At the end of a less-than-illustrious baseball season (for Blue Jays fans), I’m going to review the year that was and comment on the year that is to come based on the events of the last 48 hours.
Citogate. Fox Sports News (which I trust more than Fox News) reported yesterday that a ‘near-mutiny’ has existed in the Blue Jays clubhouse and unnamed players have insisted that due to a lack of communication, ‘old-school’ style managing and general negativity, two-time World Series winning manager Cito Gaston has to be let go by next season. Cito has expressed incredulity at this and has been ‘blindsided’ (his own words) and while yesterday, rumblings were still being heard off the record, today the players have had an about-face and it appears now everyone is just peachy about having Cito back next year. What happened? A closed door meeting? An edict from on high? No, apparently a clubhouse meeting was scheduled but called off and head office had its own fish to fry (more on that later). No, I think everyone is still unhappy but no one expected the story to leak so now those same ‘no ones’ don’t want to look like whiny babies complaining that Daddy is mean to them when they don’t do their chores. Let’s be honest, with the exception of a couple on the roster, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Roy Halladay and perhaps Marco Scutaro, no one had performed to specs the last couple of months and I find it a bit disingenuous to blame a man who sits on a bench and watches YOU play and who through the last half of last season and the first two months of this one provided a glowing win-loss record, 78-51 (in a season this long, it’s easy to forget that the Jays were an American-League-leading 27-14 through May). Yes, Cito has a different approach. He lets guys work through their difficulties on the field, often to the groans of the fans. He has a quiet, almost hands-off approach so it’s easy to disregard his wisdom (as Travis Snider found out early on this season to his regret) but he must know something because he….wins….games! (his managerial record is 809-758). Well, it appears that Cito will be around for next year but one person who won’t be is J.P. Ricciardi.
J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager of the Jays for the last 8 years, was fired today, one year shy of the completion of his contract. Ricciardi came over from the Oakland A’s where he served under Billy Beane who touted the idea of ‘smallball’, taking the focus from home runs and batting averages to on-base percentages and moving men around the bases. This theory worked well enough to win the A’s a World Series and bring Ricciardi to the attention of the cost-cutting new owner of the Jays, Ted Rogers. He was hired in 2001 to bring this new attitude to the Jays clubhouse and so Ricciardi presented his Five Year Plan (which, by the way, we are in the 8th year of). I need to make it clear that I was not a fan of J.P. Ricciardi. He seemed arrogant and rude and the list of his poor decisions and signings (Wells, Rios, Burnett, Ryan, Thomas) is long and undistinguished. I’m not particularly sad to see him go but….I do feel sorry for him. Why, you ask? Because, so long as the Jays are in the American League East, so long as the Jays have almost forty games a season against the Yankees and Red Sox, teams with a seemingly endless pool of financial resources to draw from, so long as Rogers is content to keep our salary cap at under one hundred millions dollars, chances are no general manager will be able to lead this team to a World Series berth (I say ‘chances are’ because last year the Tampa Bay Rays, with a salary less than half of the Jays, did just that…against those same teams. So there is a chance). And when the team fails to reach that pinnacle of baseball, there will be anger and animosity against ANY general manager who, the fans feel, can’t get the team there. It’s inherently unfair but a part of life in the A.L. East. So, to Ricciardi’s replacement, former assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos, good luck! You’ll need it (and a thick skin…though not as thick as you would need in New York or Boston, so thank your lucky stars you’re not there.) I can only hope that you are more level-headed than Ricciardi, with more media patience and tact. You’re Canadian so already chances are you’re a nice guy (not too nice though, I hope). Oh, and good luck with the whole Halladay thing. Really.
Oh, and get rid of Wells. It’ll help you in the long run. Really.