The Jays on this current road trip start in Seattle then begin inter-league play with a three-game set in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks. Heading there next, I'm still riled up by baseball's head-in-the-sand stance on the clearly discriminatory Arizona legislation that allows police to stop anyone in Arizona on suspicion of being in the country illegally.
A third of MLB players are Latino and baseball, with a chance to influence the process, is hanging them out to dry. Check out my photo. I know unless I'm speeding past Camelback Mountain at four in the morning riding the centre line tossing beer cans out the sun roof, that I won't be on their list of people to stop as being in the country illegally, if you know what I mean. I understand that Arizona has a long history of misguided legislation, especially since the rise of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but pro sports if it acts can have an impact and has had an impact.
I recall in the early '90s when Arizona was refusing to recognize the national holiday in the states that is Martin Luther King Day. The NFL to its credit stepped up and threatened to pull Super Bowl XXX. Next thing you know, it was Happy Martin Luther King Day, podner. This is one of the times that MLB has really disappointed me by not taking a stance with the All-Star Game scheduled for Phoenix in 2011.
There were other disappointments, no doubt. There was collusion, wherein Hall-of-Fame in his prime outfielder Andre Dawson couldn't get an offer as a free agent. There was the players strike and cancelled World Series in '94. There was the conspiracy to move the Expos out of Canada in the early part of the last decade. There was the plausible denial of knowledge of steroid use and the passing of blame to the MLBPA.
Now there is this. Baseball has become the moral equivalent of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, refusing to speak out on world events in order not to offend present or potential corporate sponsors. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, baseball may feel it has a tenuous relationship with Congress and the Senate in Washington D.C. already. Every time baseball climbs Capitol Hill to defend itself against anti-trust or performance enhancing drug use by its players it must rely on the goodwill of a bunch of non-sports-fan politicians with an agenda.
Baseball may feel it cannot afford to offend any of these politicians but as the self-professed National Pastime with more influence than it believes it has, the game has a bigger responsibility that it has clearly chosen to shirk. The game used to thrill, now it shills. The game used to be America and apple pie, but now it seems only if the apple pie has a corporate sponsor. On to the mailbag.
How can the Blue Jays possibly claim that moving their series with the? Phillies was anything other than a cash grab? Detroit's out of town, Buffalo's Triple A team is out of town, Montreal's team has been out of town for a few years now. Why pick Philadelphia? How can Beeston possibly argue that they're doing this for the fans? If you're asking us to bend over, at least don't try telling us its for our own good! When Houston had to move their game to Milwaukee in 2008, they complained that it was too close to Chicago, whom they were playing. The Blue Jays are almost trying to lose their hardcore fans with stunts like this. Beeston is bad for baseball in Toronto, if he approved this idea.
Hari Balasingham, Caledon
A-I can honestly see where the Jays are coming from on this one, but they should have made the decision sooner. They found out about the G20 in December or January and nothing changed. There are still 20 of them coming to town. There is still danger in the world. There will still be protests from activists. There will still be tremendous security with a parameter that takes on much of the downtown area near the Dome. It will still be nigh on impossible getting around town. Jays' fans still complain abut every inconvenience or perceived transgression from the club roof up, roof down. Toonie Tuesday, Flashback Friday, Maudlin Monday. Managers too old, team's too young. It doesn't matter. Whatever happens, people will say that's a reason they're not coming back to see the Jays until they win. Yeah, the great strike of '94 turned me off the game, they'll say. Hey, the NHL had one hellacious work stoppage even more recently than that and fans are still flocking to see a Leafs team that hasn't won since there were six teams in the league. Quit the excuses. If it's solid entertainment, it's worth the price of admission. As for alternate sites. The last start that Halladay pitched in Toronto last September was one of the least attended Jays home games ever. Cleveland was a bad choice. Yeah, combining the ticket selling resources of the two worst drawing teams in baseball. That's good. Buffalo might have been the best option, but if you're asking are the Jays going to make more money by going to Philly, well, yeah. But they're not making any at home, so cut them some slack. Besides, what of Doc doesn't pitch in the series. Then there'll be more complaining. Doctor Detroit? I think not.
How long can the Jays continue to give at bats to Lyle Overbay? It might be ok to have his numbers the first few weeks of the season but it's mid May. I know the jays would love to trade him but what team would want a 1st baseman with a .550 OPS? He's not part of the team's future and with Brett Wallace tearing up AAA Lyle is just seems to be holding up the rebuilding. Will the Jays release Overbay soon? They've certainly paid a lot more money to other players to not play.
Joshua McRae, Toronto?
A-Who knows, but if Overbay has a great series in Seattle or even a decent one, how about the team with the worst offence in the AL being interested in a native son of the state of Washington. They have always had an interest in Lyle and with fans becoming disgruntled in the wake of great expectations because of Cliff Lee and King Felix at the top of the rotation, how about the M's? The one bonus to being able to place Overbay's contract with a major-league team rather than having to release him is that the further the schedule moves along, the more willing the Jays will be willing to pay the entire remainder of Overbay's contract just to be able to clear the decks for Brett Wallace.
Q- Hi Richard,
I'm so excited about this year's Jays' team, but I just can't believe their power surge can last, with Alex Gonzalez, Jose Bautista and John Buck (just to name a few) on pace for career years and nearly doubling their previous bests for HRs and RBIs. What do you think? Do you think the clock will strike midnight soon for these Cinderella Jays?
Stephen Ho, Markham?
A-The Jays have indeed kept up the torrid longball pace for two months, I just have to agree with you that it will be virtually impossible to keep that pace going for much longer. History dictates that. But what the Jays have to do to make up for the coming home run drop-off is improve in their other offensive areas, like batting average and keep up their walk totals. Consider that when a player is not performing well, baseball front office people say not to worry, that they have a track record over their careers and that by the end of the season it will even out and you know just about where they will be. The same, then, should be true of players that have taken off like rockets in certain statistical categories where they have a history. But Cito may have been right at spring training when he said he believed they had seven players that could hit 20-plus homers this year. Many of us scoffed.
Q-What's the status of Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepcynski? After watching Dana Eveland pitch on Monday, we need these guys back as soon as we can.
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A-Eveland has done a credible two-month job considering that he was originally acquired to provide depth at AAA-Las Vegas. Litsch has been pitching great first at extended spring and ten on rehab assignment, however he was placed on the 60-day disabled list at spring training and is not eligible until the second week of June. Recall that GM Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he would rather err on the side of caution with his injured players and that June will mark a full-year since Litsch's elbow surgery. He is right on schedule. As for Rzepczynski, his middle finger, pitching hand fracture has healed and he is just biding his time until they call him up. He is a favourite of the manager and would have been there instead of Eveland if he had not suffered the fracture late in spring training.
Q- Hi Richard,
Not to compare Brandon Morrow to Nolan Ryan or Sandy Koufax, but there are similar - to date - career trajectories. Both Koufax and Ryan turned their careers around from 'untapped potential' to 'staff ace league-leading strikeout' guys at about age 25 - Morrow's age this season. Do you (and the Jays' brass) see similar ace potential in Morrow? Also, what caused the sudden changes in Ryan and Koufax (a new pitching coach, change of team scenery and/or infusion of confidence in their stuff)?
Stu Royal, Erin, Ont.
A-I'm glad you started out with not to compare. There are more power pitchers with shaky command through the history of the game that at the critical age of 25, when given the choice of career paths of either emulating Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax or of heading south, have headed south and disappeared from the major-league landscape. Thus, it's not fair to even start with that comparison. However Morrow has showed in his short time with the Jays the rare ability to listen to coaches and to good advice from teammates and to incorporate that into his bullpen side sessions and to be able to separate what works from what doesn't and to move forward. He still throws too many pitches in too few innings, but that's all about command and the fact that as a power pitcher who gets a lot of swings and misses he is going to naturally have a higher pitch count. He has a great arm, as do many young pitchers, but what separated Ryan and Koufax was intelligence, work ethic and improved command as they reached their crucial mid-20s. Koufax's career ended too soon with elbow problems that if they had happened in this era might have been fixable via surgery, while Ryan's dominance continued because, some suggest, as he got older he learned how to alter a baseball with the best of them. They are both in the upper echelon of true hall-of-famers.
Last week or so Fred Lewis was interviewed after a game I think he had his first ever AL home run. The interviewer asked how he was adjusting to life in the AL and he responded with "they pitch in reverse in the AL." Can you possibly explain what he may have meant by that?
Thanks so much,
Donna Tunstall, Washago
A-For decades, the NL has been known as a fastball league while the AL has been known as a league where pitchers survive by mixing up the pitch selection in certain counts. That's what Lewis was talking about after coming over from the Giants. For instance, in a hitter's count (2-0, 2-1, 3-1, maybe even 3-2) in the NL you can usually rely on a pitcher challenging you with a fastball to get back into the at-bat. The same thing with the first pitch of an at-bat, NL pitchers more often than not will challenge with a fastball to get ahead. Lewis came over and his first couple of weeks in the league, he found pitchers might start him off with a changeup, then behind in the count 3-1 throw another change and maybe with the count full, they might come in with a slider. That's pitching backwards to what he was used to in the NL. It is a likely evolution because there is no break in an AL lineup with the DH and you can get hurt at any point in the batting order if you're too predictable. Maybe the AL has it right and the NL is simply playing the game backwards.
Q- Hi Richard!
We're in a building year, and we have some players that are playing very well right now. Clearly, some teams will be looking to improve at the trade deadline. Who do you see Toronto trying to move in July? What type of return are the Jays after - prospects, AAA/major league ready guys, or draft picks?
Jon Empringham, Woodstock, Ont.
A-The Jays said before this rebuilding season started that there is no way they would give up any of their future in a trade for the short term even if they were contending. I detect a wavering in that conviction combined with an itchy trade-trigger finger by some in the organization. Will they trade youngsters for a veteran that can help them down the stretch. In March I would have said the chances were zero per cent that they would make a move that would rid them of farm prospects. Now I would say it's 40-60 that if they are still playing well in mid-June that they will start looking for help this year. I think it would be a mistake. But, hell, I've been wrong once or twice before. I could see them moving Overbay, Jose Molina, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs and any combination of two starting pitching prospects not named Zach, Kyle or Chad.
Q- Hi, Richard.
Why do major league teams keep there best prospects in double A ball. You see many times prospects going direct to the majors from double A and by passing triple A.
Frank Corea, Kamloops, B.C.
A-At Double-A ball, the landscape is filled with young prospects all on the fast-track up to the majors. At Triple-A, it is a holding room for gimps and former stud prospects, short-term major-league help in case of injuries on the big-league team. There is a combination of older guys, still considered to be on the way up and veterans hanging around or on the way down. Since MLB teams many times are looking for just short-term pitching help whenever there is a diablement for a minor ding, there are a lot of cagey, crafty, crappy slop-ballers at Triple-A that can fool major-league hitters for 15 days until your stud is ready to come back. So the fact is most organizations don't want their top young hitting prospects facing that type of off-timing pitching as they get them ready for the real in-you-face pitchers of the majors. So the parent organization leaves them at Double-A to face the top prospect flamethrowers who are just learning how to pitch and to manage themselves in a game. On the pitching side, here's a rule of thumb. If an organization is looking for short-term help they'll tap their Triple-A team every time. If it's a move that is for the next 10 years, there's as good a chance he's coming straight from Double-A. If he's coming from Triple-A, many times that young starter of the future will have started the year at Double-A and was promoted and had a couple of starts at Triple-A before his recall.
Q- Hi Richard,
Love your column and read it religiously. My question concerns a foul tip strike. Not just a foul tip at any time, but especially when the catcher holds on to a foul tip when it is the third strike, why is it so important that the umpire declare it to be a foul tip? Why not just call it a third strike and get on with it. Why all the hand signals to show it as a foul tip? Does it translate differently in the stats or box score if it is a foul tip?
Charles Godfrey, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
A-Umpires are taught to emphatically signal foul tip as soon as they hear it or see it no matter the count or runners on base. That makes it easier for them if they're not just reacting by situation. The reason is not for any statistical difference, but if there is a runner on base and the catcher drops the ball or if it glances off his glove to the screen behind him, if there is no immediate umpire's call the runner would be off to the next base. Then the umpire would have to call him back and tell him it was a foul tip. That could lead to controversy and confusion. The same thing if it's strike three with the batter. With no immediate call of foul tip, if the ball is swung at and the ball drops into the dirt at the catcher's feet, then the batter would be off and running. But if he sees the umpire's foul tip call, the hitter knows he's either out if the catcher hangs on or has another chance if the catcher drops it. It's such a bang-bang pay that even though it looks like he knows the catcher has hung onto the foul tip, the ump is actually making the call without knowing the end result.
Q-Do baseball rules permit an ambidextrous pitcher from alternating throwing arms during a game? Switch hitters exist, switch pitchers? Is such a thing even possible, or do pitchers depend on repetition of their throwing mechanics to hone their skills, hence developing two throwing arms doubles the number of pitches they must master and the time taken to train muscles. On the other hand, if an injury or age prevents one arm from pitching why not (if a switch pitcher) go with the other arm?
Frederick Duquette, Buena Park, Calif.
A-Former Jays' pitching coach Gil Patterson was able to pitch with either arm, but never did it in a professional game. There was a segment on TV regarding a switch-pitcher and a switch-hitter facing one another earlier this year. Hilarious. You can YouTube it. But no, there is no rule against it. However there is a rule against relieving yourself on the mound. Hey, it's tough enough to make it to the majors pitching with an arm you've worked with your whole life. That would be strictly a novelty act if someone did it in the big leagues. I guess instead of lefthander or righthander, this guy would just be listed as hander.