As some of you know, I’ve been writing a book for the past year…make that almost two. Yes, I may have underestimated how long this takes.
I interviewed 50 ball players and personalities, many of them Hall of Famers. There are three I’m the most proud of. Sitting with George Brett in the President’s box in Kauffman Stadium ranks up there. Interviewing my childhood idol, Dave Winfield also makes that top list, as does my interview with Cito Gaston. Ok, maybe I have more than three favourites. But this interview I hadn’t mentioned to many people. This one was very special, and I was planning on keeping as a surprise. Well, perhaps now is an appropriate time to say that it was Yogi Berra, and let us all take this time to say goodbye to a baseball legend.
Yogi was a man who beat the odds. What do I mean? Just like Pete Rose was told, Yogi was probably too small for baseball, at 5’7″ and 185 lbs. The Yankee catcher would go on to hit 358 HR’s over his 19-year tenure, being selected to the All-Star team 18 times! He was also a 13-time World Series Champ, and won the MVP 3 times. Not bad for 5’7″, eh?
I was talking to a seasoned veteran baseball writer back when my book was just an idea, and mentioned I wanted to interview Berra.
“You need to be more realistic”, he said. “Yogi doesn’t do interviews anymore”.
Well that was true, as I discovered. But I persisted, and Yogi agreed to an interview via his son Dale, who asked Yogi my questions for me. I asked Yogi to tell me the funniest conversation he had on a baseball field. This was his response:
In St Louis, playing against the Browns, the temperature was in the high 90’s and Casey made me catch both games of a double header. I started arguing every call the umpire made in an effort to get thrown out…the umpire said to me, “Yogi, you can curse me and call me every name in the book, but if I’m staying out here, you’re staying, so shut up!”
Shortly after my interview with Yogi had been completed, Yogi’s wife Carmen passed away. 18 months later, the great Yankee slugger has joined her.
Yogi was perhaps most famous for his hilarious stories and sayings. “It ain’t over ’till it’s over”, is perhaps one of the best known.
Well, it ain’t over Yogi.
Your legend will live on forever.
It was his final home game in Yankee Stadium.
Everyone wondered how he would be honoured. Would he be pulled off the field with two outs in the 9th, allowing the fans time to appreciate him? Nah, that’s not his style. Derek would have rather ended that inning by turning a double play, or maybe by making his signature jump-spin to throw out a runner one final time.
But Baltimore is gunning for home field advantage in the playoffs and had no intentions of letting up. Two Orioles home runs later and suddenly the game was tied. It took the air out of the crowd, but only momentarily once everyone realized what had just been set up.
One more at bat for The Captain.
The Yankees executed as they almost always do, and with a runner on second in the bottom of the 9th inning, Jeter did what everyone hoped – what everyone expected him to do.
He came up big, one more time.
As the AL East dominant force that often beat up on my hometown Blue Jays, I can honestly say this was the first time I found myself cheering for a Yankee win. Why?
Because baseball, is the easy answer.
Because Jeter played the game the way a true hero was supposed to play it. With passion, with pride, and with integrity. And it’s hard not to cheer for someone like that.
Thank you, Derek Jeter. Thank you for always respecting the game.
In the winter this off-season, Anthopoulos gave Jays fans something to get excited about. A lot to get excited about. Having made substantial moves that “won the off-season”, the Jays were picked by many to not only make the playoffs, but also win the 2013 World Series. That’s no small feat, considering only three teams in history have won the World Series having not made the playoffs the previous season (’88 Dodgers, ’87 & ’91 Twins, ’02 Angels). (EDIT: a couple fans on Reddit notified me I had forgotten the ’10 & ’12 Giants. My bad!) In fact, such a buzz was created by the media and Jays marketing campaign, that pre-season ticket sales “increased dramatically” according to team president Paul Beeston.
Besides, teams like Boston seemed to be in trouble with their managerial situation a question mark. And when they ended up taking Farrell, the Toronto attitude was “if he doesn’t want to be here then take him, we don’t want him”. The Yankees picked up old Blue Jays castaways Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay to compensate for their injury-ridden line-up (Jays fans quietly chuckled, knowing all to well what a string of injuries can do to a ball club).
Fast forward a few months and a near worst April on team record, and the Jays find themselves in the last place everyone expected – last place.
Boston, New York, and Baltimore all currently have .600 or better records.
Boston and New York.
The Miami Marlins, who gave up most of their veteran talent to the Jays in the most talked about trade this off-season, currently have a 10-25 record (compared to the Jays 13-23). Even the Houston Astros (the joke of the majors this season), have a 10-25 record.
To say Toronto is grossly under-performing is a massive understatement.
Which poses the question, “How the heck did this all happen?”
It’s a complex answer. But to put it simply; a series of injuries and slumps:
- Jose Reyes Ankle Injury – A total spark plug. The energy and life force of the squad was leading the team in avg (.395) and stolen bases (5) early in the season until the severe ankle sprain put him out of commission until the All-star break.
- Quiet Jays Bats – I don’t need to go into great detail here. Simply put, they didn’t produce runs. Period. If you want to depress yourself further, you can check out JaysJournal.com to see how many “league worsts” the Jays set in April.
- Mediocre Pitching – This came as a surprise to many, as the Jays went out and “traded the farm” for some veteran arms. Then the only pitcher who proved to be reliable was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to make the starting rotation in the first place (JA Happ).
- The Inability to Win Consistently – This might seem obvious, but the ability to string together a series of wins, or win a large percentage of games in chunks somewhat consistently will build confidence amongst players and assist the team in building momentum to generate winning streaks. Just recently, the Jays won their third game in a row this season – for the first time.
- More Devastating Injuries – We don’t need to re-hash the horrible onslaught of injuries the Jays had last year. But it would appear as though that nasty injury bug has reared its ugly head again. Suddenly Josh Johnson is out with what was reported as “mild bicep/tricep” tightness. He won’t be back until June. Romero was brought up to take his place (likely too soon) and now his mental toughness is being questioned, having pitched the shortest outing of his career recently (1/3 inning). JA Happ got hit by the most devastating line drive I’ve ever seen: Happ miraculously only suffered a fractured skull (really, it could have been far worse) and twisted knee, and will be out 4-6 weeks. RA Dickey has been battling upper back tightness which has been limiting his outing duration. Morrow’s Friday night start was pushed back due to back spasms. The lack of health in the starting rotation could be the major blow to any playoff hopes that are still alive.
So, is it time to panic if you’re a Jays fan? Or did that already happen a while ago and you’ve already given up?
Some don’t think that it was even fair in the first place that the Jays were put up on such a high pedestal. ESPN’s Dan Shulman was a guest on The Dugout recently, and told me who he thought would be playoff favourites: Dan Shulman on The Dugout
Even though the odds are heavily stacked against them, they might not be counted out entirely. In spring training there were many comparisons made to the 1993 World Champion Jays, but April Whitzman from the MLB Fan Cave made a comparison to the 1989 Blue Jays, who at this point in their season (May 10th) had a nearly identical record (12-21). They went on to win their division that season.
Surely Boston and New York can’t keep up the pace they’re going at. Baltimore may in fact be the team to be reckoned with. At least they seem to be the healthiest.
So what do you think?
Were the Jays over-hyped from the beginning?
Are they going to disappoint the (larger) fan base again?
Or will they manage to get everything functioning together and become THE comeback story of the century?