Vintage Donaldson was on Display in ALDS

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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

 

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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

 

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

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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

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.

 

Are You Really a Habs Fan? Or Do You Just Hate the Leafs?

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Habs Leafs
There are really only two kinds of hockey fans in Toronto, those who love the Maple Leafs and those who don’t. So if someone says they are from the Big Smoke and is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, I’d take their pledge with a grain of salt.

Those who know me or follow my blog know where my allegiance is. I can also understand one’s dislike for the Buds. But let’s be honest, unless you were born in Montreal, or have once lived or worked there, there is no such thing as a Habs fan from Toronto. They are simply lying if they claim they root for the Canadiens and have not spent one minute in Montreal. They just hate the Leafs. It’s not just the Habs, this applies to all 29 other NHL teams. I know a few people from the GTA who say they are fans of Red Wings, Bruins, and Senators. They, too, should come clean.

Even if one does fit the said criteria, people hate the Leafs more than they do the team they claim to cheer for. This is why Toronto is the centre of the hockey world and there’s been talk in the past about bringing another NHL team to the Toronto area. People in Montreal, Vancouver, and Detroit only wish they can attract the same kind of attention. Just look at the number of Leafs fans in other cities when the Buds come to their barn. That to me is real compared to the fake Habs fans (et al) living in Toronto.

To further prove my point, Steve Simmons’ puff piece in the Toronto Sun gleefully highlights the Leafs’ dismal first day of free agency. Only a complete tool would be happy at the fact that there are NHL players turning down the opportunity to play for the Leafs. That being said, I thought Josh Gorges did us a huge favour by rejecting a trade to the Buds and went to Buffalo instead. Can anyone think of the last player that the Leafs got from Montreal that made an impact with the team? Neither can I. It’s more like the other way around — former Leafs players made Habs teams better. It’s not a coincidence that players who spent time in the Montreal system flounder elsewhere.

I can go into the number of reasons why people hate the Leafs. But I’ve discovered that they fall in the same group that don’t like fighting or tough, physical hockey. That flies in the face of those who want the Leafs to adopt a system that emphasizes more on skill and less on the rough stuff. True Leaf fans want to see their team play with a mean streak (you got that, Dion?).

So the next time you see someone in Toronto proudly wearing a Canadiens jersey, they better be fluent in French. Otherwise, they are as genuine as a Rolex bought from a briefcase at a street corner. Au revoir, mon ami! A la rentrée!