Today is the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s colour barrier and players all around the game wearing uniform No. 42 to honour his memory. It was April 15, 1947 when Robinson, after a 1946 season with the Royals in Montreal, was in the opening day lineup for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s one of the most important events in sports history.
Jackie’s wife Rachel is still one of the most stunning people I’ve ever interviewed. Without her presence and calming influence, the whole experiment would have failed. It’s an important part of the history of the United States and the civil rights movement. My three oldest children read some stuff about Jackie Robinson and ended up doing a major school project on his story. If you have children, have them go to the library and read a book about the great experiment that changed sports and society. On to the mail bag.
Q: Do you think it’s time to give a shout-out to the Jays scouting department? I know JP got ripped over and over for bringing in new people and for selecting Russ Adams. But Adam Lind, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, J.P. Arencibia, David Cooper, Travis Snider, Casey Janssen, Ricky Romero, David Purcey are some good finds. I think it’s an impressive lot.
Doug Hereshko, Buffalo
A: First of all, Ricciardi was never ripped for brining in new people to his scouting department. He was ripped for the ungracious way he dispatched the good people who were in place when he arrived, many of whom have gone on to win further MLB scouting awards and recognition. His “cupboard is bare” comments with regard to the farm system he inherited were ill advised and later on in his Jays’ career, he even admitted to his lack of social graces and finally half-heartedly apologized.
Ricciardi has come a long way in toning down his ego through the years. Shout out to that. Seven straight years of missing the post-season helps. His drafts have even been better as he came down off his high (school) horse and decided that it was actually okay to take a talented kid, even though he wasn’t a collegian (see: Travis Snider).
As for the 11 players that you mention in your question, four of them have yet to play in the majors. Wait and see. The seven pitchers named have totalled 56 ML wins. In seven June drafts, those 11 players, plus Aaron Hill is not shout-out-able. Maybe a whisper-out is more appropriate. If by the end of ‘09, some of those pitchers have done some solid work in the majors, there is a shout-out due.
Q: Hi Richard,
I'm a long time fan of yours and anxiously look forward to your mailbag each week. With the Jays putting the jinx on prognosticators with their quick start in the American League, I'm wondering how much of this has to do with Cito Gaston's management style? Is this quick start a glimpse of better days to come (a year or two down the road)? When I glance at the standings it seems like the American East teams are upside-down; and what's with the Mariners' quick start without Ichiro?
A: A lot of this quick start has to do with Gaston’s management style. Some of it has to do with playing three straight series vs. teams in the AL Central that are still feeling their way into ’09. Last year the Jays were 24-12 vs. the AL Central, playing two games under .500 against the rest of their opponents. But Cito has definitely had an impact on the Jays, especially the offence, especially Lind and Snider.
In addition, Scott Rolen has bounced back, while Hill’s return to health has been a factor. A year or two down the road for the Jays is too hard to predict, but there is a nice young influence on this club, that if some free-agent pieces were added could turn into something good. They need to jump back into the free-agent pool as soon as they know where they stand in 2010.
As for the M’s quick start without Ichiro, they added a couple of pieces in trades and some of their veteran pitchers have rebounded. It’s a long year.
Q: It is great to see the Jays back on the field, and off to such a positive start! I have a couple of quick questions for you, Richard. First of all, what is going on with Jesse Litsch? He didn't look comfortable, to my unprofessional eye, in his first start against Detroit, and I know he struggled at the end of spring training. Given the problems of Marcum, McGowan and Janssen, should I be worried?
My second question is about Ricky Romero. He has looked very relaxed and confident, especially late in spring training and in his first start against the Tigers. He took his time getting here, but it appears he is ready to run with his opportunity. What is your take? Have the Jays put a plan in place for his innings, so HIS arm doesn't get into trouble like those mentioned above?
Jon Empringham, Woodstock
A: I’ve got to assure readers that this question came in before Litsch’s Monday start vs. the Twins in which he hurt his forearm/elbow and was placed on the disabled list and before Romero’s Tuesday start in which he established that he may finally be ready to compete at the next level.
Those are two pretty good observations. Even Litsch when speaking to reporters on Tuesday afternoon thought that adding the cut fastball may have contributed to his physical woes. Litsch, McGowan, Marcum and Janssen all on the DL have really hurt the Jays, but the repercussions have not yet caught up with them thanks to the relentless offensive production on many nights.
One caveat on Romero, he has not had a winning record in any professional season. His status as the sixth overall draft pick in 2005 and the first pitcher chosen were unwarranted, but finally he is beginning to pay off and look like a major-leaguer. He’s a good kid and his attitude has matured.
Q: Why is Travis Snider batting ninth? Hasn't he already proved that he can handle the bat with last year's stint and his strong spring training? And why is Marco Scutaro, frequently mentioned as a borderline starter, batting leadoff?
Wayne L., Richmond Hill
A: I also have questions about Scutaro batting leadoff. Do you really want to end the season with Scutaro having the most at-bats of anyone on your team? As for Snider in the nine-hole, I have no problem with that – for the moment. The kid is just 21-years-old and working him in slowly in terms of responsibility is good. He will not stay there all year. The next question continues the discussion.
Good win by the blue birds on opening night with a huge offensive output. I had a question about the starting lineup though. Currently, with Scutaro, Hill, Rios, Wells, they have all right-handers in the top half of the lineup. Would it not make more sense if they put Hill as the leadoff hitter and slide Snider into the two-hole? Watching Scutaro strike out looking twice in his first two ABs make me think that we would be better off with Hill as the leadoff hitter and it would create a better righty/lefty flow in the batting line up. Would dropping Scutaro into the nine-hole create a sense of demotion for Scutaro?
Louis K., Richmond Hill
A: As I said, I hate Scutaro batting first, but I like Hill batting second. I do think it’s a problem having the top four in your batting order all being right-handed hitters. Sure, from Wells on down to the nine-hole, Gaston on most nights against a right-handed starter will go right-left-right-left-right-left, but the four righties at the top makes it too easy for an opponent to manage his bullpen in late innings.
By mid-season, in the wake of the quick start by certain players, I would amend earlier suggestions and I would like to see Rios-Hill-Lind-Wells-Snider-Rolen-Overbay-Barajas-Scutaro.
I don’t believe that Scutaro would at all be affected by a drop to the nine-hole. He’s a major-league starter and that’s more important. It would also allow for John McDonald to get some starts at short without completely disrupting the batting order. As of now, with five pinch-running appearances while earning $1.9 million, Johnny Mac, among guys earning money for just running, he ranks second behind Usain Bolt.
Q: Richard, your answer to last week email sounds like you are not objecting to trading Halladay.
Have you changed (or lost) your mind, or maybe you just talk to JP too much. I think next year should be a very good year for the Jays because many of the Jays are on the last year of contracts and that is when career year happens. Therefore, we should keep Doc till the end of this thing. BTW can you ask JP to answer mailbag for one week and let us know ahead of time.
Davy P. San Jose
A: I bought the first season boxed set of the TV-show Lost, thinking it was indeed about the search for my mind. No such luck. It’s still lost. As for talking to J.P. too much, hey, I said I’ve lost my mind. I haven’t changed it. Any trade for Halladay would be with his cooperation. If he believes the Jays are headed in the right direction into a playoff position by next year, then the Jays’ brass would likely be looking at the same picture and he would not be traded at the deadline.
I am interested in what’s best for Doc. The Jays will go on whatever direction they are headed, but if that direction later this season is “south” then it would only be fair to Halladay and probably the best thing for the team, to explore a trade for two major-leaguers and a top prospect.
I love Doc, but as he heads into 2010, the final year of his contract, he does not want to be on a team still rebuilding. He was promised the last extension that the Jays would contend by 2008. He took less money that year to allow Ricciardi to bring in more players. The Jays owe Halladay more than he owes them. He’s already fulfilled his part of the deal.
Q: Hi Richard,
Like many baseball fans in Southern Saskatchewan, I was very happy when I found out that Scott Richmond was going to be with the team on opening day. I still remember watching him play with Moose Jaw a while back. What do you think his chances are of sticking with the Jays for the entire season?
Dwayne Walter, Regina
A: Richmond is on the razor’s edge of being a major-leaguer. He’s like a Yugo in NASCAR. Everyone’s pulling for him but he doesn’t have all it takes to compete in the long run. At 29-years-old, the Jays may have been his only chance to make a rotation, marching in place while all the other spring candidates were moon-walking off the stage.
I believe that when Gaston told Richmond to go play for Canada in the WBC and not to worry about his spot, that Cito felt morally obligated to include Richmond in his season opening rotation. Now it’s up to Richmond to keep it. In the last half of March, the North Vancouver native did nothing to prove he belonged in the rotation but made it as the fifth starter anyway. Unless he begins to throw some quality starts on the board, as soon as Litsch returns and one of the young lefties develops enough, I fear Richmond may be the first casualty. He has minor-league options left.
Q: Hi Richard, love the mailbag, keep up the great work.
My question may be more fantasy than reality. You've mentioned numerous times that the Jays appear to be holding out for the 2010 season and that '09 is a 'development' year for lack of a better term. Should the Jays be only a handful of games out come the trading deadline do you see Riccardi being a buyer or will he stand pat? Sounds like there could be some pretty good fire sales at the end of July this year.
Tim McDonald, Marysville, WA
A: The Jays were the first ones to mention that 2010 was the realistic target, to claim that this was a development year. We are just the reporters. Interim prez Paul Beeston claimed earlier in the month that if they were in contention at the deadline that the Jays could be buyers. They are not pleading poverty as an ownership by going with the $80 million payroll. They are admitting that they are not planning on winning this year.
With the upcoming 92/93 reunion weekend coming up and so many past Jays heroes in attendance, do you think there is a chance the jays might bring our old friend BJ Birdy back? I’m sure Ace could stand aside for a few moments so BJ can get the recognition he deserves and a proper chance to say a goodbye that we fans were denied after the ‘99 season.
Stuart Stark, Toronto
A: The beginning of the end for BJ Birdy came during the ’93 World Series when he invited the Philly Phanatic to Toronto to join him on the field at the SkyDome during games. I don’t know if BJ at the time was suffering from a bad back, bad elbow, strained wishbone or what, but the Phillies’ mascot kicked his tail-feathers. It was embarrassing and I don’t think Birdy ever recovered from the humiliation deep down in his bird-brain. Besides, the rumour is that Birdy left the Jays’ organization under less than friendly circumstances and any return to the nest would be a longshot. I tried Tweeting him.
Q: Baseball like all sports has changed dramatically since its early days. I don't believe it's fair to try and compare players of yesteryear to today's players but so many numbers from the early years of baseball are hard to make sense of. The numbers put up by pitcher Cy Young look ridiculous. How was he able to record 511 wins, pitch 749 complete games and pitch over 7300 innings? How fast was his fastball if he was able to toss that many innings? Did pitchers back then just throw junk to ensure their arms didn't give out? Any help you can be in figuring this out would be much appreciated.
Jacob Bestebroer, Chilliwack, BC
A: It’s impossible to say how fast Denton True (Cy) Young actually threw his fastball. The first attempt to determine a pitcher’s velocity was in the ‘40s with Bob Feller of the Indians. They took a motorcycle and revved it up to 100 miles per hour. As it approached the back of the mound, Feller began his windup, releasing the pitch just as the motorcycle passed him on the left. If his pitch arrived at home plate before the motorcycle then he was throwing 100. If it sounds bizarre, check his book. Luckily there was no backstop.
You’re right. Pitching back in the 19th century was different. The same ball, scuffed and dirty was used until they lost it. It was the deadball era. The spitball was legal. I believe Cy and his fellow Hall-of-Famers threw mostly fastballs. There were no pitch counts, a two or three-man rotation. No Tommy John surgeries. In fact there was no Tommy John. It was a different, simpler time. Don’t even bother comparing any of the stats.
Q: Wow you grew up in Jamaica as well. I am a big fan of the column and was quite amazed to hear you grew up in the Caribbean. How did you end up first getting exposed to baseball?
Jason McFarlane, Upton, Barbados
A: In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when not listening on the Motorola shortwave radio to John Glenn in space we sat in our living room on the north shore of Jamaica, overlooking Duncans halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and listened to every World Series game each October. It seemed the Yankees were always playing somebody in the Fall Classic, so I listened in awe and Mickey Mantle became my hero. I attended several Test Matches between the West Indies and international cricket opponents before ever setting foot in a major-league ballpark.
Q: Hi Richard,
Just two quick questions:
1) I'm going to see a Tigers game in June, do you have any suggestions on what to do while in Detroit?
2) What, in your opinion, would be a great road trip for a baseball fan to take in games?
Rob Kirsic, Brampton
A: Walk softly and carry a big stick. No, seriously, I would recommend staying at a hotel in Greektown and walking to the ballpark. After the game there’s the Hockeytown bar and restaurant across the parking lot that’s a must see, plus the old theatre district surrounding Comerica Park. In Greektown there’s a street called Monroe filled with Irish pubs, cute eating places and a great hip-hop club called Marilyn’s on Monroe.
A great road trip for me would involve driving to Detroit for a game, going around the lake to Cleveland for the Indians, south to Columbus for a Triple-A game, then to Cincinnati to see the Reds. From there to Louisville for another minor-league contest, then across to Pittsburgh for a visit to one of the best parks in the majors, then up I-79 and across to Buffalo for another Triple-A game then back to Brampton capped off by a Jays game the next day. Seven games in seven days. The schedule would have to cooperate.
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