Roy Halladay: An Ace Among Aces

Standard

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

Advertisements

Baseball’s Back? It Never Left

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

 

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?

 

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?