As the Jays begin what could be a successful Grapefruit League campaign, with a bunch of talented young guys pitching their asses off to make the team, congratulation go out this week to the nine announced recipients of the Henry Chadwick Award, as named by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR). This is SABR's inaugural class of Chadwick winners. The list includes: the late Lee Allen, Hall-of-Fame historian; the late Bob Davids, founder of SABR; Bill James, this generation's guru of all things mystical and statistical; Peter Morris, author; David Neft, one of the driving forces behind the groundbreaking Baseball Encyclopedia; Peter Palmer, who helped make “sabermetrics” a noun; the late Lawrence Ritter, author; the late Harold Seymour, author and the late Jules Tygiel, whose writings on baseball's integration efforts was a must-read for me when researching the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's pioneering efforts in 1946 with Montreal and then in '47 with the Dodgers. This award deserves to be housed at Cooperstown along with the Spink Award, the Frick Award and the Fishel Award for distinguished service to baseball among non-uniformed personnel. Congrats and on to this week's mailbag.
What was your immediate reaction when the news broke that JP Ricciardi was hired by Baseball Tonight? I think it's safe to say that Baseball Tonight's popularity in Canada just took a nose dive. How can anyone take this guy seriously after the mess that he put the Jays through? I'm not as familiar with JP's run in Oakland.....but anyone who follows the Jays would certainly have a hard time watching him provide expert analysis when he is still the topic of so much criticism in Toronto.
Jared Weiss, Ocala, Fla.
A-It was really no surprise to learn that Ricciardi was headed for television and ESPN. The studios in Connecticut are a couple of hours from his home and one guesses that Mike Milbury is his role model as a failed GM who found a solid home on TV. J.P. had said since the first day he came to Toronto that he did not need the GM gig. He said that he would be perfectly happy to go back to what he had been doing for the A's which was scouting major-league teams as they came through Fenway Park. It was all about his family in Worcester. However, the reality is that it would have been difficult to go from the spotlight of being a GM to the relative obscurity of pro scouting. Remaining in the public eye and second-guessing other GMs is the best road back to finding another GM job later on. The rumour is that he will host a Baseball Tonight segment called, “Lie or not a Lie” in which contestants must determine whether what he says is actual fact or whether he knows the truth and you don't need to. “Upper Body Injuries for a thousand, please!” I actually think it will be fun to watch hom on TV and that a lot of people will tune in looking for a car wreck. He will be good...funny, sarcastic, bombastic.
Q- There has been a lot of talk (particularly in Toronto, but also around baseball) about Roberto Alomar not making the Hall of Fame. Now, aside from the unfortunate spitting incident, didn't Alomar have a reputation for being a bit of a diva, particularly outside of Canada? I know that few in Jays country would say so, but can you speak a little about that, in terms of his experiences with some other teams he's played with?
Chris Penney, Ottawa
A-I don't understand the question. Alomar was the ultimate baseball player of the first half of the '90s and when you are young, good-looking, flamboyant, a rock star in double-knit, with two World Series rings and mad baseball skills, it's kind of hard to be perceived by lesser mortals as anything but a diva. It's an aspect of personality for successful athletes that many of us find annoying, but it's no different than many others in that superstar category in any other major pro sport or entertainment. As for the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck, I have no doubt that is what prevented Alomar from being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. But, as has been well-documented, in the ensuing years, Alomar and Hirschbeck became friends as Robbie helped in the effort to raise money for the illness that took the life of Hirschbeck's son. And it wasn't just a p.r. gesture by Alomar because his efforts with Hirschbeck were under the radar and not guided by a public relations firm. To answer your question, I think the perception of Alomar as diva with his other organizations is a problem not for Robbie but for those that saw him that way. Although, as a point of clarification, I have to admit that between leaving the Jays in 1996 and his retirement with the Rays, Alomar refused to talk to me because he felt he was treated unfairly in The Star on his way out of town as a free agent. Damn long-memoried diva!
Q- Hi Richard,
I appreciate your blog, especially when you talk about more than just the reported facts. We can get those by other means. What you add is depth and flavour - an appreciation for what's going on behind the scenes. Thanks! I was pleased to see the back of Ricciardi on many levels, but honest to Lipton, was really he so bad that we're not just in rebuilding mode, but start-from-scratch mode? It sure seems that way from all the published reports. What's left of what he did that is worth much, and what moves has AA made that you think well of? If we're already saying "wait 'til next year" before Spring Training, is there any reason to be hopeful, either for '10 or '11? What should a long-time Jays fan look to enjoy this year? Or should we root for the Roy and the Phillies? Thanks.
Richard Worzel, Toronto
A- A couple of good points included in that question. Something has baffled me lately. I was an early critic of Ricciardi's because of the way he overstated his team's accomplishments, disrespected the fans of Toronto and made excuses for the Jays' failures (i.e. Injuries, tough division, payroll limitations, etc.). However during the first six years of his failed regime I would constantly get bombarded by nasty e-mails in response to my criticisms claiming: “What do you expect? J.P. was left with nothing on the farm (by Gord Ash) and he has done a great job of rebuilding the system and what do you know you're just a negative a-hole.” And that was just from my wife. Others were worse. In any case, it seems that after he left, there was a great leap of unfaith. Now it is almost universally accepted that Alex Anthopoulos has taken over one of the worst farm systems in the game (according to Baseball America) and needs to rebuild. Where are all the same people that were saying Ricciardi at least had restocked the system? They all seem to have accepted the new “rebuild from scratch” reality without blinking. It's a head scratcher and I'm still waiting for those same people to e-mail and apologize. The fact is there are some good players that Ricciardi drafted, but very few great ones. Consider that five of the Jays' Top 10 prospects ranked by Baseball America were obtained since July 30, 2009 and three of those were obtained in the first 152 days of the A.A. Regime. Anthopoulos said something profound the other day about philosophy of drafting. He said he would rather get two stars every year for 10 years than five serviceable major leaguers every year for 10 years. Ricciardi was the other way. As for what to look for this year. Look for good, entertaining baseball from a hustling, young Jays with mixed pitching results, a lot of blown leads in late innings and a battle for fourth place with the O's. If you're looking for a wildcard move to Boston. And, yes, by all means cheer for Doc.
Q- Hey Griff,
How's Florida? I was wondering why the Jays have not shipped off (Lyle) Overbay yet and taken a chance on someone like Hank Blalock? He could play first/third/dh. I know he is a gamble, but last year he played pretty much a full season and showed his power again (even though his BA was a career low)... Less pressure on Brett Wallace too (if he makes the team)..... Plus, Blalock is only 29......He might possibly sign for one year 2-4 million, plus dangle a team option for the next.
Paul Rudd, Kitchener
A-The Jays are still willing to trade Overbay in a heartbeat but don't need to. The price at $7 million for the final year of his deal is reasonable. They don't want to just hand the job to Brett Wallace before he's ready. If he's ready at mid-season, the Jays can at the deadline can just pretty much give Overbay away for the equivalent of the draft pick they would get as compensation if he finished the season as a Type B free agent. That's what I believe will happen at this point. As for Blalock, he's not a difference maker on this team. If you look at the type of player the Jays picked up in the off-season, they are players with between one day and three years of major-league service time that are controllable for at least three more years. Blalock would not sign a half-assed twop year plus an option deal as a filler. Like all formerly productive middle-echelon stars, he blames the economy of the game and the nation at this point and would likely be looking for a stopgap one-year deal before taking his chances again. That's not what the Jays are looking for. They already have Lyle Overbay and Edwin Encarnacion. As for the question of “How's Florida?” It was so cold I had to come back to T-O to warm up before heading back down in another week.
Q - Hi Richard,
I know it's way too early to tell, but who has the greater potential; OF Michael Taylor, or 3B/1B Brett Wallace? Taylor's bat/speed and athleticism seemed very intriguing when first part of the trade was made. Any thoughts?
Paul M.A. Miller, Waterloo
A-I believe if the Jays had obtained Domonic Brown instead of Michael Taylor from the Phillies in the Halladay deal, they would not have turned him around for Brett Wallace. The thing is the Jays have had their eyes set on Wallace since they were aced out of him in the 2008 draft. Selecting 17th, the Jays watched the Cards take Wallace 13th in a “d-ohh” moment and then had the Brewers take Canadian prospect Brett Lawrie 16th overall. Double d-ohh. The Jays then settled on David Cooper, a first baseman from Cal. Of the two Phillies outfield prospects talked about, they wanted Brown last July, but when Anthopoulos contacted Billy Beane in Oakland before the Doc deal was made in December and said, “If we get Taylor will you take him for Wallace?” as soon as Beane said yes, it was an easy call. I might have stuck with Taylor because that's the kind of game I prefer and the Jays have no top-of-the-order guys on the immediate horizon.
Q- Hi Richard: Why don't the Blue Jays try Adam Lind at first base. He is way too young to be a full time DH.
Frank Corea, Kamloops
A-I agree he is way too young to be a DH. That's not just pride talking, but as he nears free agency as a DH he's going to exclude all NL teams from possible negotiations reducing immeasurably his earning powers. I believed they were going to give him the opportunity to play first base, but with Wallace coming on board as the first baseman of the future, it seems left field would be the only alternative to DH and when you're trying to develop young pitchers and give them defensive support and confidence, then having Lind and Travis Snider flanking a slowed down Vernon Wells is a recipe for disaster.
Love the blog. As reported in the Star, the dome got some new rug. Why do they not reduce the height of the outfield wall? One of the more exciting plays in baseball is when a fielder takes a home run away from a hitter. I think in the 20 years in the dome, I can only recall Griffey, Jr as being the only one to ever do it.
Brian M., Barrie
A-However one of the least exciting plays is a deep flyball in the alley hopping over the lowered fence for a ground-rule double just as your man from first base was about to tie the game. That being said, I don't think the new carpet has the concrete bounce factor of say Olympic Stadium in Montreal where that would be a major problem and I must say that I too enjoy the late-night highlights of outfielders fading back to the fence, reaching out a bare hand to touch the wall then timing a leap and robbing the hitter of a homer. I agree about lowering the fences, but then that might force them to have to replace those annoying video screens that are built into the current wall. How would we survive without knowing the uniform number of a player at bat in the third inning of a game a thousand kilometres away? I believe Junior sunk his cleat into the padding and leaped up to make his catch. If they don't lower the Rogers Centre fences perhaps they could replace the warning track with trampoline.
Q-I thought that Reed Johnson would have been good choice for fourth outfielder why didn't Toronto try to sign him?
Brian Sharp, Chatham
A-Reed Johnson was one of my favourite Jays at the time, but the moment has passed. Jeremy Reed and Joey Gathright are cheaper alternatives as a fourth outfielder and Johnson's body is battered from the all-out way he plays the game. That window has closed.
Q- Hi Rich: I am writing you to find out what MLB does in the event that a team goes down in a plane crash and everyone passes away. What happens to that team, the schedule and the resumption of play. What are their plans in case of this type of tragedy?
Marty Greenberg, Toronto
A-That is a truly morbid thought and I don't know what might have prompted the question. MLB after the disaster of 9/11 postponed the season for a week and the World Series was backed up. But there is no doubt that in this case, after an appropriate delay, the MLB season would be played out with minor-leaguers called up to replace the lost big club. Perhaps a dispersal draft after the season is already somewhere in MLB's disaster contingency plan. Let's not even think about it. Hey, the Grapefruit League season has begin and the warm weather is coming back to Florida. Play Ball.