Time for Change
This is one observer who keenly waits for baseball's second season, the excitement that will begin shortly in eight cities and produce extraordinary tension and drama. TV - particularly high-def TV - highlights baseball like few other sports, focusing in on the raw nerves of players and coaches in the late innings of a tight ball game, without helmets or masks to cover the human condition on display. The wild card has only added to this, producing more baseball that matters.
Once again, however, we won't be seeing any of that live here in Toronto. In fact, HD television wasn't even invented the last time we saw a Blue Jay playoff game. The Quebec Nordiques hadn't even moved to Denver the last time post-season baseball happened at the dome.
The past 10 days, in fact, have proven emphatically the dangers of getting too excited about winning a few baseball games or losing a few baseball games.
It's a sport where the big picture is all that matters, where a player can't be judged by a hitting slump in May because by September his numbers may end up being exactly what they were projected to be, or even better.
For the Blue Jays, the past month has been an exercise in understanding the big picture, not focusing on two weeks here or two weeks there.
But my goodness, what a turnaround in fortunes there's been.
Less than two weeks ago, the club was basking in the warmth of a September hot streak. Cito Gaston looked comfortable and serene again as the club's manager, various bats were booming that hadn't boomed much all year, kids like David Purcey and Travis Snider were appearing to be sure-fire factors for the future and J.P. Ricciardi's job seemed secure for at least one more year.
Today, things are much different. The club is now 3-5 since losing a theoretically important back-end of a double bill in Boston, Shaun Marcum appears lost for all of next year, the possibility of finishing ahead of the Yankees is the "goal" left to play for (do you think the Yanks have their eye on that prize?) and with A.J. Burnett likely heading out the door as well, spending millions of dollars more on free agent players to buttress the lineup appears to be the likely plan.
It's the same plan that's been in play for a while now, different than what was sold seven years ago when Ricciardi took over. Then, the Jays were supposed to become the Minnesota Twins of the east, a smart, resourceful team that didn't spend zillions on other team's players but developed its own and throughout the organization played the game the right way.
Ring a bell?
Seven years later, there are some younger players on the big league roster, and some good ones. But no progress has been made in the standings despite an enormous infusion of cash. Fifteen years out of the playoffs is 15 years, and Ricciardi's teams haven't made so much as a dent in that problem.
So now its a straightforward choice. With next season looking damaged already because of the loss of Marcum, Dustin McGowan and probably Burnett, keeping Ricciardi now probably means keeping him for another two seasons, minimum. Could he ultimately produce a winner? Well, Joe Madden would tell you anything's possible.
On the other hand, changing management now could be an opportunity to re-define what this team seeks to be and offer the fans of the ball club at least the hint that year after year of mediocrity isn't acceptable.
Its one thing to constantly lament playing in the American League East with New York and Boston, but quite another to have watched Tampa Bay zoom past the Jays as well. Would Toronto baseball fans have willingly endured all those years of horrific losing in Tampa to be where the Rays are now, or do fans prefer a the steady drumbeat of being competitive but not nearly good enough?
Its an intriguing question.
Two weeks ago all those wins had some, not all, Jays fans giddy with possibilities. In a city where the football team's gone south, the hockey team is already expecting a bad season and only the basketball team is a serious factor in its league, any team that can put together a string of victories is bound to get a lot of attention. Heck, a couple more wins and the Buffalo-Toronto Bills will be getting a parade up Yonge Street.
Today, the feeling about this baseball club, however, is more "here we go again," more helplessness than optimism.
You don't have to regard Ricciardi as the worst GM in the history of baseball to want change.
He put the team in this position, of that there is no debate. All season he asked fans to wait and see how the season played out, and it has played out in a defineable way.
Surely it's time to see if another executive can build on Ricciardi's foundation.
Unless more of the same is what you want.