This has become my favourite task of the week. Answering questions from the mail bag. The Grapefruit League games have begun and, even though they don’t really mean anything, there are now boxscores to scour for names and numbers. It’s getting closer and it’s all good. My least favourite moment, of course, was boarding an Air Canada flight last Thursday evening to come home to this weather. In any case, I’ll be hanging out in town to cover the Rogers Centre portion of the World Baseball Classic then heading back to Florida after that. This is my second end-of-February in Canada since 1978. The first was in 1995, because of the strike. On to the mail bag.
Q: Hey Richard,
Why all the panic on Vernon Wells and his injured hamstring? It’s only February and everyone was initially talking about him missing opening day, then all of a sudden it’s down to two weeks. Besides, most years he could stand to miss April and we wouldn’t miss him. What’s the story?
Nathan L., Mississauga
A: I have this emerging theory on the Jays and their injury reports. Basically it comes down to “more is less and less is more”. Whenever the Jays step up and volunteer info right away a la Vernon Wells and say stuff like “at least a month” with a left hamstring strain, then more often than not it will turn out to be less time than they said. Call it the “Elmer Gantry Rule”.
On the other hand, when the media has to stumble across an injury a la Mike Maroth or B.J. Ryan (a few years ago) and the initial report is “locked knee, day-to-day” or “lower back, day-to-day,” those are the injuries that turn out to be the stunners. Call it the “We Are Cursed Rule”.
And it’s never a case of the Jays’ medical staff, the team doctors misdiagnosing any of their players’ physical issues. They have the right info. They are very competent at their jobs. It’s a case of the Jays’ front office having a covert mindset that the public doesn’t need to know. It’s why Jays’ trainers aren’t allowed to talk to the media about injuries.
“If we say a month and it’s only two weeks, it makes it sound like good news. If we say day-to-day and it’s a couple of months, then the fates have done us in once again.” It’s like the oil companies setting their gas prices. Once the price per litre went over a buck, we’re all now high-fiveing each other when the price drops under 80 cents per litre. Woo-hoo! If this answer sounds a little cynical, it’s because it is.
Q: Hi Richard,
I just read an article on the Star and as a side note it added what the future roster of the team might look like. It said we'd have David Cooper on first, Justin Jackson at short and Kevin Ahrens at third. Any word on these guys? What are they like, strengths, weaknesses, etc.?
James MacPhee, Toronto
A: All three of these players look like pretty good prospects, but the fact is that being a high draft pick does not always translate into major-league stardom. Russ Adams is a prime example. Year-after-year, following his No. 1 draft status in June ’02, Adams was projected as the shortstop of the future. Earlier this year he was designated for assignment and outrighted to Triple-A.
From among Cooper, Jackson and Ahrens, I like Jackson the best, but at the same time he has the longest way to go in his development. Jackson, a shortstop, was drafted 48th overall in ’07. Ahrens, a third-baseman, was drafted 16th overall in ’07. Cooper, a first-baseman, was drafted 17th overall in ’08. I would rank Cooper second and Ahrens third among the three, but don’t look for any of them until Opening Day of 2011 at the earliest. All three could likely be in the starting lineup for A-Dunedin in April.
I hope you are enjoying the sun. There have been a lot of questions asked about what players could and should be traded from the Jays. I have one question for you, what does J.P. do in regards to this team before the season begins?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A: Punt. No, seriously, I think he should evaluate his very deep bullpen, pinpoint the three other guys that he wants to keep in support of B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson and Brandon League and then package the next two most valuable major-league middle guys and send them to an NL team for an experienced No. 5 starter with no long-range value. That way he would only have to force-feed one young guy into the major-league inferno.
What are Dirk Hayhurst's chances of sticking with the big club? I know he only had a cup of coffee at the end of last year, but does he fit into the plans at all, or is he destined to be in AAA this year?
Jess Bechard, London
A: Dirk Hayhurst is a very funny guy. One hopes that he can make it to The Show, but considering he spent a season writing an online diary called “Non-prospect diary: Dirk Hayhurst” for Baseball America, at age 28, even he realizes the longshot nature of his quest. Already in the spring clubhouse he has been overheard saying some very hilarious things that cannot be repeated in a family blog. Hopefully he can stick at Triple-A for the Jays, but if he ever makes it to the majors it will mean that youngsters have failed and veterans have had cataclysmic injuries.
Any other pitchers out there with reconstructive surgery that the Jays haven't signed yet? I think my 43-year-old arm is available. Seriously, I, like many ball fans, welcome you back. With a thin starting staff, would you support letting the young kids go out there every fifth day win or lose and let them groom in the majors? Or do you support using retreads for the season until the young guys are major league ready.
Dale Tonelli, Timmins, Ont.
A: You may not know it (and I couldn’t make this up), but former Expos and Red Sox GM Dan Duquette ended up performing summer stock in the New England area, starring in such classics as Damn Yankees and The Music Man. The rumour is that Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi would like to join him next year on the New England stage-acting circuit beginning with an adapted version of Shakespeare’s classic Richard III. But he insists on delivering the famous line as: “An arm! An arm! My kingdom for an arm!”
As for the young guys, I would teach Brett Cecil a simple, more deceptive delivery where he hides the ball better in his delivery, then I would start him in the fifth starter role and limit him to 100 pitches through the first two months, maybe throwing him into a spot after Doc so you know the bullpen is rested. I would try and nurse Matt Clement into the season as the No. 4 guy and see how far he can go before exploding like a Monty Python animation.
Q: As an Englishman who got into baseball during a family holiday to St Catharines 30 years ago, I don't understand the idea of comparing players from different (eras) purely by numbers. Every era has had its scandals and cheaters. Drugs and gambling have been ever present. Which era do you think is the most shameful in baseball history and what footnote would you put next to every record?
Gareth Harland, Newcastle, UK
A: Likely the most shameful era in baseball was the period from 1903-19 when players routinely jumped contracts from one league to another, when African Americans were systematically excluded from the game, when gambling was seemingly rampant and when seemingly the attitude was anything goes. Ironically, this was also the period of time that baseball gained a strong foothold on the American psyche as the National Pastime led by stars like Ty Cobb (a-hole), Cap Anson (major-league a-hole) and many others of that unlikeable, swashbuckling, egotistical ilk. That era was capped by the Black Sox Scandal leading to the arrival of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as a powerful commissioner to clean up the game and Babe Ruth to save it. The game’s a survivor.
Q: Thanks for the blog Richard. One of the best baseball reads anywhere. If Adam Lind proves he's for real as a consistent big league hitter is there any possibility that they would move Lyle Overbay and try Lind at first? I admire excellent defence but it is so frustrating to watch Overbay bounce ball after ball to second for a double play when it seems the team might get something going. How about an honest assessment of him? I know I’ve had enough.
Phoenix Rhys, Ottawa
A: That’s what happens when you take a guy out of his comfort zone ands ask him to do something beyond what his role should be. Lyle Overbay is a good defender with an alley-to-alley doubles-machine bat who should be batting sixth or seventh in a good major-league batting order. Last season he was asked to bat in an RBI role and, as you so teeth-grindingly pointed out, it seemed to produce groundball after groundball to second base. It’s like watching Danny DeVito in the all-star slamdunk contest.
This year, with Lyle’s hand stretched and strengthened and with others to (hopefully) fill the RBI roles, a healthy Overbay can have a role in this lineup, with 15 homers, 45 doubles and 80 RBIs. However, I would still look to trade him and install Lind at first base.
Q: Hi Richard,
Love the columns as usual. Two quickies: One, about how much time and leeway does Travis Snyder get before Kevin Millar is in or out? That locker room, in my opinion, is screaming for a guy with his attitude. Secondly, got any good Expos spring stories to tell?
Lee Denike, Mississauga
A: How much time or leeway for Snider? What time is it. The Jays are worried that the second time around the league, that the rest of the AL will study enough video of Snider to discover the holes that allowed him to strike out 177 times in ’08. There is no rush for Snider as long as Lind, Rios and Overbay are playing every day. If Snider is shipped out, then Jose Bautista and maybe Joe Inglett can be the extra outfielders with Millar, Johnny Mac, Inglett and Bautista as extra infielders and DH. The clubhouse is fine without Millar. It’s once they leave the clubhouse and start playing baseball that’s the problem.
Q: Hi Mr. Griffin,
I'm sitting on my bed reading the spring training blog and wishing that I was in Florida. I was through Dunedin following the Leafs on a road trip in 2006 and I was struck by the tranquility of the area. So with the raging cold and, if it's warm enough, snow, your notes from the balmy tropics warms my heart even while my nose and toes freeze. A pleasant respite. Anyway, on to the reason for the message, here goes.
Last summer, largely because of one of your blogs, my brother, best friend and I went to NYC to see the Jays play the Yankees over the Aug 29-31 weekend. When the fan slid into second on Friday night and then was gang tackled, he took off from beside me. We got dirt from the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium and I drank so many flat Bud Lights that I think I actually enjoyed one of them. But now it's gone and the times we've spent there are only memories to be enlarged with each retelling, so now that you can look back on the "House that Ruth Built" what are your premier memories? It was your description of the "Yankee Stadium Must Do's" that made me convince the guys that it was worth it even if the Jays were going to be out of it by then (odds). And where must we go next?
Thanks a lot and even more for the inspiration,
Gabriel Byatt, Fort Simpson
A: Thanks for your comments. Of course you realize that gallon of flat Bud Light was not on the bucket list of Yankee Stadium things to do. The first part of the question is regarding my Yankee Stadium memories. Of course, the top memory would be the first time going out to Monument Park and seeing the Mickey Mantle bust. He was my childhood baseball hero, because growing up in Montreal the Yankee games on radio and TV were what we mostly got.
Second most memorable would be the day I took the train up from Baltimore to New York to watch David Cone in his first start at Yankee Stadium after being traded from the Jays in mid-season. It wasn’t the Cone game itself. Instead I found myself suffering from Baltimore crab-cake food poisoning on the way and upon arrival, rushed into the little press room bathroom near the Yankee clubhouse and puked my guts out. After steering the press bus for what seemed an eternity, as I gathered my thoughts and straightened my tie it occurred to me that the great Babe Ruth, the Bambino had likely done the same thing as I had just done, maybe in the same place (but for a different reason). That’s memory No. 2.
Then there’s the ’01 World Series vs. the D’backs. The night of the homers by Scott Brosius and Derek Jeter and, later, the fans tribute to Paul O’Neill on his last night as a player at the stadium.
As for your next trip, I would suggest Baltimore on a summer weekend. Stay at the Admiral Fell Inn over at Fell’s Point. You can take the ferry across the inner harbour at lunchtime, have a great seafood meal, do some people watching then wander up the street to Camden Yards, still my favourite park when it’s full and the crowd is into it. Have dinner at Boog’s B-B-Q behind the right field stands. Maybe Boog Powell will even be there. On one of the days you’re there, rent a car and drive down to the Maryland shore and visit Cal Ripken’s hometown of Havre de Grace which amazingly is where the Susquehanna River empties into the ocean. That river, of course has its headwaters at Cooperstown, NY. Look for the Ripken Baseball Complex. The only caveat is that after midnight, while wandering over to the Wharf Rat for last call, you will be stepping over a bunch of peacefully slumbering, or awake and conversating quietly, homeless people. They are the least aggressive panhandlers in America. Treat them with respect.
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