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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Getty Images

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

Canada Lost Its Biggest Sports Fan

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A part of Canada died on October 17, 2017. Gord Downie passed away after battling brain cancer at the age of 53. For those outside Canada, Downie was the lead singer of the Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip. The band’s songs are often rooted in Canada whether it is about a late Toronto Maple Leaf player or a small Ontario town. I wrote a piece about Canadian athletes and whether you need international success to be considered great. It is often said that if you are a musician from Canada, you need to be big in the United States in order to have a successful career in music. The Tragically Hip (or the Hip for short) proved that you can achieve that without leaving your home soil.

From Mike Luck (@LuckyMikeLuck)

Downie was a big sports fan. He would often reference the sport of hockey in his lyrics like Fifty Mission Cap, Fireworks, and Heaven is a Better Place. In the last couple of years, he has appeared at a number of sporting events most recently Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Air Canada Centre. Not many people knew that longtime Boston Bruins executive Harry Sinden was Downie’s Godfather. Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr and former Bruins head coach and current broadcaster Don Cherry were good friends of Downie and the band.

Canadian athletes have drawn inspiration from Downie. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin used the song Courage whenever he came up to bat during the 2016 season. The Hip’s final concert (in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario) was aired live on the CBC. At the time, the 2016 Summer Olympics were on and the CBC were the main broadcaster of the games in Canada. But they took two hours from their schedule to air that live performance. Canadian athletes who were taking part in the Rio games were huddled around large television sets watching the performance from the Olympic village. That is how much Downie meant to Canadians and sports.

Here’s the official statement from the Downie family:Here’s a sample of what people in the sports world are saying about Downie’s passing:

50 Mission Cap.

A post shared by Toronto Maple Leafs (@mapleleafs) on

RIP Gord (1964-2017).

Also see:

Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.
Late Night’s Ultimate Sports Fan

 

Matthews Made Price Look Mortal

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Photo: Globe and Mail

Let me get this out of the way first. Carey Price is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL right now. He has faced the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos and has made outstanding saves against them. Price often stands on his head when the team is struggling to score goals. He is the reason the Montréal Canadiens have been winning in recent years. Price also helped lead Canada to a gold medal in men’s ice hockey at the last Winter Olympic games. So he is no slouch when he is in net. But last Saturday night, a 20-year-old phenom made the veteran goaltender look average, dare I say mortal.

Montréal was hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens had won 14 consecutive head-to-head match ups prior to Saturday’s game. Their last loss to the Buds was on January 19, 2014. That streak ended on Saturday and it was largely due to the play of Auston Matthews.

The Maple Leafs forward scored two of Toronto’s four goals in the game and he made Montréal’s number one goaltender look like a number two. Price stood there as if he was a deer crossing the road and a speeding pick up truck with its headlights on was heading right towards him. It is something hockey fans, not just those in Montréal, were not used to seeing.

Here’s Matthews’ first goal of the game (from @Goal_Leafs_Goal):

Matthews’ second goal came in overtime:

Price’s performance on Saturday reminded me of another Habs goaltender from back in the day, André (Red Light) Racicot. Racicot was the back up to Patrick Roy in the 1992-1993 season and was known to let in some goals that would normally be stopped.

If you are a fan of Team Canada, it is perhaps a good thing that there won’t be any NHLers playing at the Winter Olympics next year in PyeongChang. Matthews would likely make Swiss cheese out of Price if Canada and the US were to face off in a game.

There is a hashtag out for this Habs season, #Drivefor25. It is to symbolize the 24 Stanley Cup championships the Canadiens have won in the history of the franchise and their aim to get their 25th. But at this pace, they will be lucky to get to that number in wins this season.

The Habs have struggled out of the gate this season winning only once in their first five games (that one by the way was a shootout win over Ottawa in their first game of the season). I would bet that their fans will be willing to live with a lost season if their team can win all four head-to-head match ups with the Maple Leafs. That, however, changed on Saturday. Thanks in part to a boy from Arizona.

Also see:

Things are Going Good for the Leafs
Price is Right for Canada
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain

Golden Knights Not Your Typical Expansion Team

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The Vegas Golden Knights are 3 & 0 to start not only the 2017-2018 NHL season but also their maiden voyage in the National Hockey League. Mind you, my Maple Leafs are also 3 & 0 so the haters will say: it’s early.

The difference between starts from the Leafs and the Knights is a) the level of talent, and b) the schedule. There is no Auston Matthews or a Mitch Marner on the Knights and the Maple Leafs won two of their 3 games against a playoff team with a former Vezina winner (New York Rangers), and a recent Stanley Cup champ (Chicago). Two of Vegas’ three wins were against the lowly Arizona Coyotes, a team that some would say plays like an expansion team.

But having said all that, the Golden Knights are making a lot of noise early on in the season. Part of it is because of the caliber of talent that was made available to General Manager George McPhee. What other first-year team can acquire a Marc-Andre Fleury or a James Neal in the expansion draft? I can’t think of any. Fleury looks like the goaltender that once led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009 and Neal is lighting the lamp at a record pace.

Add to it, the backdrop of the horrific massacre two weekends ago where 58 people were killed during a shooting at an outdoor music festival. The emotions coming from that and the team providing an avenue to escape is allowing the Knights to quickly develop a large fan base. Vegas’ home opener on Tuesday was something to be said. The ceremony was slightly subdued which led the team’s performance on the ice to provide enough pomp and circumstance to make it a celebratory occasion.

Time will only tell whether the Golden Knights can keep this up and become a playoff contender in the first year of existence. The next two games will provide a true test for the Knights: Detroit on Friday and Boston on Sunday. But it is a storybook start for the team and the Knights’ management are the authors of it.

Also see:

Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money
The Raptors are Playing with House Money
Surprised by the Blue Jays’ Success? You Shouldn’t Be

 

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

Kaepernick Only Has Himself to Blame… Plus, Defending Your Brand

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Free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned. There are some who feel he is being blackballed for taking a knee during the playing of the American national anthem before every game during the 2016 NFL season. Kaepernick is not being blackballed, rather he dug himself a hole that he can’t get out of. Despite the actions of Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch over the weekend, most if not all of Kaepernick’s momentum gained from his publicity stunt has disappeared. Even Kaepernick’s old team, the San Francisco 49ers, a team based in one of the most politically progressive cities in the United States, feels he has become more of a liability and did not make any effort to re-sign him. Nobody wants to be associated with a player who is not only against cops, but supports the violent demise of law enforcement officials who are charged with protecting the communities we live in, that includes front line police officers. The colour of one’s skin be damned. Kaepernick knows that and he has only himself to blame for his demise.

When the Miami Dolphins were looking for a quarterback to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill, they managed to lure Jay Cutler out of retirement and have him as their starter rather than Kaepernick. That caused many who cover the team and the NFL to scratch their heads and even sparked outrage. Liberal filmmaker Spike Lee is planning to hold a rally in New York City for Kaepernick prior to the start of the 2017 season. But what some fail to mention is during a news conference last season, Kaepernick proudly wore a t-shirt with the image of the late Cuban President Fidel Castro. To some people they say “so what”, but for many Cubans living in Miami who fled Castro’s tyranny, that display of affection towards a dictator is no different to praising Adolf Hitler. Former Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen learned that the hard way when he spoke highly of Castro during an interview in 2012. The backlash ensued and it became a distraction resulting in the Marlins finishing dead last in the division that year and it cost Guillen his job despite having 3 years and $7.5 Million left on his contract. The Dolphins obviously didn’t want to duplicate that fiasco.

Kaepernick’s political stance is not the only reason he has not landed a job on an NFL team. He still considers himself an elite quarterback but that is simply no longer the case. In fact, he is just a shell of himself. Kaepernick lost his starting job prior to the start of last season, and prior to his protest. He finished the season with a quarterback rating of 90.7 (ESPN rating is 55.2). That is better than the 78.5 he had in 2015 but a far cry from a 98.3 in 2012 where Kapernick led the Niners to the Super Bowl. No team is willing to pay millions of dollars for that kind of quarterback and I would hazard to guess Kaepernick won’t settle for anywhere near the league minumum.

Another knock against Kaepernick I believe is he is developing a reputation of being a bad teammate and a coach killer like another former Niner, Terrell Owens. I think Jim Harbaugh’s and Chip Kelly’s tenures as head coach of the Niners both ended badly as a result of Kaepernick. Kaepernick is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t think he needs any motivation to play better. He has put himself ahead of the team which makes for an uneasy situation in the locker room regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on. If that’s the attitude Kaepernick is going to take, he will be doing his sitting of the national anthem this season at home.

Kaepernick announced earlier this year that he is done with protesting claiming his message has been delivered. But that hasn’t made teams feel confident in signing the once promising quarterback. Kaepernick remains in football limbo, and it is due to his undoing and his alone.

PROTECTING THE SHIELD:

Kudos to the Detroit Red Wings organization for publicly condemning last weekend’s white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Virgina. Several demonstrators were seen carrying what looked like armoured shields with the Red Wings logo on it. It turns out a white supremacist group based out of Detroit modified the logo design to suit their group.

By all intents and purposes, this amounts to identity theft. Not to mention the Nazis were a socialist political party, so for opponents of these groups who say they are on “the right” are being dishonest at best. The Klu Klux Klan are no more to the right than the Black Panthers.

The Red Wings organization were quick to defend their brand and are considering taking legal action against the hate group. It is nice to see a sports organization take a stand instead of caving into the demands of fringe groups, namely those against the name Redskins.

Also see:

Athletes Should Stick to Sports
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
Where are the Free Speech Advocates Now?

 

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