A.J., Hazel and Clement -- Mother, Jugs and Plead
The fact is the Yankees had been tampering with A.J. Burnett since August when general partner Hank Steinbrenner started talking about how good the Jays' No. 2 starter would look in pinstripes while he was still employed in Toronto.
The Jays' intent was clear from that moment on, as GM J.P. Ricciardi just smiled back then when asked if the club would officially pursue tampering charges against the Bombers. There was never any chance that the Jays would re-sign A.J. and there was never any chance that he would decline to opt out.
Agent Darek Braunecker was proud of the fact that the opt-out was the first ever given a starting pitcher in major-league history. To not opt-out would be like buying a pack of "mulligans" at one of those charity golf tournaments and leaving them in the bag. No matter how well you're doing you always want to see if you can do better.
The Matt Clement career story was always going to eventually be coming to a skydome near you. It was once fate. Now it's fait accompli. This was the initial guy from the hard-throwing Marlins staff of 2001-02 that the Jays wanted before they wanted signing A.J. Burnett. In fact, Clement is the reason that pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was promoted to the Jays' major-league staff back on October 4, 2004.
The Jays plan back then - when they had plans - was to put a full-court press on then free-agent Clement and the key was going to be his friend and mentor, Arnsberg. Unfortunately, Clement had been pitching with the Cubs before declaring as a free agent and was smitten with the tradition and atmosphere of Wrigley Field after coming over from the clinically depressed Marlins in south Florida. Because of that love affair with baseball, he chose another team with a dyed-in-the-wool history, the Red Sox and Fenway Park.
I remember that summer of 2005 at the All-Star Game - on the Monday before - as Clement on interview day talked about the emotional moment when he had agreed to his Red Sox deal and had to make his first phone call, even before the signing was announced, to his friend Arnsberg and explain why he wasn't coming to T-O. Now, he is. Unfortunately, he's closer to being on his shield than carrying it.
It was nice to see former Sportsnet anchor Hazel Mae continuing to do well. An old friend, she and I had a late-evening drink in the Bellagio lobby early in the week to catch up on her progress and see how she was doing. She has moved forward again, gaining career success, first with New England Sports Network and now with the fledgling MLB Network as a reporter and anchor starting on air in January.
As we chatted next to a bank of unoccupied one-armed bandit slot machines just apart from the main lobby hubbub, a Fellini's row of cowboy-looking dudes and other assorted gamblers wandered by just staring at us as they continued to walk. It was disconcerting, but I imagine they were asking themselves, "Who's the chick with that good-looking Toronto baseball columnist?" Or maybe not.
In any case, Hazel on the Tuesday morning in Vegas was part of a panel on stage in the media room with the speech-challenged Harold Reynolds and others from the MLB Network. When it was her turn to speak, she gave gracious props to the Blue Jays organization for their support and to Toronto for giving her her start. Nice. She hasn't gotten dumb in her time away from Sportsnet.
With MLB Network studios located in gritty Secaucus, New Jersey, she immediately made sure that she would be finding an apartment in mid-town Manhattan. Smart. By the way, once again MLB is ignoring Canada. The 24-hour MLB Network for the moment will not be available to Canadian viewers.