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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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NotGraphs: Photo: How to Propose at a Baseball Game

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What you’ll find below is another friendly reminder of the hard-hitting baseball journalism I regularly drop over at NotGraphs. Now, I’m assuming the ladies in the photograph below are Canadian, from somewhere in beautiful British Columbia, part of the contingent that takes over Seattle’s Safeco Field when the Blue Jays are in town. Represent.

As if you or I needed another reason to love Canadian women.

It’s the glitter, the extra effort, that really makes the signs, and the proposal. (Click on the image to embiggen.) Make no mistake about it: Those ladies are gritty. Forget that get down on one knee, emotional stuff. Stand up and yell. Loud and proud.

And I’ve got to give it up to the gal on the left. On her feet, Mike’s Hard Lemonade in her left hand, sign in her right. She knows, like I do, that there’s never a good time to put down your drink. As for wanting to be Jose Bautista’s HR Queen, get in line.

Well done, ladies.

And if you — denizens of NotGraphs — need me, I’ll be out back singing O Canada, eh.

That would be a Getty Image, via the fine folks at daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 15th, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Welcome back …

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Below is a post I published at NotGraphs, celebrating the return of Major League Baseball, while also serving as a quasi-Blue Jays preview. Yes, that is a picture of the Cincinnati Reds, above, but it’ll all make sense. Just read. They’re home. They’re finally home.

I went through a boatload of photographs last night from Opening Day. The above, courtesy of the fine folks at The Associated Press, is definitely my favorite. Is there anything better than a walk-off home run on Opening Day, in front of your home crowd? No, there isn’t. I dare you to argue otherwise.

Look at the Reds’ faces. Go, look. The picture is a reminder of why I love baseball. And a reminder of how much I missed baseball over the winter. Nothing brings out the inner child in a Major League Baseball player, or a fan at the game, more than a walk-off home run, and the customary wait at home plate for the man’s man who saved the day.

I draw your attention above to #43, Miguel Cairo. The ageless Miguel Cairo, now in his sixteenth Major League season, with his tenth team. He’s not even looking at Ramon Hernandez. He’s got his eyes on the prize, home plate, for when Hernandez leaps on it. And he’s also making sure Jonny Gomes doesn’t get too close. You see, that’s why Miguel Cairo’s lasted so long in this beautiful game of baseball. He gets it. And, years under his belt, having surely gone through the drill before, the look on Cairo’s face suggests he’s enjoying the walk-off experience for only the first time.

That’s the beauty of Opening Day. Year after year, it feels like the first time. This evening, I’m heading down to the Rogers Centre Skydome to get my Blue Jays on. Opening Night, a tradition like no other. Two years ago, Roy Halladay was on the mound for the good guys. Last April, Shaun Marcum. Tonight, Ricky Romero is the chosen one. And I’m going to sit back in my seat in Section 204, Row 3, Seat 102, and welcome back baseball. With the most open of open arms.

I’m not going to worry that this year’s version of the Toronto Blue Jays are, to these eyes at least, one giant question mark. For one night, I’m not going to worry about Adam Lind’s new position, first base, or whether he might regain his 2009 form at the plate. I’m not going to stress over which Aaron Hill is going to show up; 2009 Hill, good, lovable, 3.9 WAR Hill, or 2010, awful, .291 wOBA Hill. I’m surely not going to wonder whether Edwin Encarnacion, a few days ago Toronto’s 1B/DH, losing a few pounds — he’s in the best shape of his life! — means he’ll now be able to make the throw across the diamond, from third to first. (Miss you, Scott Rolen.) I’m most definitely not going to worry about Brett Cecil’s fastball, or that Brandon Morrow is on the disabled list to start the season, and, who knows, could miss more than the one start he’s scheduled to.

There’s more: I’m not going to wonder if this is the year Travis Snider puts it together; he’s still only 23-years-old. I’m not going to spend tonight wondering if J.P. Arencibia, the Catcher of the Future, is actually the Catcher of the Future. And I’m not going to put any added pressure on Kyle Drabek. He was traded for Roy Halladay. Harry Leroy Halladay III! And, hell no, I’m not going to fret over Jose Bautista, now otherworldly rich, and whether he can do it again.

Nope. Not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to sit back with 20 of my friends, play Loonies!, and ring in the John Farrell, and Rajai Davis, era with a tall, smooth, and extremely refreshing can of Bud Light Lime*. Probably two or three of them.

Game one isn’t for worrying. That’s what the other 161 are for. They’re home. Welcome back, Blue Jays. Welcome back, baseball.

* Don’t be a hater.

Written by Navin Vaswani

April 1st, 2011 at 12:08 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

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

NotGraphs

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Good news: The fine folks at FanGraphs have, for reasons unknown to me, agreed to let me contribute twice a week to their new alternative baseball blog. While it’s all baseball, all the time, NotGraphs is light on the nerditry. We leave most of that to the professionals.

You’ll be able to find me Tuesday and Friday mornings over at NotGraphs. And, don’t worry, I’ll be whoring my writing out on Twitter. So if you’re not yet following @FanGraphs and @eyebleaf, be a dear.

To read my inaugural NotGraphs post about the one and only Derek Jeter, in all its Yahoo! Answers-inspired glory, posted Tuesday afternoon, click here.

To read a better column on The Prince of New York, well written and much, much smarter than what I’m able to offer, give Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci’s piece a whirl.

Of all the contracts for the New York Yankees to show some fiscal responsibility on, some financial restraint on, they chose Jeter’s. It’s insane. Pay the man. He deserves it.

Once again, the old adage rings true: Fucking Yankees.

Image, arguably one of the greatest of all time, courtesy of This Isn’t Happiness.

Written by Navin Vaswani

December 1st, 2010 at 12:01 am