Blue Jays mail bag
There are real things in real life that put the surreal sports world we cover in perspective. Just as fans were getting excited about the Jays' heroic drive in search of the wild-card, I took a day off to attend a special luncheon in Guelph, organized to recognize a more important type of real-life heroism. A few months ago, a 60-year-old Guelph resident was having a heart attack on the side of the highway, leaning on his car, losing focus and struggling to stay on his feet. My son Matthew and his girlfriend, Laura Briden thought the man might need help. They pulled over. He told them he would be fine and they could leave, but they insisted he get in their car and they drove him to a local hospital. He was unable to communicate and even tell them his name, but they took his cell phone and called whom they assumed was his son and made sure he was rushed into emergency. Doctors said he would have died on the side of the road. Last Saturday, the man, who had tracked the couple down, staged an appreciation luncheon for them, inviting both sets of parents. The Mayor of Guelph issued a citation and the local Mercury newspaper covered the event with a front-page story. The young couple thought what they did was nothing special which, of course, is what makes it so special. Baseball is only a game. Being GM is only a job. Life is what’s important. On to the mailbag.
Love the blog. Does this big turnaround from the Jays make J.P. (Ricciardi) even more likely to be fired? Here is my rationale: J.P. brought in a new hitting coach at the beginning of the season. Disaster. John Gibbons is retained and coached too long into the season and was pretty much J.P.’s puppet. Disaster. (Adam) Lind was sent down to the minors too early. After J.P. seemingly loses power, Cito is brought in by someone other than J.P. Cito brought in Gene Tenace and hitting improved. I can guarantee that Cito does not take any direction from J.P. and Lind was called up and given a full time spot and has improved and earned a starting job. J.P. had full control at the beginning - which was a disaster, now that he has little to no power, the Jays are winning more than any other time in the past seven years. Opinion? Is J.P. gone or is he going to get credit for this and be retained?
Brian M., Barrie, Ont.
A: One would think that with all the obvious past disasters in front-office decision-making as you so aptly point out that it would have led to a new captain at the wheel of the good ship Blue Jay for ’09. But it sure doesn’t look like it’s going to be that way. Whereas last year’s many costly injuries saved J.P.’s job a year ago, this season it could be all the late-in-the-schedule wins that briefly got them back in the wild-card race, plus Cito Gaston’s ability to make a tasty chicken salad out of basically the same ingredients as John Gibbons had been handed, that will save J.P. this year.
With Gaston’s clearly stronger dugout presence helping Ricciardi out as opposed to the just-grateful-to-be-a-manager Carlos Tosca or Gibbons, at least it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a one-man show anymore, which may prove to be the needed change for the Jays in 2009, moving forward. We can only hope so, because it certainly wasn’t working out for the organization the way it was with the one-man band that was Ricciardi. It will be interesting to observe the new front office dynamic in the off-season.
Q: I'm really impressed with Joe Inglett's play both in the field and leading off at the plate. Assuming Aaron Hill comes back healthy next year, could a move back to the shortstop position be in Hill's future? To me this would seem to be a cheap way to get a little more pop in the lineup, leaving money available to go after a power hitting DH/outfielder and possibly a veteran starter to replace Burnett when he leaves. Scutaro could platoon at second with Johnny Mac spelling Hill. Thoughts?
Jay M., Markham
A: Inglett has been an eye-opener for sure, but if, as you suggest, Hill moves back to shortstop to make room for an Inglett-Scutaro platoon, then that proposed ’09 infield with Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay still manning the corners might have the least power potential of any in the American League. Combine that weakness with the 15-homer per year bat of Rod Barajas behind the plate and it would be another year of the Jays relying too heavily on the pitching staff. If Burnett does leave, then the Jays will have about $70 million committed to 11 players, leaving them some flexibility. The Jays can only bring in a slugging DH/OF if one of either Travis Snider or Adam Lind is in the lineup. If both players are on board, then the Jays would have to trade Overbay to make room for a power bat. I think that Rolen’s contract is untradeable because of his physical history.
Q: Hi Richard,
When asked about your favourite Blue Jays last week, you listed Al Leiter as number 5. I hope this means due to some off-field reason and not his pitching contributions. Al Leiter is on my list of the biggest flops in BJ history. We traded the ever-popular Jesse Barfield to the Yankees to get him and he was more on the DL than off for the first few seasons with that pathetic finger blister business and when that finally healed, he pitched three mediocre seasons and bailed the first chance he got as a free agent to Florida.
I have always felt quite cheated by Mr. Leiter. I remember seeing him leave a game after three innings with that blister on the same night that some hockey player got hit in the mouth in the first period of a play-off game, had two root-canals in the dressing room and was back out for the third period. Meanwhile Al Leiter couldn't pitch for his wimpy blister. I know this isn't fair, but to me, that typified his pitching career in Toronto.
David Phillips, Milton, Ont.
A: The question about my personal favourite Blue Jays was asked not on the ability of the players but on how much of a good guy they seemed to be off the field. Sure, the way Leiter left the Jays left many with a sour taste in their mouths, including Jays’ club president Paul Beeston, but that didn’t take away from his likeability factor.
The mediocre left-hander would always greet you by name in the clubhouse or on the street and was always willing to stop and chat. It always seemed your opinion was as important as his and he has parlayed that curiosity into a nice gig with the YES Network in New York as a Yankees TV analyst. Besides, being from New Jersey, Leiter was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and at that stage of my life, so was I. Besides, his move to Florida ended up gaining him a World Series ring and isn’t that what they play for?
Q: Richard, just wondering with the recent run and at least keeping things interesting in September, is it possible A.J. Burnett will not opt out or will at least listen to an offer to stay? I mean if the Jays continue this play next year, they have just a good a chance to win as anyone else. Halladay played a part in convincing him to come here. Maybe he can sit down with A.J. and convince him to stick it out. What are your thoughts?
John Clark, Whitby, Ont.
A: I’m sure that in the time period before he can negotiate with other teams - specifically for the 15 days after the end of the World Series - that during that time Burnett will allow the Jays to offer him a competitive free-agent type contract to extend his deal – likely for a total of five years and an average of $15-17 million per season. But the Jays should not do it. The money could be spent better elsewhere.
Besides, I think A.J.’s mind is already made up for whatever personal reasons and that he is looking forward to the free agent process. Burnett’s is the first opt-out given to any major-league pitcher, according to his agent, and so he would be a fool not to take advantage of it. I think the fact that the Yankees’ owner Hank Steinbrenner was clearly tampering by talking about A.J. while he was still under contract last month and that the Jays didn’t even think about filing a tampering charge tells you everything you need to know about their desire to hang on to their electric right-hander. They’re ready to pull the plug.
Q: Hi, Richard, as do so many others, I look forward each week to your mailbag responses. The question this week about outfield assists leads to my question. Who had the best outfield arm as a Blue Jay? My vote would probably be for Jesse Barfield. Also, the same question as far as catchers, who was the best at gunning down runners?
Don Jones, Vineland, Ont.
A: The best Jays’ outfield arm clearly belonged to Barfield. Another gun out there was Raul Mondesi. Shawn Green and Alex Rios are strong, but not in the same league as the other two. Reed Johnson was strong and accurate. But Barfield is the clear winner. As for the strongest catching arm, Sandy Martinez might have been the best thrower, unfortunately he was among the worst hitters.
Q: Hey Richard,
While I am not a Jays fan, I've been watching the team over the last month and a half on a regular basis - the improvement in the line-up from top to bottom is like day and night! But if there's one bone I have to pick, it's that the line-up on a day-to-day basis, lacks speed at the top of the order. Rios is not a natural leadoff hitter, but he's not the power-hitter everyone seems to think he's capable of. On a team that’s devoid of any credible power threat, it would make sense to put your best base-stealing threat at the top of the order and play your most reliable hitters at the 2-3 and 4 spots. That would make the top four of:
I'm sure that Cito has realized this, but continues to push Rios in the three-spot on a constant basis. Perhaps I'm just paying too much attention to Rios' lack of power, but he seems to only drive fastballs and nothing else - which would make him a good candidate to take the leadoff spot.
And another thing: Lind has looked awfully good since Cito took over, but seems to be extremely confused at the plate lately. I've noticed he's been chasing fastballs out - it looks like pitchers have picked up on the fact that he's constantly trying to load up on going opposite. Is his pitch identification lacking in comparison to the rest of his teammates?
Chris Aggas, Mississauga
A: I’ve often written in the past about Rios being the Jays’ best option as leadoff hitter. He would be a Bobby Bonds type, with less power and less base-stealing ability (hmm!), but would move into that top-of-the-lineup role with the ability to at least be a 20-20 man in homers and steals. However I would flip Wells and Lind from your suggestion, with Lind batting cleanup and I would drop Barajas completely out of the Top 4 equation. Wells is a better base runner than Lind and I also hate having lefties back-to-back in the order. It makes it too easy for an opposing manager to handle his bullpen in late innings – lefty-righty.
As for Lind’s look at the plate, it’s just the fact that pitchers are adjusting to Lind. Now it’s up to Lind to adjust back. When Lind was up with the Jays earlier in the season, he couldn’t even pull the ball in batting practice. He has come a long way from that 1-for-19 stint. He still has a long way to go.
Q: Present players Excluded, can you make a starting nine for both Montreal and Toronto (no DH) on the topic as most difficult to deal with? From a fans perspective I have some thoughts/opinions but you had to deal with them more closely.
William S., Milton, Ont.
A: I’ll try to make one team, combining the best/worst of both teams. You have to remember that it was a different situation in Montreal as a public relations man than it is here as an often despised columnist. But a pain in the butt is a pain in the butt.
C: Ron Hassey. When the Hall-of-Fame called me to ask for Hassey’s glove to be placed on display in Cooperstown, he tried to parlay catching Dennis Martinez’s perfect game into a new glove contract for himself.
1B: Mike Aldrete. Inexplicably refused to do a phone interview to his hometown of Carmel, California even though his mother and brother were also on the line.
2B: Roberto Alomar. For some reason blamed the media for reporting his famous sulk when David Cone was traded at the deadline in ’95. Has refused to talk to me ever since.
3B: Derrell Thomas. In his short career in Montreal became involved in a news story that accused the Expos of racism in the early ‘80s. Damage control big time.
SS: Jim Mason. Not a very good player and didn’t seem like a very happy man. Tried to spread his misery to teammates.
OF: Kenny Williams. Showed up in Montreal late in his career as a fifth outfielder and made me organize a press conference for him so he didn’t have to speak to all the writers individually…as if.
OF: Devon White. Bought into the Robby line of thinking that I was an idiot. Didn’t even blink when he found out that I too was born in Jamaica.
OF: Ron LeFlore. With his well-known checkered history, scouted by the Tigers in the federal penitentiary, always seemed to be trying to con someone. Still owes me money because on a 1980 road trip, while still in the terminal in Montreal, had run out of meal money and needed to borrow some more. I’m still waiting.
SP: David Wells. Called me Dick, not necessarily an endearing form of my first name. Was constantly annoyed by any reference to his girth. So I constantly made them.
RP: Duane Ward. Was pissed off because I suggested a ’95 rehab stint at Phillies minor-league complex did not go very well and that he may be done. He yelled at me in the Jays’ clubhouse on Opening Day ’95…and was ultimately done.
MGR: Bill Virdon. Flew in the face of all major-league regulations for handling the media. He closed his Expos’ clubhouse in the pre-game to everyone, including his own broadcasters, including Hall-of-Fame outfielder Duke Snider. Virdon was also one of the last holdouts to not allow qualified women reporters into his post-game clubhouse.
Q: Hi Richard: may I get you to put your Expos cap back on for a moment? While admiring the work of utility Jays, Scutaro, Inglett, Wilkerson, etc., during the Red Sox series, I got to remembering a group of Expos extras back in the early 80's who referred to themselves as the "BUS" squad: 'Broke Underrated Superstars'. Who were those guys again, and what did they bring to the Big 'O' in those days?
Peter Williams, Sudbury, Ont.
A: The nickname was coined by the leader of the BUS squad, backup first-baseman Tommy Hutton, now a Marlins broadcaster. He came up with the name in 1979-80 because it seemed that for every spring training road trip, which from Daytona Beach was always at least two hours, it was the same group of guys on the bus. None of the regulars ever went. So all of those bench guys, the spring training road warriors, became the BUS Squad. Other charter members were Ken Macha, who went on to manage the A’s, the late Tony Solaita, the slammin’ Samoan, catchers Duffy Dyer and John Tamargo, the aforementioned sourpuss Jim Mason, Tony Bernazard, now assistant GM of the Mets and Jerry White, now first-base coach for the Twins. The ’79 season was the Expos’ best in franchise history with a 95-65 record. The team played 15 doubleheaders, so the BUS Squad was important.
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