Sports And The City

It was 4-1.

Today in Goalies Who Screwed the Leafs: J.S. Giguere

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Post-lockout, when 51-year-old Ed Belfour was inexplicably signed to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I wished for him to just, you know, go away. After what we all knew to be true was confirmed: that Belfour could no longer play the position, that the Eagle was grounded. I wished upon Eddie — God love him, a great goalie who absolutely owned Ottawa in the playoffs — a bender, the likes of which he’d never seen. The bender I knew he had it in him to go on. It broke my heart to watch a once-proud goalie, who had 10 bloody shutouts in 2003/2004 (for the Leafs!), go out the way Belfour was. It was obvious: he was done.

Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin were never good enough to truly care about. I do remember when the Leafs faced Tellqvist, though, back on December 4, 2008 in Phoenix. He was awful, and played only 40 minutes after allowing three goals on nine shots. Vesa Toskala, Toronto’s goalie, was worse, allowing six goals on 26 shots. Toronto lost, the final 6-3 Coyotes. With Andrew Raycroft backing up Toskala, effectively leaving Toronto without a back-up goalie, the Leafs had no choice but to go down with the leaky ship.

(In his dreams, Toskala owns a boat: The Vesina.)

We’ve watched some awful goaltending in Toronto over the past few years. I mean really fucking awful. And it’s led to some serious personal bitterness. When Toronto faced Raycroft in Colorado in late January 2009, I wanted nothing more than for the Leafs to light him up. Payback. It was a game that I’d have circled on my Leafs calendar, if I had one of those Leafs calendars, you know, from Shoppers Drug Mart, the ones we all had as kids. Actually, physically circled, in red, on the calendar, along with, I don’t know, something subtle like “DEATH TO RAYCROFT.” The Leafs scored on Raycroft that cold, awesome January night, and scored on him often. It was fantastic. Seven Toronto goals on 30 shots. It was fun.

That’s what being a Leafs fan of late had been reduced to: revenge. I won’t lie: I wanted some very bad things to happen to Vesa Toskala. I’m still a little bit bitter over the fact he bolted for some Finnish beer league, where I have no doubt he’s one of the shittier goalies, before the Leafs, and Phil Kessel, got to him.

Tonight, in a few hours, J.S. Giguere makes his not so triumphant return to Toronto. Looking back at his 2010/2011 numbers — 11 wins, 11 losses, and a .900 save percentage — Giguere was better than I thought. Which is fucking sad, because those numbers aren’t very good. They’re average brutal. And that’s how I’d describe Giguere’s time in Toronto: so very average brutal, even though it seemed worse. But I don’t care. About Giguere, I mean. I could care less whether the Leafs light him up. I’d like for them to beat Giguere, and Colorado, obviously, so we can all enjoy another “Four-and-Oh!!!1″ parade, but in the grand scheme of things, Giguere doesn’t matter. (Although I’m still a little pissed off with Ron Wilson and the fact he started Giguere on March 17 in Florida, last season, against the Panthers, a 4-0 shutout loss. Giguere had no business playing that game, it being Reim Time and all, the Leafs still on life support in their valiant and very honorable quest for eighth place in the East. But, whatever.)

Finally, I feel indifference towards a former Leafs goalie, and this pleases me. Because I could hate Giguere. I could want the Leafs to absolutely destroy him, and his groin, the one that’s keeping his career alive, albeit barely, because it made absolutely zero bloody sense for Giguere to not have surgery, and play most of last season injured. But to blame Giguere for that would mean I’d have to blame the Leafs, the management, the fucking franchise, because certainly part of the blame for that bonehead decision — to keep playing the ancient and injured Giguere — falls on the Leafs’ shoulders. And, well, I think all of us supporters of the Leafs are past blaming the team. Really, what’s the point? The shit list’s way too long. It’s much easier to breed contempt for players who don’t perform, instead of the geniuses bringing them in in the first place.

The point is: I no longer need to concern myself with the long list of goalies who have, over the years, absolutely screwed Toronto. Because the Maple Leafs actually — finally! — have a goddamn goalie. If Giguere shuts the Maple Leafs out tonight, which he very well might, he isn’t J.S. Giguere the former terrible Leafs goalie who of course shut them out. No, instead, he’s just another terrible goalie who shut out the Maple Leafs. Period.

I wasn’t so sure this day would come. I probably didn’t think it would be today, and I definitely didn’t think the goalie to lead me away from the bitterness would be James Reimer. But today’s the day, and Reimer’s the goalie, and, for a little while at least, everything is perfect. No, literally. The Leafs haven’t lost yet.

UPDATE:

Leafs lose, Avs win, I hate Giguere.

Image via this isn’t happiness.

Written by Navin Vaswani

October 17th, 2011 at 5:15 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

Blue Jays Sweep Mariners, Save Their Season

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For the Blue Jays, it was revenge, pure and simple. Unlike the last time Toronto and Seattle completed a three-game set, the mood in the Toronto clubhouse – the swanky, air-conditioned Rogers Centre clubhouse – was jovial.

“I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t talk about that April series before game one on Tuesday night,” said manager John Farrell. “They ended our season after, what, 10 games? I hope they lose another 12 in a row.”

The unofficial end to the Blue Jays season came after only 11 games, actually, but that hardly mattered Thursday afternoon, in the glow of victory. After blowing a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning, the Blue Jays rallied to win 7-5, sweeping the reeling Mariners out of town, and, in the process, salvaging what was, up until then, a lost season. Now a game above .500 with just over two months left to play, Toronto’s right back in the thick of the playoff race.

“Eight-and-two in our last 10, and only eight-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card,” Farrell said, beaming. “It’s on. This is what it’s all about. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.”

So is Travis Snider. While he went hitless on Thursday, he continues to look confident at the plate; like he’s now able to leave his poor at-bats behind, instead of dwelling on them. Since his recall, Snider’s put up a .384 wOBA, along with a 145 wRC+, while driving in 17 runs. And he’s playing centre field, and playing it well.

“The food’s a lot better in the Major Leagues, let me tell you,” Snider said, seated at his locker, enjoying a post-game rack of lamb. “But everything tastes better when you’re winning, and when you’re contributing.”

He didn’t even have to say it, before I did for him: “Meats don’t clash.”

Mike McCoy walked by, and I asked him if I could have a word. He came up big in Thursday’s matinee, hitting two clutch doubles, and scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th, to make sure Seattle’s losing streak continued.

“Sure,” McCoy said. “But I want to ask you a couple of questions first. I saw you talking to Farrell. Did he mention me at all? Say he needed to talk to me?”

I told McCoy Farrell hadn’t.

“Excellent. I’m still here,” McCoy said. “You wouldn’t think you could get tired of hearing, ‘We’re sending you to Las Vegas,’ but you’d be wrong. I try to stay away from John, you know? Alex, too.”

“Well, you could always hide behind Jon Rauch,” I told him.

“That’s actually a pretty good idea,” McCoy said, clearly thinking about it. “Shit, Farrell’s coming this way. I gotta go.” And he took off; a departure Nyjer Morgan would have been proud of.

As I was making my way to Ricky Romero’s locker, where he was pulling a crisp $100 bill out of his wallet and handing it to Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind stopped me.

“You know who I just spoke to on the phone? John-Michael Liles,” he said. “Yeah, the new Maple Leafs defenceman. He’s from Indiana! Like I told you last time, man, it’s just a great state. Ask him about it. Lets go Hoosiers!” he yelled, and walked away.

Lind’s a little bit crazy.

I finally got to Romero, who was now alone at his locker, writing the letter “W” over and over again on a notepad. I looked down and caught “WIN” written a few times, too, but mostly there were only Ws. I made the decision not to ask.

“Uh, Ricky, hey, I know it’s none of my business, but I saw you handing Edwin a hundred dollar bill a few minutes ago. What’s up? He win a bet?”

“Yeah, actually he did,” said Romero. “We’ve got a bit of a wager, you know, between millionaires, when he’s on the field when I’m pitching. You know as well as I do it’s a circus when he’s out there, especially at third base. So any play he makes, error free, I have to give him $50. If he makes an error, he owes me $100, and $200 for the second error, and $300 for the third error, and so on. I know he hasn’t done it yet, but I think Eddie’s probably capable of making five errors in a game. He’s got it in him to do that. Just depends on the bounces, and the guy keeping score.”

And this is how ball players keep a 162-game season interesting, I thought.

“How many plays did Edwin make today?” I asked, while thinking that it was funny that we were still talking about Encarnacion’s defence. Other than Jose Bautista, Encarnacion’s been Toronto’s best hitter in July, putting up a most impressive slash line: .328/.394/.500; a .400 wOBA! Believe it or not, Edwin’s walked seven times in July; he walked only nine times in April, May and June combined.

“Only two plays,” Romero replied, as we got back down to business. “Both in the 2nd inning. Luckily for Eddie, Seattle didn’t hit another ball his way.”

I feel for the Mariners right now, from Ichiro to their fans, the team in the midst of a soul-crushing 12-game losing skid. You know they had to have been trying to hit the baseball at Encarnacion. Towards him, in his vicinity. It’s the right game plan. It’s just that nothing’s working for Seattle these days, except for Eric Wedge’s mustache.

Usually when a team’s caught up in a losing streak the likes of Seattle’s, you figure they’re bound to win a game, thanks to a lucky bounce, or an error-filled game from Encarnacion. Something. Anything. But not the Mariners. They don’t look like a ball club that’s going to be winning a game anytime soon. Even after Miguel Olivo tied up the game with his grand slam in the 8th inning, and stole Romero’s precious “W” out from under his fingertips, the momentum didn’t feel like it had swung. The Blue Jays were going to find a way to win. More to the point: the Mariners were going to find a way to lose. And they did, with the light-hitting duo of McCoy and Rajai Davis doing the the damage. Now off to Boston, then New York, and then back out west, at home to Tampa Bay, it might be August before the Mariners win again.

But the fate of the Mariners is hardly the concern of the Blue Jays. They’re off to Arlington, Texas to face the Rangers, who play the opposite of Mariners baseball, and who own the American League’s best home record: 31-18.

“They ought to get a roof down there,” said Jose Bautista. “What baseball fan wants to pay to sit in that heat? That ain’t beast mode.”

Neither is Jo-Jo Reyes, I thought, who’ll be on the mound Friday night, deep in the heart of Texas. But should Jo-Jo and the Blue Jays, against all odds, continue their winning ways and sweep the Rangers, they’re guaranteed three more wins after that, with Baltimore in town after an off-day on Monday. That’d be a nine-game winning streak; definitely beast mode.

Image credit: Getty, via Yahoo! Sports.

Written by Navin Vaswani

July 22nd, 2011 at 10:15 am

Heed Splits: The Octavio Dotel Story

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Octavio Dotel didn’t do a whole lot of relieving last night. It feels like he rarely does. Every year, there’s one guy I hope never gets the call from the bullpen. I know he has to. I know it’s inevitable that he’ll be coming into the game, eventually. The manager can’t let him rot out there. But I just, well, don’t want him to. We’re nine days into June; a third of the season’s officially complete. Only a hundred games left. Dotel’s that guy.

“Oh, no. Not Dotel.”

That’s my usual reaction to when Jerry Howarth lets me know that Octavio”s warming in the bullpen.

“Please, President Farrell. Don’t do it. I’ll be good, I swear.”

Followed, sooner or later, by: “Oh, Octavio.”

What’s unfortunate is that Dotel hasn’t been that bad. Prior to Wednesday night, Old Octavio hadn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances, lowering his ERA each time out. The honour — That Guy in the Bullpen — should actually go to Frank Francisco. He’s been fucking brutal. But so much was made at the start of the season about how Dotel was being used — splits be damned! — that I find I’ve got little to no faith in the guy. And then, last night in Kansas City, Dotel was again put in a position to succeed, brought into the game to face right-handed hitting Billy Butler, and he gave up a three-run bomb. In eight previous at-bats against Butler, Dotel had held him to one hit, a double, and had struck him out twice. That’s baseball, yo. God bless it.

I used the word “again” above on purpose. Someone, Alex Anthopoulos presumably, has gone and done what I was hoping they’d do, and left a copy of Dotel’s splits on John Farrell’s desk. Anthopoulos is stealth-like, which is why I assume he did it. Proof: In Dotel’s last eight appearances (including last night’s at-bat versus Butler) – 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 9 K – he’s faced true left-handed hitters four times, and switch-hitters four times, out of a total of 26 batters. The only time Dotel faced more than one left-handed hitter in an outing — switch-hitter or true left-handed hitter — was against the Minnesota Twins on May 15, with Toronto up 11-3 at the time, when he faced four of them. Yeah, about the only time Dotel should be facing more than one left-handed hitter.

Out of those eight at-bats versus lefties, Dotel retired six of them. Go figure. Only Minnesota’s Alexi Casilla and Denard Span managed hits — both singles — off of Octavio, and they both came in the rout of the Twins I mentioned above, on May 15, when I presume Dotel was rightfully experimenting.

The sample size is small, but that’s not the point. John Farrell got the memo. Octavio’s going to be fine. Octavio’s going to turn into a precious draft pick. And I’m going to set my sights on Frankie Francisco.

Image — Dotel face! — courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

June 9th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

It’s only temporary: Rooting for the Vancouver Canucks

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It’s true: I’m rooting for the Vancouver Canucks. Have been since day one of the playoffs. It’s got nothing to do with geography, and nothing to do with the fact they’re a Canadian team. By my count, there are only five Canadian hockey teams: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets. The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators aren’t from Canada; they’re from hell. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve got no problems rooting for an American team. I did in 1994, when the New York Rangers won the Cup. After the Leafs were eliminated by the Canucks, of course. I cheered on the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, and the Anaheim Ducks, lord knows, in 2007.

On Twitter, I mostly follow Leafs fans. And a handful of Boston Bruins fans. They all, with intense passion, hate the Canucks. Everyone – from Krys Barch to Dave Bolland, who very creatively called them “sort of like a girl,” – hates Vancouver. And I’ll be honest: it’s that very hatred that makes it easier for me to root for Vancouver. It’s the contrarian in me. And, hey, I’ve got nothing against the west coast. I’ve visited Vancouver a couple of times, and love the city. The mountains: so pretty! The people I’ve met from Vancouver have been all class, and I’ve often toyed not-so-seriously with the notion of one day moving out there. I know, they hate Toronto. Who cares. Who doesn’t hate Toronto?

As for the Canucks, I actually do enjoy them. They’re my backup. Have been for years. The Sedins have a lot do with that. I love those two creepy bastards. I fell for the Swedish twins a long time ago, and still wonder what might have been had they become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2009. While my flirtation with the Canucks was certainly aided and abetted by Mats Sundin’s short fling with Vancouver, dominant Swedish players really do it for me. That’s just the way it is.

There’s also Ryan Kesler. I remember, years ago, when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to an offer sheet, thinking, “The Flyers are out of their goddamned minds; Kesler can’t play goal.” Turns out, the Flyers were right. Kesler’s turned into a dominant player: a 40-goal scorer who can play, and play well, in any situation. Also: I wasn’t around last February, when Kesler pissed off our entire country as a member of Team USA, so he’s never actually given me, personally, a reason to hate him. The way I feel about Kesler is much like how I feel about one Pernell Karl Subban: I wish he was on my team.

I also happen to be a Roberto Luongo apologist. It’s the goalie in me. Even though I think it’s ridiculous that a goalie with a career .919 SV% in the regular season and the playoffs has apologists. All those years in Florida, making all those saves, while never getting a sniff of the postseason, endeared him to me. Finally, when he became a Canuck, and made the dance, his legacy was destroyed by the Chicago Blackhawks. Pulled in a pivotal game six match-up just a month ago, Luongo, the same goalie who came on in relief to get Canada to the World Cup final in 2004, and who backstopped Canada to Olympic Gold in 2010, in overtime, no less, apparently doesn’t have the mental fortitude to win hockey’s biggest prize. Right. Luongo’s endured. That’s what I love about him. He’s dealt with all the criticism and is now only two wins shy of winning the Stanley Cup. Luongo’s the goaltending equivalent of Mike Modano: no respect, until he wins it all. And perhaps that’s the way it should be.

Finally: Manny Malhotra. He’s of Indian descent. I’m of Indian descent. And there really isn’t much more to it than that. He’s representing for more than a billion of us, and that’s why he’s one of my favourite players in the game. I still can’t believe the centre-starved Maple Leafs threw $9-million over three years at Colby Armstrong, while Malhotra signed for three years and $7.5 million. An extra million and a half bucks for truculence, I suppose. Anyway, there’s nothing I want more than for “Malhotra,” as Indian a surname as you’ll find, to be etched on the Stanley Cup for all eternity.

This brings me to the second half of this post: Why your reasons for hating the Canucks are, well, a touch insane.

Look, if Jim Hughson’s a homer, what in the hell does that make Joe Bowen? I don’t care that Bowen wouldn’t be calling nationally televised Stanley Cup finals games on CBC, should the Leafs ever make it that far, which, let’s be honest, they probably won’t. That’s not the point. The point is: Hughson’s a B.C. boy, has been an award-winning hockey sportscaster for as long as I’ve been alive, and is about to watch the team he’s covered for the majority of his career perhaps win a Stanley Cup. You’d be yelling “Great. Save. Luongo!” at the top of your bloody lungs, too. Get over it.

Vancouver Canucks fans: they’re annoying. I get it. Really annoying; the worst. But they’re not the first and only team with “douchebag fans,” and “bandwagon fans,” and they won’t be the last. You know who was annoying last year? Montreal Canadiens fans. And they didn’t even reach the finals. Do you remember Ottawa Senators fans in the spring of 2007? Of course you do. Bottom line: no one, and I mean no one, will be more annoying than Leafs fans should Toronto ever make the Stanley Cup finals playoffs. Parades all day, every day. Let them have theirs. We’ll certainly have ours.

That’s not to say that Canucks fans, and the Canucks themselves, haven’t brought the hate upon themselves. When Raffi Torres is out there headhunting Brent Seabrook, when Aaron Rome makes the dumbest decision of his hockey life in drilling Nathan Horton, and when Vancouver employs the likes of Max Lapierre, yes, I can see where the hatred stems from. But the narrative that the Canucks are the dirtiest team to ever grace the ice, and the only team to ever dive, whine, and, well, bite, is wrong. Period. I certainly understand that part of being a fan of any team, in any sport, is being a hypocrite. I’m the same Maple Leafs fan that cheered and adored Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, Dave Manson, and, yes, even Bryan Marchment, when they wore the blue and white. Every team’s got ‘em. It just so happens that it’s all good when they’re wearing the sweater you’ve chosen as your favourite.

Both teams have long-suffering fan bases. At least one’s drought will end. And I’m all for long droughts ending.

Image credit: Geoff Penn Photography

Written by Navin Vaswani

June 8th, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Photo: The misadventures of Edwin Encarnacion

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If there’s one image that so far defines Edwin Encarnacion’s tenure as a Toronto Blue Jay, it’s that one, above. Third base or first base, it hardly matters; the baseball’s either getting by Edwin, or he’s throwing it somewhere it’s not supposed to be thrown.

Encarnacion’s rather photogenic – Edwin face has been a personal favourite for quite some time. But the photo above is, for now at least, Encarnacion’s legacy.

Some guys can’t hit. Think: Johnny Mac. Some guys can’t field, as witnessed by Eddie E’s almost unfathomable -70 UZR/150 at third base, so far in 2011. If Alex Anthopoulos, steward of the Blue Jays, truly has a responsibility to “try and win as many games as we can,” Encarnacion will never play third base again.

Yet through all of Encarnacion’s misadventures, I still can’t find it in me to refer to him as “E5.” That just seems like piling on, because no baseball player deserves such a moniker, even though Edwin probably does. I’ll stick with “Eddie E,” and continue to hope against hope that Encarnacion, somehow, puts it together in the field.

Edwin’s most recent gaffe courtesy of Getty Images, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

May 11th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Travis Snider: Still a prospect

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I was going to title this post “Wither Snider?”, until I remembered that everyone — including and especially myself — hates with an incredible passion posts and/or columns that are titled: “Whither ______?” It’s the question mark that really pisses me off. Are you asking me, or telling me?

Anyway, Snider’s Vegas vacation. Everyone is, unsurprisingly, up in arms about the demotion. I didn’t bother counting how many “Snider has nothing left to prove in AAA!” tweets I read yesterday. Far too many. Who said Snider was Vegas bound because he has to prove he can hit AAA-pitching? Nobody. Because he’s done that already. As Alex Anthopoulos confirmed Friday morning, the demotion, like Brett Cecil’s, is about fixing mechanical issues. In Snider’s case, his swing, obviously. And, frankly, I don’t care whether Anthopoulos mentioned Snider’s confidence, or lack thereof, as an issue. Does he look confident at the plate? No, he looks the opposite; he looks lost. While I appreciate the notion that Snider should be allowed to struggle and work out of his funk at the MLB level, especially considering the Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere this season, the belief that that’s something that can be easily done in the AL East is foolhardy. What if Snider continues to scuffle? How might an entire lost season — say, for example, an Aaron Hill 2010-type season — impact a young Snider? I’d rather not find out.

Whether people are willing to accept it or not, Snider remains a prospect. He’s only 23-years-old. While the decision Thursday afternoon certainly came as a surprise, it didn’t come as a surprise-surprise, you know what I mean? Not to me, at least. Not after watching Snider over the past month.

Look at his numbers. They’re God awful. It’s not just Snider’s low BABIP (.238), and his frighteningly low ISO (.080). His LD% (14.1%) is approaching Hill territory. His IFBB% is a Vernon Wellsian 20%. There’s something wrong, a combination of confidence and mechanics. So far in 2011, and this is what concerns me most, it’s fastballs that are giving Snider the most trouble. In only one month — yes, a small sample size — Snider’s hitting fastballs for 5.0 runs below average. In 2008 and 2009, when Snider made the jump to The Show, he hit fastballs for 4.2 and 3.6 runs above average, respectively. As has been pointed out in the Blue Jays blogosphere, Snider’s opposite field power has disappeared. Remember: he’s 23. A trip to Vegas is hardly the end of the world. It just feels that way.

Snider was drafted 14th overall in the 2006 MLB draft, out of high school. Below are Snider’s career MLB numbers — his wOBA, wRC+ and plate appearances — compared with those position players that went before and after him in the same draft, along with their current age in parentheses. For those players who haven’t yet made it to the big leagues, their highest level of baseball is stated.

Evan Longoria (25) — 3rd overall, Tampa Bay — 1846 PA, .376 wOBA, 133 wRC+

Drew Stubbs (26) — 8th overall, Cincinnati — 887 PA, .346 wOBA, 110 wRC+

Billy Rowell (22) — 9th overall, Baltimore — No MLB experience — AA

Tyler Colvin (25) — 13th overall, Chicago NL — No MLB experience — AA

Travis Snider (23) — 14th overall, Toronto — 774 PA, .322 wOBA, 96 wRC+

Chris Marrero (22) — 15th overall, Washington — No MLB experience — AAA

Matt Antonelli (26) — 17th overall, San Diego — No MLB experience — AAA

Chris Parmelee (23) — 20th overall, Minnesota — No MLB experience — AA

Maxwell Sapp (23) — 23rd overall, Houston — No MLB experience — A

Cody Johnson (22) — 24th overall, Atlanta — No MLB experience — AA

Hank Conger (23) — 25th overall, LAA — 78 PA, 319 wOBA, 101 wRC+

Jason Place (22) — 27th overall, Boston — No MLB experience — AA

Preston Mattingly (23) — 31st overall (supplemental), LAD — No MLB experience — A+

Emmanuel Burriss (26) — -33rd overall (supp.), San Francisco — 503 PA, .290 wOBA, 71 wRC+

Kyler Burke (23) — 35th overall (supp.), San Diego — No MLB experience — A+

Chris Coghlan (25) — 36th overall (supp.), Florida — No MLB experience — AAA

Adrian Cardenas (23) — 37th overall (supp.), Philadelphia — No MLB experience — AAA

Draft schmaft, right? Longoria, Stubbs, Snider and Burriss are the only four players drafted in the first round in 2006 who’ve had more than 500 MLB plate appearances. Snider’s the youngest of the four, and the only one of the four who was drafted out of high school. One of those guys listed above is no longer playing professional baseball.

Pardon me for going all Tampa Bay Rays on you for a second, but: “Trust the process.” Snider’s going to be great. Like you, I firmly believe it. It just might take a little longer than we’d all like.

While I know that all Travis Snider and Roy Halladay share in common is that they’re baseball players who’ve played for the Blue Jays, once upon a time, Roy Halladay was sent to A-ball. He worked out just fine.

Snider, too, will be worth the wait.

Image courtesy Ross McDonnell.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 29th, 2011 at 12:38 pm

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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Photo: The bond that binds Jon and Jose

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“You’re my most favourite Molina brother in the whole wide world, Jose,” Jon Rauch said, as he put the finishing touches on yet another save.

Getty Image, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 20th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Guest Post: On Hockey, Winnipeg & the Return of the Jets

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Saturday’s are synonymous with The Ack, weekend editor at The Tao of Stieb. If there’s one thing The Ack writes with, it’s passion. He refrains from “stat-hurling,” as @mererog so eloquently put it, and doesn’t come off the least bit condescending, something I appreciate more and more these days. I mean, I’ve got only so much time to read what people are writing; why bother if I’m going to be talked down to like I’m some idiot? I relate to The Ack. He’s a fan of baseball, a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, and, more than anything else, wants his team to win.

Recently, though, I asked The Ack about his thoughts on the rumours — the rumours that just won’t go away — surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, and how they’re Winnipeg-bound once their season is done. I remember The Ack writing that, once upon a time, he was the biggest hockey fan out there. The biggest Winnipeg Jets fan there could be. I knew it was a touchy subject, but, luckily for me, and us, The Ack obliged.

Thank you, Ack, for your most passionate post on hockey, your first love, Winnipeg, and your Jets. I can’t help but hope the rumours are true. Without further ado …

It comes across like a massive cliché – “When the Jets left, it felt like a death in the family.” But it did feel that way. It really did.

But maybe I should start at the beginning…

*

I don’t remember learning how to skate. I just know that I’ve known how to skate forever. Same thing about loving the game of hockey; I don’t have a “first hockey memory”, per se… I only know that I always did.

Here on the prairie, that’s just the way it goes. I imagine it’s the same experience for a kid in Toronto – or anywhere in Canada – but winters in Manitoba? Forget it. That’s all we had. And I would never have had it any other way. I loved the game and everything about it.

Growing up north of Winnipeg, I played on the local minor hockey circuit from the ages five through seventeen. Practices twice a week. Two or three games every weekend. And that was just the “organized” component of my hockey-playing love affair. There was the “free skating” time when the ice wasn’t booked at the local rink. There was the, um…. “unauthorized” shinny games when the barn was closed… access gained through a back door “mistakenly” left unlocked. Or maybe we’d make a few piles of snow for posts and throw down some road hockey. And the rare treat – scouring back roads for some virgin ice on a country pond. Yes, we really did things like that. That’s not just a bullshit scene made for wintery postcards.

And throughout all of that, there was always one constant.

I was Dale Hawerchuk making moves at centre ice. Sometimes I might have been Paul MacLean waiting to snipe at the side of the cage. Near the end, when you’re supposed to be too old to still dream about these things, I might have been Teemu Selanne streaking down the wing.

I – no, we – loved those Winnipeg Jets. A force in the NHL, they were never. But it mattered little to me (us), because they were ours. That was our team.

*

If my summertime dreams were narrated by Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth (they were), my winter voices were Curt Kielback and Kenny “the Friar” Nicholson. Those names won’t mean much to you, I’m sure, but they meant everything to me back then.

“Heeeeere’s Hawerchuk…makes his move…pass to MullenbacktoHawerchuktoMacLean!…he scores!”

Isn’t it funny how you can still hear those calls in your head some twenty five years later? I listened to every game.  Every game! I’d bet the old man a quarter on each one, him always picking the other team just to let me have my fun. If you know Jets history, you’ll know that means I was out a few packs of gum, but I didn’t care. You have to bet on your team.

*

We always knew the franchise wasn’t the most stable. It was never a preferred destination for the players (and I’m being charitable). More than one talked their way out of town. The old Arena was an outdated mess of a building (but a fantastic atmosphere, especially in the playoffs) with 15,500 seats, of which maybe 13,000 had a halfway decent view of the ice. Local ownership had no money and didn’t even own the joint, and there were really no ways to improve the financial fortunes of the team. Luxury boxes? What’s that? It was a precarious existence, but we never thought, really, that it would come down to this.

And then the “for sale” talk got serious. And we all got nervous. We knew there would never be a local buyer. Actually, I wasn’t nervous. I was terrified.

*

As fans, we did everything we could. We held rallies. We congregated in the tens of thousands. There was a grassroots campaign. People were donating their own money – their own money! And it was in the millions! I’m talking kids emptying their piggy banks to “save the Jets”! That is not embellishment, friends. It really happened. Just pure, heartbreaking stuff, in retrospect.

Of course, it wasn’t enough. It never was going to be, but it was the symbolism that counted. The team was doomed to move, and we all knew it was simply a matter of time. The game hadn’t outgrown Winnipeg… but the NHL had. Goddamnit. We were losing our team.

*

The popular story is that 50,000 people will tell you they were at the last regular season game in that building of 15,500. I’m here to tell you that I really was one of them (courtesy tix from an ex-girlfriend. Thoughtful parting gift, don’t you think?). Watch this clip, if for no other reason than to obey the immortal words of Buck O’Neil: “Son, in this life, you never walk by a red dress.” Just trust me on this one.

I will never forget that game, that night, for as long as I’m alive. Never. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Watch for the emotion on the face of Kris King near the end of the anthem. He got it. Kinger still gets it. He knew (and still does) what the Jets meant to Winnipeg. Having just watched the clip myself, I had the same reaction I did back in ’96.

I choked up. Just now, I choked up. Fifteen years later. It still hurts.

*

There were a few more home playoff games, and that was that. They were gone. I kept all the local newspapers from that day. I still have them tucked away, somewhere. Thought I might frame them to preserve the memory. But who wants to remember that?

*

For a long, long time after 1996, I decided that I hated hockey. The game turned its back on me, so I was done with it too. Of course, hindsight tells me how foolish that was. The game didn’t leave Winnipeg… the NHL did. It took me a while to realize that, but I’ve yet to re-embrace the league. I can’t. I don’t have a team. I’ve tried adoption and it just didn’t work out.

I know that I still love the game. Canada vs USA in Vancouver? Forget it. Heart-attack city morphing into bliss. I know the passion is still there, but it would be nice to unleash it more than once every four years.

*

And now comes word that we, in this forgotten part of the country, just might have another chance. You have to understand what this means to us. Winnipeggers are used to the comments. I refuse to be baited into defending against the same old same old – “Winnipeg is a wholesale town; they can’t afford it; it’s not big enough; there’s no corporate support…” – even if I can acknowledge that some of it might be true.

Go ahead and fire your slings and arrows. We’re a hearty bunch. Another cliché, but living where we do, you have to be. Keep telling us that it will never work. You very well might be right.

We just want that chance to prove you wrong.

Image courtesy Sharon Hayes.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 16th, 2011 at 1:24 pm