigers.
2:15 PM Eastern
The first Jays run of the spring! And it’s unearned! Barajas finally got the Jays in the hit column with a leadoff double deep into the left-centre gap, and then the new back-up catcher showed off his distinct lack of footspeed by making it all the way to third on a soft line single by Buck Coats, and staying there on a medium-depth fly ball by Inglett. He scored when Miguel Cabrera absolutely butchered a routine grounder by Cannon. The ball wasn’t hit especially hard, and it was right at Cabrera, but he took a hard step to his left, then kind of bounced, didn’t get his glove down at all, and the ball went right through his legs.
2:00 PM Eastern
Listen…….do you smell something? It’s our first Gustavo Chacin sighting since last April. It’s nice to see Gus out there again, with the funky delivery, the cool blades and, as always, giving up hard-hit line drives all over the field and not getting scored on. The first three hitters Chacin faced all squared him up – a hard line-out to left-centre by Pudge, a line single ripped to dead centre by Ordonez, and a humpback lineout to second by Cabrera. Chacin finished the inning by throwing a tremendous curveball that got Guillen flailing.
1:51 PM Eastern
Ahhhh, the marvelous and predictable strike-zone inconsistency that is Matt Mantei. The former Zona closer came on and struck out Chip Cannon on three pitches, then went 3-0 on Travis Snider. Snider took the next pitch down the middle, then took ball four. (Right now the drunks are saying a word that starts with a “b” and rhymes with “specific”.) Reed followed with a liner to centre that Granderson made a nice play on going back and to his left. He plays awfully shallow, but that guy can cover some ground. Another five-pitch walk followed, this to Johnny Mac, and Scutaro then went WAY out of the strike zone upstairs on a 2-2 pitch, and popped to second.
1:41 PM Eastern
Litsch started well by striking out Renteria looking and Thames swinging, but he then walked Jones and got a 1-1 pitch up to Granderson, who belted it into the palm trees beyond the right-field fence. Polanco grounded out on a nice short-hop by Inglett to end it.
1:32 PM Eastern
A 1-2-3 second for the Jays, though Lind and Inglett hit ropes to the outfield. Inglett’s liner required a pretty diving catch by Jacque Jones.
1:26 PM Eastern
After getting Curtis Granderson on a lazy fly to centre, Litsch gave up three hits in a row. Polanco reached out and poked a ground single to centre just past a diving Scutaro, and Ivan Rodriguez reached down and poked a soft line single to centre. Magglio followed by ripping a shot down the left-field line for a two-run double. Reed got on it in a hurry, and made a strong relay throw to McDonald, but Johnny Mac muffed the transfer (you can tell it’s spring, his hands haven’t caught up to his brain yet). Two weeks from now, that’s an easy 7-6-2, assuming Reed and Mac are there, but that’s not exactly a safe assumption.
1:17 PM Eastern
The Jays tried the hit-and-run right away with Johnny Mac, but he hit a lazy fly to right. Reed wound up getting to second later on on an errant pick-off throw from Vasquez, but he stayed there as Scutaro flied to shallow right and Barajas, after fouling off a couple of two-strike pitches, popped foul to catcher.
1:07 PM Eastern
That didn’t take long – Reed Johnson led off the game by being hit with a pitch. Who knew?
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
6:20 PM Eastern
Today was Moving Day, since the Blue Jays are one of the few teams to have a minor league complex that’s not attached to its major league stadium (though they’re not stupid about it, like the Orioles, who train in Fort Lauderdale but have their minor leaguers on the other coast in Sarasota). It was a short day, and a very cold day by Florida standards, so there wasn’t much working out, just plenty of packing.
The exhibition games start tomorrow, with the opener in Lakeland against the Tigers. Jesse Litsch will start against Nate Robertson. The Jays will follow their general early-spring pattern of not bringing any real starters on road trips, position-player wise, though you could argue that Reed Johnson is expected to be a starter against lefties. John McDonald, Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas will make the trip as well, along with nobody else who will be breaking camp with the team. We’ll get a chance to see Travis Snider and David Purcey, though. Snider will be the DH since he has a sore elbow, and Purcey is expected to pitch the fourth inning, following Litsch and Gustavo Chacin.
I’ll be at every game, home and road (unless something comes up, like maybe Halladay or Burnett staying back to pitch in a B game), and I’m thinking about live-blogging the games that we won’t be broadcasting either on the web or over the air. I wouldn’t be doing batter-by-batter, probably just posting every half-inning or so, and there would be big gaps, since the clubhouse is open throughout the game in Spring Training, which means I’ll often head down to talk to players who have come out of the game. But if you think it’s a worthwhile pursuit, I’ll live-blog for you, the listener/reader. Just let me know if you want it or not by leaving your comments on this post.
I wanted to respond to a few of the things I’ve been seeing in the comments section the last couple of days. I firmly disagree with the notion that Frank Thomas being on base is a bad thing. Anyone who moves an inning forward by not getting out is doing his job, whether or not he can be timed running the bases with a sundial. I have seen Thomas score from second on a single, and I have seen him score from first on a double. He may not be able to beat Bengie Molina or John Olerud in a footrace, but he’s by no means 90-feet-and-that’s-it when he’s on base. I would argue, too, that the percentage of the time that he scores relative to how often he’s on base has MUCH more to do with the people hitting behind him in the line-up than his lack of footspeed.
Also, I wanted to weigh in on the Johnson-Stewart debate that has been going on in the comments section (which has been a lot of fun to read, by the way). It’s true that Reed crushed lefties last year and Stewart didn’t, but for their careers, Johnson’s and Stewart’s OPS’s against lefties are only about 35 points different (in favour of Reed) and against righties, Stewart has Reed by about 80 points. Even though they’re fighting for a platoon role, the fact that Stewart hits righties so much better has to weigh quite a bit in his favour. The truth is, Stewart’s not here just to battle Reed for a platoon role. He’s also here to act as insurance for Overbay, Stairs, Thomas and Wells. Overbay and Wells are coming off serious injuries from which they may not be fully recovered, Stairs is 40 (today!) and Thomas turns 40 in May. If any one of those guys isn’t ready or doesn’t produce, Stewart is in the line-up in his stead, with other guys moving around to make room. Reed doesn’t provide that kind of insurance.
Yes, Johnson is a far better defender with a much, much better throwing arm, but I think it’s a real stretch to call him an offensive catalyst. Except for the first half of 2006, Johnson has an obp of about .323 or so over the last four seasons. Just because he’s scrappy and he hustles doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get out about 68% of the time, which is not good.
I think what really tells the tale, though, is that the Jays offered Stewart a two-year contract back in December. Stewart rejected it, on the advice of an agent who he has since fired, but if he had accepted the offer, it’s more than likely that Johnson wouldn’t have been tendered a contract. If only the Jays would be willing to go with a six-man bullpen.
And two quick answers to the most recent comments:
-J.P. didn’t “let Stewart go” to Oakland. He traded Stewart to the Twins for Bobby Kielty, who he then turned into Ted Lilly. Stewart was traded because he was a pending free agent and the Jays didn’t have the money to re-sign him.
-Name a winning team that had a mediocre catcher? Hmmm, how about the Toronto Blue Jays? Pat Borders may have been a World Series MVP, but he wasn’t very good at either hitting or throwing out baserunners. Blocking balls in the dirt, though, at that he was awesome. Honourable mentions since – A.J. Pierzynski, Damian Miller, Joe Girardi.
Comments are encouraged – especially since I want to know whether you want me live-blogging those road games! Oh, and if you’re in the Kingston, Ontario area, listen to CFRC at 5:00 Friday evening. I just taped an interview on a show called Offsides with Tyler King. University radio is near and dear to my heart – I wouldn’t be here without it!
Monday, February 25th, 2008
10:35 PM Eastern
Well, after the first intrasquad game of the spring, it’s the same old same old for the Blue Jays. This team just can’t hit in the clutch! In the first two innings, the two teams combined to go 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, including back-to-back strikeouts of Scott Rolen and Gregg Zaun by Shawn Camp with two on in the first.
As for the rest of the game, I couldn’t really tell you, though I heard Sal Fasano hit a home run (and don’t believe anyone who tells you they saw it). The problem was two-fold. One, nobody wanted to miss talking to Shannon Stewart on his first day at camp, and two, the combination of the facts that the regulars got yanked after one or two plate appearances, none of the pitchers in the game have a great shot of making the team and, umm, they were serving lunch.
Among the things I did see in the first two innings of the game, though:
-Alex Rios scorched an absolute rocket down the third-base line that was snared by Sergio Santos, who I think might actually have had his eyes open,
-Vernon Wells reached on a single off Rolen’s body, and Frank Thomas followed with a bloop single to centre just in and out of the glove of Buck Coats, who tried to make a great shoestring catch.
-Rod Barajas looked just awful striking out against John Parrish to end the first.
All the regulars played, with the exceptions of Lyle Overbay (sick) and Matt Stairs (day off).
John Gibbons said afterwards that he was impressed by Parrish and Mike Gosling, specifically. I didn’t see Gosling pitch, but I did see Parrish strike out Aaron Hill and, as I mentioned, make Barajas look sick.
Parrish is here to compete with Brian Tallet for that third lefty spot in the bullpen, and as Gibby said, he’s got a great arm, the only issue is command. The manager went onto say that Brad Arnsberg has been working with Parrish and has made a change in his delivery that they think might help. All I can say to that is that if Arnsberg can get Parrish to throw strikes on a regular basis, he should be pretty much canonized immediately. This is the same guy who walked 33 in 41 2/3 innings in Baltimore last season, and who has walked over 6 1/2 batters per nine innings over a major-league career that has spanned parts of six seasons. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m thinking that he is what he is.
Some further thoughts on Shannon Stewart’s arrival, now that I’ve had some time to digest it. I don’t think Shannon is here not to make the team, and he certainly isn’t going to Syracuse. I mentioned yesterday that the Blue Jays have never been completely sold on Reed Johnson, and I think this signing is another signal of that. The Jays offered Stewart a two-year, major-league contract in December, and I’m betting that if he would have signed then, Johnson would have been non-tendered and become a free agent. I was actually surprised at the time that Johnson was tendered a contract at all, with Stairs having signed his two-year deal and Lind almost ready. If Stewart is the same hitter he’s always been, it seems the Jays would rather have him than Reed. He would also provide insurance in case Stairs can’t handle the rigors of regular work at the age of 40.
Personally, I think it’s a pretty raw deal for Johnson if it shakes down the way it looks as though it might. He’s done nothing for the Jays over his entire career except do what was asked of him, and do it to the best of his abilities. He’s a terrific defender with a very good throwing arm and hits left-handed pitching very well, and has done nothing to warrant losing the job that he earned with his phenomenal first half of 2006.
All that said, Shannon Stewart is a better hitter, plain and simple. The Jays can probably handle the hit on defense that they take in left field, given how good Wells and Rios are, and they showed how they value offense over defense by signing David Eckstein. Also, Stewart wouldn’t look too out of place at the top of the line-up, allowing Eckstein to move down to 2nd (or 9th) and making the overall offensive machine work better. His presence definitely gives us something to watch over the next five weeks besides the battle for the last spot in the rotation.
Comments are encouraged, as always!
Sunday, February 24th, 2008
4:45 PM Eastern
When my Air Canada 320 touched down at Tampa airport about 4 hours ago, my winter was over, and work had just begun.
It was an uneventful flight, all told. I got to sit directly in front of Blue Jays’ marketing poobah Patrick Elster and we had a nice chat, though the subject of those early ticket sales to Red Sox and Tigers fans didn’t come up!
Before the flight, though, major props are in order. See, I arrived at the airport with my lovely wife, who had an 8:40 flight to West Palm Beach, so we got there around 7:15 (my flight was at 10). The deal was that I was to take down as much luggage as I could in order to make it easier on the rest of the family when they join me down here in less than a week, so I took a suitcase full of the girls’ clothes. But when the lovely wife left me at baggage check, that left me with two full suitcases, a laptop case, a roll-along workbag and two pillows (don’t ask). Luckily, the gentleman who was standing in front of me, Paul Gismondi, recognized me, and after the always-embarrassing “Hey, you’re Mike Wilner” (embarrassing for me, not him – whether he should be embarrassed that he recognized me is up to you, the reader), Mr. Gismondi offered his son Paolo to be my young assistant all the way until our bags were checked. Young Paolo was a lifesaver, no question about it. Have a good time in Phoenix, Gismondis! Make sure you hit the Chang’s in Scottsdale!
Having picked up my bags in Tampa, and this time having thought to use a luggage cart, I went off to seek fame, fortune and a rental car. Your intrepid reporter had made a reservation with Budget, including using my own coupon for a one-class upgrade, which usually allows me a more comfortable car while the Fan only has to pay for something small. Budget was willing to go so far as to upgrade me to a PT Cruiser or Chrysler HHR at no extra cost. Swell, but give me a break. I shuffled over to the Avis counter and for an extra $13 (TOTAL – not per day) I got me a Mercury Mountaineer. I will be criss-crossing Florida this month in the lap of luxury. Let this be a lesson to all you potential renters of motorized vehicles.
I’m now checked into my condo at what used to be the Clearwater Cay Club. It’s having some financial issues, but it’s still very well-maintained and gorgeous. Terrific condos, great pool, gym, three-mile walking path (Bastian will tell you it’s for running, but whatever). And now the last thing on my list is to head up the road to the Super Target and load up the fridge!
Before I do that, though, a couple of things I wanted to speak to. First of all, I was totally blindsided to find out this afternoon that the Jays had given Shannon Stewart a minor-league deal and an invite to Spring Training. I knew that the Jays had had some interest in him earlier in the winter, but the deal fell apart over term. I can’t believe that a 33 year-old coming off a .290/.345/.394 season couldn’t get a job, but I’ll welcome Stewart with open arms.
I mean, I don’t really think he’ll make the team or anything, but it’s an interesting thing to see. It seems to me that Stewart is there as Reed Johnson/Matt Stairs insurance. If one of them sputters, he’d be able to step in and get the job done. While it seems Johnson is totally healthy after last year’s back surgery, the Jays have never really been completely sold on him, and Stairs comes with his own set of caveats, not the least of which is that he’s 40 on Wednesday and put up numbers last year that he hadn’t come close to in four seasons.
Stewart is a right-handed hitter who can hit righties, so it’s possible he could move into a “platoon” with Johnson if Stairs flames out. He could do the same with Stairs if Reed doesn’t bounce back, or if either Johnson or Stairs get moved. But I think those are the only scenarios in which Stewart contributes (barring a trade of Frank Thomas, which throws Stairs in at DH and has a Johnson/Stewart left-field thing going).
I have always liked Shannon Stewart, as a person and as a ballplayer. It’s a shame that his leg problems have stopped him from being the feared basestealer that he was when he first came up. He’s a guy who can flat-out hit, and he’s definitely good enough to play in the big leagues. There just doesn’t seem to be enough room for him right now. If the Jays go with their traditional (ugh) 12 pitchers, that leaves room for 12 position players and Thomas. Zaun, Barajas, Overbay, Hill, Eckstein, Rolen, McDonald, Scutaro, Johnson, Stairs, Wells and Rios make up that dozen. Barring an injury, it doesn’t look like there’s a spot for Shannon. Of course, the Jays could decide to go with 11 pitchers, but that’s a whole other story.
I also promised I’d discuss the line-up. So, before I go, I want you to know that the line-up I handed in for John Gibbons Opening Day Line-Up contest was as follows:
Eckstein ss; Rios rf; Wells cf; Thomas dh; Stairs lf; Rolen 3b; Overbay 1b; Zaun c; Hill 2b
Please note that this is not the line-up (vs RH) that I think is optimal for the Jays, I just think it’s the one that they’ll wind up going with.
I have said before that I think that there’s a very good chance that Eckstein will wind up with the lowest OPS among regulars on the entire club, and I can almost guarantee he’ll make more outs over the course of the season than any Jay. To give him the most plate appearances seems counter-productive, despite his grittiness and hustledom, which are admirable.
Personally, I like the idea of having Rios, Wells, Thomas, Stairs and Overbay in some combination in the middle of the line-up. I think Rios should be in an RBI spot, with guys on ahead of him (like maybe Frank), I like Overbay’s good on-base and doubles power, and Stairs is a guy who keeps rallies going by drawing walks when he’s not putting the capper on them by going yard.
Against right-handers, I’d like the middle of the order to look like this – 3. Thomas, 4. Rios, 5. Stairs, 6. Wells, 7. Overbay.
It looks a little odd, I know, and you can say that Thomas clogs up the bases in front of Rios, but at least he’ll be on when Rios hits his doubles and homers. It probably costs the Jays eight stolen bases, if that.
I like Stairs in there breaking up the righties, so long as he continues to hit like he did last year, and frankly, Vernon should be hitting lower in the line-up than he has been, given his struggles against right-handed pitching. Wells has a career obp of just .315 against righties, and only in two seasons has he managed an on-base over .325 facing that side. I think though, given that he is who he is, you have to keep him in the top 6.
With those five spoken for, it leaves room for four more, and since Eckstein is more than likely your lead-off man, we have to accept that, but how about Scott Rolen hitting second? He beats up on right-handed pitching, but without the 30+ power that we’d seen from him in the past, and his speed on the basepaths is a real asset at the top of the line-up.
Put Gregg (the extra “g” is to make the name seem more regal) Zaun in the 8 spot to drive in Overbay from second, and let Aaron Hill bat ninth so that Eckstein can hit-and-run him over to third and Rolen can drive him in.
Yes, by the way, I know there have been hundreds of studies done on the effect of batting order on run-scoring. It’s still fun to talk about.
If you REALLY disagree with this line-up conflagration of mine, don’t blame me. I’ve been flying all day, and I’m on drugs.
Now that I’m in Florida, expect MUCH more content on a pretty much daily basis. Comments, as always, are encouraged!
Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
6:15 PM Eastern
Once again, the late, great Tom Cheek has been passed over by the committee that presents the annual Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcast Excellence at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. And this time, I’m even more upset than usual.
I wrote in this space back in December that I didn’t think Tom would get in this year, but as I said then, it was because Joe Nuxhall was the sentimental favourite. Nuxhall had just passed away, barely a year after retiring from the Reds’ radio booth, and was a beloved figure across the baseball world. He also blew away the competition in the fan balloting for the Frick award, getting 82,304 votes. The next closest was the late Bill King, former A’s announcer, who got 7,659. I thought Nuxhall would win, and even though I think that Tom deserves the award just as much, I would have understood had it been Nuxhall.
But this year’s Frick recipient, garnering entry into the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall, is Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners. Niehaus has been the M’s radio announcer since their inception in 1977, missing only 82 games since then. He has also broadcast Dodgers and Yankees games for the Armed Forces Radio Network, and did the Angels from 1969-76.
Let me be clear on this – Dave Niehaus is a tremendous broadcaster, and Dave Niehaus deserves his place in the Hall of Fame. But so does Tom Cheek, and what the hell is the hold-up?
Let me quote from the news release announcing Niehaus’ inception. Here is what Dale Petrosky, the President of the Hall of Fame had to say: “Dave Niehaus is the heartbeat of Mariners baseball. Since Day One, he has painted a picture of baseball and summer in Seattle better than anyone else ever has. By virtue of his talent, dedication, and professionalism, he has earned his rightful place among the elite broadcasters in baseball history in receiving the 2008 Ford C. Frick Award.”
Let’s ignore the fact that the reason that Niehaus has painted that picture better than anyone else ever has is that he’s the only one who has ever done it, that’s beside the point. What I want you to do is switch all the Niehaus and Seattle references to Tom Cheek and Toronto. Would that statement have not fit just as well?
The 19-member voting panel (made up of the 14 living Frick winners and five baseball historians/columnists – Bob Costas, Barry Horn, Stan Isaacs, Ted Patterson and Curt Smith) is told to base their vote on the following criteria: longevity, continuity with a club, honours (including national assignments such as All-Star games and World Series), and popularity with the fans. Tom Cheek had all those things in spades. His national assignments are ignored by the voters, because either they don’t realize that he
broadcast All-Star games and World Series across the country (of Canada) for decades, or they just don’t count it because it’s only Canada.
Look, I don’t want to come across as all sour grapey or anything here, and I certainly don’t want to be disrespectful to Niehaus, or Denny Matthews, Gene Elston and Jerry Coleman, all the men who have won the award in the years since Tom got sick, then passed away. But the fact of the matter is that Tom Cheek deserves his place among baseball’s elite broadcasters in Cooperstown. It’s shameful that the honour wasn’t bestowed upon him while he had the opportunity to enjoy it (and while we knew time was running out) and it’s disrespectful to his memory that he has to now wait in line to get in.
The longer we wait, the more memories fade, and the more the chance reduces that this much-deserved honour will be bestowed upon Tom and his family. I know that I will continue to do all I can every year to campaign for justice to be served to Tom and Shirley and the rest of the Cheek and Blue Jays families for as long as it takes.
Tom Cheek was the voice of summer in Toronto for almost 30 years, and across Canada for nearly that long. He still would be if he hadn’t been tragically taken from us by brain cancer. He was a fantastic broadcaster, well-known and well-loved by Jays fans, and had that phenomenal streak of 4,306 consecutive games broadcast, from Day One until his father passed away in June of 2004. That number doesn’t include playoff games, all-star games and spring training games, none of which Tom ever missed, either. It’s an embarrassment that his plaque doesn’t hang in the broadcasters’ wing.
Am I biased? Damn right I am. Like a lot of you, I grew up listening to Tom, but I also had the immeasurable honour and pleasure of working side-by-side with him for three seasons. I got a chance to be mentored by one of the all-time greats, and I’ll never forget the lessons he taught me, the encouragement he always had for me and just the everything that he was to me in that broadcast booth.
But the fact that I knew Tom personally, and that in person he was one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to know, takes nothing away from the credentials of the man to be a baseball immortal.
Comments are welcome, as always. Look for an entry about the Jays’ batting order in the next couple of days, and on the weekend, one last mailbag before I head to Dunedin.
Friday, February 15th, 2008
10:30 PM Eastern
So here I am in beautiful Rochester, New York, taking advantage of the fact that The Billie is off school today to spend a couple of days with my girlies at the Strong Museum of Play, and I’m sitting just outside the Grossology exhibit when I get a phone call from the radio station to ask me if I could come on tonight to comment on “the Zaun thing”. Huh? Turns out he’s finally broken his silence about the Mitchell Report in an e-mail to John Lott of the National Post, who is a phenomenal baseball reporter, by the way.
The story, though I’m sure you’ve heard by now, is that Zaun’s check to Kirk Radomski was actually written to Jason Grimsley, a former teammate and noted steroid and hGH user, and Grimsley filled Radomski’s name in since Zaun had left the cheque blank. Zaun thinks he probably owed Grimsley $500 from a basketball bet.
The first thing that story made me think was that it’s against the rules of baseball to gamble, too, but I guess Zaun figures that copping to gambling will be easier on him than admitting steroid use.
The next thing I thought was, “Wow.” I have heard of some great excuses for testing positive for steroids in my day, from having too much sex the night before (raising testosterone levels) to eating steroid-infused veal to eating pigeon pie made from juiced racing pigeons to the internal presence of an unborn twin to spiked sarsaparilla, orange juice, vitamins and even toothpaste! I have heard of a guy who said that the ‘roids he was caught with were intended for his anemic dog, and of course, countless others have said that they bought steroids, even took them out of the package, but after several days of agonizing over the decision, finally chose not to use them. This, however, was the first time I had ever heard of someone saying that the check he paid for his ‘roids with wasn’t written by him.
I want to believe Gregg Zaun. Honestly. I just find it very difficult. Which is not to say that I think he’s lying, I just think that his story is very, very hard to believe. The points in his favour include the fact that there was only one cheque of his that Radomski had, and it was only for $500 – most of the other cheques were for much more money. Also, Zaun didn’t bulk up until a couple of years ago. He came to Spring Training noticeably bigger in 2006, I want to say, and said that he’d cleaned up his act and rededicated himself to strength and fitness, and put on close to 30 pounds of muscle in the off-season, if I remember correctly. The cheque in question was written in 2001. Finally, Lott reported in his story that the handwriting of Radomski’s name on Zaun’s cheque appeared to match the handwriting on Grimsley’s cheques to Radomski. I have not had a chance to look again at the cheques.
The points against include the fact that Radomski wasn’t the only one who fingered Zaun as a user. Zaun was also one of eight players identified by former Marlins’ employee Luis Perez as people he supplied with steroids. Zaun says that Perez’ story is completely made up. But Roger Clemens, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong and others have said the same thing many times (not with regards to Luis Perez, hopefully you get where I’m going). Also, the type of player Zaun is is pretty much Exhibit A for potential users of illegal performance enhancing drugs. A career back-up, never with a steady job, someone who moved around from team to team, hanging on at the bottom of a roster. Those are the types of players who turn to the juice in order to secure their careers, their finances, perhaps their big-league pensions. I’m not saying that Zaun’s career was at the same level as a guy like Howie Clark or Adam Piatt, but he certainly was never an established everyday player who never had to worry about where next year’s cheques were coming from.
I haven’t said anything about Zaun’s qualities as a person, because there’s no way I know enough about who he really is for my opinion to matter. In the years I have known Gregg Zaun, I have known him more often than not to be accessible, agreeable and bright. He knows why the media is there, and he knows what he has to do to help us get our jobs done. He’s a big fan of 1980′s hair rock, which automatically puts someone into my good books. But there’s not a chance that I really know anything about Zaun’s real personality, so the fact that I like him certainly doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t take steroids, or concoct a story about a blankish cheque flipped to a teammate in disgust over a lost bet.
What I absolutely don’t like about this whole thing is that it took Zaun two months to address the accusation, and that when he finally did, he did it via e-mail. Obviously, a lot more can be garnered on the part of a reporter from a face-to-face interview, and Zaun didn’t want to put himself through that. He said that people misunderstood his silence, and he’s right. I certainly wouldn’t have thought that he needed two months to gather himself. He’s still very obviously not completely gathered, because he couldn’t answer the questions face-to-face.
I don’t blame Zaun for not talking to the Mitchell Report investigators. I don’t believe him, though, when he says that he would have been there ready to talk had he known that his name was linked to Radomski. It seems odd to me that upon hearing that his name was in the report, Zaun would have thought, “Oh yeah, it’s that Luis Perez load, no need for me to say anything about that.” Truth is, nobody named in that report through BALCO, Radomski or Brian McNamee spoke to investigators. The MLBPA pretty much ordered them not to co-operate.
Finally, I don’t think that this has any effect at all on the Blue Jays on or off the field, but I’m interested to see what the fans’ reaction to Zaun will be. I expect it’ll be the same as it always has been.
Just for a second, I want to give my thoughts about the congressional hearings on Wednesday. I thought I’d pretty much said all I was going to say the night before, and nothing HUGE came up at the hearings, but some people have asked what I think. Here ya go:
I’m thoroughly appalled that the questions from the representatives came down along party lines – Republicans for Clemens, Democrats against him. That stunned and infuriated me. How on Earth is this thing a partisan debate at all?
I continue not to believe a word Roger Clemens is saying. I almost fell out of my chair when he said that the only thing he’s done wrong is be too nice a guy. Hilarious. I didn’t deal with Clemens much when he was here with the Blue Jays, but in exactly zero of my dealings with him did I come away thinking, “Wow, what a nice guy!”. And how awful was it for Clemens to go talk to his nanny first before giving Congress information about how to contact her? Ridiculous, and Clemens was appropriately raked over the coals for that.
He didn’t have an answer as to why Andy Pettitte, who he called a friend and a very honest man, would corroborate McNamee’s story. And the “misremembered” thing? Please. Anyway, even if we accept Clemens’ story is true, and he told Pettitte in 1999 or 2000 that it was his wife Debbie who was taking hGH, wasn’t the story about Debbie that she juiced to get ready for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot in 2003? Doesn’t quite connect. Also, why did Clemens’ lawyers call the story about Debbie’s drug use a “colossal lie” two days before Clemens confirmed it on the stand?
Look, Brian McNamee is no prize, and he certainly didn’t come out of the hearing smelling like a rose, but at least he had a very good reason NOT to lie. And why wouldn’t he have kept those syringes and gauze pads? A slimeball knows a slimeball – and he was right. As soon as the bright lights started shining on Clemens, down went McNamee.
But Clemens brought a fleet of buses with him to DC, and proceeded to throw a different person under each one, from McNamee to Pettitte to his wife to his agents (for not allowing him to talk to the Mitchell investigators) to the Jays’ team doctor, Ron Taylor, who is as fine a man as you’ll find.
The whole thing was unseemly at best, from Clemens’ glad-handing of his future inquisitors to his bullying of the ex-nanny to certain representatives drooling all over him – what jersey are you going to wear to the Hall of Fame? You’ve got to be kidding me. But as long as it’s Congresspeople asking the questions, and not lawyers or even judges, that’s the crap we’re going to get.
Final word – even though there’s a story circulating that since Clemens is a good friend of George W. Bush, W. would pardon him if he did wind up getting convicted of perjury, that won’t happen. Look how long it’s going to be between Barry Bonds’ statements to the Grand Jury and his trial for perjury, never mind the decision. You think Clemens could get tried and convicted by the time Bush’s second term comes to its merciful conclusion in January? It’ll never happen.
Comments are always welcome, as is e-mail to email@example.com
Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
7:00 PM Eastern
I have been planning on doing something about the Jays’ line-up, and how I think it’ll best work, but I think that given the impending Senate “he-said, she-said” between apparent scuzzball Brian McNamee and flaming-panted sack of crap Roger Clemens, I think we’ll be a little bit busy the next couple of days, so I just wanted to quickly give some thoughts on a couple of things that have been kicking around lately.
First, the Senate hearings. It’s unseemly how Clemens has been glad-handing his way around Congress the last week or so, cashing in on his celebrity in hopes of getting favourable treatment once the hearings begin, and I really, really hope it hasn’t worked – but it very well might. Politicians are, by their very nature, kinda slimy. They love publicity and pandering to their constituents, and any chance to press the flesh with a big, famous celebrity athlete is something that often makes them lose bladder control. Sometimes it’s just being in the same hearing room as a big, famous celebrity athlete that turns the trick – remember how many of the representatives at the last big hearing told the assembled group (McGwire, Canseco, Palmeiro, Sosa et al) how happy they were that the athletes came to the hearing, how wonderful it was to see them, blah blah blah? Most of them did everything but ask for an autograph, and some of them got those after.
Here’s hoping that they’re a little tougher on Clemens than they were with the first group, and maybe the fact that they’ve already gotten their autographs and pictures will help with that, but I really doubt it.
I believe, if it’s not already apparent, that Clemens is lying through his teeth, and that the physical evidence that McNamee has provided will eventually show that. Even if the syringes just have Clemens’ DNA on them, that’s more than enough for me. If that happens, Clemens will probably claim that McNamee injected him with lidocaine or B-12 or something like that. But remember, in Clemens’ first online news conference or whatever it was, he swore that McNamee had never injected him with anything. Of course, he changed that story when he talked to Mike Wallace. But he’s never lied. Right.
Why would McNamee hold onto that stuff for years and years? Two reasons: 1 – he’s a scumbag, and B – a scumbag knows a scumbag when he sees one. He knew that Clemens would turn on him in a heartbeat and he’d have to protect himself. So far, McNamee has told the truth about Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, and it’s quite apparent he’s telling the truth about Clemens. Still, I’m interested to see how differently the congresspeople treat the two of them in the hearing room, and how much grandstanding there is.
The other thing I wanted to address is the fact that the Blue Jays are taking heat for offering tickets to Tigers and Red Sox fans for their teams’ games in Toronto. I think it’s a great idea for the Jays’ marketing crew to target fans of close-by teams who would be willing to make the trip up here to watch their beloved clubs play (why didn’t they do this with the Indians? Probably because they don’t come in until August – never mind.) , after all, it’s not like Rogers Centre is sold out on a regular basis – and of course, they’re not offering Sox fans tickets to the home opener.
However, with regards to how this plan has been carried out, that is, opening up sales to Red Sox and Tiger fans before the local sale of single-game tickets starts on March 2, the term “galactically stupid” comes to mind. The Rogers folks probably aren’t going to be very happy with me for that, but hey – truth is truth.
How big a piece of Samsonite do you have to be to think that it’s a good idea to offer tickets to your event to fans of the opposition before you offer them to your own fan base? The ridiculosity of this is beyond belief, and I actually hope that there’s a game or two in which a few hundred Jays fans get shut out of the ballpark, just so the outcry will be that much greater than it is now. Either wait until March 3 or 4 to offer the tickets to the visiting fans, or push back the single-game date to mid-February so that Jays’ fans have first shot.
Comments are more than welcome, and e-mailically, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org