A Baseball Record You Likely Never Heard of… But Should

Standard

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?

 

Advertisements

Canadians Expected to Compete in Every Sport

Standard

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

 

Some Traditions are Worth Keeping

Standard

traditions-are-worth-keeping

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

Can You Smell What This Rock is Cooking?

Standard

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?

 

Vintage Donaldson was on Display in ALDS

Standard

vintage-donaldsonIt took a gutsy play by the reigning American League MVP to help the Blue Jays sweep away the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series. With Josh Donaldson at second base and Edwin Encarnacion on first, Russell Martin hit a ground ball to the right of the shortstop. The Rangers tried to turn a double play. Elvis Andrus fielded the ball and delivered a low throw to Rougned Odor at second base. Odor then made another low throw to first base that forced Mitch Moreland off the bag. Moreland couldn’t secure the ball and that brief moment allowed Donaldson, who reached third on the ground ball, to race home from third and slide in head first with the winning and series clinching run.

A lot of people were kind of surprised to see Donaldson take chance on scoring from third at that moment. But for those who follow the Blue Jays the last couple of years, this kind of play is typical of Donaldson. If you recall last season, Donaldson scored from third on a sacrifice fly to the second baseman by Troy Tulowitzki in a regular season game… against the Cleveland Indians no less!

Donaldson is batting .500 with 5 runs scored and 3 RBIs in 4 post season games. This is vintage Josh Donaldson. This is the guy we have seen time and time again make great defensive plays on the field, and deliver clutch hits at the plate. This is the Donaldson we all know and love, not the divisive fictional figure that the media is trying to portray.

Between the run he scored last September and the one that clinched the division series, I can’t remember if Donaldson ever did something like that. I know he has been playing hurt for much of the season and that has compelled him to pick his spots as to when he wants to take a chance. Donaldson decided last Sunday in the bottom of the 10th inning with the game tied at 6-6 and Martin at the plate, that is where he is going to catch everyone on the field napping. I have said it before that Donaldson is the kind of player that will eventually lead the Blue Jays to the World Series. But first things first, the boys will have to take care of the Indians, a team whose name is being treated like a four-letter word.

Also see:

How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy
Is This the Year for the Blue Jays?
It’s About Time John Gibbons Gets His Due

 

Sanchez is Staying in the Rotation

Standard
AP Photo/The Canadian Press

AP Photo/The Canadian Press

We are through the halfway point of the 2016 baseball season. Aaron Sanchez has done well since he was installed as the 5th starter in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation during spring training. After his brilliant performance on Monday night versus the Padres, Sanchez has 11 wins on the season, including his last 10, against one loss. He has pitched close to 140 innings and has a robust ERA of 2.72 as of July 26. Those numbers earned him an appearance in this year’s All-Star Game in San Diego. Walks are still a problem for Sanchez as he has issued 39 free passes over the course of those innings pitched. But as long as he keeps the ball down, he will do well the rest of the season.

Which brings up Sanchez and what to do with him in the last 2 months of the season (and hopefully another month in the playoffs). There have been calls to have Sanchez move to the Blue Jays’ bullpen to help ease the workload of the relievers. But why? As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Sanchez is doing well in the rotation and his arm shows no signs of any wear and tear. While this is Sanchez’s first full season in the starting rotation, I’m of the belief that you have to let things run its course and keep him in the rotation until his arm gives out. Besides, we’ve seen Sanchez come into games last season as a reliever where there are runners already on base. He seemed to have trouble pitching in those situations where a seasoned reliever would have gotten out of the inning without giving up a run or the lead. If I was in John Gibbons and Pete Walker’s shoes, I would keep Sanchez in the rotation. And unless Ross Atkins goes out and finds another David Price before the non-waiver trade deadline, there is no reason to move Sanchez to the bullpen.

Perhaps what is getting on my nerves is people seem to have this urgency to move Sanchez to the bullpen in order to open up a spot in the rotation. That is putting the cart before the horse don’t you think? There is absolutely no need to panic despite what you read and hear in the media. Marcus Stroman would have been a more suitable candidate to shift to the pen when he was struggling to find his control earlier this year. But now Stroman, as I have pointed out earlier, seems to have figured it out based on his last outing in Arizona.

There is no way Sanchez is going back to the bullpen. The Blue Jays would be crazy to do so. If the team is expected to head to the playoffs, it needs to keep Sanchez in the rotation. And that is where he belongs.

Also see:

Osuna has What it Takes to be a Closer for the Long Haul
The Blue Jays are Doing Well, So Why All the Panic?
Is This the Year for the Blue Jays?

 

Osuna has What it Takes to be a Closer for the Long Haul

Standard
Getty Images

Getty Images

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna has the make up of a closer. He is fearless, doesn’t nibble, and relies on his best stuff to get the final three outs of the game. The fact that he throws 95 mph consistently is a bonus.

That’s the kind of pitcher I like to see as a closer. Three ground ball outs may not seem exciting as striking out the side on 9 pitches, but if you are one that believes the “K” is just another letter in the alphabet, then Osuna is the closer for you. That’s not to say Osuna is not capable of striking out batters. He averaged better than a strikeout per inning (75 Ks in 69.2 IP) in 2015. But will not go deep into counts or give in to hitters no matter how good they may be. He starts them off with strike one and goes from there. 3 up, 3 down, game over, on to the next game.

There are not many pitchers in the majors that have had long careers as closers. I once heard that the lifespan of a closer in baseball is less than 3 years. To put it in perspective, Mariano Rivera played 19 years in the Majors, all with the New York Yankees, 17 of them as their closer. Dennis Eckersley was a closer for 10 of his final 11 seasons after being a starter for the first 13 years of his career. Tom Henke was the Blue Jays closer for 7 seasons and spent 3 more with two other teams before retiring in 1995. If Osuna can make it through the end of the 2017 season unscathed, he will have already beaten the odds.

Closers are usually pitchers who can’t make it as a starter but have just enough stuff to put away 3 or 4 hitters at a time. Osuna was originally tabbed by the Blue Jays as a starter. But he was installed as their closer partly by accident and partly out of necessity. The team didn’t resign their closer from 2014, Casey Jansen. Jansen, like Osuna, always got ahead of hitters and closed out games without being dominant. After trying Brett Cecil and Miguel Castro with very little success, Osuna was put in there as the closer and he is still there today.

Osuna’s ability to close out games down the stretch was one of the reason the Blue Jays were able to end their 23-year playoff drought and were two wins away from the World Series. At 21, he has a long baseball career ahead of him and, hopefully for the Blue Jays, he will be as their closer for long time.

Also see:

It’s About Time John Gibbons Gets His Due
Is This the Year for the Blue Jays?
Surprised by the Blue Jays’ Success? You Shouldn’t Be

 

 

Bautista’s Fate with Blue Jays in His Hands

Standard
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Bautista will be 36 years old once the 2016 season ends. Professional athletes at that time start to think about retiring. Bautista wants to still play. The problem is, he is starting to show signs that his ability to play at a high level is starting to drop.

News about his impending free agency has the talking heads in the media wondering if this is Bautista’s last season as a Blue Jay. Bautista believes he is still The Guy on the team, but he’s not. The Blue Jays now belong to Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. Bautista has fallen enough on the depth chart that there seems to be no rush by management to re-sign him. But at the same time, the Blue Jays don’t have a suitable replacement in right field. There were talks about bringing Jay Bruce over from Cincinnati to take over the right field position as well as provided a much-needed left-handed bat in the line up. But that did not materialized.

While it may seem enormous for Bautista to ask for $150 Million over 5 years, he is really following Contract Negotiations 101. That is, ask for a lot then work it down to the number you actually want. Bautista will remain a Blue Jay past this season unless he prices himself out of a deal. There are factions starting to develop among Blue Jays Nation, one is with Bautista and the other against him. It’s kind of like the campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination. I am probably the only one who would hope cooler heads prevail in the contract negotiations.

What Bautista did by going public with his contract demands is give Mark Shapiro and Ross Clark a little love tap. Bautista was an Alex Anthopoulos loyalist and his departure may have made Bautista question his future with the Blue Jays. Shapiro and Clark may have to bend over backwards in order to make Bautista earn their trust.

While many believe no team will pay Bautista that kind of money, I have 3 words: New York Yankees. They overpay everyone and don’t seem to mind that they end up holding the bag. Alex Rodriguez is perhaps the best and most recent example.

I hope contract negotiations don’t become a distraction once baseball season starts on April 3rd. But the fate of Bautista as a Blue Jay will rest solely on him. He’ll be hard to replace, but at the same time I won’t be shedding too many tears if he is gone. Choose wisely, Jose.

Also see:

Rooting Against Someone is Gutless… and the Bat Flip Heard Around the World
Blue Jays Need Players… Ones That Don’t Get Hurt Easily
The Blue Jays Should Get A-Rod

Price Was Not Worth the Price

Standard

Price was not Worth the Price

The Boston Red Sox have found their ace and the Toronto Blue Jays are back on the market looking for theirs. David Price decided to sign on with the Red Sox this week almost a year since their former ace Jon Lester went to the Chicago Cubs as a free agent.

Seeing Price go to a division rival may seem like a big blow to the Blue Jays but really it is not. Price had not been at his best when it matters the most, in the playoffs. Had he won all of his starts and be as dominant as he was in the regular season, plus if Alex Anthopoulos was still the General Manager, I don’t think the Blue Jays would hesitate in making Price an offer. But unless he continues to pitch out of the bullpen in the postseason, I’m not sure he was worth breaking the bank over.

There is a reason why there was so much attention paid towards Marco Estrada. Unlike Price, Estrada has pitched well in the playoffs and nearly lifted the Blue Jays to a come-from-behind series victory over the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series. Estrada may be a .500 pitcher and at best a number three starter in the rotation but his performance in the playoffs was why he scored big in free agency. JA Happ is another pitcher that is cut from the same cloth. If he gets 2 or 3 postseason wins, no one will question his signing.

Clayton Kershaw is another star pitcher who has floundered in the playoffs. It may not seem fair but athletes are judged when it matters most. Dan Marino, Charles Barkley, Eric Lindros, all three have had great careers in their respective sports but I would bet all would trade in their accolades for a championship ring.

I’m sure Price will do well for the Red Sox. I don’t think his first impression in Boston will not be like the one he had in Toronto. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if Boston makes the playoffs in 2016. Then we’ll see if Price was worth the money.

Rooting Against Someone is Gutless… and the Bat Flip Heard Around the World

Standard

Bat Flip Heard Around the World

There is an election going on here in Canada. On October 19th people will be electing a new government to run the country for the next four years. Conventional thinking usually means voting for someone who you believe is the right man (or woman) to represent your district or riding. But in recent years people are voting based on how much they hate a candidate regardless of the fact they are the best person for the job. This leads to terrible results especially in Toronto where no one outside of the Trinity-Spadina area believes in socialism but they continue to vote these people into office because, for whatever reason, they don’t like the conservative candidate. And look where the city is today. But the thinking is as long as someone like Rob Ford is not the Mayor of Toronto, they are willing to live with higher taxes and deteriorating conditions.

This kind of thinking is also rooted in sports. There is no one in Canada, outside of Montreal, who likes the Habs. All of them hate the Maple Leafs. I can understand if you could care less how well the Toronto Blue Jays are doing in the 2015 baseball playoffs. So why are you cheering for their demise? A former colleague of mine picked the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series. Now that the Cardinals have been eliminated, he is now going with the Chicago Cubs. Why? Because he hates the Blue Jays. Actually, he hates everything Toronto especially the Maple Leafs so in this case it is a matter of association than anything else. Someone I know hates Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic so much he routinely cheers on his opponents regardless of how bad that player is. That’s not a sports fan, that’s being gutless. In my opinion, they have no business being involved in sport.

The only reason I can come up with as to why some people think this way is this: they can’t handle the disappointment of their team or player losing. I realize no one likes to see their team lose but that’s part of being a sports fan. Believe me, I have been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs for as long as since I have been alive. I don’t need to tell you how many Stanley Cups the team has won during that period. I mentioned the Cubs earlier. That team’s championship drought makes the Maple Leafs’ one an oasis. So can you imagine how they are feeling?

Supporting your team instead of constantly rooting against one has been proven to bring people together. No better example than the Blue Jays playoff run. Another is when a Canadian national team competes in international competition whether it is hockey, basketball, or baseball. I don’t know anyone in Canada who would cheer on Sweden or Russia unless they had lived in that country. So either get behind a team or get out of the way.

FLIPPING THE BIRD

The Jose Bautista bat flip in Game 5 of the American League Division Series has now become iconic. There have been impersonations, jokes, even a fan had the image tattooed on his leg. I would hazard to guess that there will be a statue of Bautista doing that bat flip outside Rogers Centre sometime in the future.

People who are up in arms about Bautista’s bat flip after he hit a monstrous go-ahead 3-run home run in that game should either chill or, better yet, get lost. In situations where your home run, goal, basket, or touchdown wins the game or the championship, you can’t help but show your emotions, especially when the Blue Jays have been getting a raw deal with the officiating during the ALDS. Compare that to a regular season game where a team is up by a double-digit margin and you show up your opponents the way Bautista did. That, like rooting against a team because you hate them, is also gutless.

Rangers reliever Sam Dyson was pretty pissed off with Bautista’s reaction. But Dyson seemed to have forgotten the fact that his team has gotten every call in every game in the series. And yet his team could not seal the deal. Show some respect, Sam. There is no crying in baseball.

Also see:

Lessons From the World Juniors
Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?
The Point Where Haters Become Worse than Those You Hate