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Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

The Buffalo Bills, Drugs, and Bathrooms

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My brother was at the Bills game on Sunday, against the Patriots, in beautiful Orchard Park, New York. (Things looked great for Buffalo at halftime, didn’t they?) On Monday, I asked him — via text message — how it was.

He replied: “The usual. Guys in front of us were doing lines of something. Weird.”

I thought: cocaine. Definitely cocaine. I wrote: “This is what being a Bills fan has come down to.”

He replied: “It’s very trashy. I don’t know why I still get shocked when I go to that bathroom.”

That was it. The Buffalo Bills Experience. And then it hit me: we’re old, my brother and I. But he’s right: the bathrooms at the Ralph are disgusting.

Written by Navin Vaswani

October 2nd, 2012 at 1:58 am

Posted in Football,Reflection

The Sports Section

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It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.

– Jerry Seinfeld

I read Saturday’s sports section. The Toronto Star’s. The actual, physical sports section of the Saturday Star. Of the newspaper. I touched it. It was in my hands. I read the whole thing. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’d been a while. I read the news online, exclusively, like a normal person. Every day. I’m one of those people. I have to, for work. Actually, I read everything online. Books, too. I didn’t pay for The Star. Fuck no. I’d never do that. I read it at Second Cup. Well, outside Second Cup. Saturday was a beautiful day in Toronto. Welcome, September.

It was underwhelming, the Star’s sports section. I’m a bit sorry to say so. But it was. Full disclosure: I’m mostly a reader of The Globe and Mail. Sports, news, everything. I grew up reading the Star, though, it was the newspaper my father had delivered to our front door, the newspaper he read, so I like to check in every once in a while. (I’m not a fan of The Star’s website; it’s too damn busy.)

On the front page, above the fold, baseball columnist Richard Griffin had a piece breaking down MLB’s wild-card race. I like Griffin, but it was a pros/cons/prediction “column” about nine teams and what their chances are down the stretch. It was nothing great; hardly Griffin’s finest hour. He calls for the Rays and Tigers to meet in the AL wild-card one-off, and likes the Braves and Dodgers in the NL, because of course you were wondering.

The rest of the front page: A feature about Chris Williams, the “CFL’s most exciting player,” by Bob Mitchell. Now, I have no idea who Chris Williams is, had never heard of him before, and don’t know what position he plays, or what team he plays for. I’m about as casual a football fan as can be. The Buffalo Bills have my heart, and I try to get down to one game in Buffalo a season, before it gets unGodly cold down there, mostly to get wasted on a Sunday afternoon, because that doesn’t get to happen enough, but I don’t fuck with the CFL. I passed on the Williams piece.

On page two, Mr. Griffin had a gamer on Friday night’s 2-1 Blue Jays’ victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Standard, with quotes from Tony Lovullo praising Moises Sierra, the star of the night, about some of the extra outfielding work Sierra’s been putting in, and quotes from Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero about Morrow. Nothing terribly exciting. Like I said, I’ll read Griffin more often than not. Not those crazy-long “Bullpen” blog posts he writes — who’s got the time?  – but his other stuff, sure. I may not like everything Griffin writes, but he’s a pro. And he uses that Drunk Jays Fans-inspired avatar on Twitter, which I still like to give him credit for.

The rest of page two: A local high-school football story, which I didn’t even think about reading. Life’s too short.

Page three: A column by Dave Perkins on the plight of Ontario’s racehorse breeders. I told myself I wasn’t going to read it, but then went back and did. I owe Perkins that much, don’t I? The column did nothing to change my stance on the issue: While I’m sorry for all those whose jobs are at risk now that the Ontario government is getting out of the horse racing business, the bottom line is that I don’t want the Ontario government involved in the horse racing business.

The rest of page three was devoted to the 2012 Paralympic Games, with articles from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press. Hours later, I can’t tell you what the CP story was about, but the AP piece was about a survivor of the 7/7 attacks in London — she lost both her legs — competing in the games. In volleyball, no less. You have to read the human interest stories. Too much of the news is bullshit to not read the human interest stories.

Pages four and five, save for a three-inch wide CP story on the left side of page four about NHL labour talks having been “recessed,” which I did not read, having already learned the details on Friday, were a huge Kevin McGran spread about which NHL teams made the best moves in the offseason — “Summertime Stanley Cup.” I didn’t read it. It was, like the Griffin piece on the front page, another team-by-team round-up. Far too broad. When I read the newspaper, I want specific. And I want, for the most part, a Toronto focus. I could care less about McGran’s take on the Carolina Hurricanes’ summer, or the Jordan Eberle contract. The NHL season isn’t going to even start on time, and I’m supposed to want to read an offseason round-up? Well, I don’t. I don’t even want to read about the goddamned lockout. The NHL can simply go away until they figure their shit out. I’d rather read a Cathal Kelly column, about whatever the hell he wants to write about. At least that’s original content.

On page six, I didn’t read an AP article about the U.S. Open, and didn’t read notes about golf, Bob Uecker’s statue, and the CFL. On page seven was a full-page scoreboard, with standings and results from the major professional sports. Who the hell actually uses that page? All that information is available on our phones.

So, in short, I read about a third of The Star’s sports section, and came away thinking, “This is why newspapers are dying.” I wouldn’t pay. I don’t pay. Not for that.

You know what I would have liked to read in the sports section of a Toronto newspaper? (Which isn’t the same as what I’d pay for, just so we’re on the same page — pardon the awful pun.) Something like this from Leafs Nation, about Nikolai Kulemin’s immediate future, and the fact that his agent said he would have asked for a one-year, $3 million deal in arbitration, if contract talks had gone there. Or @DrewGROF‘s piece about Steve Delabar, whose “stuff” — his splitter, mostly — has people talking. Or FanGraphs’ look at Carlos Villanueva, his changeup in particular (with a graph, duh, FanGraphs). The newspapers, as evidenced by this Star piece about Villanueva, and this Star piece about Jose Bautista and Sam Fuld, remain far too interested in getting me quotes from baseball players, even though we all know baseball players don’t say a damn thing when they talk.

I like what the National Post is doing — I’ve seen some PITCHf/x graphs and WPA graphs on their website over the past few months. They’re trying. Although I still don’t understand why John Lott doesn’t post his minor-league round-up, which he tweets, on the Post’s website. Hell, do both. And, again, as a reader of The Globe and Mail, I’m a bit surprised they haven’t created a Blue Jays-specific blog yet, like they did in creating James Mirtle’s Leafs Beat. The Globe gets it — Toronto drives traffic. With the Blue Jays the only baseball game in town, and in the bloody country, and interest in their happenings only increasing online — especially online — a Blue Jays-only web-first blog at The Globe seems to only makes sense. To me, at least. But what the fuck do I know.

Well, one thing, maybe: The sports section seems very much like what it used to be. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Written by Navin Vaswani

September 2nd, 2012 at 3:23 am

On Happiness

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I was asked last night, over beers, whether I was happy, on a scale of one to 10.

First of all: A score of 10 is unattainable. For anyone.

Second of all: The question was posed to me shortly after I’d watched the Maple Leafs lose 8-0 to the Boston Bruins. Eight-nothing. Who the fuck loses 8-0? And I watched, for the most part, the whole game; couldn’t turn it off. The Bruins can go to hell. The Leafs can, too, for that matter.

I answered “Six-point-five.” And I think I was being generous. Had the Leafs lost 2-1, I’d have probably answered “Seven.” At least. Eight-nothing’s some bullshit.

No playoffs.

Image credit: Robert Adams, via This Isn’t Happiness. 

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 20th, 2012 at 6:36 pm

So Long, Wade Belak

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Wade Belak never seemed to take himself too seriously. That’s why I liked him. That’s why, like everyone else, I was shocked to hear of his death. He’s gone way too soon. But his death, his apparent suicide, serves as just another reminder that no matter what you see on the surface, everybody’s got demons, demons that they’re fighting, every single day.

There are so many questions, and, frustratingly, zero answers. The pictures of Belak and his family, his wife and kids, are just gutting. What drove Belak to kill himself, and leave them behind? Why wasn’t Belak’s death treated with the same sensitivity as Rick Rypien’s? Was it because Rypien’s fight with depression was public knowledge? Was Belak tortured because he was an NHL enforcer? Was he depressed? Did he reach out for help? Did he have a history of concussions? If he was lost, “retired” at 35, knowing only a life in and around hockey, it didn’t come across. By all accounts, he was upbeat, content, the same old Wade Belak, and keeping busy.

It doesn’t make sense. Suicide never does, I guess. But it’s impossible not to make the connection, to tie Belak’s death to Derek Boogard’s, and Rypien’s. It’s impossible, when three hockey players, all enforcers, all so damn young, are found dead over the summer, to think that fighting still has a place in professional hockey. I’m done. I’m out. I don’t want to see it anymore. It isn’t worth it. Nobody can tell me that it is.

Wade Belak had this self-deprecating way of making himself seem like a regular guy. Like any other guy. He was like me, like you, like all of us, except that he played ice hockey, and fought, for a living. I’ll remember Belak as a Toronto Maple Leaf, for his wit, his interviews that were always so refreshing, especially compared to those of his teammates. I’ll remember Belak for the way he stood up for his teammates, especially for Tomas Kaberle, and for the goal he scored on December 4, 2007, against Nashville, the one he waited almost four years to get, the one that had the entire Air Canada Centre chanting his name. It was the last goal he ever scored in the NHL.

Wade Belak was only 35-years-old. Boogard and Rypien, even younger. I can’t help but think about how young they were, over and over and over again. There’s something about these three men dying that’s left me cold, that’s taken away from the invincibility of a professional athlete, the guy who’s “living the dream,” even the enforcer. Even though I know, to begin with, that the invincible pro athlete doesn’t exist, that he’s a construct, a product of television, and the Internet, and a vicious news cycle. These guys, they’re just like us. Sometimes they’re not happy. Sometimes they hate their job. Sometimes they drink to ease the pain. Sometimes they’re so fucking afraid of the future, they’d rather not even face it. The deaths of Belak, Boogard, and Rypien have taken away from the innocence of hockey, and of sport. The game’s supposed to give, not take away. Enough.

Image credit: Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

September 1st, 2011 at 9:05 am

NotGraphs: My most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world, Part II

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A cross-post, Toronto Blue Jays heavy, from NotGraphs:

Last week, I gave you those baseball players that make up the latter half of my top 10 most favorite baseball players in the whole wide world. If you missed it, and would like to read my most scientific of scientific reasoning, here’s the post. However, since then, I’ve had to make one change to those very rankings. Here they are, in short order:

10. Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp. It’s a tie. Actually, to be more specific, Melky Cabrera and Coco Crisp’s afro.
9. Kirk Rueter
8. Paul O’Neill
7. Tony Fernandez
6. Mark McGwire

Without further ado, I present my top five:

5. J.T. Snow

The more I thought about this most fruitful exercise, the more I thought about J.T. Snow. And I’ve come to the realization that, deep down, I’ve always had an affinity for slick-fielding first basemen. And that love affair began with J.T. Snow. The scoop at first, it’s an art. And Snow was an artist. He wasn’t the greatest hitter, and, even though he spent the majority of his career in the National League, I always kept a watchful eye on Jack Thomas’ career. And, hey, on top of winning six straight Gold Gloves, Snow saved young Darren Baker’s life. That counts. (On an aside, I’ll never forget Dusty Baker’s reaction in the dugout after the incident. Baker knew, as we all did, that when he got home that night, he was a dead man.) In the end, two years after his retirement, Snow’s career ended the way so many players’ don’t: He signed a one-day contract with San Francisco, and left the game once and for all a Giant.

4. Ken Griffey Jr.

“The Kid.” That swing. Along with John Olerud’s, the sweetest swing I’ve ever seen. It’s rare for a player so highly touted — a first overall draft pick — to not only meet, but exceed lofty expectations. Ken Griffey Jr. did, and more. He played with his father, he played with swagger, and he played center field the way I did in my dreams. Junior was the reason I wished I didn’t bat right-handed. Junior was the reason I tried, at the very least, to switch hit.

Last summer, I was in Seattle to watch the Mariners only a few of days after Junior announced his sudden retirement. I spoke to a man outside Safeco Field, who left a written message on a photo of Griffey Jr. that adorned the ballpark’s wall. (I did, too.) The man, this baseball stranger who I’d never met before and will never meet again, was super emotional as we spoke, after I asked him to describe what Griffey Jr. meant to him. “[Ken Griffey Jr.] built this ballpark, man” he said, fighting back tears. “He saved baseball in Seattle.” It was raw emotion. “I wanted one more chance to see him,” he said. We all did.

Junior did it all, from playing with his father, to playing at home in Cincinnati, to returning to Seattle, where it all began. Full circle. If healthy, there’s no doubt he goes down as one of the best ever. Growing up, it didn’t matter where you were from or who you rooted for. You wanted to be like “The Kid.”

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The habit of believing

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I’m reading Gary Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat.” Carbohydrates, my friends, are the devil. Have you seen Travis Snider?  The Meats Don’t Clash diet works.

Anyway, I came across a quote in the book by Umberto Eco, Italian all-around smarty-pants, which Taubes uses to help expose the flaws in the widely accepted calories-in/calories-out paradigm. It’s fantastic. Fucking fantastic. Witness:

I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.”

I had to put the book down. Actually, I read the quote again, twice, and then put the book down.

That’s me. That’s my fandom. Of the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Bills, Toronto FC, and Toronto Raptors. Of every awful team I support. There’s nothing really rational about supporting those teams. Then again, there’s nothing really rational about sports; rationale doesn’t factor into rooting for a specific team, or player.

I’m sure Kansas City Royals fans, and Pittsburgh Pirates fans, and even Calgary Flames fans, can relate to that quote. Why, year after year, do we go on? Why do we stick around, after all the abuse? The answer’s in the quote: we believe. It’s no longer a habit of pretending to believe, as Eco says. We actually believe. That this year, whichever year it is, is actually the year. Even though it’s probably not.

The Maple Leafs last took part in a playoff game thousands of days ago, in 2004. Literally thousands of days ago. Two-thousand-something days. I don’t remember the actual number, but the CBC was kind enough to point it out last Saturday, during the final Leafs/Habs tilt until October. I don’t even want to begin to think about how many more thousands of days it’s been for the Blue Jays. Almost two decades. Yet every April, I find myself thinking, “Wow, I haven’t been this excited about the Blue Jays since, well, last year.” I say the same thing about the Maple Leafs in October.

In years prior, I’ve still been bout it bout it for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nothing better than the first round, and playoff overtime, I’ve always said myself. Wednesday night, as the playoffs began, and Vancouver welcomed Chicago, and the Rangers and Capitals treated folks to overtime, I watched baseball. Dodgers and Giants, from San Francisco, with Vin Scully in the booth.

I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I know something’s changed. I chose baseball. It’s definitely got something to do with listening to Scully, something I haven’t done enough of in my life. He’s absolutely brilliant in the booth, a one-man team. But another part of me simply isn’t interested in the playoffs if the Leafs aren’t involved. I don’t care anymore. I’ll be watching tonight, Montreal and Boston, but that’s only because I’ve got to live-blog the game for The Score. Pay me to watch it, and I’ll do it. Gladly, of course. But between hockey I’m not emotionally invested in, even though it’s intense and awesome hockey for the most beautiful trophy in professional sports, and Scully’s baseball poetry, I chose the legendary Dodgers broadcaster. And I’d do it again.

Back to the quote: the believing is exhausting. But I guess, in the end, the believing is also what makes it worthwhile.

Image courtesy The Best Part.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 14th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

The thrill of victory

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Ninety-six hours later, and the above photo still gives me chills. India, and, finally, Sachin Tendulkar: World cricket champions.

I am, first and foremost, Canadian. Raised, not born; Kuwait City, Kuwait takes that honour (tongue planted firmly in cheek). I speak Hindi, but don’t consider myself Indian, or from India. I’m not. My ancestors are. My parents are. And my folks, along with my brother, would be the first to admit that I don’t relate much — and never have — to the Motherland, though I visit her frequently, especially in recent years. Unlike most people from the subcontinent, I am the furthest from religious. I eat beef. We — Hindus — aren’t supposed to; cows are sacred. I love beef.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my roots. India is a beautiful country, with a fascinating history, and a place everyone should be lucky enough to explore. Like any country, she has her positives — world’s biggest democracy, yo — and her negatives. The poverty, especially when experienced firsthand, is indeed crippling. But enough about my identity struggles. Long story short: I’m quite certain I’ve never felt prouder of my Indian heritage than after watching India win the Cricket World Cup over the weekend.

I can’t, with only words, explain what cricket means to India and its people. I can’t stress enough the role it plays on India’s psyche. The success of the new IPL — Indian Premier League, 20/20 high-quality cricket — speaks for itself. Cricket’s their hockey. Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest cricket player to ever grace the planet, is India’s Wayne Gretzky. And Bobby Orr. And Mario Lemieux. And Patrick Roy. Combined. Times about, oh, a thousand. In such an incredibly religious country — that’s what sticks with you when you visit, the intense religiosity, especially amongst the poor — Tendulkar is truly a living deity.

For a country with over a billion people, it’s shocking, and a touch embarrassing, how unathletic Indians are. Not for lack of trying. Indian’s, at least this is how I see it, want to succeed at sport. It’s just not easy, considering, according to numbers from 2001, India’s rural population accounts for more than 70% of the entire nation. Not to mention the poverty, and a lack of sporting infrastructure. You think Canada has it bad when it comes to amateur sports?

I spent the summer of 1996 in New Delhi and watched, along with the rest of the country, Leander Paes win a bronze medal in tennis at the Atlanta Olympics. Overnight, Paes became a hero, and a celebrity. There were “poojas” — prayers — held in his honour. He returned home to a hero’s welcome, only the second Indian to ever win a medal at the Olympics, and the first since KD Jhadav at the 1952 Helsinki Games.  Sports permeates in India, it does, but nothing like cricket.

That’s why Saturday, and the World Cup in general, was so important. It’s not just that India won the tournament for the first time since 1983. It’s how they won the tournament, and the circumstances surrounding their victory. It was, and I say this with certainty, Sachin Tendulkar’s final World Cup appearance. And his sixth. Tendulkar — The Little Master, only 5’5″ — has re-written cricket’s history books. But the World Cup title eluded him. It was the only trophy he hadn’t won. And in the final vs. Sri Lanka, looking to record his record 100th One-Day International century (100 runs in a one-day, 50 overs per side match), Tendulkar was caught out after only 18 runs. I can’t imagine India has ever been so silent.

But Tendulkar’s teammates weren’t going to let him down. They picked him up, led by their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir, and Yuvraj Singh. India didn’t just win the Cricket World Cup on Saturday. No, they won it in style. They walked it off. Dhoni, in the final over, needing four runs to win the game, and deliver the trophy to Tendulkar, and his cricket-mad country, sent a towering six into the crowd. A no-doubter. It sailed into the seats, far above the boundary line, and set off literal fireworks in the sky, mayhem in the stands, and euphoria in the smallest, and most remote, Indian villages. The camera panned to Dhoni’s face as he watched the ball disappear into the Mumbai crowd. As Yuvraj, his batting partner, ran towards him, along with the rest of his Indian teammates, Dhoni collapsed to his knees. India had become the first country to ever win the Cricket World Cup on home soil. Tendulkar had finally won everything there was to be won as a cricketer, coming full circle in the city of his birth, where his unbelievable journey began, his first century coming as a 15-year-old in what was then Bombay.

In the immediate post-game interviews, Virat Kholi, 22-years old, one of India’s youngest players, and representing the next generation of Indian cricketers, spoke words I will never, ever forget:

[Sachin Tendulkar] has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It was time we carried him on our shoulders.”

It’s Kohli’s shoulders whom Tendulkar is on in the picture above.

I think, if my memory serves me correctly, I let out a huge sigh after hearing listening to Kohli’s words. He watched Tendulkar play growing up. He played road cricket — I’m assuming that’s what they call it, just like we call it “road hockey” — growing up, surely pretending to be Tendulkar. So young. So poetic. So goddamn on the money. Tendulkar, 38, had done it all. All. And it was the next generation, the Dhonis, the Yuvrajs, the Gautam Gambhirs, and the Kohlis, who made sure he left the game the ultimate champion.

Could a better script have been written? Other than Tendulkar walking the match off himself with a massive six, I don’t think so. At the same time, it was so fitting the way it went down. In a country where family ties are valued like nothing else, where joint families are as common as a pick-up cricket game on the streets, it was the youth who lifted the elder statesman Tendulkar, literally after the game, parading him around the stadium, and figuratively in the match, in order to get him the title. To a man, they all said it: We did it for Sachin. We played for Sachin.

I couldn’t help but think of the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. I’m haunted by the sight of Wayne Gretzky sitting alone on the Canadian bench, Canada having lost the semi-final to the Czech Republic in the shootout. Ninety-nine was only the greatest goal scorer ever, but Gretzky didn’t get the tap on his shoulder. He knew, like we all did, that as a player, he’d never win Olympic gold. It wasn’t right. Watching Tendulkar hoist the Cricket World Cup trophy, I was overjoyed with emotion that he’d avoided a similar fate.

Along the way, India dispatched Australia, the defending champions. They defeated Pakistan, their biggest rival, their nemesis. In the semi-final, no less. Playing at home, under what was surely incredible pressure, India put their poor 2007 World Cup finish behind them. They regrouped. There was never any panic. Not even after Tendulkar was retired for 18 runs in the final. Champions. “Windia.” I trust India’s still celebrating. I am.

One of my fondest memories from my jaunt through parts of India last year was joining a game of pick-up cricket on the beach in Palolem, South Goa. I was fielding, my feet in the water. The youngish batter, on a ball inside, close to his legs, opened up and smacked it my way. I dove, half-heartedly, and missed. As I got up and went to grab the tennis ball, I heard the batter’s friend say to him: “Sachin jaise, yaar.”

“Just like Sachin, friend.”

Congratulations, India. From an ocean away. Or, as they say back home, “Chak De India!”

Image, such a damn fine one, courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 6th, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Time goes by so slowly

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It’s amazing how much I’ve come to neglect this space — this corner – of late. My excuse: I’ve devoted myself to the Adventures of Joe West. If you haven’t noticed, Joe West’s silhouette has replaced that of a batter in the NotGraphs logo. Since Joe West’s first adventure just over two weeks ago, that’s how far we’ve come.

Time, and Toronto, rolls on. Postseasons are about to officially be missed, and new seasons are about to begin. Death, and rebirth. The cycle of life, yo.

1. Opening Day is less than two weeks away. That is insane.

2. Back in the day, learning about the happenings of Spring Training meant waiting for highlights — awful looking highlights, camera angle wise, too — found in the depths of SportsCenter. Today, I know when Edwin Encarnacion hits a fly ball to the warning track immediately after he’s sent said fly ball to the warning track.

3. The coverage has increased at least a billion-fold, but I still don’t really care about Spring Training.

4. If Rajai Davis hits home runs, Rajai Davis can’t steal bases. The legend of Dwayne Murphy grows.

5. This time of year reminds me of one word, and one word only: Thaw. It’s a fantastic word. Say it out loud: thaw.

6. Ron Wilson starting J.S. Giguere in Miami was straight disrespectful to me as a Toronto Maple Leafs supporter. I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid.

7. I like to think I’ve made peace with the Phil Kessel deal. That I support it fully, and am glad Kessel’s a Leaf. He’s 23. Kessel won’t be 24 until October. He’s a child! But every now and then, I suffer through fits of doubt. And I’ll be honest: defending Kessel, and the deal, is bloody exhausting.

8. You know who else is only 23? Carey Price. Thanks to The Score, I’ve watched a ton of Montreal Canadiens games this year. Price is for real. And he’s only 23.

9. Michael Cammalleri looks nothing like the Michael Cammalleri of 2009/2010, let alone the Cammalleri of 2008/2009. His struggles, injuries included, are what’s known as sweet justice for not signing with the Leafs.

10. I desperately — very, very desperately — want Nazem Kadri to succeed in the NHL. It would make my life easier.

11. Tomas Kaberle will play in Toronto as a member of the Boston Bruins Saturday night. Awkward. The Bruins are 7-2-3 since the trade, Toronto 6-4-4. Kabba’s got three assists in those 12 games as a Bruin, and he’s +5. But I’ve no doubt: Tomas misses home. If you’re at the game, I hope you remember that Kaberle is love. Give it up.

12. Brian Burke’s got to sign one of Tomas Vokoun or Ilya Bryzgalov. As much as I can’t really stand Ron Wilson, Burke owes it to his BFF to hook him up with at least one year of NHL-calibre goaltending. Imagine the freedom.

13. That being said, thank you, James Reimer. You’ve been the most pleasant of surprises.

14. My brother tells me I’m way too hard on Mike Komisarek. I say I can’t be hard enough. Worst.

15. I’m headed to Detroit next week to watch the Leafs take on the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. If you’ve got any Motor City recommendations, I’d love to read them.

16. I still can’t believe George Packer doesn’t have a Twitter account.

17. I can’t point out the date on a calendar, but I checked out on the Raptors season a long, long time ago.

18. However, this — DeMar DeRozan’s spin move, posterization of two members of the Utah Jazz — might be the play of the year. As always, the reaction from the bench is almost as great as the dunk itself.

19. Re-sign Bryan Colangelo already.

20. What’s up with Gaddafi and the tents?

21. If you’re ever in the Phoenix area during Spring Training, make sure you visit Salt River Fields at Talking Sticks. Incredible facility. I’ll have a post about the place up at NotGraphs in the coming days. And, yes, hanging out with the FanGraphs staff, the best and brightest baseball nerds, in the desert was just as fun as I imagined it would be.

22. Tell me that Toronto FC, led by locals Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman, will make the playoffs.

Image courtesy Ronnie Yip. Davisville Village stand up.

Written by Navin Vaswani

March 19th, 2011 at 5:40 am

First world problems

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As the remarkable unfolds in Egypt, with incredible journalism coming daily from the streets of Cairo, we’re reminded, once more, that sports are nothing. They’re absolutely, completely and utterly meaningless. Nothing but a diversion.

While Egyptians throw rocks, finally demanding some of what we consider to be the most basic of human rights, I’m mostly worried about Jonas Gustavsson’s mental health, now that he’s been sent to the AHL. How’s Jonas doing?

The Ack breaks it down quite reasonably: Yeah, baseball’s only a game, but when you’ve got no real grievances to air, it’s a pretty big deal that pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training in less than two weeks. Who’ll be the closer? Which of the kids — Gose, Lawrie, Thames, d’Arnaud, or Stewart — will shine? What will John Farrell’s lineups look like? Can Jose Bautista do it again?

Friday night, I wasn’t out on the streets demanding the end of authoritarian rule. I just wanted the Raptors to end their 13-game losing streak. And they did. DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson — The Young Gunz — shot a combined 70% from the floor, on 26-for-37 shooting. Jose Calderon dropped 19 dimes, tying his own club record. For all the garbage Calderon’s been through as a Raptor, he’s always left it all on the floor. Pure class.

I might have all the democracy I can get my hands on, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine. Andrea Bargnani’s taller than Minnesota’s Kevin Love. I Googled it. Proof that rebounding isn’t all height. I wish Bargnani had more Love in him, obviously.

Bottom line: The streak’s over. Until the next one begins. Time to focus on what’s next, on what matters: Can James Reimer beat the Buffalo Sabres? In Buffalo? It’s not the long-term future of my country I’m worried about; only the instability — years! — between the pipes for the Maple Leafs.

Life is crazy.

Image courtesy Getty’s Peter Macdiarmid, via Foreign Policy.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 5th, 2011 at 3:42 am

Posted in Reflection

Tagged with

Slightly above average

with 10 comments

It hasn’t sunk in yet. It won’t, until Spring Training. Until Vernon Wells isn’t in centre field for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Over the past few days, when I thought about the Blue Jays, and thought about centre field, Devon White and Vernon Wells were the only two names that came to mind. I missed the Lloyd Moseby era; I was too young. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who played in centre before Wells. In my mind, there was White, and then there was Wells. Devo, then Boo. And there would be Vernon, until his mammoth contract expired. Or so the entire universe, save for a couple of crazies in Anaheim, thought.

My point is: Two years of Otis Nixon, and three years of Jose Cruz, had completely faded from my memory.

Drew at Ghostrunner On First writes:

Ultimately, I think this town will forget Vernon Wells in a hurry. Despite logging thousands of innings in the middle of Rogers Centre, his legacy will not last. Other insane contracts will shove his from the memory, other affable & well-adjusted athletes will attract our undeserving scorn.

I don’t buy it. Wells won’t go the way of Nixon and Cruz. Partly because he was a Blue Jay for so goddamn long, and, as The Tao writes, partly because he did represent an era, a decade, one that’s now officially come to an end. And because of his bloody contract. Really, how much more insane can a contract get? There should be two larger-than-life portraits hanging on the walls of the Blue Jays’ front office: One of Vernon Wells, and one of B.J. Ryan. Those contracts, those mistakes, must never be forgotten.

Actually, make it three larger-than-life portraits. This one is a must.

Looking at Wells’ numbers, shit, he was far from great. Worse than I, obviously, a devout believer, remember him. Wells’ career 108 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) proves that, offensively, he was only slightly above average. Jesse Barfield, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Shawn Green, even Shannon Stewart and Rance Mulliniks, all sport higher weighted on-base averages (wOBA), and wRC+ averages, as Blue Jays than Wells. All of them.

Defensively, according to ultimate zone rating (UZR), in the history of the Blue Jays, only Carlos Delgado was a lesser fielder than three-time Gold Glove-winner Vernon Wells. And that blows my mind. I mean, I’m still, weeks later, having a hard time reconciling the fact Roberto Alomar, according to UZR, was a below-average second baseman. My entire worldview was shaped on the belief that Alomar was one of the greatest defensive second basemen. Ever. Now this, Wells’ -38.0 UZR rating? It’s hard to swallow. I can believe Joe Carter’s -32.0, and Russ Adams’ -25.1, career UZR ratings as Blue Jays. But not Alomar’s -26.0. Not Wells’ -38.0. I don’t want to believe I was deceived by my own young eyes.

Depressed by his numbers, I’d have to say no, Wells’ name and number don’t belong on the Level of Excellence. Had he played out his contract in Toronto, there’d probably be no debate; Wells would have owned too many team records not to go up. But now that he’s gone, it’s pretty obvious Wells wasn’t excellent. He was slightly above average. There are other, more worthy candidates to be honoured. Like Jimmy Key.

I’m going to be honest: I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. I think I might have convinced myself that Drew’s right; perhaps Wells, to some extent, will be forgotten. Not forgotten like Otis Nixon, or Jose Cruz, but not remembered like Roy Halladay, or Carlos Delgado. And that’s how I wanted Wells to be remembered. Like Doc, and Carlos. But as much as I wanted him to be, he was never as good. And as has been pointed out, once he signed that contract, it became his legacy.

I can’t say, though, that I ever thought of Wells the baseball player as complacent, or comfortable. I always thought of V-Dub as someone who busted his ass day in and day out; someone who tried to lead by example. Who dove for balls when he probably shouldn’t have, and who tried to play through injuries, to the detriment of both himself and the team. I saw Wells’ even-keeled approach and attitude to success and failure as ideal for someone who tries to hit a baseball for a living.

After writing this post, I think I feel even more melancholy about Wells’ departure. Slightly above average. I don’t know, it just leaves more to be desired. Like Vernon Wells. With four years and $86 million left on his contract, I guess I never thought Wells and the Blue Jays would have unfinished business.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic about said unfinished business. The Blue Jays gave up more cash when they traded Doc. And Wells’ departure puts the onus on Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider. Vernon was never going to be one of the feared hitters in the Toronto lineup when they were finally ready to contend.

It’s a fascinating time to be a Blue Jays fan. Halladay and Wells traded in back-to-back off-seasons, along with another Opening Day starter. Yet baseball boners abound. There’s the Red Sox inquiring about the availability of Jose Bautista. Mike Napoli acquired and dealt in less than a week. Hey, I thought Napoli was a great fit for the Jays, too. But I like that J.P. Arencibia is being given his shot. Edwin Encarnacion, too; I just can’t quit the bastard.

Whether it’s to stock up on potential compensatory draft picks, or help support a very young starting pitching staff, Alex Anthopoulos has revamped the Toronto bullpen. I’ll take Octavio Dotel’s awful splits, the personable Jon Rauch, along with “criminally underrated relief pitcher” Frank Francisco, over Napoli, and, say, Manny Ramirez, and any relief pitcher signed to a long-term, rich contract. The bullpen wasn’t strong last season. Anthopoulos set out to improve it. The kicker: John Farrell. I can’t wait to see the new manager run the bullpen. Hell, the whole ball club.

Anthopoulos always maintained that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be active in free agency. That the Jays would look to improve through trades. Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum. Rajai Davis for a couple of arms. Wells for Napoli and Juan Rivera (who’s my starting right fielder, with Bautista at third base). Napoli for Francisco. It continues. There’s no point in speculating whether Anthopoulos is done, because on a Friday evening in January, he pulled off the unthinkable.

It all comes full circle. Slightly above average. That’s how I’d describe Vernon Wells. And how I’d describe, of late, the Toronto Blue Jays. Slightly above average isn’t good enough.

Image of a sleeping Blue Jay courtesy Kimberly Robyn.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 26th, 2011 at 4:25 am