September 30, 2009

Guest Post - Life on the Other Side

My man Drew, aka LloydtheBarber, holds it down over at Ghostrunner on First. It is, in his words: "Blue Jays Detritus from OPS to OMG." It's also prolific. If you haven't been reading his work, your 2009 Toronto Blue Jays season has been a lot worse than mine. It's quality writing as found on Ghostrunner that makes following the Blue Jays, with heart and soul, a little less painful.

Drew also happens to be a Montreal Canadiens fan. And he's agreed to opine on life on the other side of a rivalry that only seems to get better. Ladies and gentlemen, Drew:

If you are in any way familiar with my baseball work, you'll probably agree that I'm one of the least sentimental guys around. I don't care for celebrating old victories or varnishing near misses or Pyrrhic triumphs for the greater good. Additionally, I don't give a good God damn about the CFL or the CBC or the Tragically fucking Hip or any other arcane Canadiana foisted upon the great people of this great land every day of the week. To me it seems abundantly clear we live in a very different world; let's all move on and celebrate the next victory, the next triumph rather than resting on our increasingly distant past.

How very progressive of me, no? Except for one thing: it all goes out the window when it comes to the institution that is the Montreal Canadiens.

In no other pursuit in life do I longingly gaze to the past more frequently than excitedly looking to the future. Nowhere else will I make excuses and turn a blind eye to unfair historical advantages (All Your Francophones Are Belong to Toe); nowhere else will I covet the past so tightly and appreciate the way the team continues to pay homage to the glory days.

I was born and raised in Southern Ontario, a young Leafs fan because I didn't know any better. One ill-fated trade later and I was a Habs fan. Things are simple when you're a kid. "I like Russ Courtnall, he plays for Montreal now, I guess I like Montreal." I was just in time for Cup runs and Forum crowds. I moved seamlessly from St. Patrick versus the hated Bruins to Jeff Hackett and the realignment to 8 games a year with the local Leafs, the team we love to (and have to) hate. I take it all in stride because my fandom is unwavering, neither up nor down.

I take the good with the bad, the incredible third jerseys alongside Mario Trembley. I remember Pierre Turgeon with nothing but fondness thanks to his participation in the Forum closing festivities. I long for the return of Sheldon Souray and believe implicitly in Carey Price. On the baseball diamond I resent the business of fetishizing "grit and heart" but I spent years arguing I'd rather have Saku Koivu over Vinny Lecavalier.

Judging by that last statement, you'll see I'm unlike many Habs fans. I will not turn my back on the players on the ice at the first inkling of underperformance. Habs are Habs, and I support them all the same. Be they Stephane Richer, Patrice Brisbois, or Chris Higgins. I'm sure I'll come around on Gomez and Gionta or whichever undersized speed guy is next in Gainey's sights. I don't comb through the team news minutiae or rosterbate the night away because it just doesn't bring me the same pleasure that simply watching the Trois Couleurs fly around the ice and listening to the Beer/Telecom Centre crowd does every single time.

The allure of the mildly exotic and the built-in rivalry with my Leaf-loving friends hooked me early on and continues paying dividends today. One game in Montreal and you'll see. The wall of red shirts and Export cups, the biting, smoke filled air around the arena and the sense of something bigger than the game at hand and you’re lucky just being there to take it all in.

Since my gracious host asked for a season preview and I've wasted far too many words trying to explain what it feels like to be Habs fan, here is my thing with the Habs in 2009/10: they'll either compete or they won't. They'll be good or they'll get crushed.

I’m sure it will be a swell year. The Habs will battle the Leafs and Sens for the final “playoff” spot as French-Canadian hands are wrung so tightly you’ll see the smoke from 40 Bay Street. To be honest, I don't really care. Being a Habs fan (for me) means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The only thing I know for sure: those 8 games connected by the 401 make the entire miserable winter worth while.

September 27, 2009

Passing the Torch

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
- Jerry Seinfeld, to George Costanza, in “The Opposite.”

Another season without a captain leading our beloved Maple Leafs? I’m off the idea. Huge.

Allow me to get straight to the point: captain Luke Schenn. Not in 2012. Right now.

No big announcement, no press conference, no interviews. Nothing. Simply young Luke stepping onto the ice on opening night with the “C” on his shoulder, adding to what will already be an electrifying night at the Air Canada Centre. Imagine that.

Going captainless in 2008/2009 was the right thing to do after Mats Sundin left town in all the wrong ways. Toronto didn’t get to say goodbye to, and close the door on, Sundin until a cold, snowy night in February, when Mats returned home wearing another blue and white jersey, this one with a touch of green.

Closure. We needed it. We got it. And now it’s time to move on. Now it’s time to pass the torch.

Think about it: only 12 months ago, I was clamoring for Schenn to be sent back to Kelowna. I was one of many who thought another season of junior hockey, and a trip to the World Junior Hockey Championship, was what was best for Schenn’s development. And I was wrong. Gloriously so. Watching Schenn play in the NHL – and play well – was a joyous experience. I learned plenty about our young stalwart on defence. So did guys like Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’m having the same doubts: Schenn’s too young; too raw. He’ll celebrate only his 20th birthday on November 2nd. He’s got work to do in order to improve his own game. The pressures of being captain in this hockey-mad city of ours are exactly what Schenn doesn’t need on his broad shoulders.

Yet, moving forward, there’s no doubt about it: the Toronto Maple Leafs are Luke Schenn’s team.

And, channeling my hero George Louis Costanza, if every instinct I have about Luke Schenn is wrong, the opposite would have to be right.

September 26, 2009

Until We Meet Again

I didn't go to the game. I didn't even watch it. Last night, for the first time, I saw Roy Halladay dominate a box score. Inning by inning, strikeout after strikeout. In the end, another complete game shutout.

And it won't be the last at the SkyDome. I believe Roy Halladay will be a Toronto Blue Jay in 2010.

For some inexplicable reason, I have faith in the plan Paul Beeston is shortly due to unveil. I know; I have no reason to. I know absolutely nothing about it. Nobody does. Yet I remain unhinged. Rumours of a $120 million dollar payroll were enough to make me believe that will indeed be the case. Like George Costanza said: "Jerry, just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."

Pat Gillick as president? Again, I know, the franchise shouldn't continue delving back into the past. It's not a healthy way to live. But I'm all over it. If I've learned anything over the years as a Blue Jays and Maple Leafs fan, it's that my nostalgia quota can never be filled.

September 23, 2009

Ian White: Porn Star

This one speaks for itself. (And is NSFW.) Enjoy...

A tip of the cap to Sports And The City reader Ilan for sending this gem to my inbox.

White may have shaved the stache, but he still cracks my top-six on the Maple Leafs' blue line.


NHL general managers aren't the only ones making difficult roster decisions these days. I had to lock up four guys in my Yahoo! Sports keeper league last night, and I agonized over the decision. A lot more than I probably should have. Then again, this is the closest I'm ever going to get to running a franchise, and there's a decent chunk of money on the line - 20 guys at $125 a piece.

I finished third out of 20 last season and in the process, in what's becoming a disturbing trend, traded away my first, second, and fourth round picks in 2009, and my third and sixth round picks in 2010. Thankfully I finished in a money position (top five), otherwise I might have had to fire myself from my post.

It's not all rainbows and sunshine though; the way our league works is that draft picks must be traded for draft picks. For my 2009 first, second, and fourth round picks I received two 12th round picks (out of 12 rounds), and an eighth round pick, respectively, in return. For the 2010 third and sixth rounders, two 12th round picks came back my way.

I may have mortgaged the future. This might be a rebuilding season.

Since we all consider ourselves to be fantasy hockey aficionados, I'm curious as to how you might have made my decision differently. Below is the roster I had to pick four players from, and each player's respective fantasy points ...

Sidney Crosby - 2830
Brad Boyes - 1985
Todd White - 1960
Alex Kovalev - 1820
Jason Blake - 1725
Kris Versteeg - 1580
Shawn Horcoff - 1485
Mikhail Grabovski - 1255
Andrew Ebbett - 855

Nicklas Lidstrom - 1845
Shea Weber - 1485
Filip Kuba - 1150
Carlo Colaiacovo - 850

Marty Turco - 1825
Ilya Bryzgalov - 1747

Which four would you take? And, no, I haven't a clue as to how Todd White put up 73 points, including 34 on the power play, last season. But there's no way he can do it again. Right?

My selections: Crosby; tough call. Boyes; if he can work on his atrocious -20, he's good for at least 2000 points. Lidstrom; the game's top fantasy defenceman. And Weber; high-scoring defenceman are at a premium.

I flipped a coin between Weber and Turco. Marty was awful last season, yet he still put up more than 1800 pool points. It was a best-of-seven coin toss. Who am I to argue with gravity? Weber one, four-two.

It was tough to see Jason Blake go back into the draft; #55's my guy. Kovalev, too. But he's simply too hit and miss; too moody. Versteeg's a player on the rise, and Turco and Bryz are both number one goalies.

The way I see it, Crosby's the equivalent of two solid guys up front, and Boyes might be even better on an improving St. Louis team. Forwards who can put up 1500 points are available in abundance; I'm releasing five of them. Drafting a goalie will certainly be a priority and, if all else fails, I'm sure Ray Emery will be available. Barring injury, I'll have one of the league's most potent defence cores thanks to Weber and Lidstrom.

It all means two things: one of Lidstrom and Weber will surely suffer a season-ending injury in October, and Kovalev's going to rip it in Ottawa.

September 21, 2009

I could get used to this ...

Nazem Kadri, from Niklas Hagman, and Tomas Kaberle:

And how about that fist pump? Proper.

It's been almost three months since Toronto drafted him, but I remain at the stage where I'm tickled by the fact that Kadri is actually a Maple Leaf.

Since Friday night, I've been walking around mumbling "Kadri, Kessel, and Schenn." Repeatedly. The future is bright. And when's the last time we could say that?

Is this real life?

I have emerged, relatively unscathed, from a 33 and a half hour bachelor party in Toronto. A copious amount of alcohol was consumed. In large part to celebrate the arrival of #81; Madison, Wisconsin's own, Phil Kessel. (And the soon-to-be-groom.)

I admit it: I chuckled, rather boisterously, upon reading the first sentence of Damien Cox's column Saturday morning ...

"For the 10th time in the past 20 years, the Maple Leafs have sacrificed a first-round selection in the NHL entry draft to make a significant trade."

Who didn't see that coming?

But I digress. Cox's column was, in fact, borderline positive.

It's one thing to trade a first-round draft pick for an aging Brian Leetch. Or a 29-year-old (and going on 41) Wendel Clark. Or a 31-year-old Owen Nolan. It's another to trade a first-round draft pick for a goalie - Vesa "my five-hole is always open" Toskala - unproven as a legitimate number one.

But it's a whole new ball game when you trade two first-round draft picks, and a second-round pick, for a guy who's scored 36 goals in the NHL before the age of 22.

I believe in Phil Kessel.

Don't get me wrong; I thought, much like you, that the days of trading first-round picks were over. I thought we had dawned upon a new era; you know, an era in which the Leafs would actually develop their own talent. But the Kessel deal is one, I have decided, that I can get behind. The Kessel deal is one that had to be made. Brian Burke has found his top-six forward. He's locked up him up, long-term. And at the high cost of three draft picks, including two first-rounders, so be it. In Brian Burke I trust.

How can you not be excited about a guy who averaged only 16:32 of ice-time a game last season, along with limited power play duty, and still potted 32 goals? Only freedom-hating terrorists can't appreciate that shit.

How does a future of Nazem Kadri, Kessel, and Luke Schenn sound? Boners abound, I say.

The best part: Kessel, coming off shoulder surgery, will be ready to play in mid-November. When it matters.

UPDATE: Playoffs!!1

UPDATE #2: "Phil the Thrill." What do we think?

September 17, 2009

Meet Jake Marisnick

Our Toronto Blue Jays selected Jake Marisnick out of Riverside Poly High School in California in the third round, 104th overall, of the 2009 MLB draft. He is, by all accounts, a "five-tool player," and the Jays went almost $700,000 over-slot to get his autograph on a contract. (In your face, Selig!!1)

Jake's also on Twitter, and he was kind enough to answer some random questions from the few, the proud, the Blue Jays blogosphere:

eyebleaf: Batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage - which one's the most important to you?
Jake Marisnick: On-base percentage. The more a player reaches base the more he has a chance to score and help his team win.

The Tao of Stieb: How are you finding the transition to wooden bats?
JM: I have had a chance to use wood bats in the past so it is going good. Wood lets you know when you are doing something wrong, where as metal lets you get away with those things.

Drew-LtB - Ghostrunner on First: What do you think is your best defensive trait (arm, range, speed, jumps, etc.)?
JM: I think my best defensive trait would have to be instincts. Knowing what's around me, where to go with the ball when I get it, and the jumps I get when the ball comes off the bat.

eyebleaf: Any regrets about missing out on college?
JM: Coach Horton is going to have a good team up at Oregon (ed: the University of Oregon, where Jake was recruited to play) and I am curious on how that will go this year. I know the coaching staff will do great. But playing baseball instead of sitting in a classroom is something I cant complain about. I know I made the right choice.

The Ack - weekend editor, The Tao of Stieb: What do you like better: the powder blue Jays jersey? Or the 1992/1993 Jays jersey?
JM: Well I like what came with the 1992/93 Jays jersey. So I'd have to go with that one.

Joanna - Hum and Chuck: Do you have a favourite Blue Jays player, past or present? If so, why?
JM: Coach Greg Myers was my assistant high school coach and I really respect him and the stories he told me about how to play the game. I also like Travis Snider and how he plays the game and how fast he went through the system. With any luck I can do the same.

Ian H. - The Blue Jay Hunter: What was the draft day experience like - were you anxiously waiting by the phone for "the call" or did you go about your routine like it was any other day?
JM: When I woke up I was a little more excited than on a regular day. But I just hung out with my brothers and mom and dad waiting to hear what team was going to select me.

eyebleaf: Why do you use Twitter?
JM: It allows people to get an idea of what it's like going through the draft and living the life of a minor leaguer, even though I'm sure it seems pretty boring right now. I'm just happy I have some good people who follow me. Hope I don't let them down.

Joanna - Hum and Chuck: What do you know about Toronto, and Canadians, in general?
JM: To be very honest I was always an Angels fan since they're my home town team, but I hope to learn a lot more in the future.

eyebleaf: What number do you plan on wearing once you make it to "the show?"
JM: #12. It has been my number for as long as I can remember in both baseball and football so with some luck I may get that number. But I'm not too superstitious.

eyebleaf: A two-sport star, what made you choose baseball over football?
JM: Playing in the Major Leagues has always been a goal of mine since I was a little kid. Football is something I picked up in high school and enjoyed playing, but I didn’t have the dream of playing in the NFL so I decided to stick with the sport I have loved my entire life.

And we're glad you did, Jake.

In all seriousness, Marisnick's answer to The Ack's question was NAILS. And on-base percentage was indeed the correct response to the first question. How does an outfield of Adam Lind, Jake Marisnick, and Travis Snider sound? (Vernon Wells can DH, or something.) The best part: Jake grew up supporting his home town team. He's my kind of guy.

A hearty thanks to Jake and his team for indulging us. Never has there been a more highly touted high school Blue Jays draft pick. (No pressure.) We wish him luck on his journey to Toronto.

See you in few, Jake.

September 16, 2009

"Don't even look. It's Gone."

Win #66, in game #145, might have been the best one yet. Think about it. A Roy Halladay victory in New York. Five home runs, two by Travis Snider. Adam Lind officially joining the 30 HR/100 RsBI club. And, best of all: donneybrook!1

I could go on: Brett Cecil's body shot; Cito Gaston, ready to throw down; 5-10 John McDonald, all up in this bitch like he's 6-4; the priceless look on Ricky Romero's face.

For one night, the Toronto Blue Jays were again fun to watch. Ridiculous as it may sound, I love a good brawl on the diamond. I needed yesterday to happen. I'd been waiting for it.

By the time the dust settled in the 8th inning, I'd forgiven Jesse Carlson for his subpar 2009. For once, a Toronto Blue Jays pitcher stood up for his hitters. And it was beautiful. It's one thing for Randy Ruiz to get hit, in the face no less, by a Josh Towers whatever-he-throws. It's another for Edwin Encarnacion to get plunked. But no team, especially not our AL East rival, puts a ball to the back of Lighthouse Hill without retribution. For far too long had the Jays been pushed around without shoving back. And let no one tell you otherwise; it's always more fun to push back against the Yankees.

Somebody, please, a contract for Rod Barajas; .273 OBP and all.

In the end, yes, we're all glad no one was seriously hurt. More importantly, all of Toronto is hoping Jorge Posada's feelings aren't damaged beyond repair. A ball being thrown behind him; imagine! Poor baby. Rod Black's most epic call of the season - "Don't even look. It's gone." - rings true not only to the absolute bomb Snider hit to right field last night, but also to the respect I once had for Jorge.

And, yes, I will continue to believe that Johnny Mac's left to the side of Joe Girardi's head was no accident. It makes the tale that much better.

"It's a beautiful thing. Especially since Carlson didn't leave the dugout when he was ejected. Showing off the welt on his head in great pride, while Jorge was in the back crying and shaking uncontrollably. I would have liked to see Wells run up on A-riod [sic] with a bat and just crack him in the back of the knee. Two problems solved, no more A-roid, and no more Wells. There's always tomorrow...."
- AE, commenter at Drunk Jays Fans

UPDATE: The lovely and talented Joanna from Hum and Chuck has video up of the fight. Go and relive it. In all its glory.

September 15, 2009

Deep Thoughts: FML

I gave Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro zero chance of defeating Roger Federer. I figured Federer, owner of the U.S. Open, would take the final in straight sets.

When I think of Federer, I think of the saying: "the relentless pursuit of perfection." And I want him not to deviate from that path. I want him to be perfect. I want him to be, without a doubt, the best tennis player to have ever played the game. While in every other scenario as a fan I cheer for the underdog, I find it impossible not to root for Roger Federer. It shouldn't, and it sounds rather juvenile, but it sucks when he loses.

Here's hoping he takes the Aussie. Greatest Tennis Player of All-Time. GTPAT ...

You can add last night's ridiculous Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots Monday nighter to the list of Bills-related nightmares I suffer from. Some night's it's Scott Norwood's "wide right." Other nights, Troy Aikman. Sometimes Emmitt Smith makes an appearance. One of the worst is a trip down "Music City Miracle" lane. Even the 2007 Monday night epic failure at home to Dallas stings in ways it probably shouldn't.

It's amazing how many different ways the Bills have found to kick their collective fan base in the nuts. And each time hurts just as much, if not more, than the one before it.

Growing up, a young eyebleaf and his older brother became Bills supporters because two of our best friends (the same age as big bro and I, and our respective tennis doubles partners) had family in Buffalo, and were fans by proxy. Without a home team to cheer for (sorry Boatmen), we hopped along for the ride. Who knew it would be so tragic?

Thankfully those four Super Bowl losses happened when I was nine through 12 years old. Little time, and emotion, had been invested then. Imagine, now, watching the Toronto Maple Leafs lose four straight times in the Stanley Cup Final? I'm not sure I'd ever recover.

There aren't many people in this world whom I'd wish Buffalo Bills fandom upon. It's not the best way to live. I hate you today, Leodis McKelvin. And you too, Tom Brady ...

The Toronto Blue Jays. Those bastards. Unfortunately, they're still playing. And you knew you could count on them to blow a 5-2 lead, and add to an already miserable Monday night.

You know why people are sick to death of this team? You know why nobody is showing up at the SkyDome? Because Brian Wolfe has pitched 12.1 innings this season, while Jeremy Accardo has pitched only six and two-thirds more. That's bullshit, plain and simple. And there is no excuse. There can't be for not be fielding the best possible team, night in and night out.

Errors be damned, Marco Scutaro is still the man. Yeah, he fucked up last night. Yeah, his .770 August OPS and .598 September OPS aren't exactly worthy of phone calls home. But he'll have to mail it in a lot worse than that for me to start taking away from what he's been able to accomplish in 2009.

The Blue Jays cannot play out the stretch soon enough. If you're not depressed enough, read the most recent from Jeff Blair.

I don't know about you, but I'm doing my best to forget this season ever happened. I'm looking towards the future. Stay tuned, either late today, or Wednesday morning, for a Q&A between 2009 Blue Jays third-round draft pick Jake Marisnick and the few, the proud, the Blue Jays blogosphere.

September 14, 2009

I don't get it ...

I turned 27 yesterday. I'm at that point in my life where I'm grappling, rather unsuccessfully, with life's bigger questions. Will the Toronto Blue Jays make the playoffs again? Will the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup during my lifetime? One question gnaws at my very being: why don't kids curve the brims of their hats? Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps I'm out of touch with high fashion. But this one flies right over my head.

I've always been a hat guy. When my older brother told me, upon entering high school, that hats could be worn in the halls, and in class, I knew that high school was where I wanted to be. Forever. I was the moron who took his grade nine and grade 10 yearbook photos wearing a ballcap.

I wore Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nike, and, yes, even New York Yankees hats. I was young. Impressionable. I wish I could say I was experimenting with heavy drugs when I donned Yankee blue, but I've got no excuse. I find comfort in the fact that I wear Blue Jays colours, and only Blue Jays colours, now, in adulthood.

My point is, no matter what logo I rocked, the brim was curved. Always. I was known as the best brim curver in the land. Children marveled at the epicly curved brims on my hats. And that was before I discovered the Perfect Curve, which became my androstenedione. While my skills were on the decline, all I had to do was spend $4.50 USD and have my work done for me.

I missed the memo. I had to have. Because I just don't get it. I can't comprehend the flatness. I can't wrap my head around the flamboyant, over-the-top designs. It ain't right.

Look, I've been there. I wore the oversized clothes. My pants weren't falling off my ass, but sure, they were riding lower than they probably should have been. And I'll be the first to admit that, to this day, I wear my hat very slightly cocked to the side. I can't explain it. It just happened. You can take me out of Scarborough, but you can't take Scarborough out of me. But the brim remains, as it always has been, curved. As it is rightfully meant to be.

Less is more. For the love of God, take the tags and stickers off your hat. You're supposed to. And curve the brim. It's the way God wanted your hat to be.

September 12, 2009

A Tale of Three GMs; Part III: Brian Burke


"I told the players you should care about winning as much as I do or you'll play somewhere else."

About the playoffs (!!1):

"That's our goal. It's our intention to reach that goal and we believe we have the talent to get there."

That. Those quotes. Above. That's why Brian Burke is the perfect man to be leading the Toronto Maple Leafs. The GM should want it just as bad as the fans do.

Burke's perfect. If he adds Phil Kessel without trading Tomas Kaberle, and/or a first round draft pick, I will seriously begin to - you guessed it - plan the parade.

Can you recall a training camp and pre-season in recent memory that you were so excited about?

I didn't think so.

September 11, 2009

The Blame Game

Cito Gaston apparently "managed" during yesterday's ball game. Since it was a matinee affair, I cannot confirm it actually happened. It's one of life's mysteries: if The Cito manages, and no one is there to see it, did it really happen?

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I still believe in The Cito. The Tao of Stieb doesn't, not anymore. The Ack, he made relevant points in the comments section of The Tao's post: surely I cannot defend some, or many, of Cito's lineup and in-game decisions. Nobody can. The workings of Cito have shaved at least a year off my life.

(It seems Cito can't be trusted in the clubhouse, either. Gaston decided to tell the media that Rod Barajas isn't coming back in 2010. So they could, you know, run over and ask Barajas about it. Gaston's obviously well on his way to graduating from the J.P. Ricciardi School of Media and Public Relations.)

Look, I'm an idiot, but I'm not a complete idiot. The Cito's been brutal, almost all across the board. Lineups, bullpen management, in-game calls, Kevin Millar; you name it. Millar's been a nightmare. I fully well hope and expect to wake up and find out he never happened. Randy Ruiz should be playing. Every single mother fucking day. There's no way anyone in the entire Blue Jays organization can justify why Ruiz didn't play - not one at-bat - in a doubleheader against Texas on September 1st. There is no rhyme or reason. If there's any truth to the rumours that Travis Snider's stubbornness is clashing with The Cito's stubbornness ... may the good Lord help us all.

Did I mention Kevin Millar?

But, wait. Cito's faults are all exacerbated, greatly, by the losing. Let's face it: the 2009 Blue Jays are simply not very good. At all. And I don't believe Cito is what ails this team. Put another manager in the dugout, even John Gibbons, and this team still isn't competitive. There simply isn't anything Cito can do to make the boys come up big in the clutch.

The Ack and the Tao are right: everyone's got a hand the clusterfuck that is our Toronto Blue Jays. The Cito, Ricciardi, Paul Beeston, and the cats above Beeston. Everyone. The Tao put it most eloquently:

"Rogers is a piss-poor steward of the Jays. They should be ashamed of the mess they've made of this team."

If Beeston doesn't want to stick around, he needs to wrap up the Penske File, and hire a new God damn president. Otherwise end the charade, and take on the job for a few years. Everyone is sick to death of the lack of communication from management and ownership. I can't remember a time when the team's overall relationship with the media and fans was so poor. The faithful needs to be shown some progress - hell, some movement - right now and, other than Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, the on-field pickings are dire.

It's ironic that while I've spent most of this season defending Toronto's "idiot general manager," he's going through one of his worst seasons. I feel like George W. Bush's campaign manager. With the incredible amount of question marks moving forward, we might very well be at one of the all-time low points in the history of this franchise. (But let's please refrain from anymore comparisons to les Expos; they are more than premature; they're silly.)

While I'm not sure how the situation is going to improve, I'm able to find some solace in the fact that it can't possibly get much worse. (Actually, we could be Baltimore Orioles fans...)

I believe in Paul Beeston. I've got no other choice.

September 09, 2009

Wait, What?

From Tim Wharnsby in The Globe and Mail, in an article about Phil Kessel being the apple of Brian Burke's eye:

"...The only current Maple Leafs forwards who have top-six status in Burke’s mind are Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Stajan."

The fuck?

Stajan over Alexei Ponikarovsky? It can't be. Someone please tell me that's a typo. Sure, when I'm drinking I get Stajan and Poni confused, and, sure, Mississauga Matt put up a career-high 55 points last season ... but he's no top-six forward.

Listen, I'm all about Burke. I've drank the proverbial Kool-Aid. But what does Jason Blake have to do to be considered a top-six NHL forward? Fifty forwards put up more than his 63 points last season. That's an average of 1.6 per team. Blake's a top-sixer, as is Ponikarovsky.

It doesn't happen often, but I don't believe in Matt Stajan. In fact, I believe in Jason Allison more than I believe in Matt Stajan.

Kid Kadri and Christian Hanson

After a weekend that saw family in town and two good friends tie the knot, Tuesday was a most unwelcomed return to reality. What helped was watching NHL Rookie Tournament highlights on Sportsnet. (Only in nutty Canada. I love it.)

It's hard not to be excited about Nazem Kadri and Hanson. Kadri's goal against Boston was filthy; remindful of the talent that led him to be drafted 7th overall. While Hanson, as much as it's footnoteingly possible to tally a hat trick, did just that.

I don't think Kadri makes the Leafs out of training camp, but let it be known that I thought the same about Luke Schenn. Also: we need a nickname for Hanson.

Media Relations

Not only do I run the editorial side of Sports And The City, I also work PR. And I'm here to remind you to head over to your local Chapters Indigo store (which one is it: Chapters or Indigo?) and pick up your copy of the 2009/2010 Maple Leafs Annual. It is, for lack of a better word, awesome.

September 08, 2009

The Maple Leafs Annual

Today, September 8th, is an auspicious day. Not only is it my brother's 30th birthday (dirty thirty!!1), it's also the release date of the 2009/2010 Maple Leafs Annual - a magazine chronicling your favourite team, written by some of the finest Maple Leafs bloggers out there.

For some reason Alec Brownscombe, editor of the annual and one of the writers at the heavily trafficked Maple Leafs Hot Stove, asked me to be involved in the project. I readily agreed, and typed an essay entitled: Infinite Hope.

Looking back upon the last 20 years of my life as a Leafs fan, I wrote about those players and those teams that best personified hope; and why the well of hope, even after many trying years of heartbreaking losing, never runs day.

It was an honour and a pleasure to be involved in a writing collaboration with some of the heavyweights of the Maple Leafs' blogosphere Barilkosphere. You can find the magazine on newsstands today; at your local Walmart, your local grocery store, your local drug store, and at all Chapters Indigo stores throughout Canada.

Pick up a copy. It's 128-pages of Toronto Maple Leafs content, penned by those who write only to feed their passion. You won't be disappointed.

September 05, 2009


For the most selfish of reasons, I'm happy Roy Halladay didn't no-hit the New York Yankees last night. Actually, perhaps happy isn't the right word. Let's go with relieved. If it happened - if Ramiro Pena didn't hit that double to right field in the sixth inning - while I chose not to be there, I'm not sure what I would have done with myself. (Other than be deeper down a bottle than I've ever been before.) I think I might have died.

Mission Doc - to be in attendance for every Roy Halladay start at the SkyDome this season - hit the wall last night. I don't know if it was because the Toronto Blue Jays have crushed my soul with their recent play, or because Doc has looked remarkably average while not throwing his best pitch while on the mound. Probably a combination of both. Instead of being in attendance, I was live blogging the game for The Score and, by the fifth inning, I knew I'd made the wrong decision. Doc was rightfully punishing my apathy.

Don't get me wrong, I'd have loved to see Doc throw a perfect game, or a no-hitter. Lord knows he's talented enough to do it. Before each and every start he makes, the thought crosses my mind: this could be it. And through five innings Friday night, I thought Doc's destiny had arrived.

Have you ever seen Doc pitch better? It might have been his finest hour. Against the high octane New York Yankees, the best team in baseball, no less. First-pitch strikes; ground ball after ground ball; mind-blowing movement on his pitches; a bases loaded strikeout, looking, of Alex Rodriguez. I know I've said it before, but what a treat Harry Leroy III is to watch.

A complete game, one-hit shutout. Nine strikeouts. Only 111 pitches; 73 of them strikes. Thanks, Doc. I'll never question you again.

Luckily for me, yesterday's game didn't hit the four hour mark. Otherwise I'd have been worried about my erection.

Kevin "You're Such A Disease" Millar

Drunk Jays Fans' Stoeten was kind of pissed off that Cito Gaston had everyone's favourite Blue Jay Kevin Millar batting cleanup last night. I think we can all agree that it makes zero sense for Millar to be in that position, while Randy Ruiz sits on the bench. While I'm certainly not aboard the "Fire Cito" train my man Drew-LtB is riding, I understand the frustration.

Anyway, there's no point in extolling just how God-awful Millar truly is. I'm sure he's a fine human being, and a dear in the clubhouse, but he's useless on the baseball field. Make him a bench coach, if he's that fucking great to have around. But get him off the field.

Now that Mark Rzepczynski's been shut down, I selfishly propose that Millar take his spot in the rotation. If he does, all will be forgiven. I could use some motivation to watch this team. And I sure as hell could use the entertainment.

September 04, 2009

Rod Barajas & Raul Chavez: The Belly Brothers

Looking ahead to 2010, because I really, really can't take much more of 2009, one of the more glaring holes to be filled is behind home plate. Rod Barajas and Raul Chavez, the Belly Brothers, are both free agents. The same goes for Michael Barrett, the forgotten man. And J.P. Arencibia isn't ready.

Rod the Bod will turn 34 on Saturday. He's just about done collecting his $2.5 million salary. Snap Throw Chavez will be 37 come next season, and a couple more paychecks remain on his $500K contract. As for Barrett ... let's be honest, nobody really gives a shit about him.

I'm torn on Barajas. His .272 on-base percentage induces vomiting. Yet he's driven in 60 runs, good for fourth on the team behind Adam Lind, Lighthouse Hill, and the departed Alex Rios. While I struggle to get up over a .695 OPS, Barajas does bring a 1.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to the table. Like I said: torn. So I did some homework.

The following are the average OPS+, from highest to lowest, at the catcher position for each American League team (only those players who played 30 or more games as catcher were included):

125 OPS+ Minnesota Twins; Joe Mauer & Mike Redmond
104 OPS+ Chicago White Sox; A.J. Pierzynski
101 OPS+ Cleveland Indians; Kelly Shoppach & Victor Martinez
99 OPS+ Oakland A's; Kurt Suzuki & Landon Powell
94 OPS+ New York Yankees; Jorge Posada & Jose Molina
92 OPS+ LA Angels; Mike Napoli & Jeff Mathis
90 OPS+ Kansas City; Miguel Olivo & John Buck
82 OPS+ Baltimore Orioles; Matt Wieters & Gregg Zaun
80 OPS+ Boston Red Sox; Jason Varitek & George OMG CANADIAN Kattaras
71 OPS+ Toronto Blue Jays; Barajas & Chavez
70 OPS+ Seattle Mariners; Kenji Johjima & Rob Johnson
69 OPS+ Texas Rangers; Jarrod Saltalamacchia & Taylor Teagarden
65 OPS+ Detroit Tigers; Gerald Laird
58 OPS+ Tampa Bay Rays; Dioner Navarro & Michel Hernandez

Some thoughts: Mauer isn't human. His OPS+ alone is 180 ... Pierzynski's carried the load in Chicago. Ramon Castro, his relief, has played only 23 games, so A.J.'s personal OPS+ of 104 stands alone as Chicago's average ... That number is bound to drop for the Tribe, as Martinez now plies his trade in Boston ... Kurt Suzuki's turned out to be a strong starting catcher ... Jorge Posada is going to Cooperstown ... Toronto has always been the rumoured destination for John Buck ... I wonder how patient Orioles fans will be with Wieters ... Varitek is finished ... Salty and Teagarden come through with the best names ... Laird needs a backup ... It's no wonder the Rays went out and acquired Zaun; Navarro and Hernandez are brutal.

The bottom line: only two of the top eight teams on that list are going to the playoffs - New York and LA. Employing catchers who can rake is merely a bonus.

The following is a list of American League teams who have been the most successful at throwing out potential base stealers:

Seattle: 40%
Toronto: 37%
Detroit: 35%
Oakland: 31%
New York: 30%
Texas: 29%
Minnesota: 25%
Chicago: 23%
Kansas City: 23%
Tampa Bay: 23%
Los Angeles: 22%
Baltimore: 22%
Cleveland: 19%
Boston: 14%

Some thoughts: Seattle, Toronto, Detroit, and Texas employ weaker hitting catchers, but with better throwing arms. And, presumably, pitchers who are quicker to the plate ... Oakland and New York have got the most balanced tandems ... Varitek's more than finished, I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

The bottom line: only two of the top 10 teams on that list will be playing meaningful October baseball. One can only conclude that the catcher position is rather meaningless.

In all seriousness, the upcoming free agent class behind the plate is not impressive. At all. While it would be nice to have a #1 catcher who could get on base a few more times, the dynamic duo of Barajas and Chavez is not what ails the Toronto Blue Jays. Re-sign Barajas. By all accounts, he calls a good game. One year, $3 million, plus an option; much like the contract he signed back in 2008. Backup catchers are a dime a dozen. (Sorry, Raul.) Hell, bring back Zaun. There's something about that OBP of his.

The Blue Jays have much, much bigger problems. I'm going to stop fretting over this one.

UPDATE: Mission Doc is dead. I'm unable to make it down to the Dome for tonight's Joba Chamberlain vs. Roy Halladay tilt, but I'll be live blogging the game for your enjoyment at The Score. Check the ticker - my Twitter account - for the links later today. It's a 7:07 PM start.

September 02, 2009

No Longer the GBOAT

It was one thing for Scott Rolen to ask for a trade back to the Midwest. Family reasons? Fine. I understand that. Even though mere months separated Rolen from free agency, family comes first.

It's another to learn (from Mike Wilner, via his "extremely trustworthy in-uniform Jays source") that Rolen was a negative in the clubhouse, constantly complained about being a Toronto Blue Jay, and didn't hide his desire to leave Toronto, and Canada.

I'm no traditionalist, and perhaps my expectations are a little old school, but that's the last way I'd expect a veteran like Rolen to behave. It's unsettling. And disappointing. Frankly, it's bullshit, especially when you consider how much he was supported by the die-hards.

Sure, he hit .320, and played sublime defence. And, sure, I'm bitter about the way this season has unraveled. But Rolen's lost all currency with me. No longer will I refer to him as the "Greatest Blue Jay of All Time."

Financial Flexibility FTW

I found the silence among Jays fans, and in the Jays blogosphere, in response to Tampa Bay trading salary dumping Scott Kazmir to Los Angeles to be rather, well, loud.

Imagine that; a team in the AL East, this one nine games above .500 and only six games back of the Wild Card, trading a high-priced player for, yes, a couple of prospects, but above all else, financial flexibility. While they're in a playoff race!1

And this, the same Tampa Bay Rays team that everyone said "figured out" how to win in baseball's toughest division on a minuscule budget.

Figured it out, my ass.

No More Bets

Watching six hours of televised Toronto Blue Jays baseball in succession is in no way, shape, or form good for you. It is not recommended. Four hours has got to be the legal limit when viewing Toronto's average baseball team, and listening to the dynamic duo of Jamie Campbell and Rance Mulliniks.

The 2009 ballclub has been difficult to watch. I believe the term "soul crushing" is the one most bandied about. Unfortunately for me, they're about to inflict more damage. On my wallet. Bets of $100, $50, and a steak dinner (at Mendy's), are on the line.

Bet #1: Sure, my man Stephen Amell is about to hit the road for Hollywood, but that doesn't mean we no longer have a wager ($100 and an autograph from Mike Wilner) to settle. You remember: eight categories, over/under, seven worth one point, wins worth two points; highest total score takes it.

1. Wins - over/under 80.5 (worth two points):

After dropping both games of the doubleheader, the Jays are 59-72; playing .450 baseball. In order to get to the magical .500 mark, to 81 wins, Toronto must win 22 of their final 31 games; they must play .710 baseball.

I'm clearly still in this one. Nil-nil. (Yes, I am.)

2. Vernon Wells games played - over/under 125.5:

Staying healthy is about the only thing Wells has been able to accomplish this season. He's played 128 games. Chalk one up for the good guy. And, Vernon: "Congratulations on a job ... done." One-nothing, eyebleaf.

3. Home opener attendance - over/under 49,500:

I lost this one months ago; 1-1.

4. Roy Halladay wins - over/under 17.5:

I cannot fucking believe this one is in jeopardy. Since coming off the disabled list June 29th, Halladay has gone 3-7, with two no-decisions. And, I'm sorry, but the "rattled by trade rumours" excuse doesn't fly with me. Doc's a pro athlete, and makes millions of dollars. It's part of the business. Deal with it. And this after years of everyone lauding him as the most mentally prepared pitcher they'd ever seen.

Doc hasn't pitched well of late. He'd be the first to admit it. What's worse: he's not throwing his best pitch. If he's hurt, he shouldn't be pitching. If he's not, has he quit on his team? I shudder to think.

Doc's got about six starts left. I'm not ready to concede this point to SA just yet.

5. Combined HRs Lyle Overbay & Scott Rolen - over/under 35.5:

Rolen's back off the disabled list down in Cincinnati, and has hit one HR in 13 games; none since returning from injury. On the season, he's got nine. The power is gone. Platoon player Overbay (thanks Cito) has hit 13. I concede this one; 2-1, Stephen.

6. Alex Rios Home Runs - over/under 22.5:

In 16 games with Chicago, Rios is hitting .167/.177/.283. That's a laughable .461 OPS. Change has not been kind to Alex. He's stuck on 15 HRs, and went yard three times in June, July, and August. I've no reason to believe he'll hit eight the rest of the way, but that's never stopped me before. Two-one Stephen, three categories in question.

7. B.J. Ryan Saves - over/under 31.5 games:

Old wounds. It's hard to believe the man is no longer even in the pros. Three-one, Stephen.

8. 2009 SkyDome attendance - over/under 2,000,000:

According to ESPN, Toronto is averaging 23,904 fans a game; good for 23rd in the league. (According to The Globe and Mail, that same number ranks them 29th. I'm not sure how that works, but that's neither here nor there.) After 66 games, 1,577,729 have passed through the SkyDome's turnstiles.

With 15 games left to play at dome, if the Jays continue to meet their average of 23,904, they'll finish the season at 1,936,289. (Way to pick the line, SA, you jerk.) However, four of the 15 games are against the New York Yankees, three of them this upcoming long Labour Day weekend. Help a brother out, upstate New Yorkers. This one's still in play.

In closing: it's 3-1 Stephen. All I need is for the Jays to play .710 baseball the rest of the way, for Roy Halladay to win all his remaining starts, for Alex Rios to hit eight home runs, and for the Jays to average 28,152 fans in September. Good luck the rest of the way, and in Hollywood, SA.

(I'm fucked.)

Bet #2: Using the line Stephen set for wins, over/under 80.5, renowned Blue Jays hater PPP took the under. Only $50 is on the line, but this one hurts. For some sick, twisted reason, PPP enjoys nothing more than the suffering of Blue Jays fans. It's not even about the money. I'd simply rather not give him the satisfaction. Here's hoping Cito's got another 10-game win streak up his sleeve. Although even that probably won't be enough. Fuck. While that 27-14 start sure was enjoyable, it's causing much heartache months later.

Bet #3: I know the one and only Baltimore Orioles fan who lives in Toronto. Quite well, actually. As a matter of fact, when it comes to baseball, we have a lot in common. We're both in very abusive relationships. Anyway, we got creative on this one; you have to when each party supports a terrible team. The parameters: if the Orioles finish the season within 3.5 games of the Blue Jays (or better, but let's be serious...), I'm paying at Senior's. Four games back or more, and TOBOF (Toronto's Only Baltimore Orioles Fan) is footing the bill.

Heading into Wednesday, Baltimore trails Toronto by six. I may be out $150 come October 5th, but I'm quite certain I'll be eating well shortly thereafter.

Of course, none of the above has stopped me from trying to make things a little more ... interesting. My luck is bound to change.

Bet #4: I've got a two-four on the line with Burgundy from Stay Classy that the Toronto Maple Leafs will finish higher in the standings than the Ottawa Senators this season. I've cashed that cheque already.