Sad news this week with the passing of Bobby Thomson. The Giants' third baseman hit the most famous home run in baseball history, The Shot Heard Round the World, on October 3, 1951 at the Polo Grounds to win the pennant over the Dodgers in an era when television was just coming of age. Many fans of the current generation can recall in their mind's eye the TV images of Joe Carter's home run to win the '93 World Series for the Jays or the '88 pinch-hit blast by a gimpy Kirk Gibson for the Dodgers to win Game 1 vs. the A's, or even the Carlton Fisk extra-inning blast into the netting of the left field foul pole above the Green Monster at Fenway in 1975 to force a Game 7 against the Reds. Somehow the Bill Mazeroski Game 7 game-winner for the Pirates vs. the Yankees loses some of its deserved lustre because it came in a tie game for the home team and a team everybody hated in the Yankees.
But in terms of pure lingering, life-altering emotion, nothing will ever, ever resonate to an entire generation of fans like the Russ Hodges radio call of "Branca throws. There's a long drive. It's gonna be, I believe\the Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" that rattles around in their brains and causes nightmares to this day with Dodgers fans of that generation, many of whom still work for the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's statistical historians in New York. A few years later their team left for L.A.
As I grow older, I realize and appreciate how lucky I was to be able to sit down as a young man and talk with many of the players and executives of this golden age of baseball from 1947-64 – that began post-war with the integration of the game and the advent of Jackie Robinson to '65 which began a decade of Yankees sucking, with guys like Jake Gibbs, Horace Clark, Roy White, Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and Dooley Womack as marquee names. Where had you gone Joe DiMaggio?
As a young employee of the Expos in the '70s and '80s I fondly recall conversations with the wonderful Whitey Lockman, who passed away on St. Patrick's Day 2009. Lockman had doubled ahead of Thomson's homer that fateful October day and in quiet moments over a berer, he spoke with reverence and wonder, his eyes aglow with the memory of the effect it had on all their lives. By the way, a young rookie named Willie Mays was left in the on-deck circle for the Giants when Thomson delivered.
I recall conversations on spring training bus rides and at winter meetings with the bombastic Charlie Fox, a front office member and scout for that '51 Giants team, who always claimed it was upon his advice that the Giants had brought Mays to the major leagues in May of 1951 after a pro scouting trip he took to see the AAA Minneapolis Millers. Hey, I believe I discovered the Beatles for America when they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. “These guys might make it big,” I told friends. Of course Charlie also claimed that he won World War II by himself, storming the beaches of western Italy at Naples as a Navy Seal. Fox, as GM of the Expos in 1978, was down in the Olympic Stadium clubhouse before a game berating shortstop Chris Speier for something or other like lackadaisical play or poor hitting or a combination of such. Pitcher Steve Rogers stepped in and asked Fox to leave and Charlie cold-cocked his ace with a righthand cross. “Down goes Rogers!” The call came upstairs for damage control but Charlie wanted no part of it. Cy deserved it, was his view on why he hit Rogers. That day, July 20, 1978, Speier hit for the cycle. In hindsight, former Jays' skipper Jim Fregosi, currently a Braves senior advisor, has a lot of Charlie Fox in him. But, hey, the game has changed and you don't see a lot of GM's like that anymore. All of those personal memories prompted by the death of Bobby Thomson. History and tradition. That's what makes baseball great.
On to the mailbag.
Q: Hi Richard, longtime reader first time writer. I have two questions.
1) What is your opinion of Alex Anthopolous' aggressive draft and IFA (international free agent strategy). As a die-hard Jays fan frankly I'm quite excited about the amount of money we're spending acquiring talent through these channels even if it will take a while to show results at the big-league level. It's great to see that while we have a relatively low payroll, we are re-investing that money in acquiring lots of young talent, instead of just sitting on it.
2) In regards to international free agency, while the Jays have already signed Adonis Cardona and Gabriel Cenas from Venezuela, and Adeiny Hechavarria from Cuba, I have also heard them linked to, among others, Mexican pitcher Luis Heredia, Venezuelan shortstop Rougned Odor, and Dominican outfielder Eskarlin Vasquez. How accurate are these reports and how long before we find out whether we got any of these players or not? Also are there any other names you've heard us linked to.
Mike Green, Toronto
A: Anthopoulos is a forward thinker when it comes to linking international free-agent scouting and the June draft. For instance, the 21-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria's signing bonus at $10 million was almost the same as the Nats paid catcher Bryce Harper on Monday night. That tells you that Anthopoulos and his advisers considered the young Cuban's talent as high first-round. The difference is that there were 30 clubs available to sign the Cuban free agent refugee, while Harper's future was locked in with the Nationals, or go back to school. At some point, most GMs believe that there will be an international aspect to the June draft (as early as the next Basic Agreement after the 2012 season) and that will help control the spending sprees for unproven Latin-American teenagers. But in the meantime, the Jays, among others, are trying to link the two talent pools with the same value-ratings.
As for the amounts of money being spent, consider that at the same time the Jays spent $4.9 million in signing bonuses in the final hour before Monday's deadline -- on lefty Griffin Murphy ($800,000), righthander Sam Dyson ($600,000), shortstop Dickie Thon ($1.5 million) and righthander Deck McGuire ($2 million) – they are also paying $10 million for B.J. Ryan not to pitch for them in 2010.
There has been a snowball effect arising from the impact of being in the final four on Aroldis Chapman, signing Hechavarria and snapping up the two highly-regarded Venezuelan teenagers as soon as the hunting season opened for 16-year-olds in early July.
Jays' director of Latin-American scouting, Marco Paddy is becoming a rock star in the Caribbean among baseball-playing teenagers and their families. It is a return to Epy Guerrero type days with the difference being that Paddy places his organization ahead of his personal interests. It has reached the point where the Jays in the Latin-American free-agent market are considered true “players” mentioned in every free-agent discussion instead of being window shoppers as in the past. It's a psychological advantage and a welcome step for a clubhouse that has already become noticeably more diverse.
Q: Hi Richard,
How much influence over the pitch-by-pitch course of a game does a team's manager exert in terms of delegation to his players? For example, when a better steps into the box, does he always have his assignment, or does the manager let the player get a read for the situation or the count and then use his own judgment about what he should do? As for the pitcher, does the manager let the catcher call the game, subject to the pre-game meeting about how to pitch to a certain hitter, or does the manager usually call in specific pitches? Lastly, given the range of control managers exert, where does Cito fall, and is that better or worse for a developing team?
Ryan Kirshenblatt, Toronto
A: Every batter steps into the box with a plan. The first strike has to be in a location that he can drive, otherwise he takes it. If he gets into a hitter's count like 2-0 or 3-1, he locks in on a certain pitch, certain location and if he gets it he drives it hard somewhere, if not, he takes it. When he gets to two strikes, he expands his zone slightly so as not to get punched out on a borderline pitch and maybe shortens up his swing a little bit. The third base coach lets him know bunt, hit-and-run or if the runner is stealing. The hitters on his own knows situations, moving runners, runner on third less than two out and what he has to accomplish. That's why they take up to 150 swings every day before games.
The pitcher is another story. All of the preparation for facing an opposing major-league lineup is done before the game. At the start of a three-game series all the pitchers disappear into a room with the pitching coach and catchers and they go over all the hitters on the other team in general terms. Then, each starting pitcher in the hour before batting practice sits down with the catcher and the pitching coach and they go over recent scouting reports in detail. The pitchers watches video of the opponent in a back room. When they hit the field they are prepared. Cito Gaston does not like to deal with pitching. He does not like the breed as a whole because they spent a lifetime trying to take bread off his table. But Bruce Walton and before him Brad Arnsberg are very thorough. When a catcher looks over to the dugout it's not for what pitch to call, it's for the running game – pitchout, throw over, etc. Cito has no influence wither positive or negative on a young staff, except in those moments like early in the season with Ricky Romero where he walks to the mound late in a game, then turns and leaves him in or with Brandon Morrow when he gave up his first pitch after 134 pitches, then Cito visits and lets him finish. The rest of the influence on young pitchers is pitching coach and veteran catchers.
Q: Hi Richard,
Two players I have been tracking, statistically speaking, this season at Double A New Hampshire who have seemingly put up good numbers are outfielders Eric Thames and Darin Mastroianni.
Could you please tell me general opinions you have heard about these two prospects and if the Jays realistically have high hopes for both or either?
Mike Davies, Cambridge
A: Thames and Mastroianni are nice minor-league players with a chance for a cup of coffee at the major-league level. My personal, unscientific opinion is that gone are the baseball days when a minor-league guy will suddenly leap out of nowhere into the picture as a major-leaguer as outfielder Jay Gibbons did with the O's after the Jays had given him up as a Rule 5 selection. Natural ability now rules above chemistry in the minors (hopefully). Thames and Mastroianni are what they are and as such must be ranked behind the guys at the major-league level, Travis Snider, Vernon Wells, Jose Bautista, Fred Lewis and Adam Lind as well as minor-leaguers Anthony Gose, Jake Marisnick and maybe even Adam Loewen. Bench players for a while? Maybe.
Q: Hi Richard,
I look forward to reading your mailbag every week. Just a quick question about the AL MVP. Do you think Jose Bautista has a legitimate chance to win the award considering his BA is right around the .260 mark? Also, does the fact that he plays in Toronto figure into his chances?
David Wallis, Newmarket
A: Hopefully Bautista will get significant support, but rather than attributing it to the fact that he plays in Toronto, it's more the fact that the Jays will not be in the post-season. Each AL city has two voting writers ranking their Top 10 MVP candidates. Geography would seem to have little to do with it. I think a guy like Evan Longoria with the Rays or Robinson Cano with the Yankees or Vlad Guerrero or Josh Hamilton with the Rangers have better chances.
Q: Brad Mills seems to fade after four innings. Is this because his overarm style just makes him this way and he is better off as a middle reliever, or does he just need more time to adjust to the big leagues? Do you see him as a middle reliever next year to replace Tallet? And while we are on this, why does a starting pitcher not get a win if he doesn't make five innings and his team keeps the lead and wins? It seemed silly to give Tallet the win that game where they took Mills out before he finished all five, and yet Tallet could get the win by only pitching one or two innings.
Bruce Hutchison, Winnipeg
A: The perception Mills is fading is more about rising pitch count and the stress of throwing at the major-league level. Mills tops out at 85-86 on his fastball and has to be more of a nibbler, more precise, more cerebral. Against patient, grinding teams like the Red Sox his count will be 80-100 pitches for the fifth inning. Against aggressive teams like the Rays he may get through seven on the same count. It's a whole new world in the majors rather than Triple-A where you can take a few batters off mentally in every lineup. I think the middle relief role may be a good one for him once the avalanche of young starting talent comes storming down the minor-league hill in a year or two.
As for the starting pitcher going five to earn a win, you should be asked to go more than half the game to get a win as a starter. I could see a manager allowing a starter who needs three more wins for 20 down the stretch allowing his man to pitch until he has the lead, take him out with the win and then do it again two days later, etc. It's a rule, just like if a reliever goes three innings and finishes the game in a win he gets a save. But if two relievers go three and end it the team does not earn a team save.
Q: I was reading that Cito was saying the other day that Batting Practice is useless because the coaches throw it and the pitches are about 50-60 mph. Why don't the Blue Jays or other teams just hire semi-pro or washed up minor leaguers to come in and throw real batting practice with pitches around 80-90 mph?
Jason Sinnarajah, Tokyo, Japan
A: Saying b.p. is 50-60 miles-per-hour is being generous. But the fact is most veteran players use batting practice to just loosed up their hitting muscles and get the swing mechanics in order. Cito's nuts. He wants to hire some righties and lefties that throw in the '80s to work b.p. for next season when he's an advisor, but I guarantee that if those guys were out there, then many veterans would stay in the cages and the clubhouse. Batting practice is a social even as much as anything. It's like PGA touring pros skipping the driving range because the fairway is too wide.
Q: I was totally surprised and shocked when I found out that the baseball game on Saturday will only be on RSO One. I use Bell expressview, with full sport coverage (except that I find out that is not the case). How can the CRTC tolerate this attitude - don't care about the consumer? Also will the problem be resolved soon?
Bob Schenk, Lindsay
A: Recall when TSN-2 arrived the brouhaha with hockey games that could not be seen by anyone on Rogers because of the Rogers-TSN competition and Rogers Cable not carrying it. Things will work themselves out as they always do when all the corporate money issues are worked out. Screw the consumer! Sportsnet-1 should have offered free service for two months for viewers to get used to it then sell it after that. But of course that would be neglecting the Cable war rallying cry: Screw the consumer! The CRTC hotshots are obviously not sports fans.
Q: Hello Mr. Griffin. I'm a big fan of your blog, it helps keep overseas fans like me up to date with all Blue Jays matters. My question is about Aaron Hill's contract. What's the likelihood of the Jays picking up all 3 of his options, covering 2012-14, this coming winter? It seems prudent to me to let the 2014 option slide. Further, if Hill doesn't bounce back and is batting around .220 this time next year, will his 2012 option even be picked up? It seems odd to say that, but he's fallen so far this season from his great 2009.
Edward Peebles, Cardiff, Wales
A: Since the Hill contract was a brainchild of Anthopoulos as assistant GM, I think they will think long and hard about all their options. The logical thing for them to do would be to wait until after the 2011 season and then pick up the 2012-13 options leaving the $10 million for that final year of 2014 off the list. Then if Hill continues to progress they can always negotiate with him again for one more long-term deal beginning with 2014 and through whenever. Loyalty should be a two-way street but in sports is usual a cul-de-sac. The fact is if he is playing well for the next three years, $10 million will be a reasonable kickoff point for a future long-term deal, but if they pick up all three options 2012-13-14 and he has another year like 2010, they would be second-guessing themselves for the obligation of $10 million in 2014.
Maybe its the lack of Blue Jays playoff baseball that makes me want to see some old video of the 80's and 90's, but I can never find any source for this footage. I have read about MLB's draconian policy of protecting its property on YouTube and the like. But what puzzles me is why don't they provide some footage on their own website? It seems a league with such history would want to encourage its fans to watch old footage the way the NHL and NBA allows.
Brad MacMullin, Boston
A: Hey, this attitude of MLB charging outrageous sums to anyone that wants to use great baseball video for clearly promotional purposes for the game and its fans comes from the same brilliant marketers that many years ago when I was in P.R. wanted to charge people to run baseball statistics in the paper. Huh!? Baseball is a game by and for the people. Hoarding old Jays' video from the glory years unless you are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money is silly. But I guess that's why they're all driving Mercedes, Lexus and BMWs and I'm driving an Intrepid.
Q: Hi Richard,
I really need to voice my thoughts about the new Rogers channel. I was an avid Jays' fan in the '90s until the '94 strike. Then I lost interest until about 2003. I started watching them again on TV and now I'm back in their lineup of fans. Unlike in the '90s when we would only watch the games via TV, we now hit the 401 once each season and catch the Jays at the Rogers Centre. I was at that 17-11 game a few weeks ago - what a pick of games to go to eh? So now I'm back to being an avid Jays fan - but what the hell are they doing to me? I can now only catch half of their games because of this "great new station" that we don't get here in Sarnia. Wow, what a great thank you to their fans. What is Rogers' Einstein plan now now? Are they thinking that we will all subscribe to their new station to watch the games? I would love them to know that when I couldn't catch their games in '94, I came up with other things to do. Who knows though, if Rogers is as inconsistent and indecisive with their televising as they are with their sales approaches for renting movies at their stores, their broadcasting will change again in a few weeks. If they stay the way they are though, they will, at least partly, lose me again. So Richard, what do you think of this crappy broadcasting move? Is anyone else feel like Rogers is playing an unappreciative, self-centred prick job on us? (Wow, do you want any help writing? Lol)
Sue Roberts, Sarnia.
A: Well said.