Roy Halladay: An Ace Among Aces

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I was on the news desk Tuesday afternoon when I received a news text on my phone notifying me that police in Florida found the wreckage of a small engine plane in the Gulf of Mexico. It went on to say one unidentified person was killed and that the plane belonged to former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. The worst case scenario entered my mind the next few minutes until another text confirmed the body recovered from the wreckage is that of the former Cy Young winner.

In between Joe Carter’s World Series clinching home run and Jose Bautista’s bat flip, there was Halladay. He was arguably not only the best pitcher but also the best player on a mostly terrible Blue Jays team each and every year. Halladay’s appearance every fifth day was the reason baseball fans in Toronto still kept their hopes up. He was for 11 seasons the face of the franchise. I first saw Halladay pitch on the final day of the regular season in 1998 against the Detroit Tigers. A home run by Bobby Higginson with two outs in the top of the 9th inning was the only hit Halladay would allow in a 2-1 Blue Jays victory. That was Halladay’s first of 67 complete games of his career.

In the age of sabremetrics and large bullpens, Halladay was an ace among aces. When he took the ball to start the game, he usually goes deep into the game and for the most part finishes it. No pitcher today could be as dominant as Halladay was. The innings pitched, the complete games. Not every start translated into a win but he kept the team in a position to win. Another former Cy Young winner Greg Maddux has something named after him called The Maddux. That is where a pitcher finishes a game that he started and throws no more than 100 pitches. That could easily have been called the Halladay.

It is not hard to see how respected Halladay was in Toronto, the baseball community, and the sports world in general.

RIP Roy 1977-2017

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Baseball’s Back? It Never Left

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There has been a lot of talk about how the 2017 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers has being the greatest in the history of sport. There are some who would put the 2016 series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians as the best. The last two World Series not only went the distance but also ended long droughts. For the Astros, Wednesday’s win over the Dodgers enabled them to clinch the first title in their 57-year history of the franchise. For the Cubs, their championship in 2016 was their first World Series crown in more than 100 years.

You can argue whether the last two World Series were the greatest in history. It shows that you don’t need two big market teams, or even the two best teams, to get excited about a championship. The fact that people are talking so much about how great baseball has been over the last few years has been music to this man’s ears. People in Toronto have not been excited about the Blue Jays between their championship years in 1992 and 1993, and 2015. And all it took was the flip of a bat.

However, I’m not convinced with people saying baseball is making some kind of resurgence. ESPN’s Max Kellerman declared on First Take that baseball is back. With all due respect, the sport never left. There is no question that baseball has gone through its share of some tough and even troubled times. But it’s survived dead ball, juiced ball, juiced players, riots, tie games, throwing games, and work stoppages. Things people say are leading to the demise of baseball.

I have been sick and tired of hearing the game of baseball being kicked repeatedly on the ground. There are those who have written off baseball for dead and are now kicking themselves. Those who abandoned baseball and ran over to football are finding out the grass (or turf) isn’t any greener. That game has seen its share of troubles, most recently concussions, domestic violence, and the misguided political rhetoric led by NFL players. If sports were stocks, people who invested heavily on the NFL are now banging on doors trying to sell. While people were ready to anoint American football and the National Football League as America’s pastime, the game of baseball was going about their business in keeping their crown. I can bet the same people who swore off baseball after the player’s strike in 1995 are now rediscovering (some albeit reluctantly) how great the game is again.

Through it all, the game of baseball has hardly changed since Abner Doubleday first created it (some say supposedly) almost two centuries ago. So I don’t know where all this talk about baseball being gone and back from the dead is coming from. The players have changed but, in my mind, it’s always been here, alive and well.

Also see:

Surprised by the Blue Jays’ Success? You Shouldn’t Be
Rooting Against Someone is Gutless… and the Bat Flip Heard Around the World
The Past is Starting to Catch Up to the Patriots

Asians Continue to Get the Short End of the Stick on Racism

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While there has been tremendous outrage towards Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, there was hardly any against Yuli Guriell. The Houston Astros first baseman made a gesture towards Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish, a Japanese-born pitcher, after hitting a big home run off Darvish in Game 3 of the World series. Yes, Guriell got suspended for 5 games by Major League Baseball. But his punishment will begin at the start of next season as oppose to during the playoffs. I would prefer to force Guriell to play at least one game in front of what should be a hostile crowd at Chavez Ravine during this year’s World Series and appear in all 3 games next August when the Astros play the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the 2018 regular season. Let the paying public be able to tell Guriell what they think of his gesture. McNair’s comments about inmates running the prison was damning but I would argue it was towards all players regardless of the colour of their skin. But the fact there has been more outrage towards McNair and not much towards Guriell is a damn shame.

I won’t go into a diatribe about how there is a double standard when it comes to how people perceive racism. But it is no secret that those of Asian decent have been getting a raw deal when it comes to racial slurs or gestures hurled towards them. In an earlier post, I mentioned an encounter I had with a black woman at a store years ago. She wasn’t afraid to hurl such a slur towards me and many in the store didn’t bother to challenge her. My guess is that because she was black, any condemnation towards her would be perceived as racist. Therefore, she had a free ride to say hateful things towards me. I suppose until a Chinese or Japanese person gets shot by a white police officer, we will continue to get the short end of the stick.

There will be those who will dismiss this as a racist piece but last I checked, Orientals (or Asians as an associate of mine prefers to be called) are a “visible minority”. Most, like me, have no ill will or any disrespect towards blacks. But you are kidding yourself if I’m going to bow down to anyone who considers they race to be superior than mine, no matter what colour their skin is, what language they speak, or what religion they belong to.

There have been protests in the past when there is a movie out that portrays Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans in a negative or disrespectful way. But I hazard to guess that was not enough to get the people running Hollywood (i.e. Harvey Weinstein) to change their attitudes or at least to be on the same level as the black community, or gay and lesbian community. It appears having Asians as victims (real or perceived) is not as lucrative as other racial or gender groups. Just ask those behind Black Lives Matter.

Despite this act of racism by Guriell, Asians will continue to be a part of a sport that is the fabric of the United States of America and here in Canada. Darvish, to his credit, took the high road. No raising of fists or kneeling during the national anthem. If there is one thing Japanese people do well is rise above the racial intolerance. They have done it in the past and will continue to do so.

Also see:

Racism Knows No Bounds
Political Correctness has No Place in Sport
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism

Bautista Should be Regarded as One of the Best Blue Jays Ever

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As we head into the final days of Major League Baseball’s regular season, the Toronto Blue Jays will be contemplating what might have been. Missed opportunities, injuries, and players performing well below their expectations.

This is also likely the final season of one Jose Bautista. He is set to become a free agent at the end of the year if the Blue Jays do not pick up his option for 2018.

Despite what was a lacklustre season by his standards, Bautista showed flashes of his old self in the final two months. During the final home series of the season, fans at Rogers Centre gave Bautista a standing ovation whenever he came to bat. They also gave him a rousing applause this past Sunday when was replaced defensively in the middle of the ninth inning in the team’s final home game.

Bautista is one of the best players to wear a Blue Jays uniform. To me, he is one of the Top 5 best Blue Jays of all time. Maybe even Top 3. I would put Roberto Alomar and Roy Halladay ahead of Bautista. Joe Carter and Dave Stieb are the others in my Top 5.

Perhaps the only great move made by General Manager JP Ricciardi was acquiring Bautista from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008. At the time he was a utility man with no regular position in the field and he was penciled in just about anywhere in the batting order whether it was leading off or batting ninth. It was during his time with the Blue Jays that Bautista went from a bench player and a floundering free-swinger to a bonafide 30-home-run-a-year slugger and one of the leaders of the team.

It is easy to see why Bautista is highly regarded as one the best baseball players in the game. He is a 6-time All-Star, twice led the American League in home runs, and is a 3-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Bautista also won back-to-back Hank Aaron awards in 2010 and 2011 as the American League’s top hitter as voted by media and fans.

The pinnacle moment for Bautista was in the 2015 American League Division Series. Bautista came to the plate in the 7th inning after the Texas Rangers took the lead on a controversial play in the top half of the inning. The Blue Jays managed to tie the game up before Bautista’s at-bat. A well-placed base hit would have given the Blue Jays the lead. But the situation screamed for the knife to be put in the heart of the Texas team. The third pitch delivered by Sam Dyson to Bautista was sent to the second deck in left-centre field for a 3-run home run. That home run brought not only the stadium, but the city and the country to its feet.

The fact that he was not able to win a World Series championship is the only blemish on his otherwise successful career. His accomplishments alone may not get him into Cooperstown. But in terms of within the franchise, Bautista is one of the best. And one day he will have his own spot on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.

Also see:

Rooting Against Someone is Gutless… and the Bat Flip Heard Around the World
Bautista’s Fate with Blue Jays in His Hands
Everyone Loves an Outcast

 

Contact Won’t Kill Sport, Petty Rules Will

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I recall the 1994 baseball players strike where there were cries that fans will never watch a game again. That same sentiment was echoed in 2004 when the NHL locked out its players which lasted the entire season. Everyone, at least in the media, believed this was the end of professional hockey as we know it.

Fast forward to 2014, both baseball and hockey have never seen their respective sport become more popular than before. Labour strife has not killed sport as a lot of experts have suggested. Earlier this year, members of the United States Women’s Ice Hockey threatened to boycott the Women’s World Hockey Championship over money. It hardly got any negative press. In fact, many in the media stood up and applauded as did hockey fans on both sides of the border. These people who said they would never see a game again because of the bickering over money are making Donald Trump the most honest man in the world.

The latest threat making the rounds is concussions. Contrary to popular belief, head injuries is not news. The difference is, thanks to advancement in medical technology, we are now seeing the consequences of getting hit in the head. That has caused doctors and others in the medical profession to call for rules in place to prevent such injuries. But how? There have been penalties in place for hits to the head but it is as clear as mud. As we are witnessing it being put into practice, the new rules have not prevented more head injuries and players are not sure what’s allowed and what is not.

There is a false notion that people watch hockey for goal scoring. No questions that scoring goals is important, it what determines who wins or loses. But as I have said before on a number of occasions, it takes more than scoring goals to win games. And part of that is preventing goals from being scored. That involves a certain level of contact. Plain and simple. We have witnessed during all-star games where if defence is non-existent, it makes for a boring game. You can’t defend if you are not allowed to make contact, or at the very least there is the possibility of making contact.

The violent nature of hockey or football is not going to kill the sport. What will kill sport is putting in rules that will hinder the player’s ability to perform to the best of their abilities. Can’t hit in the head? Can’t go below the knees? The “sensitive” area is certainly off-limits. So what part of the body is left to make contact? You realize that these ridiculous calls for safety are being championed by those who don’t give a damn. They wear suits, glasses, have a PhD in something, not the qualities I associate with a sports fan. They claim they are doing it in the best interest for sports, but don’t believe it for a second. The lack of contact in sports, and the petty rules enforcing it, is going to do far more damage than the cancellation of the World Series or losing an entire NHL season.

Also see:

Have Attitudes Towards Athletes Who Boycott/Strike Changed?
The Latest Futile Attempt to Ban Fighting in Hockey
Hockey is a Tough Sport, Get Use to it

What If Making Trades Was That Easy

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This Blue Jays season has been so disappointing that even the recent (and some would say expected) trades of Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith to contending teams were met with frowns by media and the like. Not so much that these players were dealt away, more like what we got in return. Pouting at Ross Atkins for making the trades is one thing, actually pulling the trigger on one is more difficult than people like to believe. Some folks blindly believe the Blue Jays can pick players up at a drop of the hat. And many of them work in sports media. If only it were that easy.

I have listened to sports talk radio for years and too many times I hear callers ask the host the same question: “why can’t (insert team here) get (insert player here)?” or “they should trade (insert player here) for (insert player here), that would be a great trade.” I remember hearing one caller insisting the Blue Jays should trade Kevin Pillar to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw, straight up. First off, you have to convince me the Dodgers would be willing to part with their ace for then Toronto’s young unproven outfielder. Secondly, the idea immediately comes off as a pipe dream. There is no logical basis to make the trade other than to promote phony outrage and anger that someone would not take such a trade proposal seriously. It makes you wonder the kind of people who listen to sports talk radio shows and whether that is the kind of people advertisers want to be associated with.

But let’s just say (for the sake of argument) acquiring the players we wanted was that easy. For starters (and I’m speaking from the Toronto sports fan’s perspective), the Blue Jays would surpass the Yankees as the franchise leader in World Series championships. Maple Leafs fans would be bragging about a Stanley Cup dynasty, not lamenting about not winning the Cup since 1967. If making a trade was that easy, no one would be talking about consequences such as the lack of parity it would cause or how the trade will impact the other team.

Another thing to think about is if trades were that easy, why would teams need general managers? If you believe the armchair GMs, all you need to do is pick up the phone, announce your demands and bingo, you get the player you want. Anybody can do that. In fact, why not just walk into a store and take whatever you want on the shelf? That kind of act would land you in jail but it seems some people feel it’s the way to do business in professional sports.

It probably took Alex Anthopoulos weeks if not days to negotiate the trade that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto. There were those who didn’t want the team to part with Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays’ third baseman at the time, who ended being one of the players the Blue Jays sent to Oakland for Donaldson. That was one of the challenges Anthopoulos had to face. Perhaps it is all Pat Glillick’s fault. Glillick made things pretty easy during his tenure as Blue Jays GM. His blockbuster trade in 1991 that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter from San Diego led to two World Series Championships and now everyone thinks they can be a general manager in sports. But all kidding aside, if only making trades were that easy. What should the Blue Jays do about Jose Bautista? Why not ask Justin Bieber?

Also see:

Even if Bautista and Encarnacion Return, the Blue Jays Still Have Areas to Address
Firing Exposes Incompetence… Among Fans and Media
Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money

A Baseball Record You Likely Never Heard of… But Should

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Baseball is full of records. 56-game hitting streak, .400 batting average, 4,256 career base hits. Here’s another: 26. That is the number of consecutive wins by the Barrie Baycats of the independent Intercounty Baseball League.

The Baycats lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs (not to be confused nor are they affiliated with the NHL club) on Wednesday, their first loss of the 2017 season. That streak broke two records: first was consecutive wins to start a season previously held by the Maple Leafs with 10 in 1999. The second is consecutive wins during the season. The previous record was 22 held by the Brantford Red Sox in 1961. The Red Sox went on to win their 4th of 6 consecutive IBL championships. If you include the 2016 playoffs, the Baycats were on the winning end of 37 consecutive games.

The Baycats were dominating opponents during their win streak. The average margin of victory in those 26 games was 6.1 runs. Five games were won by 10 runs or more. Included in that streak are six 1-run games, and four coming when the Baycats were trailing after 8 innings.

The Intercounty Baseball League consists of 7 teams, all based in Ontario. The players in this league don’t get paid, they do it because they love to play baseball. Despite being what some call a glorified beer league, the record of 26 straight wins to start the season is something to behold. The fact that records like these don’t come often is the reason what the Baycats did is something special. It should there among with other such winning streaks.

In 1987, the Salt Lake City Trappers of the Pioneer League won 29 straight games to hold the minor league record and possibly all of professional baseball. The Major League Baseball record for consecutive wins is… well, it all depends on perspective. The 1916 New York Giants went 26 straight games without a loss. That streak included a tie. For consecutive wins, that belongs to the 1935 Chicago Cubs who won 21 straight. The 2000 Oakland Athletics hold the American league record with 20.

The while the Baycats are appreciative of the record win streak, they have more lofty goals to reach, like setting their sights on a fourth straight league championship. Anything less would be a disappointment for them. But you have got to believe this is becoming a special year for the team. Part of it you can chalk it up to winning the first 26 games of the season.

Also see:

Enjoy the Moment While It Lasts
Rare Feats are Exciting Because it’s Rare
Stability Key to a Successful Team?

 

We Should Have Seen This Coming

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The Blue Jays are off to their worst start in franchise history. A lot of people are not only disappointed by the 2 and 10 record but are also surprised by the poor start to the season. I’m not. Not to toot my own horn but if you’ve been reading this blog over the last couple of years, I have mentioned some of the problems the Blue Jays are experiencing. The slow start should come as a surprise to no one. In fact, we should have seen this coming.

The problems began well before the start of the season, before spring training, before free agency. I would say even before the start of last year’s postseason. One of the reasons the Blue Jays are struggling is because they have been unable to gets hits with runners in scoring position. This is largely due the hitters showing a lack of patience at the plate. They didn’t show much that last September when they fell out of first place in the American League East and had to settle for a wild card berth. That same approach carried into the American League Division Series, the American League Championship Series, and the first two weeks of the 2017 season.

Secondly, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins was not able to attract any quality left-handed hitters to the Blue Jays in the off-season save for switch-hitter Kendrys Morales. Not to say the Blue Jays should have gone after a guy like Kyle Schwarber or Bryce Harper. But adding one or two players of that calibre from the left side would have easily balanced out what was and still is a right heavy line up. I can bet you no one would have been shedding a tear about Edwin Encarnacion, and perhaps Jose Bautista, leaving.

Another thing I have mentioned before is the Blue Jays have to stay healthy for the entire season if they expect to contend. Right now we have two starters (Aaron Sanchez and JA Happ) and a former MVP (Josh Donaldson) on the shelf. That’s not good. The closer, Roberto Osuna, was also injured but his stay on the disabled list was minimal.

As a result, the Blue Jays went from early season favourites to win the division to wondering if they will be sellers at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Perhaps it is too soon to suggest the Blue Jays should trade away the veterans and go with youth. They should not approach this like the Maple Leafs did two years ago where the intention was to tank the regular season in order to draft your next superstar. Baseball is different in that aspect. But if things don’t turn around quickly, we are going to be in for a long season even before summer officially begins.

Also see:

There is No Substitute for Patience
Is the Media Cheering for a Blue Jays Demise?
Blue Jays Need Players… Ones That Don’t Get Hurt Easily

 

 

Canadians Expected to Compete in Every Sport

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A couple of observations from this past weekend. Abbotsford, British Columbia’s Adam Hadwin won the Valspar Championship, his first victory on the PGA TOUR. Meanwhile, Team Canada were winless at the World Baseball Classic. Two sporting moments, two different outcomes, but both had the same expectation: to win it all.

Maybe it is too much to say that the Canadian WBC team was expected to win it all or even advance to the next round. Even if you had every Canadian Major League Baseball player on the team, there are holes in a few positions, namely in middle infield, where they are lacking significantly. In the case with Hadwin, he has been close to winning before, most recently at the CareerBuilder Challenge where he shot a round of 59. It was simply a matter of time before he would eventually be in the winner’s circle. Next stop for him is the Masters in Augusta.

It used to be if a Canadian was in an event such as the Masters, or Wimbledon, or the Indianapolis 500, the notion is: “we are just glad to be here.” Not anymore. With the exception of perhaps soccer, Canadians are expected to compete, if not win, on a regular basis in every sport, not just hockey. That is a different mindset than say 10 years ago or even longer where we would settle for a participation medal. With better athletes and better training, Canadians are expected to take home the hardware when they take on the rest of the world.

The difference I believe is attitude. At one time, winning a championship was seen as too difficult of a task. Now it is looked at as a challenge everyone wants to face. To me, that is a good sign that Canadians have goals, some albeit lofty, that they expect to meet. The days of just hoping and praying are over. Today’s Canadian athletes are able to control their own fate more often.

Now, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to actually winning championships. Canada’s baseball team needs a middle infield to go with the strong pitching and power hitting. Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard will have to overcome their physical setbacks before they can compete in major tennis tournaments. Canada’s basketball team is one Center away before they become a serious threat to the dominating US team.

But one thing is for sure, athletes need to continue to aim high. That separates the participants from the contenders and it will bode well for Canada in producing not just great athletes, but champions.

Also see:

Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Lessons From the World Juniors
Olympics are All About the Games

 

There is Something to be Said About Loyalty

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there-is-something-to-be-said-about-loyaltyThe late Tony Gwynn played 20 seasons with one team, the San Diego Padres. Despite a Hall of Fame career that included 8 batting titles, 5 gold glove awards, and 15 all-star appearances, Gwynn appeared in only 2 World Series, both times he was on the losing team. The Padres franchise had just a handful of winning seasons with Gwynn on the team. But the thought of leaving for another team never entered his mind. Gwynn is perhaps an example of loyalty.

There are other two names that come to mind, Shane Doan of the Arizona Coyotes and Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns. Both players have established themselves of being elite players on teams that would be best described as mediocre. Both deserve to be in their respective Hall of Fames once their careers are over. But neither have asked to be traded to a contending team nor have they gone on the market and signed with another team. They decided to stay where they are.

You could be excused if you were someone like Kevin Durant or LeBron James who left their respective teams to join ones who are already championship calibre or a so-called “Super Team” where the line up is made up of superstar quality athletes. But to those who stuck it out with one team or one organization throughout their entire career, you should be saluted. To them, it is more about being associated with one team than it is about winning championships. I find that people appreciate a player’s loyalty even if they had every reason to leave.

Loyalty is perhaps the most unappreciated quality in the world. No one seems to care if you dedicate yourself to one team or organization. In fact, loyalty is often seen by some as being associated with losers. But if you are one who works hard and shows up everyday, you maybe on a losing team but you are hardly a loser. Sometimes being a big fish in a small pond is better than being one of million in an ocean.

So let’s give kudos to those who are staying with the only place they knew for their entire lives. One maybe a lonely number, but for some, it is the only number they know.

Also see:

Stability Key to a Successful Team?
Backers Abandon Cam, Broncos Win One for Peyton
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?