Junior and A-Rod: A Contrast in Careers

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Griffey A-Rod A Contrast in Careers

This week, the Seattle Mariners retired the number 24 worn by their star outfielder and newly-minted Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees held a news conference to announce the retirement of Alex Rodriguez. Both were former first overall picks, both were all-stars, both were impact players. However, that is where the similarities end.

Griffey didn’t get to play a game in the World Series let alone win a championship. But his heart and passion for baseball was enough to get him a spot in Cooperstown. Despite the injuries he was able to deliver clutch home runs and make outstanding plays in the outfield. Junior, as he was often referred to in his early playing days, was Superman well before the arrival of Kevin Pillar. Most importantly, he played it the right way.

Griffey was never controversial, always took the high road, and didn’t make excuses. There would be those who point to his trade out of Seattle to the Cincinnati Reds, a team where his father, Ken Griffey, Sr., was a star, as where the younger Griffey began his decline. Frankly, Griffey wasn’t surrounded with the same the level of talent that he had in Seattle. There was no Randy Johnson, or an Edgar Martinez, or an Alex Rodriguez in Cincinnati. The Reds were a team that went from being a contender to a pretender by the time Griffey arrived.

Griffey may have had some issues off the field but I would bet it was nothing compared to that of his former teammate in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod, as he was known throughout his playing career, also put great numbers and he was able to be part of the Yankees’ World Series championship run in 2009. Rodriguez didn’t become a controversial figure until he signed with the Texas Rangers after the 2000 season. But unlike the bombastic Barry Bonds who got on anyone who dared to question him, Rodriguez wasn’t very outspoken and kept his emotions to himself. It wasn’t until he got to New York and began playing for the Yankees in 2004 that he really began to push back at his critics.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the allegations of his involvement in a Miami clinic that distributed performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez was never caught, but every investigation traced the trail back to Rodriguez. Normally, one would see A-Rod as someone who cheated by taking PEDs. But Rodriguez, like disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, was the ring leader, one who purposefully gave the orders and controlled what was going on even to the point where he demanded others take the fall in order to keep him out of the spotlight. And like Armstrong, Rodriguez was not able to sweep away the mounting evidence against him. That to me is more damning than any athlete getting caught with a positive drug test.

There is more to being a great athlete than just being free of drugs. Attitude also plays a part. Griffey was a professional throughout his playing career and he never took his position as the face of the game for granted. Rodriguez, in his battles with Major League Baseball and the media, went from a potential Hall of Famer to a man who is now a shell of himself. Two players with outstanding baseball careers. However, only one ended on a happy note.

Also see:

The Blue Jays Should Get A-Rod
Is it Always Good to Go Out on Top?
How to Determine Who’s MVP Worthy

 

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Nobody’s Perfect

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Nobody's Perfect

Photo: AP

My first post in nearly a month. Got lots to catch up on. I like to think I’m perfect. I strive to achieve perfection every day. But I know that I will never reach it. Everyone has flaws. Some more noticeable than others. Which brings me to Ronda Rousey and her first career defeat at UFC 193.

It may seem surprising to some of you but Rousey was never going to run the table. She eventually was going to lose. The question is when and to who. The when was on Saturday. The who was Holly Holm. There is always someone or some team that has another’s number. And more often than not it is the one that is least likely to do it.

It is interesting that the upset victory comes on the same weekend the New England Patriots squared off against the New York Giants. It was the Giants that won Super Bowl 42 and ended the Patriots’ quest in 2007 to become the first NFL team to go the entire season without a loss since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. If Rousey was Tom Brady, Holm became Eli Manning.

After the loss, there have been quite a number of those on social media who were quick to pile on Rousey. But her performance in the fight should not diminish what she has accomplished. Add to that, Holm is probably pissed off that no one is giving her the credit she deserves. Perfection is great but it is hard to achieve. This is what makes sport great. It is about dealing with failure. And down the road, Rousey will dust herself off and get back to what made her successful.

Let this be a lesson for those who think they were born perfect or those who think everyone is perfect. We do expect a lot from those we look up to. But if you actually think everyone is suppose to be perfect you are no smarter than the Kardashian clan. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody.

A Missed Opportunity for the Blue Jays

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(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

A disappointing series for the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend as they looked to pad their lead in the American League East. Losing two of three to the last-place Boston Red Sox is a tough pill to swallow. Some are pointing to Roberto Osuna’s inability to close out the game on Saturday or John Gibbon’s handling of the bullpen as reasons for the late-inning collapses. Sure the bullpen could have been managed better but I think it should not have gotten to that point. I believe two factors led to the two losses: a lack of patience at the plate and shoddy defense.

Now to be honest, the Red Sox had some help from the umpiring. No way Wade Miley and Rich Hill can pitch like Cy Young contenders overnight. And I don’t think they ingested something to enhance their performance the day before their respective starts. Both Alan Porter on Sunday and Dan Iassogna on Saturday did a brutal job calling balls and strikes behind the plate. Iassogna especially missed the swinging third strike by Brock Holt that eventually led to Holt getting a lead-off double three pitches later and Boston winning the game on Saturday. Both he and Porter owe us big time.

But you can only blame the umpires for so much. And while Porter and Iassogna will continue to be in the crosshairs of Blue Jays fans, the players need to put that out of their minds and get back to where they were successful. First off, the hitters are swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone. Being patient at the plate meant taking close pitches and waiting for the right one to hit. Hill did not give up a walk in his outing on Sunday. Miley surrendered 4 free passes in his start on Saturday but only one came around to score. The Blue Jay hitters were not patient enough to get a big hit at a critical time even when they were ahead on the count. Even if some pitches were out of the zone and called a strike, they let those calls get into their heads and they began to swing wildly afterwards.

Second is the defence (you know, the area where some “experts” consider overrated). Again, it is easy to point to the number in the error column but defence is also measured by the ability to get to a batted ball and make the play even if it is ruled a hit. Mark Buehrle got a lot of ground balls in his last two starts but the defense behind him were unable to get to those batted balls and they made its way out of the infield. And those that the infielders did get to were not turned for outs. There is no reason those ground balls are hits unless your defence is losing its range and like I said before about the Boston pitching, it did not change overnight.

The New York Yankees are in town for an important series. It is perhaps a good thing the Blue Jays will have David Price starting game one of the series as he has performed well when the team is coming off a loss. But the Blue Jays can’t expect to remain a contending team if they can’t be patient at the plate and play air-tight defence. As the Red Sox proved over the weekend, you can’t get away with that even to a last place team.

Also see:

Still Think Defense is Overrated?
The Blue Jays are Doing Well, So Why All the Panic?
Don’t Judge a Game by the Scoreboard

The Blue Jays are Doing Well, So Why All the Panic?

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04 September 2014: Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Drew Hutchison (36) watches from the dugout during the MLB regular season game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg FL.

The Blue Jays are in the hunt to take the American League East. But they are coming off a tough series at home to the New York Yankees where they won only one of the three games over the weekend. After the series concluded, the Blue Jays sent down pitchers Drew Hutchison and Aaron Loup to the minors and called up a couple of position players, Matt Hague and Ezequiel Carrera, to replace them on the roster.

The moves should not as a total surprise. Gregg Zaun has pointed this out on a number of occasions. The Blue Jays will spend the next two weeks on the road where, despite his performance in his last two starts, Hutchison has struggled. Coupled that with the number of off-days during that stretch, his spot in the rotation will not be necessary. While many experts felt the Blue Jays can go with a 4-man rotation for the time being, I don’t think any of them expected to see Hutchison sent back to Buffalo. Same goes with Loup who hasn’t been used much since the acquisitions of LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe. But at least Hutchison will be able to work out the kinks and Loup will be simply be getting in work. Hague and Carrera will provide a luxury that the Blue Jays never had all season, depth on the bench. The Blue Jays have won 15 of their last 18 games. All this should be a sign that the team is doing well as they make a run for the playoffs. But many in the media don’t see it that way.

Why on earth has there been so much emphasis on the sending down the 5th starter in the rotation, which Hutchison has become? If people are starting to sweat over this, the problems Hutchison has on the road is the least of their worries. Perhaps you don’t have to look further than the last story I wrote on Danny Valencia. There are people in Toronto who will believe anything they read. Let me take that back, they will believe anything from publications like the New York Times, Huffington Post, and ESPN, just 3 organizations that are more about politics than sport. But we’ve seen posts on Facebook and Twitter from these sources and people still buy them hook, line, and sinker.

It is one of those mind games that players, coaches, and managers like to get into. Now we are seeing it in sports journalism. You put that false impression into people’s heads and all of a sudden they will start believing it. Believe this: the Blue Jays will be playing past October 4th.

Also see:

Firing Exposes Incompetence… Among Fans and Media
Outsiders Strike Again
Sports Media is Becoming Boring

The Perils of Diving

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Kadri-Girardi DiveA couple of recent on-ice incidents got my attention. During a game between Toronto and New York, Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri lifted his right leg high in the air after getting bumped by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. Kadri went down, had his skate blade up, and got the back of the neck of Girardi. It wasn’t a deep cut but the incident took the steam out of the Air Canada Centre. The Flyers’ Luke Schenn had his head down when he was pushed into the boards by Avalanche forward Nathan McKinnon during a game. It was hardly a push on McKinnon’s part and Schenn put himself in a bad spot. But he went down and McKinnon got a 5-minute major and was kicked out of the game.

The recent acts by Kadri and Schenn trying to draw penalties through embellishment should be a lesson to young hockey players: diving can kill you or you can end up killing someone. Just ask Richard Zednik. In 2008, Zednik’s Panther teammate Olli Jokinen tried to draw a penalty by lifting his skate and inadvertently got the blade under the neck of Zednik. The cut Zednik suffered was more severe than Girardi’s. He had to be rushed to hospital and missed a considerable amount of time. Max Pacioretty is another example. The Canadiens forward got caught trying to get around the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara during a playoff game in 2011. But instead of getting out of the way, Pacioretty allowed himself to be drilled into the boards. Chara got ejected from the game and received some death threats from Habs fans.

Then there’s Steve Moore. I don’t have to repeat myself how his dive ended his career.

Diving happens in every sport. Players that do it are an embarrassment to the game. But it’s also dangerous particularly in hockey where you have skate blades, sticks, ice and boards that are solid as a rock to deal with. If this continues, one of these days a player will try to draw a penalty and it will end up getting someone killed. I understand it’s a competitive environment and you have to do what it takes to win. But is it really worth it to dive and risk endangering the lives of your opponents or teammates for a 2-minute power play? I can’t understand why players dive in the first place. Believe it or not, diving takes planning and practice. No one I know considers exaggerating an injury at the very last second. A lot of effort and energy is needed to dive. That could be better used to help improve a player’s ability to play hockey the right way.

Too bad there is no push to eliminate diving like there is with fighting. But I also believe people need to learn things the hard way in order for them to change their habits. Time will only tell if Kadri and Schenn will learn from their experience.

 

The Blue Jays Should Get A-Rod

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Alex Rodriguez

The Blue Jays have been known to get the most out of other team’s outcasts. Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, and Edwin Encarnacion are just a few of the names who have achieved a high level of success, if not all-star status, after they joined the Blue Jays. It may be time to go back into that well and use that formula again as the Blue Jays look to shore up their offence for 2015. And I think the one player General Manager Alex Anthopoulos should be targeting is Alex Rodriguez.

You say, “huh?” Others will say, “not going to happen.” I say, “why not?”

A-Rod certainly fits the outcast criteria. Like Cabrera, he is also linked to use of performance enhancing drugs. The Yankees are looking for a way to get rid of Rodriguez and his hefty contract as quickly as possible. I think the Blue Jays can get him cheap. Perhaps if Anthopoulos can make his counterpart in New York, Brian Cashman, pick up say about 80% of the remainder of the contract, he would more than gladly take Rodriguez off his hands. Even if the Blue Jays have to assume the remainder of the contract on their own, A-Rod is worth the hassle.

I know I have said before that the Blue Jays really need a left-handed hitter with some pop and Rodriguez is a righty. We already have Brett Lawrie at 3rd base so where are we going to put A-Rod? Look, with Adam Lind gone that opens up a spot at DH and if the Blue Jays want to entertain the idea once again of Lawrie at 2nd base next season, you now have 3rd base open for A-Rod. As for the left-handed bat, isn’t there a hole in centerfield that needs to be filled? What about the Yankees worried about trading him to a division rival? Well, let’s see how bad they really want to see him out of New York.

Rodriguez will have no trouble adapting to the metropolitan lifestyle of Toronto. It’s like having all the fun of New York, but on a more smaller scale. He also went through the media scrutiny in the Big Apple. So Toronto should be a piece of cake. The one area of concern is the clashing of egos in the clubhouse. Rodriguez wants to be “The Guy”. He was second banana to Derek Jeter in New York. He is going to be third on the depth chart behind Bautista and Encarnacion in Toronto. But I would hazard to guess that Rodriguez will just be satisfied with the fact that, at least for one year, he is playing baseball once again after serving a season-long suspension.

Toronto is becoming a sanctuary for outcasts. Kyle Lowry and Joffery Lupul are just a couple of more players who have benefitted by coming to the Big Smoke. I bet the Blue Jays will get the same result with A-Rod.