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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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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

Pat Burns, 1952-2010

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I don’t believe the Toronto Maple Leafs will ever employ another coach who will leave his mark on the team, the fans, and the city the way Pat Burns did. He was behind the bench for only 281 regular season games, and only 46 playoff games. Two magical seasons, a disappointing lock-out shortened campaign, followed by his dismissal as his sputtering team was hitting the stretch run. But two immaculate playoff journeys. Ones we’ll never forget. Ones synonymous with success, that reversed the fortunes of a struggling, once-proud franchise. Ones that defined Burns’ time in Toronto.

Burns was a blue collar guy. The type of personality Toronto falls in love with, three times over. When you think of Pat Burns, you think of Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Dave Andreychuk. You think of Bob Rouse, Sylvain Lefebvre, Jamie Macoun and Todd Gill. You think of heart. You think of “The Passion Returns.” And return it did, thanks to Pat Burns.

Three moments have stuck with me, all these years later:

1. Burns’ return to Montreal. Having come to Toronto via the hated Canadiens, it was no secret he wanted to stick it to his former team. He wanted that game, bad. Everyone knew it. And his players went out and won it for him. I even remember the score: 5-4 Toronto, with the Leafs holding on for the road victory. And there was Burns on the bench, swinging his arm around in celebration, in what might have been an early interpretation of the fist pump. Pat Burns: Ahead of his time.

2. Burns leaving the Toronto bench in the playoffs against Los Angeles, heading across to the visitors’ side to, well, likely end the life of Barry Melrose. Who totally had it coming. Passion.

3. After game seven against Los Angeles came to an end, and the teams had shaken hands, there was Burns at the Maple Leafs bench, applauding his players as they left the ice for the final time. Twenty-one grueling playoff games. Three game sevens. A coach proud in defeat. I’ll never forget the ass-tap Burns gave Gilmour as #93 stepped off the ice, ending a season the likes of which we’ll never see again.

I hate the New Jersey Devils, but I’m glad Pat Burns won the Stanley Cup. He deserved it. Yet I remember reading a few years ago that on Burns’ mantle wasn’t a picture of his Devils championship team. Instead, there was a photograph of the 1992/1993 Leafs. Because, as Burns put it, that team was “special.”

He’s left us, but I’ve no doubt Pat Burns thought as much of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their fans, as we thought of him.

Until the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup in my lifetime — and I’m beginning to realize this may never, ever happen — every coach who takes residence behind the bench will be compared to Burns. Because when he was back there, it was the closest the Leafs have ever come.

Here’s to the memories. Thanks, Coach Burns. Enjoy the view of your Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony from upstairs.

To read other heartfelt tributes to an incredible coach and man, please visit Pension Plan Puppets.

Image courtesy therecord.com.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 19th, 2010 at 11:08 pm