Jays fans always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to everything baseball, but moving the Phillies games out of town was the only logical decision. And why even talk about Cleveland? You would have the second lowest average home attendance playing at a neutral site where they have the lowest average home attendance. You think Griffey, Jr. was sleepy in Seattle? If I was a travel agency today I would be scrambling to put together reasonably priced weekend packages to Philadelphia for the Jays “home” games June 25-27. Call it the “Bus Man's Halladay”. It's an eight-hour bus trip. Leave after work on Friday, get in at 1:00 a.m. to a nice hotel out near the ballpark. Include Saturday and Sunday tickets and then after the 1:00 p.m. game back in time for work on Monday. Perfect. The Jays are playing their best baseball away from the Rogers Centre and on grass so it may work out better for them. On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard,
A few weeks ago your column mentioned last year's Blue Jays draftee Jacob S. Marisnick. Can you tell me where he is playing? Also just curious about some of the less talked about prospects in the BJ system. Can you give any baseball insights on the prospects listed below? They have interesting stats and Chris Lubanski was the 5th overall pick in 2003. Eric Thames (NH), Darin Mastroianni (NH), Trystan Magnuson (NH), Lubanski (LAS).
Regards, Craig Hicken, Br. Virgin Islands
A: Certainly the Jays have some interesting players in the farm system and more of them at positions than one would imagine. Former GM J.P. Ricciardi actually had better drafts near the end when he got away from the “college players” first philosophy that warped his early attempts at stocking the organization. Jake Marisnick is a raw talent that needs to add strength and a stronger bat to advance quickly. He is currently at extended spring in Dunedin waiting to play for one of the Summer-A teams that begin play in June. Lubanski was a little noticed acquisition as a minor-league free agent invited to major-league camp. He impressed with his bat, but defensively was found wanting. He was always just supposed to be insurance at Triple-A, although his eight homers and .875 OPS have opened eyes. Thames, a Pepperdine University product, is at AA-New Hampshire and plays left field, with seven homers, 26 RBIs and a .892 OPS. He's a lefty hitter with average defensive skills. At 23 he's on the radar. Mastroianni, 24, is an overachiever, drafted in the 16th round of 2007 by the Jays. He has made it the New Hampshire outfield slapping the ball around for a .306 average and stealing an organization high 14 bases. He has worked his way steadily through the organization without a glitch. Magnuson, the nephew of former Black Hawks' defenceman, the late Keith Magnuson, from British Columbia, stood out from the crowd at minor-league camp this spring at 6-8, with an unruly mop of hair and with a uniform hanging on his skinny 210 lb. frame. But he can pitch. Despite a 0-9 record at A-Lansing in his 2008 debut season, he has moved up steadily and is now in the bullpen at AA-New Hampshire. He has two walks and 18 Ks in 19-1/3 innings. The Fisher Cats' rotation includes three of the Jays' Top 20 prospects as rated by Baseball America and has the best record of all the farm teams.
Q: Hi Richard,
You know what I think would bring the fans back to the Dome? Albert Pujols. I have heard that St Louis will not be able to afford the League's best player. Could the Jays put a package together to make a run at him? Travis Snider, David Cooper, Brett Wallace and Brett Cecil? I am not a GM so I don't know what it would take, but I know he would help the Jays put butts in the seats. Is this a pipe dream? Can the Jays afford this?
A: You know what would bring the fans' back to the Dome? A playoff run in 2011 after a building season in 2010. The Jays have no realistic chance of selling season tickets to build the base of tickets sold until the winter of 2011-12. That's just the way baseball works. People purchase tickets off “what have you done for me lately.” That won't impact until after next season. As for Pujols, the worst thing you want to do is sign a reluctant superstar who has had success somewhere else, especially in a baseball Mecca like St. Louis, then bring him in for the money. That's when you get disappointment from player, organization, teammates and fans. Every organization has players like David Cooper so take him out of the mix in any trade proposal for a superstar. It's just not worth the effort in trying to imagine that package because Alex Anthopoulos is not interested in any frosting until he has a cake.
Q: Who do you think has more of a chance to be the ace on the staff? Brett Cecil or Ricky Romero? How many of the current Jays starters do you think will be around when they are trying to contend?
Simon Tran, Toronto
A: Cecil has been a real revelation since mid-spring training when he sliced his finger in a cooking accident and had to ditch his curveball for a couple of weeks. He now has a quality changeup in his arsenal. It's just a matter of staying a developing a major-league brain and staying a step ahead of the advance scouts. He was devastating in Cleveland and devastated in Chicago because the Sox hitters were laying off his change that dropped out of the strike zone. Romero is a more polished product and has shown the ability to compete and win without his best stuff which is what you want in an ace. Cecil's ceiling probably makes him less of an ace candidate than Romero. My guess is that when the Jays are ready to contend, Romero and Cecil may be the only two in the current lot that are still in the rotation in 2012. They need to make room for prospects like Kyle Drabek, Zach Stewart, Chad Jenkins, Henderson Alvarez and probably one veteran guy from outside the organization when the time is right.
Q: This is a question about the policy for the roof at the Rogers Centre. Why not make the policy that the roof is open unless it is snowing or raining. The stadium is a pretty terrible place to watch a baseball game in general but is at least tolerable when the roof is open. Who cares if that means a few cold nights in April ... it's Canada! We're used to a little cold.
Adam Beatty, Toronto
A: That is exactly what I would do. It's too late for this season, but if you let it be known that from Opening Day onwards in 2011, that the roof will automatically be pulled back and open to the elements except if it rains or snows, then fans would come prepared. Right now, especially the veteran fans come out in April or May under-dressed and when the roof slides open and they're in shirtsleeves they howl at the moon and the Jays respond by closing the lid and keeping it closed until mid-May. My son went to the first game where they set an attendance low on a Wednesday in April and was dismayed from the upper deck by the atmosphere and the mausoleum-like quality of the experience. He was looking to sign the guest book and offer condolences to the bereaved when he left. Baseball is an outdoor sport.
Q: Hi Richard,
I noticed in the latest Mail Bag a pair of questions about how the Jays' business policies are affecting the fan experience and had a question of my own. Last season there was Flashback Fridays and I notice the original cap and logo are on sale all over (along with the jerseys). One thing that hasn't made a return to the ballpark is the original "OK Blue Jays" song during the 7th inning stretch - sadly replaced by that jazzed-up, abbreviated version we hear now with "Take Me Out..." squeezed in. I haven't heard it at the ballpark in years. Any chance the organization is thinking about bringing more of the nostalgia back to the park by reinstating the original song? Maybe I'm not the only one who misses it.
Ryan Kirshenblatt, Toronto
A: First of all I want to apologize for one of my answers last week when I suggested that the Jays make it their own policy not to show close or potentially controversial plays on the scoreboard at home games. It is in fact a recommendation from Major League Baseball that teams not show a) close ball-strike replays; b) close plays that may incite the crowd against umpires; and c) plays that are under review i.e. home run calls. Now not every team abides by that rule, although all do on balls and strikes, but the Jays are good, responsible corporate citizens and do not show close calls on the replay board. I disagree because why should fans sitting at home know more about the game than those in the ballpark? With that issue out of the way, let's address the questions of Flashback Fridays and “OK Blue Jays”. First of all, if I never hear OK Blue Jays ever played again in abbreviated or extended play, that would be perfect. I hate that song. Second, the issue of Flashback Fridays was resolved by dumping the concept. In fact, it was an issue in the clubhouse where current players were offended by the fact that the organization they played for seemed to revere its past more than it respected its present. Players near the end of last season were so sick of it they printed up tees that had the sentiment “Turn the Page Tuesday” suggesting the Jays' management get over the back-to-back World Series. Nostalgia is so yesterday.
Q: Hypothetical question: Jim Balsillie goes to Bud Selig and MLB and asks for an expansion team to Montreal AND commits to building a new stadium - would they give it to him? Second part: can you see any circumstance in which MLB returns to Montreal?
Mauro Flammini, Hamilton
A: I love Montreal and Montreal sports fans, but with so many teams struggling to draw fans, MLB is not ready for another expansion – besides in order to schedule properly they would have to expand by two cities, what Montreal and Portland, Caracas, Mexico City, Charlotte? Besides, hockey traditionally seems to accept all forms of scoundrels and scallywags as owners, so if they rejected Jim Balsillie, what would baseball do? Uh-oh, I just lost service on my Blackberry...Montreal would have to build a new downtown stadium, line up ownership with hugely deep poches and baseball would have to be looking for a franchise to relocate for Montreal to have a chance.
Q: I am curious about Chris Lubanski. He was a 5th overall pick by the Royals in 2003 and one of their top prospects until 2007. After taking a step back the last couple years he is now having a great start to the year in Las Vegas. He seems to have both power and speed. Any chance he gets a shot with the Jays in the near future? How good of an outfielder is he?
Adam Steeves, Kitchener
A: Lubanski was at spring training and every morning we would emerge from the Jays' clubhouse in the right field corner of Dunedin Stadium during batting practice to watch Lubanski gliding around right field shagging (not in the British sense of course). He looked athletic enough...until he had to throw the ball in to the screen behind second base, then it was like watching a cross between Shannon Stewart at his worst and Barney the dinosaur at his best. He can swing the bat though. Strictly insurance.
Q: Greetings Richard,
Can't Bud Selig end the widespread disrespect for the baseball uniform? Do ballplayers have to look like street punks? Uniform pants drag behind the heels, a terrible look; elbow pads, shinpads and hockey-sized batting gloves suggest this generation are a sissified bunch. The worst new girly look is little coloured hula hoops around the pitchers' necks, slapping them in the face (along with the silly chains) when they pitch. Halladay didn't wear them. And sure as heck Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and a thousand others didn't. And boys, if you can't grow a proper beard, shave. You're at the top of your profession. Try to look like it. What's next? Mink stoles? Whew! Thanks!
Selby Martin, Toronto
A: Thank you for that sentiment. Reading it I felt like I was watching a Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live where a guest ranter wheels in and just goes off on something. For those old enough to remember, it was like the best of Gilda Radner's Roseanne Rosannadana. “Never Mind.”
I have not read the official baseball rulebook so maybe you can answer this for me. In order to be accepted as a major-league pitcher is it mandatory that you throw overhand? I don't think so. Side-armers are allowed in the game and so are submariners, but what of those that, hypothetically speaking, could toss a horsehide 80-90 m.p.h. underhand and effectively strike out major-league hitters on a consistent basis? Or is there a written specification that would restrict a truly exceptional underhand pitcher from playing in pro baseball?
Darrell Holtze, Guelph
A: There is no rule that prevents an underhand pitcher from pitching in MLB but the configuration of the field works against softball-type deliveries. The mound is constructed to help traditional overhand pitchers because you are cutting down through the strike zone from top to bottom making the moment of impact for a hitter tougher to time. If you are throwing underhand say right off your hip like a fastball delivery, how could you get a called strike at the bottom of the strike zone? It would be very difficult because the harder you throw the more the ball would rise. Umpires already have keyhole strike zones. It would be difficult but there is no rule that prevents it. I would take a look at Jennie Finch...Not as a pitcher, I would just take a look at Jennie Finch.
Q: Hi Richard,
While I realized Slugging Percentage and On Base Percentage are both important, in your opinion does one trump the other? For example, is a player with an OBP of .300 who slugs .320, more or less valuable than a player with an OBP of .250, who is slugging .400?
Francis Prescott, Victoria
A: They are both important and that's why the late 20th century statistic that combined them, the OPS has taken off in recent years and is even now included in team media guides and on many major-league scoreboards. That's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage to give you one number. The OPS actually favours slugging percentage because a hit will count in both Slugging and On-Base while a walk only counts in on-base so you're getting double the pleasure for a hit. If the two OPS numbers are exactly the same, I would suggest that the player with the higher on-base percentage is a better hitter while the player with the higher slugging percentage is a more likely MVP candidate.
Q: Given that balls hit to the outfield remain in play for the next hitter regardless of the state they are in, when and why did it become routine practice to toss pitched balls that hit the dirt or are fouled off at the plate? Seems somewhat illogical but I'm sure there's a "reason" for it.
Thanks. Eleanor Pakozdi, Port Colborne, Ont.
A: Not every ball hit to the outfield remains in the game. It's just that television shows the constant exchange at home plate between catcher and umpire for a ball that even touches the dirt. But if a ball slams off the wall opr bounces on the warning track, there is a chance that it will be taken out of play before the next hitter. Umpires have a constant supply of balls so it's no big deal for them to take every ball in the dirt out of play and if a pitcher wants a new one he gets it. Some balls have a slightly different feel. Some have higher seams or no seams. It's funny because in IOBA baseball I have 17-18 year-old pitchers and we give the umpire three balls for the entire game. They get scuffed, cut, pounded, but the pitchers have no idea how to take advantage. Take me back to the days of Old Hoss Radbourn where men were men and balls were...well, balls.