Even though the Major League post-season is in full swing, the biggest news of the week for Canadians did not involve Joey Votto, Justin Morneau or Roy Halladay. The biggest news was that Greg Hamilton's plucky Team Canada defeated Puerto Rico 14-6 on Monday to qualify for next year's Pan-Am Games and for the next World Cup of Baseball. The win was huge. Manager Ernie Whitt's Team Canada had its backs to the wall. A loss to Puerto Rico would have dropped them out of the Top 5 and out of the qualifiers, but they came up big against the host Puerto Ricans.
The starter Scott Diamond (Guelph), playing Triple-A in the Braves' system, went four strong innings but had no decision as Canada pulled ahead for good from a one-run deficit in the seventh inning by putting up five runs. Overall, Canada had fourteen hits including homeruns from Chris Robinson (Dorchester), Adam Stern (London), Scott Thorman (Cambridge), and Jamie Romak (London) who smacked his fifth of the tourney. Robinson was 5-for-6 with three RBI's. Canada qualifies for the Pan-Am's for the first time since they were in Winnipeg in 1999. Congrats to Greg Hamilton and his scrappy program that continues to move this country forward as a force in world baseball. On to the Mailbag.
Q-Hi, Richard -
Love the mailbag. I have to ask – what's up with Shaun Marcum's attitude towards Roy Halladay? During spring training he came out with comments about how Doc was so intense, everybody had to walk on eggshells, etc. When Sportsnet aired the Jamie Campbell interview with Marcum, Ricky Romero, Bandon Morrow and Brett Cecil on the final weekend of the season, the question came up again and Marcum jumped all over it with the same comments. Nothing good to say about Doc at all. In fact, it really seemed like there was true animosity there. Sure, Doc was (is) intense, but look at the results! (E.g. first post-season no-hitter in 54 years, thank you.) Maybe some of the Jays (pitchers and hitters alike) could benefit from being a bit more intense, rather than showing the fans how much fun it is to be really rich, pull silly pranks on your teammates – and, oh, not smell the playoffs. Any insights into Marcum's attitude?
Corey Perrin, Fredericton, NB
A-In terms of potential bombshells blowing up in the Jays' clubhouse, it's a non-starter. “Crank up the Crapola Gay” is the truth when it comes to Marcum and his continuing, mostly well-intentioned attempts at leadership in moving him and his teammates beyond the Roy Halladay Era. Yes, Marcum, at 28, is trying to be a leader among the young starters and that's good, but the fact is that he is basically making comments about Halladay's negative influence in the clubhouse for the other young starters in 2009, from a year in which Marcum wasn't even there. He's going off of hearsay and is being quite strong in his comments for someone that didn't go through it. Yes he was there in '08 but so were A.J. Burnett and a different, more experienced cast of starters. Tension in the clubhouse was not an issue in '08 but became one in '09?
There was nothing tense around Burnett and his pie-in-the-face for after game interviews, nerf-tipped rocket launcher in the clubhouse mentality. But they didn't win then either. In '09 when, according to Marcum and the others, you should have been able to cut the tension with a chainsaw, Marcum spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery – first at minor-league camp and then at various Jays' minor-league teams before being shut down and sent home. During the horsehide October Crisis with Cito's leadership questioned, Marcum was at home.
- If Brett Cecil felt intimidated by Halladay in '09 and believed he had to cut a wide path around Doc's locker and be careful and act differently in his presence, maybe Cecil should look in a mirror. Going from 7-4 in '09 with Halladay in, improving to 15-7 this year when the Doctor was out has more to do with being 22 to 23 years old and with adding a devastating changeup than with who he lockered next to.
- If Jays pitchers felt like Halladay was hogging the attention of pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, maybe they should blame Arnsberg who would definitely spend inordinate amounts of time sitting with Halladay, maybe the guy who needed him the least. Doc is so focussed he would not have noticed.
- If Jays pitchers resented the media coverage and attention garnered by Halladay while he was with the Jays, it's only because he was the best pitcher in the AL, certainly not because he was the best quote – unless the words “fun” and “neat” and “nice” make you the next great orator of your generation.
- The Halladay criticisms started at the end of spring training this year when Marcum had a press briefing about being named Opening Day starter. That's where he detailed the new attitude in the clubhouse. It's where his perception of leadership as the Opening Day starter taking over from Doc took hold. There was nothing malicious about his intent but it continued to grow as a reality. It seemed to be working, so like those T-shirts with inspirational messages that certain groups use to create unity, he kept preaching the message of “better without Doc” and it kept working.
- The fact is the “better without Doc” argument is hard to support. All the tension on the Jays' young starters prior to 2010 was internal. Face it, the real reason Doc always comes to do his training at 5:30 a.m. at spring training is so that he can be alone. Young pitchers thought they needed to follow what Doc did to impress him. All it does is annoy him because now he needs to share the weight room and wait for them to catch up on his ironman runs. The real improvement in the rotation was as a result of Bruce Walton's nurturing coaching style, his all-inclusive manner with the starters and bullpen and in insisting that it was easier to take 12 miles per hour off your fastball (called a changeup) than to add 12 miles per hour to your fastball (called impossible). The Jays' rotation improvement was also as a result of maturing as pitchers. To present the argument that any MLB clubhouse or rotation would be better by removing the best pitcher in the game makes no sense. But whatever works. And it worked.
You mentioned the Jamie Campbell interviews. I just wanted to comment that I feel Campbell did a great job with the Sportsnet pre-game show all season and that he may have found his niche. Maybe the fact of his already having had the experience in the booth as play-by-play man gave him the insight to confidently do his new job as host and bridge to Buck Martinez and his colour analyst. Maybe it was his Joe-Carter-career-moment at the Vancouver Olympics calling Canada's first-ever gold medal on Canadian soil that relaxed his on-air work. Campbell was already a keen baseball historian and truly enjoys creating some of those offbeat background features and vignettes.
What are the possibilities that Jays are, in fact, ready to contend next year? With the Rays set to lose Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano PLUS having their payroll cut to around $50 million, is it not reasonable to expect them to regress? I've also read that the Red Sox are viewing 2011 as a “bridge year.” To me, the AL East in 2011 looks like the Yankees up top, with the four other teams fighting for second. If the Jays can fill a few holes, I can't see why they won't be the one team that floats to the top, hopefully challenging for the wild card.
Eric Ashby, Toronto
A-The carefully optimistic GM of the Jays, Alex Anthopoulos has said that he won't tell this team when it will become a contender, that the team will tell him. What that means to me is that he will not automatically spend those extra few dollars for what is perceived by optimistic fans as that last missing piece of the puzzle in this upcoming off-season, but if the club gets off to a jackrabbit start in 2011 and stays strong at the trade deadline, while other teams look vulnerable, then he may go out and get that same piece in July to take a run at it in the second half of 2011. Oh sure, A.A. will make winter trades when available and use minor-league inventory to add major-league pieces and likely get the real payroll back up to around $80 million, but in his mind he is still rebuilding. The 2011 schedule has a daunting look in April and May with a really tough stretch of travel and roadwork. As such it will be tough to create that platform scenario in which Anthopoulos will be encouraged to make those moves.
You are right about the Rays. Their window of opportunity may have slammed on their fingers with Cliff Lee's domination of David Price in Game 5 of the ALDS. They still have some nice players on hand and the rotation is young enough to carry them for the next couple of seasons before they price themselves out of the Bay area, but even then the Rays will have significant holes in the lineup with young players to fill them. As for Boston, never count the Red Sox out. If Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia return healthy and strong and if they re-style their pitching staff, they have the financial resources to contend again. Their fan base will never accept rebuilding, so “bridge year” is just GM Theo Epstein code for “don't bother me until I'm finished what I'm doing.” Calling it a bridge year also allows him a smokescreen to explore the possibility of getting rid of Jonathan Papelbon.
Q-I read some of the letters re: the Jays for 2011. But what does it matter if we have no access to these games on T.V. I have not seen too much of a protest from fans regarding what Sportnet ONE has done. I just don't understand how they could take 25 ballgames away from us. Why isn't anyone protesting or picketing Rogers all over Canada? In my books, this is just plain greed. I don't know how many games we are going to get but missing one is enough to anger me, and some say you don't want to make me angry.
Doris Mac Neil, Cobourg, Ont
A-Well, Doris, one thing I do know is that I certainly don't want to make you angry. If this was the CBC we were talking about that was screwing Jays fans then it would be easier to do something as a large group of disgruntled, tax-paying citizens of this great country. But Sportsnet is not the CBC and Rogers Media is not Canada – although it has a larger surplus. We support Rogers by using their wireless phones, their Internet, by renting their videos then paying their late fees, and by paying to watch what used to be free on Sportsnet ONE – where available. The way to protest is by cutting out your patronage on other of their services and letting them know why you are doing it. The media has pointed out the “money-grab” perception that fans have of Rogers’ greed, but we get the same e-mails at the Rogers tower and they have not responded. We are learning the future of sports is pay-per-view.
Thanks for the columns. Roy Halladay's no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS was brilliant. Given what he's accomplished (and may still accomplish) compared to current generation pitchers, what do you think of his chances of getting into The Hall? And if he does, do you think he'll be wearing a Jays cap?
Dave O'Grady, Waterloo
A-Halladay is 33-years-old. If he averages 20-plus games won for the next six years until the age of 39, he will have 289 wins. At that point, and, actually, even a year before that, he would have what it takes to be a Hall-of-Famer. Take into account his complete games compared to his peers, his win-percentage (.633) compared to history, his 200-plus strikeouts per season for a guy that preaches pitching to contact and add to that the fact that for the last four years he has been high in the mix of any argument regarding the game's best pitcher and for me those are Hall-of-Fame credentials. A World Series win would be the capper. However, if he does attain those numbers of wins in the upcoming seasons, he would likely go in wearing a Phillies' hat but with hundreds of admiring Jays fans driving down from Toronto for the induction in any case. One also hopes that Doc's future presence in the Hall-of-Fame clubhouse won't cause those other happy-go-lucky Hall-of-Famers to become too tense and uptight. Let's just laugh and have a good time, Doc. Don't fog up the windows at Cooperstown.
Love the mailbag. Quick question about the final out of Doc's no-hitter. Correct me if I am wrong, but if the ball makes contact with the bat in fair territory (which replays clearly show occurring), isn't the batter automatically out? Obviously it's a moot point, as Carlos Ruiz made a great play, but I am curious.
Thanks for your hard work.
Josh S., Windsor
A-That same question was asked in the immediacy of the win on Oct. 6 and I think it was the great ESPN.com writer Jayson Stark that completed the investigation and found the answer. It seems there is a fine line of semantics that explains the ruling. See if you can spot the difference. Apparently if the bat hits the ball in fair territory the out can be automatic but if the ball hits the bat it is in play. The difference is that Phillips did not drop his bat on the ball as it rolled up the first base line. He had dropped his bat in the field of play when he realized it was fair and the dribbler rolled into his discarded weapon. That was the explanation. You're right, Ruiz made a great play on it from his knees. The follow-up question is would the umpire have called Phillips out for running down the line in fair territory, which he did? That would have been a chance for Jim Joyce to be 1-1 for '10 in no-hitters.
I really enjoy your columns and blog. I was watching the Yankees celebrate their ALDS championship with champagne, and couldn't help but think it looked a bit ridiculous. The same thing happened when teams clinched the wild card. You don't see any other sport celebrate reaching a milestone on the way to a championship as hard as baseball. I can understand that in the past when you finished first at the end of the season you were the League Champion and that was worth celebrating. I could even understand continuing the tradition when teams won their division when there were only two in each league. But now with eight playoff teams, shouldn't the champagne remain on ice until you win a series (LCS perhaps) closer to the championship? What do you think?
Nauman Vania, Oshawa
A-I agree completely. The wild-card celebration was silly. “Hey fans, look at us. We're the best second-place team in all of baseball – well, uh, at least one of the leagues. Yay!” The Yankees should have at least had to settle for some cheap brand like Ballatore Spumanti as the champagne of choice instead of the really good stuff. By the time the World Series champs are crowned they will have sprayed each other four times. Pretty soon you'll see Derek Jeter on TV endorsing scuba goggles. I agree with you – wild card? No! Division Series? No! LCS and World Series? Yes. It was almost embarrassing to watch some of the veterans on all clubs try and act like they were really enjoying the hijinks when deep down they're saying, “Hey boys, settle down, we've got three series and 11 wins to go before we celebrate.”
Non-Jays question, but I'm a huge fan of both them and your work. I understand that your son is currently the coach of OUA's Guelph Gryphons. What are your thoughts on Ontario university baseball as an alternative to young players who may not be able to make that jump to D-1 ball (or other American college competition). Also, as a Guelph alum, Go Gryphs!
Jay Reimer, Mississauga
A-Since you brought it up, congratulations to my son Matt Griffin on being named OUA Coach of the Year for the 2010 baseball season. As for the quality of OUA baseball, it is a relatively new varsity sport and is still growing in terms of being an option for this country's elite midget-age players. Unfortunately, the ultimate for young players, drummed into their heads by previous generations of young players and adults, is to be recognized by a U.S. university and to earn a scholarship or partial scholarship to a college in the States, any college – 10 points if you can tell me where Carl Sandburg J.C. is located. My esteemed colleague Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun has a fabulous Canadian baseball website called The Baseball Network that has a list of all the kids currently in the U.S. listed on college rosters. It's an impressive site and an impressive number, but the truth of the matter is that even if a player is down there on a scholarship, by comparison the Canadian university system, paying full freight, is a more cost-efficient way to a good education, while still allowing for young players to pursue a competitive baseball schedule.
There have been a couple of kids drafted out of the OUA over the years, but it's not because nobody is watching. If you have the talent and you are playing OUA baseball, scouts will find you. Every MLB organization scouts Canada. The Jays have Kevin Briand on the prowl. The A's have Matt Higginson living here as a fulltime scout. They are both Canadian. Andrew Tinnish is the Jays' scouting director and he played at Brock University in the OUA. There are scouts from every team on the look-out for Canadian talent wherever it performs. The problem with OUA baseball right now is the depth of the talent – but it's improving. There are good players on every university team, but they need more of the quality players, the ones that go away for a year or two at two-bit junior colleges in the States so they can say I played on scholarship in the States. They need some of these players to get realistic and stay home, get an education and play ball.