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Thank you, Vernon …

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I think as a special tribute, the Vernon Wells Hatred Advisory System should be permanently set to “Low.” - @BlueJayHunter

Brilliant idea.

To the Toronto Blue Jays: Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

To the Anaheim Angels: The untradeable; Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract. Along with no cash to pay for some of that $86 million, and the Vernon Wells Hatred  Advisory System. We won’t be needing it anymore.

I spent a lot of time over the past couple of years arguing, and writing lengthy blog posts, about  Wells. He was my guy. He was never going to live up to his contract, and I hated, absolutely hated, that he was booed so mercilessly at the Rogers Centre.

It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss Vernon Wells. I wish him nothing but success out in SoCal. By every single account, he is a fantastic human being. And I’ll argue until the end that he’s a damn good baseball player. Like me, like all of us, Wells was a lifer. But for Alex Anthopoulos, a living Greek God, to rid the Blue Jays of his contract, well, it’s nothing short of a celebration.

I’ll remember Wells as an ambassador for the Toronto Blue Jays. As an all-star. I’ll remember his home runs to left field, and the professional way in which he always rounded the bases. I’ll remember the Gold Gloves; all the incredible catches in centre field.  The grab that comes to mind right now is the one that at the time saved, albeit only briefly, Brandon Morrow’s no-hitter against Tampa Bay. I’ll remember Wells as a leader. And I’ll never, ever forget his 11th inning, walk-off home run against Mariano Rivera, only the greatest closer in baseball history.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll remember the infuriating middle-infield fly balls, the cursing that followed, and all the injuries, too. And I’m truly excited for the post-Wells Blue Jays era, and the — wait for it — financial flexibility it brings.

But one more time, for the road: I believe in Vernon Wells.

Image courtesy of my man Ian. Read and bookmark The Blue Jay Hunter. And buy a Meats Don’t Clash t-shirt.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 21st, 2011 at 9:10 pm

NotGraphs: Where were you when …

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To give you an idea of what you might find from me every Tuesday and Friday over at NotGraphs, I’ve cross-posted today’s entry. It’s about hall of famer Roberto Alomar’s 1992 ALCS game four home run. The home run that changed everything …

For a generation of Toronto Blue Jays and Canadian baseball fans, it is the home run. The home run that forever changed Toronto’s baseball destiny. The home run that represents, perhaps defines, one’s fandom. And I’m not talking about Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning walk-off.

What made Roberto Alomar’s call to Cooperstown this week so enjoyable for me was the reliving of past glories. Up here, they’re all we’ve got.

I was 10-years-old when Alomar sent a 9th inning 2-2 Dennis Eckersley pitch into right field for a two-run home run, to tie game four of the 1992 ALCS between Oakland and Toronto at six apiece, completing a rather miraculous 6-1 Blue Jays comeback. I don’t remember watching Toronto take an early 1-0 lead on a John Olerud home run, or watching Jack Morris get tagged for five runs in the Oakland half of the third, but for some reason, I remember Alomar’s home run. Vividly.

It was a 4:00 pm Sunday afternoon local start in Toronto, the game being played out on the west coast, on October 11, 1992. When Alomar went yard, it had to have been after 7:00 pm Toronto time. I was in the backseat of my parents’ car, being whisked away somewhere. I remember hearing Alomar’s heroics on the radio, listening to the call as the ball sailed over the right field wall, Alomar apparently raising his hands in the air in triumph, and going absolutely insane with my older brother, who was sitting in the backseat with me. Without looking at the box score, I couldn’t tell you how Toronto won game four, or whether I saw it happen live on television or heard it on the radio. I only remember Alomar’s home run.

Time is funny. I can see myself in the car, bouncing around the backseat with my brother. But in my memory, it’s daylight out, bright and sunny, which it couldn’t have been at the time. I asked my older, and much wiser, brother if he remembered, and he said: “I think we were at home.” Which one of us is right, we’ll never know. But I like to think it’s me.

The next day, I probably didn’t even read the newspaper. I was too young at the time to understand the magnitude of the home run, or the comeback victory. I was too young to realize that the Toronto Blue Jays were exorcising their past playoff demons; putting 1985, 1989, and 1991 to bed, and shedding the label of playoff chokers.

In the aftermath of the home run, it all came back to Eckersley’s antics: His dramatic fist-pump to end Toronto’s 8th inning, when Oakland was on top 6-4.

Jack Morris, quoted in The Toronto Star, pulled no punches:

The best part was that we knocked Eck’s butt off.

But Morris saved his best quotes for The New York Times:

I think Eckersley’s Little League gesture to us really inspired us. He wheeled and looked at us and did all that stuff you do when you’re in Little League. He got it today. It finally came back to haunt him.

Years later, these quotes amaze me, and take me right back to the backseat of my folks’ car, when Alomar made history. Roberto, quoted in The Los Angeles Times, seemed to understand the importance of what he and his teammates had done.

Everybody is always talking about Toronto choking in the playoffs. We’ll see.

Candy Maldonado chimed in as well with this gem:

Sometimes you can’t wake up a sleeping dog because he might bite you.

Preach on, Candy. Preach on.

When Alomar stepped into the box, Toronto shortstop Alfredo Griffin, quoted in Sports Illustrated, and a Dodger in 1989, knew what was going to happen:

I saw Kirk Gibson all over again.

While I didn’t see it live, I’ve watched that ball sail over the right field fence in Oakland a thousand times. Probably more. Alomar’s iconic arms-raised pose is one that every Blue Jays fan remembers, just as much, if not more, than Joe Carter leaping at first base at the SkyDome in October 1993.

Alomar, of course, wasn’t trying to show anybody up. Like me, like the rest of us, he was simply caught in the moment.

I’m a little guy. But I guess the little guy became a big guy.

Time can play tricks on the mind. But it certainly can’t change the facts. And Alomar’s home run remains one of the reasons I’m more in love with baseball today than ever. Because I want to feel how I felt in the backseat of that car, all the way back in 1992, again. Just one more time.

Image courtesy of RobertoAlomar.com. Alomar himself loves that photo!

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 7th, 2011 at 8:58 am

Righting wrongs

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Last year, on January 7, 2010, one proud member of the Baseball Writers Association of America wrote the truth:

We botched it. There’s no other way to say it. We botched it.

– Steve Buckley

People screw up. I have. Far too many times. You have. The BBWAA has. It’s our nature.

Roberto Alomar’s screwed up, too. I can still see that nasty loogie hitting John Hirschbeck’s face. The “spitting incident” even has its own subsection on Alomar’s Wikipedia page. It’s hard to believe that A) Alomar actually spit in Hirschbeck’s face, and B) That it happened in Toronto.

I was pissed off with the BBWAA about Alomar not making the cut last year. He is/was a first ballot hall of fame inductee. But none of that matters anymore. If a year’s wait was Alomar’s penalty, so be it.

Alomar screwed up back in 1996, and, in apologizing to Hirschbeck, and actually becoming his friend, Alomar righted his wrong. Today, when the BBWAA calls on Alomar to Cooperstown, they’ll right their wrong.

I’ve wondered of late why I feel so emotionally invested in Alomar’s candidacy. And why I care so much about sports, something so trivial, in general. It’s hard not to question my devotion when, during a live-blog I’m paid to host for The Score, some miserable soul comes along and says: “Hey fuckface, your mom told me to tell you that dinner’s ready upstairs.” No, asshole, mom gave me dinner before the game, like I asked.

Obviously, I know why Alomar’s call to the hall is a big deal. Alomar reminds me of my youth. My fleeting youth. Growing up, his posters and pictures were on my walls. I had a binder full of Alomar’s baseball cards. It was literally an Alomar-only baseball card binder. The cover was red, if my memory serves me correctly, which it probably doesn’t. When I grew up, I wanted to be the Toronto Blue Jays’ switch-hitting, Gold Glove-winning second baseman. Who didn’t?

I think of Alomar and Carlos Delgado as the greatest Blue Jays I’ve ever seen. Naturally, this calls for a WARGraph. And between them, it isn’t even close. Alomar’s the best position baseball player Toronto has ever seen. That Toronto might ever see.

The Toronto Blue Jays will finally be represented: Alomar’s off to Cooperstown. And for the first time in my life, on Friday, July 22, so am I.

Image courtesy the Internet. Thanks, Internet.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 5th, 2011 at 10:51 am

The week that was

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We have officially begun week 50 of 52. It’s about the time of year when I curse my immigrant parents for choosing Toronto and not, say, San Diego, and when I try to remember where another 12 months have gone. Time flies when none of Toronto’s pro sports teams make the playoffs.

Goodbye

Scott Downs joined the Toronto Blue Jays almost six years ago to the day as an afterthought. He became so much more than that. Today, he’s an Angel. And he will be sorely missed. Oh, Snakeface. Where do I even begin?

Signed to a minor league contract by J.P. Ricciardi in December 2004, Downs did it all for the Blue Jays. He came out of the bullpen. He mopped up. He made spot starts. He even closed. Through it all, and to very little fanfare, he became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Left-handed or right, it didn’t matter to Downs. He made outs, while seldom walking a batter.

What I enjoyed most about Downs was that he wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a pitcher. Fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Nothing overpowering, yet always effective. That curveball; I’ll never forget it.

Over the years, Downs shared the bullpen with the likes of Miguel Bautista, Vinnie Chulk, Josh Towers, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Brian Wolfe, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg. Save for B.J. Ryan’s freakish 2006 season, I was never as calm as when Downs was on the mound. Above all else, Downs was reliable, and it’s that reliability I’ll miss most.

By signing with Los Angeles, Downs nets Toronto a supplemental draft pick, and the Angels’ second-rounder. That could change, though, and Parkes has you covered on the details. In the end, Los Angeles isn’t Boston or New York, and you’re damn right I take solace in that. Unless Jose Bautista has something to say about it, and, believe me, I hope he does, I’m quite certain Downs will go down in history as Ricciardi’s best acquisition as general manager of the Blue Jays.

Thanks, Scott Downs. Was a pleasure. Enjoy Orange County, and may you write the initials of your children in the pitcher’s mound’s dirt forever.

Winter Meetings

As much as Brett Lawrie wants to begin his Major League Baseball career, there’s no chance that’s happening in April 2011. Lawrie will start the season with the Las Vegas 51s, which means we’re probably in store for more colourful pictures of his time spent away from the ballpark. I can’t wait. Because Lawrie’s the first 20-year-old to have ever been photographed in a compromising situation. In all seriousness, it’s the right move, especially if he’s taking up a new position …

Chalk one up for sanity: Alex Anthopoulos won’t be trading Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek for Zack Greinke. Personally, I don’t believe Anthopoulos considered it. Not even for a second. If we learned anything last week, it’s that Dayton Moore, the man who targeted Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, should be getting Anthopoulos coffee, not putting together a Major League ball club …

I’m now more intrigued about the prospects of Magglio Ordonez in a Blue Jays uniform than Manny Ramirez.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

I’ve watched the video countless times. If only Brett Favre was on the field, alone, at the time.

In the aftermath of the Metrodome’s collapse, I couldn’t help but wonder: Imagine Toronto was hit with the mother of all snow storms, and our very own SkyDome caved in on itself. Rogers would be forced to build a ballpark. And if they’re serious about buying MLSE, lord knows they can afford a new stadium. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would spend a season playing in Montreal. Everybody wins.

Make it happen, Mother Nature. As much as I’m a Rogers Centre apologist, I wouldn’t mind some new digs, and this scenario is the only plausible one I can think of.

Saving Bryan Colangelo

On the evening of December 7th, based on Andrea Bargnani’s and the Toronto Raptors’ stats up until that point, here’s what C_R_Black at T.Jose Caldeford concluded:

In summation: Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench. …

In another (final) summation:

1st point: Despite being the team’s focal point on offence, Bargnani is not a good passer.
2nd point: Despite being a 7-footer (and having a pretty soft touch inside), Bargnani remains a jump shooter.
3rd point: Toronto is better offensively with him on the bench.
4th point: Toronto is better defensively with him on the bench.
5th point: Toronto is better on the glass with him on the bench.

On December 8th, Andrea Bargnani scored 41 points. In one game.

On December 9th, The Globe And Mail’s Michael Grange wrote:

The extension [Bryan] Colangelo signed [Bargnani] to in the summer of 2009 might have looked rich then, but now? The four years and $42-million Bargnani has remaining on his contract look like spectacular value. … It might even make up for signing Hedo Turkoglu.

Conflicted? I’m not. For all his faults, I love the lanky Italian. Nothing would please me more than for Bargnani to be the best player to come out of the 2006 draft. Bryan Colangelo told us to give it five years, at the very least. While Brandon Roy paid early dividends in Portland, Bargnani might have been the best long-term option. I look forward to finding out …

Back to the timeline: On December 11th, Saturday night, after a 1-for-9 performance the night before, December 10th, Jerryd Bayless couldn’t miss. Making his second start at the point, Bayless scored 31 points to lead the Raptors to their largest ever come-from-behind victory. Stuck 25? No sweat. (The Detroit Pistons are AWFUL.)

Bayless for Jarrett Jack might be Colangelo’s Brandon Morrow for Brandon League. Like it or not, Colangelo’s getting an extension. And for the record, I like it. Colangelo’s entertaining. The roster turnover year-to-year in Toronto is nothing short of amazing. So many years later, and I’m still impressed at how immaculately Colangelo dresses. He still exudes confidence. And if the past seven days were any indication, there’s never a dull week.

Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season could have effectively ended Saturday night, after a stretch of fives games against the Eastern Conference’s five best teams. Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I figured they’d win one game, and lose another in a shootout. Three out of a possible 10 points. Instead, they picked up six. Of course they did. The misery must be prolonged. Heading out west, the Leafs find themselves nine points back of Atlanta for the coveted 8th and final playoff spot. Once again, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, the playoffs will take place in mid-December, and early January …

Regular season playoffs!!!1 It’s just not the same …

If the Leafs are serious about making a run towards the promised land, the 8th and final playoff spot, their road record must improve; 3-8-1 just won’t get it done. And we’ll find out just how serious the Leafs are about turning around their season Tuesday night in Edmonton. The Leafs need to take this one. By any means necessary. I’m thinking 8-0. Or 3-2, in the shootout, using double and triple spinoramas. Hell, if the game is decided by penalty shots, I’m all for Phil Kessel skating backwards from centre ice on his attempt. The Oilers need to be embarrassed on home ice the way the Maple Leafs were. Period. And if Ron Wilson’s players don’t come out ready to play, that’s not on Wilson, that’s on each and every Maple Leaf on the ice. I’m so sick of excuses …

Speaking of excuses: Mike Komisarek. He is one. To quote a good friend of mine, Komisarek’s “THE WORST!” …

Mea culpa: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Colby Armstrong. Money well spent …

Waffles: The worst of our many humiliations …

Moving forward, do you go with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson? In 15 starts, Giguere’s faced 406 shots, and stopped 363 (.894). Gustavsson, in 14 starts, has faced 407 shots, and stopped 367 (.902). I guess the difference is negligible. And that’s a shame …

Was that Clarke MacArthur/Jaroslav Spacek fight not one of the strangest altercations you’ve ever seen? …

One day, Nazem Kadri will score a goal. There might be a parade in celebration …

Thursday night, in Dion Phaneuf’s triumphant return to Calgary, do you think Flames fans have a “Sloppy Seconds! CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP” chant in them? Props to them if they do.

Image of our frigid city courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto.

Rough Weekend

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Four games, two each for the Maple Leafs and Raptors, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Four losses. Another shutout of the Leafs’ so-called “offence.” Another broken foot for Reggie Evans. His other one, believe it or not.

I miss the Blue Jays. No, they didn’t make the playoffs. They weren’t even close. But they won more games than they lost. And that fact wasn’t lost on my mental health.

I picked the wrong time of year to quit drinking for six weeks. But, deep down, I know the truth: There’s no right time to quit drinking. Not when you’re immersed in Toronto’s postseason abyss.

Jay Triano, fast becoming the best quote in town, with the final words:

“You go one-through-five. I’m not going to pin it on DeMar. DeMar got outplayed by Joe Johnson. Jose got outplayed by Mike Bibby. Andrea got outplayed by Josh Smith. Sonny got outplayed by Marvin Williams. Joey got outplayed by Al Horford. Fuck. Okay?  … I mean, I’m not picking on our starters for getting outplayed. Amir didn’t outplay anybody on their bench either. Leandro didn’t… They beat us. Every single position. Every single guy got beat.”

Drink.

Image, most apt, courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 28th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Change is good

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The banner’s gone. It brought us nothing but bad luck. Turns out it was, in fact, cursed. Who knew?

Here’s to new beginnings.

Image courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto!

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 15th, 2010 at 10:49 am