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?

Some Traditions are Worth Keeping

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I was asked why the first baseball game of the season is played in the afternoon. My reply was it is tradition. Yes, it was on a work day yet baseball fans find the time to get out to the ballpark and watch the game. Many marketing geniuses would suggest holding the first game of the season in the evening would make more sense because more people are off work and children are off school at that time. But we see many stadiums filled to capacity with thousands of people supposedly calling in sick. As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The latest attempt by Major League Baseball to appease those who don’t follow baseball is to replace the intentional base-on-balls rule. In effort to pick up the pace of the game, instead of lobbing four pitches away from the plate, managers will signal to the home plate umpire of their intentions to give first base to the batter without throwing a pitch. Another idea being bandied about is to start the half of each inning with a runner on first base if the game goes past the regulation 9 innings as a way to generate more runs to decide a winner thus ending the game a lot sooner. Those ideas may sound good on paper but whether it will work in reality remains to be seen. Already, a number of managers and players are against them even before it is put into practice. Are they being fickle? No. They know full well that it is not going to work. They, like a lot of baseball fans, understand that going through the motions of something even remotely uninteresting is part of the game. The only people who have a problem with the pace of the game are those who don’t watch it. You can extend that argument to those who don’t like the violent nature of hockey and football, and the lack of scoring in soccer.

Too many times, those in charge of sports leagues ruin what is already a great game to watch. They feel kicking a good number of diehard fans to the curb in favour of attracting a few casual ones is worth it. Hockey fans experienced this in 1992 with the Fox puck, a puck that glows on your TV screen. Fox carried NHL games in the US and felt putting a spotlight on the puck will make it easier for people to see it while watching the game on TV. But the gimmick became more of a distraction than an enhancement, and a couple of years later, Fox put the glowing puck, figuratively, on ice.

That is not to say there is room for improvement when it comes to the game. But sometimes it is best to leave things alone. Why do some changes make sense while others are not accepted? I can sum it up with one word, politics. Those who believe in legislating change, or forcing the issue on others, are doomed to fail while those who let nature take its course, meaning no political interference, are more likely to succeed. This is why leagues with rules that see hockey players get kicked out of the game and/or face supplementary discipline for getting involved in a fight are seeing their product diminish. It is kind of ironic that the people who were perhaps the most vocal against the Fox puck cling to the belief that there will be no more fighting in hockey. All I can say is: pity.

Times are a changing and technology is offering new ways to do things that are more convenient. But some (like me) are what people like to call “old-school”. We continue to perform tasks today that were first created dozens of years ago. We like to hold up and flip through pages of a newspaper, or prefer to speak to a person in-person when buying a big-ticket item. Recently, vinyl records have seen a resurgence by people in their late teens and early 20s (a.k.a.: millennials). They are discovering what a lot of us already know and enjoy.

Some often mistake tradition for laziness. But we don’t change just for the sake of it. Sometimes the best way of doing things is what we have already been doing for years. And that is why some traditions are worth keeping.

Also see:

Political Correctness has No Place in Sport
What Happens When the Passion is Gone?
Outsiders Strike Again

The Only Sure Sign of Spring: Baseball

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It has been a tough winter for those living in the North Eastern portions of Canada and the United States. We have experienced snow squalls, freezing rain, and bone-chilling temperatures since the start of December.

So the opening of baseball training camps for pitchers and catchers this past week is a sight for sore eyes for those who are eager to see the end of winter. It is really the only sure sign of spring. Nothing makes people look forward to summer than hearing the crack of the bat or a 95-mile-an-hour fastball hitting the leather of a mitt. Hundreds of players in Florida and Arizona are preparing for what we hope to be a long hot summer.

Make no mistake, Canada is a hockey nation. But while we like to talk hockey until the cows come home, it is frankly not enough to ignore the winter weather associated with the sport. This is why we are so enamoured with “America’s pastime”. We associate baseball with sunshine and warm temperatures with the occasional rain and thunderstorm.

Fear not folks, pretty soon we will be trading in our parkas and boots for shorts and t-shirts. So while we continue to dig out of the snow, we can anticipate better weather ahead. That is what baseball does.

Also see:

Is This the Year for the Blue Jays?
Stroman Will be Fine
Vintage Donaldson was on Display in ALDS

 

Can You Smell What This Rock is Cooking?

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can-you-smell-what-this-rock-is-cookingIt was great to hear former Montreal Expo Tim Raines getting a spot alongside baseball’s greats in the Hall of Fame. Like my boyhood idol the late Gary Carter, and Andre Dawson before him, Raines in my mind belongs there with his former Expo teammates.

Rickey Henderson was considered the greatest lead-off hitter in the game. But with apologies to the former Blue Jay and Athletic, and a Hall of Famer himself, Raines was the greatest in that position of all time. He personified what a lead-off hitter was. Raines got on base, stole bases, scored runs, and even provided some clutch hits. And he did it with a team that sat in a so-called small market.

It took 10 years for the man they called Rock to get elected by baseball writers so the question remains: what took him so long? Raines was his final year of eligibility and would have had to wait another 6 years before being eligible again by the veterans committee.

I went through his previous 9 years of eligibility. Raines was on 24.3% of the ballot in his first year in 2008. That year, Rich (Goose) Gossage was elected in his 9th year of eligibility (at the time eligible players had their name on the ballot for 15 years). Gossage was the only player to get elected that year. Jim Rice was 2.8% shy of getting in but managed to get in the Hall the following year, his 15th and final year of eligibility. Dawson had 66% percent in his 7th year. He got the call in 2010.

The percentage of votes Raines got in 2009 dipped to 22%. That year Rice and Henderson went into the Hall. Henderson did so on his first ballot. Every year afterwards, the percentage of votes Raines got increased by an average of 6%. During that time, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas became Hall of Famers. In 2016, Raines received 69.8% of the vote.

Raines should not have waited this long to get the call. I always had an issue with the baseball writers when it comes to selecting players for the Hall of Fame. Especially now when many writers protested the so-called steroid era by abstaining. That to me is a disgrace to the profession and amounts to treason worthy of Edward Snowdon status.

But that’s another column for another day. Right now, it is a moment of celebration for those who followed the Expos. Raines now has a spot in Cooperstown and it was well worth the wait.

Also see:

How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?

 

Play ‘Til You’re Dead: Why Overtime is the Best Way to Decide a Game

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Two recent events added to the case against having penalty shootouts decide a game, the gold medal game of the World Junior Hockey Championships and the MLS Cup final game.

I’m not sure if Team Canada would have won the gold medal game against the Americans last Thursday in Montreal if they were able to continue playing in overtime. If anything, the Canadians looked pretty listless after coughing up their second 2-goal lead of the game. The last ten minutes of regulation and all of the 20-minute sudden-death OT, save for a power play, was controlled by the US. Perhaps Canada’s only chance to win the gold medal was to have the game decided in a shootout. Had Canada lost in overtime, there would have been disappointment but I can bet you no one would be complaining about the method used to decide the winner.

The same goes with soccer (or football as Europeans call it). Fans of Toronto FC were left disappointed that the MLS Cup final was decided on penalty kicks. Unlike Canada’s Junior Team, Toronto FC players were dominant nearly winning it in extra time. Only a great acrobatic save by Seattle’s goalkeeper prevented the game from ending. Often the championship game in soccer in any level ends in penalty kicks. And like the hockey shootout, it is also a dull, lazy way to decide a game.

One argument for a shootout or penalty kick to decide a game is that players can not play for that long a period. But I would say that if these athletes are indeed the most fit and are in great physical shape as everyone claims, then they should be able to play as long as it takes until someone scores. In fact, stamina and fatigue should be as much of a factor as skill when determining a winner. If you can’t overcome being out of breath then you probably shouldn’t deserve being called a champion. The game should take as long as it wants to decide a winner. That to me is a true champion.

Overtime in the NHL playoffs showed us why playing until the next team scores is not only the best way to decide a game, it is also the most exciting. Hardly anyone leaves before the winning goal is scored regardless of how late it goes. I was at a pair of Blue Jays regular season games this past season, both went into extra innings and both ended in Blue Jays comeback victories. My friend and I stayed until the very end and so did many of the fans at the Dome. This despite the fact both games were played on a weeknight and many in attendance probably had to get up early the next day.

The consensus against shootouts to decide a championship game, and even in regular season games, is growing. I’m not sure how anyone can continue to allow games of this importance to be decided this way. But until people start to become tired about hearing players getting tired, or that the game goes too long, the skills competition portion will continue to reign in sports.

Also see:

International Rules in the NHL? No Thanks
Lessons From the World Juniors
The Lack of Animosity is Hurting the World Cup of Hockey

 

2016 Saw the Return of Toronto as a Sports Town

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Getty Images

Getty Images

In 2016, Toronto showed the world why it is a sports town. For the record, I never thought for a moment that Toronto lost its place in the sports world. But over the last number of years it became dull, predictable, and snobbish. Nothing could have lit a fire under a Toronto sports fan. Then came the recent playoff runs of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Toronto FC. The Blue Jays went 22 years without a post-season berth before making back-to-back playoff appearances the last two years. People would point out that Blue Jays games rarely sold out or that there are those still burned by the player’s strike in 1994. These folks must have bad knees because they like to use crutches. The fact there are at least 20,000 coming to every game means those who are there are not only Blue Jays fans but also true baseball fans.

A year before Josh Donaldson’s dash home, Jose Bautista brought fans to their feet:

If you watched the NBA playoffs, you would have witnessed Jurassic Park, an area outside the Air Canada Centre where Raptors fans gather and watch their team play whether the team was at home or on the road. Thousands of people braved the elements to watch their team play. LeBron James noticed it moments after he and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Raptors in the NBA Eastern Conference Final. So did actor and comedian Jamie Foxx when he made an appearance on ESPN after the game. People do pay attention.

Then you have fans of Toronto FC who are in a league of their own. 20 years ago, no one would even think about watching an outdoor sporting event by the lake in the middle of December. But there it was, BMO Field, filled to capacity for the MLS Cup Final. A number of spectators probably wore the same attire at that game as they did to one on a hot, sticky summer day. The loud noise may have caused residents living in Liberty Village across the railway tracks to lose some sleep that night. Passionate? Dedicated? Vocal? Did Donald Trump become President of the United States?

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

Part of the resurgence is due to rapper Drake. Yes, we’ve had other Toronto-born celebrities showing off their hometown pride (i.e. Mike Myers, Will Arnett) but no one has made an impact quite like Mr. Graham. He is also the reason Hogtown is now known as The Six.

The CFL’s Argonauts missed the boat (no pun intended) when they failed to make the playoffs in the year where BMO Field hosted the 104th Grey Cup. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 11 of their last 12 seasons. But the foundation is now in place after the Brendan Shanahan regime took over in 2014. It will only be a matter of time before they join the likes of the Blue Jays, Raptors, and TFC.

Toronto is often ridiculed (and sometimes rightfully so) for being a fairweather sports town. They sit on their hands, offer a polite applause, wondering why can’t they let us win? Not anymore. Things have changed. There are new people living in the city have they have brought their own approach to watching sports. Some we are not used to seeing: large gatherings outside stadiums to watch games on big screen TVs, wearing the team colours with pride, and screaming so loud it would blow out ear drums. This is not your father’s Toronto sports fans. I can only imagine what 2017 will be for Toronto sports fans.

Also see:

People Don’t Watch Sports, Fans Do
Habs Fans Becoming Snobs
Leafs Nation Needs a Housecleaning