Category Archives: Absolutely Random

A Series of Connected Thoughts About the Jays That Start And End with the Pirates

1. I woke up this morning, checked the standings, and couldn’t believe what I saw. Yes, I knew what the Pirates were doing this year, but to actually see that the

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Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place – in print with my own two eyes! – was shocking. It’s one of those things that even though I know it to be true, I still don’t believe it is. With a record of 50-44, the Pirates are a half game ahead of Milwaukee, and in first place this late in the season for the first time since 1997. It took them until September to win their 50th game last year, and they now have three more victories than the Blue Jays. Crazy.

2. Their are plenty of ties between this years Pirates team and the Jays. Lyle Overbay plays first for Pittsburgh. Chase d’Arnaud, brother of Jays minor league catcher Travis and former college teammate of Eric Thames, plays third. Long-time Jays coach Nick Leyva coaches third.

3. Of course, the most important tie between the clubs for Jays fans happens to be a man named Jose Bautista, who the Jays acquired from Pittsburgh in 2008 for Robinzon Diaz. That worked out pretty well…

4. Speaking Bam Bam Bautista, the Jays slugger makes his return tonight from the ankle injury he suffered on Thursday. Replays looked pretty scary, a near 90 degree bend of the ankle, leading some to speculate that a trip to the DL was in the cards. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

5. In order to give his ankle a bit of a rest, Bautista returns tonight as DH instead of 3B.

6. Jose has DH-ed once this year, when he returned from a back injury on May 8th. He went 1 for 4 with a 2-run HR in that game.

7. With Bau at DH, there is a bit of a lineup shuffle tonight. Edwin returns to third to replace Bau. Eric Thames, who had been DH-ing on the weekend, moves to RF. Travis Snider will make his first career start in CF. Snider has played all of 5 innings in centre in his career (all this year). Many think he might wind up there eventually, so tonight is a good “let’s see how he does” chance.

8. With Snider in CF, that means the hugely disappointing Rajai Davis will be on the bench tonight. His .233 average and .605 OPS are career worsts, and with 25 steals, he has a long way to go to hit the 60 mark that many (including myself) thought he would reach.

9. But as disappointing as Davis has been he is far from the Jays most disappointing player. That nod goes to Aaron Hill, who has followed up last years horrendous season by putting up an even worse OPS and only 4 HR. Awful.

10. That 2B performance makes us long for the days of Roberto Alomar, the iconic second baseman who will now have his number 12 retired by the Jays. The ceremony (announced today) will take place before the game on July 31.

11. Alomar, of course, helped the Jays to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. But his most famous moment was likely his HR off Dennis Eckersley in the ’92 ALCS,

12. 1992, coincidentally, was also the last season that the Pittsburgh Pirates finished over .500. Until, maybe, this year. At least that’s what the standings tell me…

Bigger & Better! The Second 500 Level Fan Mailbag!

Since releasing the first 500 Level Fan reader mailbag a few months ago, the 500 Level Fan inbox has become flooded with questions and queries just begging for another one. (Of course by flooded I mean two emails from friends…)

Regardless, with yesterday being one of the slowest days on the sports calendar and no baseball to speak of until tonight, it’s time to roll it out.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy. You might just learn something.

First off we hear from @TOSocialEvents, who sent in an unfathomable five questions!

Q – Who is the best player in all of baseball right now and will Jose Bautista win the MVP in 2011?

A – From the tone of that question I would assume that the asker (Mah-Cus) thinks that Bau is the best player in MLB. I have to agree. I thought last year he was one of the top-5 in all of baseball, and this year he is on pace for the same amount of HR, but is hitting 84 points higher! 84 points!!!! His OBP, Slugging, and OPS are also higher than last year, and with 5 steals, he just might reach double digits. He also leads all of baseball with a 6.6 WAR. So yes, I think J-Bau is the best player in all of baseball. Will he win the 2011 MVP? I think he should, but I bet he won’t – too many idiots will vote for Adrian Gonzalez because Boston will make the playoffs.

Q – Who is more of a lock for future success – J.P. Arencibia or Kyle Drabek?

A – Tough one, but I’ll surprise even myself and say Drabek, mainly for one reason. Toronto traded the face of the franchise for him, and will not let him fail. I think he has the stuff to succeed, he just needs the mental part to catch up. I think it will in time. J.P. will be good, but I think KD will be better.

Q – What do you think Jon Rauch, John Farrell, and Adam Lind enjoy as night caps?

A – Booze. I love booze. I have no inside information on this, and no real idea why I’m saying what I’m saying, but I think this: Rauch = beer, Farrell = red wine, Lind = whiskey (or something hard like gin, rum, or vodka). No idea why. If anybody actually knows, let me know.

Q – Is Ricky Romero one of the top-5 pitchers in baseball? If not, how does he stack up against the top-5?

A – No, I don’t think so, but it’s not because he’s not good enough. There are so many good pitchers right now, and if I had to pick five I’d probably choose Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez (not to mention a ton of other guys who just miss, like Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, and on and on…). Romero isn’t that far away, and I think he might get there. The main reason why he isn’t? 2009. That was when he made his major league debut. The others have all been around for at least two years longer. Pitchers need time to learn the league and make adjustments. Romero’s numbers are getting better each year. In a few more years, he could very well be there.

Q – If you went for a beer with Gregg Zaun and he asked you to order for him, what do you get?

A – Flying Monkey’s Hoptical Illusion. Confirmed.

Moving along, from old friend @JSmart1982 (AKA Nudathan AKA Robocop) comes two questions with the same underlying theme:

Q – Do you think the Big Hurt is in the top-50 players of all time?

Q – Who is the most feared player in midseason classic history? #thebighurt

A – According to baseball reference, in terms of WAR the Big Hurt is the 64th best player of all time. But many of the guys ahead of him played so long ago that they don’t count (at least to me). So yes, I put the Big Hurt in the top-50 players of all time. When he was good, he was real, real good. Is he the most feared hitter in midseason classic history? In 5 All-Star AB, he hit .800 with a 2.233 OPS which is pretty good. But he looks like a big Teddy Bear at the plate, so nobody’s afraid of him.

Let’s check in with @altrendy, a man who loves gin, 500 Level Fan, and smoking pipes.

Q – Who is Alex Andreopoulos and is he really only 39?

A – Most people first met Alex at the HR Derby, when he pitched to Jose Bautista (and dominated him). He has been the Jays bullpen catcher for the past 9 seasons, and despite his aged and weathered appearance, is indeed only 39 years old. He made it as far as AAA in the Milwaukee organization before calling it a career. And he is CANADIAN!

Q – Second half questions – do you agree that the second half is really a “hitter’s half” as it has been described, and will the Jays pitching staff fall victim to late-season fatigue?

A – I’m not sure if there are any supporting numbers, but in theory there are two good reasons why the second half should be better for hitters. 1 – balls travel further in the warm summer air than they do in the crisp spring air, and 2 – pitchers generally tire as the season wears on. Speaking of fatigue, Toronto’s relievers might fall victim to fatigue, but I don’t think the starter’s will. Romero is a horse, Reyes left a lot of games early so his inning should be down, and both Cecil (minors) and Morrow (DL) missed time. The biggest question mark might be Carlos Villanueva, who isn’t used to being a starter.

Q – If the Jays are going to make a run, when in their schedule do you likely see that happening?

A – Looks like their best chance is in the month of August, beginning August 5th. That begins a stretch of:

– 3 in Baltimore against the crappy O’s

– 3 at home vs. the crappy A’s

– 3 at home against the Angels

– 3 in Seattle

– 4 more against the crappy A’s in Oakland

– 3 back at home against the crappy Royals

That is the best bet. If all goes well, the Jays will go 15-4 in that stretch and move up the standings.

Q – Surprise prediction of the second half of the season?

A – A member of the Jays will hit for the cycle, but it won’t be who you think (Bautista, Escobar, Lind, etc.). It will be….Johnny Mac. Book it.

The last word for this edition of the mailbag goes to @dsharpdavis, a man who has been described as the hardest working man in show business and the biggest Gary

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Kendall fan in the history of Earth.

Q – Can you change the name of your column from Mailbag to Malebag, to attract the ladies?

A – I can and I will.

Q – In your opinion, which current Jay most embodies the spirit, beauty, and athleticism of the great Tony Fernandez.

A – First of all – nobody will ever be Tony. He combined the intelligence of Einstein, the generosity of Mother Teresa, the artfulness of Michaelangelo, and the speed of Secretariat. But on the current team I can sometimes see bits of him in Yunel Escobar. Yunel plays shortstop with a similar flare, and was mentored by Tony in the offseason. Esky has bit more power and not as much speed as our hero, but he comes closest to replicating the greatest player in the history of professional sports.

Off Day Tidbits, Three Bases At A Time

It’s the second day of June today, and for the first time in about three weeks the Blue Jays don’t play. So due to the rare off day comes pure randomness in all shapes and sizes.

1. I was at the game last night with both Mrs. 500 Level Fan and with my dad. In the fifth inning, Eric Thames, Rajai Davis, and Jayson Nix smoked badk-to-back-to-back triples (well, Nix didn’t exactly smoke his), the first time I had ever seen that. My dad though it might be some kind of record, and I wondered how I could ever check that. It turns out Gregor Chisholm, Toronto’s beat writer, took care of that for me. The three straight triples was a franchise first, and hadn’t been accomplished in the major leagues since the Expos in 1981. Thanks Gregor.

So while it’s not quite a league record it is an extremely rare feat. Unfortunately it came with the Jays down 12-0…

2. Speaking of Rajai Davis: he was my favourite off-season acquisition and is finally starting to prove why. His batting average is up to .275, he leads the team with four triples, and after hitting his first HR of the season last night his OPS has eclipsed the .700 mark to .708. His 15 steals are also good enough for 4th in the AL, four behind Jacoby Ellsbury for the lead.

He has also been on a tear as of late. After bottoming out on May 7th at a .175 AVG and .434 OPS, Davis has found the magic. In his last 22 games he has hit .349 with a .908 OPS, scored 14 runs, and stolen 8 bases.

Now if he could just cut down a bit on the baserunning gaffes…

3. Today marks the one year anniversary of the Armando Gallaraga near perfect game, the night when poor Jim Joyce botched the last out of the game. But who knew that so many other significant events in baseball history happened on this day. After browsing Baseball Reference I was a bit shocked to discover that the following all went down on this date:

1915 – Babe Ruth hit his second career HR

1925 – Lou Gehrig starts

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the first game of his legendary streak after Wally Pipp sits out with a headache.

1935 – Babe Ruth announces his retirement.

1941 – Lou Gehrig dies of ALS.

1986 – Rod Carew announces his retirement.

1990 – Randy Johnson throws a no-hitter for Seattle.

2010 – Ken Griffey Jr announces his retirement

4. Tonight is the second game of the season for Team Pegs, my softball team. After a tough first game, we sit in dead last, with the fewest runs scored, most runs allowed, most errors, and worst hitting performance by men (the females carried our co-ed team).

But, if there is a silver lining, it’s that we definitely lead the league in beers consumed during play…

5. Tomorrow’s post will be better than today.

I promise…

Man, It Sucks To Be An Umpire

A very quick post about umpires:

It must suck to be one.

There are many reasons why, including the awful uniforms, but here are the biggest:

– If you do a great job, nobody every knows who you are.

– You only gain notoriety by screwing up: see Joyce, Jim (for the perfect game screw up), Cuzzi, Phil (for poor calls in the playoffs a few years ago), or West, Joe (for ejecting players and managers from games seemingly at random).

– Making a call that you believe is right might put you in danger (see Upton, B.J. from yesterday’s game).

– There is no year-end public recognition. A quick Google search for “Umpire of the Year” return only references to cricket.

But the biggest reason of all has to do with this screen capture:

I have never had the chance to call balls and strikes, so I can’t say with 100% accuracy, but I would bet that it is hard. Trying to determine if an 89 mile-per-hour curve ball or a 98 MPH fast ball crossed the plate between the knees and chest in less than half a second sounds tough.

But now viewers can tell for certain when an ump

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made a mistake. In that screen capture, the first pitch was clearly off the plate but called a strike. Pitch two was over the plate, closer than the first pitch, yet called a ball. Upsetting for Jays fans to be sure, but downright infuriating for pitcher Kyle Drabek who got the bad call and later gave up a sac fly.

So next time an ump makes a bad call remember one thing before you boo him:

He has a tough job.

Then boo him.

A Short, Angry, Irrational, (and Drunken) Rant on a Pathetic Game

Yes, I’ve had a few beers.

Yes, this is day four of a long weekend bender.

But I have reason to be angry, drunk or sober.

The Toronto Blue Jays were pathetic this afternoon.

A complete game shutout for James Shields?  Come on.

Every aspect of the offensive game was horrendous.  Ricky Romero pitched an unbelievable game and ended up with the loss because the Jays lost the ability to hit.

Adam Lind was 0-4 with a strikeout and weak flyballs – each one coming on what looked like a one-handed swing.

Yunel Escobar went 0-4 with four groundouts – three to the EXACT SAME SPOT!

Jose Bautista continued to show a good eye – but was picked off with one out in the bottom of the ninth with the tying run at the plate.

And the worst part?  The game was over in two hours and five minutes.  It was the shortest game of the season.

And it just so happened to be my first time sitting in the HSBC VIP seats – 200 Level behind home plate.

Seriously, if they were going to lose in such a terrible manner, the least the Jays could have done was stretch the game out to three hours and let me enjoy the seats.  I didn’t even have enough time to get drunk on beer that wasn’t Bud!  I would have welcomed striking out on three pitches over a pop out on the first pitch!

Dammit!!!

Tuesday Special – Q&A With 500 Level Fan

Over the past few weeks I have been asked several questions by different people, either through email (fivehundredlevelfan@gmail.com) or via twitter (@500LevelFan).

Instead of answering them all individually I thought I’d save them up and unleash the inaugural 500 Level Fan reader mailbag. Most of these questions are about baseball in general, which is a nice change from talking strictly Blue Jays.

So read on!

@TheCraiger asks a variety of questions such as:

Q – If you could change any rule currently enforced in the MLB, what one would you change and why?

A – Interesting. While it’s not really a rule affecting gameplay (more of a stat rule), I hate the save. The pitcher who records the last out of a game that is within three runs earns a save, and those who do it regularly earn multi-million dollar contracts. I hate it. I think it’s stupid that pitchers who pitch

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the ninth inning are thought of differently than those who consistently get hitters out in the 7th or 8th. The closer is an artificial position that far too often handcuffs managers into utilizing their bullpen in one way and one way only. Get rid of it.

Q – Would you do anything to the current format of the all-star game (i.e. the home field advantage for the world series)?

A – I would get rid of the world series aspect. It’s been said by many writers smarter and better than I, but why should an at-bat in July between a Pittsburgh Pirate and a Kansas City Royal determine who gets home field in the World Series? Doesn’t make sense. I think the All-Star game has been permanently scarred by the advent of interleague play and free agency. It used to be a highly competitive game between players who had loyalty to their leagues. Now the AL and NL play each other each regular season, and players jump leagues all the time. It’s lost its lustre and should be treated for what it is – a glorified exhibition game.

Q – Who is the most over rated player in the MLB?

A – As much as I’m tempted to annoy the asker and say A-Rod, I won’t. But really, how can the answer not be Derek Jeter? He still is paid like an elite shortstop. He still bats at the top of the Yankee lineup. He still is the most recognized name in baseball. And he sucks. He has been amazing his entire career, but the end has come apparently. After a career worst season last year, he has fallen even harder to begin 2011 (.241 AVG, .571 OPS). I also hate Nick Swisher, but that is neither here nor there.

Q – Who is the most underrated player in the MLB?

A – I’m taking the biased approach here, and will say Yunel Escobar of the Jays. He plays great defense, he can hit, and he’s off to a great start. Whatever happened in Atlanta last year is clearly behind him, and clearly was an off-field issue. His reputation took a huge hit, to the point where he was considered a bad teammate and a lazy player, which in turn dropped his stock to the point of being underrated. Honourable mention to Jose Bautista who is still looked upon as a fluke despite a .953 OPS and .443 OBP so far in 2011.

From @JSMART1982 comes a few thought provokers:

Q – What was the deal with the 11 AM game yesterday?

A – Patriot’s Day in Boston. They do it every year. But because the game starts before noon, the results do not count for the visiting team. So the 9-1 loss will not count in the standings for the Blue Jays. You have to be a terrible team to schedule early games, so that will hopefully teach the Red Sox a lesson. (That is a joke, sadly.)

Q – At what point does a rebuilding team become just a bad team?

A – I would say a rebuilding team becomes a bad team if no measurable improvements can be seen at the end of three years into the general manager’s regime. Rebuilding can’t be done over night. The first year is usually spent cleaning up the last guy’s mess, and the second year is spent implementing your own philosophy. The third year should start showing at least moderate results. If not, the team is bad. This means that the Blue Jays should start to show signs of serious improvement by the end of 2012 to fit my definition, as I 100% expect them to.

@TOSocialEvents asks:

Q – Who do you think is the greatest Blue Jays broadcaster of all time?

A – I am biased towards TV here, or else I would have said Tom and Jerry in a heartbeat. But to me, the glory days were in the mid 90’s, and the combo of Dan Shulman on play-by-play and Buck Martinez on colour. That was the best there was in my opinion. Having a Canadian team with a former Jay gave two very diverse yet very relevant viewpoints on each and every game. Plus Shulman has the best voice in the business. Shulman is now, of course, the play-by-play man on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and Buck is Toronto’s play-by-play man. I’ve always thought Buck is a much better colour commentator. Honourable mention to Jim Hughson when he called the games in the early ’90’s, but he’s found his calling in the NHL.

Finally, some more light-hearted questions from long-time reader @altrendy:

Q – When will the Jays win the World Series next?

A – 2013. Book it.

Q – Will Charl Schwartzel win another major?

A – Yes. Any man who helps me win $200 in a Masters pool has much more in store for them in the future. In fact, he will win two more majors. At least.

Q – What tastes better, a vodka martini or a gin martini?

A – Tough one. I like them both. I think a gin martini has more flavour, but I prefer a vodka martini. Dirty. With extra olives.

There you have it. Thanks to the those who asked questions. Feel free to ask more, about anything, at anytime. Use the email address, or contact me on twitter.

‘Til next time…

The Greatest Day of the Year

If you’re like me and you love gambling, drinking, and paying homage to respectful, distinguished, and beautiful retired gentlemen, then this is the day for you!

Yes friends, it is a triple threat day!

First, one of the most exciting sporting events of the year kicks off today – March Madness.  I don’t really like basketball, I’m not a big fan of US college sports, but I love this tournament.  Why?  Because I love betting on it.  Filling out brackets, buying countless pro-line tickets, and then ripping them all up when my “surprise team” bows out meekly in the first round.  Does it get any better than that?

Well, actually, yes it does.  Because this year the kick-off day of the NCAA tournament just happens to fall on March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day.  Today is the day when everybody is Irish, when green beer, Guinness, and Irish Car Bombs flow like honey from a golden spoon.

But baseball fans should do more than just get violently drunk today – we should take a minute to remember the impact the Irish had on the game we love.  According to Baseball-Almanac there have been 42 Irish-born players in major league history, pure Irish names like Collins, Doyle, McManus, Muldoon, O’Connor, and O’Neill.  Sure most of them played at a time when baseball was in its infancy (pre-1900) but without them the game might not be the same as it is today.  So tilt a glass for Paddy O’Connor and Jimmy Walsh this afternoon.

There is also an Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, founded in 2008, in Foley’s NY Pub in New York  City.  Some of the great names in baseball are honoured here, including Connie Mack, Tug McGraw, Mark McGwire, Vin Scully, and new this year, Yankees GM Brian Cashman.  Might be a good place to enjoy a Guinness in the future.

But perhaps the biggest reason to celebrate today has nothing to do with the Irish, for despite being born on the most Irish of days, this man is not from Ireland.  On this day in 1944, the most iconic, successful, respected, and beloved manager in Blue Jays history (in my opinion at least) was born in San Antonio.

Cito Gaston turns 67 years old today, and even though my Blue Jays excitement level is at its all-time highest this year, things do seem a bit weird without him.  He has pretty much been a part of the Blue Jays since 1982 when he was hired as the hitting coach.  His success in tutoring young hitters like George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield helped lead him to the managers chair in 1989, where he won two World Series.  He was fired in ’97 but returned as the hitting coach again from 1999 – 2001, then as a special assistant to the CEO from 2002 until his return as manager in ’08.  Helping to morph Jose Bautista from a journeyman wanderer to a 50 HR hitter might be his greatest ever accomplishment.

Cito has been criticized by many over the years for his managerial decisions.  Yes he has made mistakes, and yes he may have been stubborn at times, but to many he WAS the Toronto Blue Jays.  Always full of grace, class, and dignity, Cito was a great leader.

So today I will drink a Guinness to honour the birthday of the man, the myth, the moustache, Cito Gaston.  Happy birthday Cito!

Now – let the gambling and drinking begin!

Spicing Up A Slow, Boring Tuesday

So it’s Tuesday.  It’s supposed to snow heavily later on.  The day is dragging.  And to top it off, there isn’t much happening in the world of baseball right now (unless you are currently watching Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon pull on Tampa Bay Rays jerseys).

Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t made any crazy trades for a few days.  We still don’t know who will play third, or close, or be the fifth starter.  Speculation abounds.

But instead of writing yet another “Projected Lineup” p0st that I’m sure people are tired of reading about, I’m going to switch it up a bit.

I’m going to talk All-Star games.

On Sunday both the NHL and NFL held their annual All-Star games.  Both are essentially unwatchable – extremely loose and watered down versions of the games that fans love.  Hitting is reduced to a bare minimum, and intensity is virtually non-existent.  I don’t know why these games still exist.

But if there is one thing that the NHL does do well it’s the concept of “All-Star Weekend”, especially the Saturday evening skills competition.  It’s something different, allowing fans to interact with players, and enabling players to show off parts of their game that might not be possible during the season.  Seriously, how often does a player like Zdeno Chara get a chance to skate 35 feet to a still puck and blast a slapshot?

Now, the MLB All-Star game is (in my opinion) the best of the four major sports, and not just because home field advantage in the World Series rides on the outcome.  By its nature, baseball is a sport that can always be intense and competitive – even in an exhibition format.  There is no violence, no hitting, no fighting.  Sure the competitive nature and meaning of the game has been reduced over the years due to free agency and interleague play, but these guys still want to win (though they won’t go as far as Pete Rose went in 1970 when he bowled over Ray Fosse).

Even though it is the best game, I think it can learn a lesson from the NHL and NBA weekends.  That lesson is this: MLB should institute a skills competition.

I know it has the Home Run Derby, but come on – that event has lost its lustre and is too long and monotonous for its own good.  All you need to know about how long-winded and inconsequential the HR Derby is, is that Josh Hamilton put on the single greatest performance in its history…..and lost.  Plus the derby is only for home run hitters.  Hockey has something for the passers, the accuracy shooters, the skaters, they heavy shooters, the goalies, etc…

So here is what I would do to the MLB All-Star festivities to spice it up for the fans and to make it more fun for the players:  One night, five events, everybody participates.

Event 1 – HR Derby

I’m not backpedalling here.  Yes the current HR Derby is boring, but only in its current form.  Instead of having it last three rounds – where let’s face it, the players are equally as tired as the fans by the end – it’s a “one shot and you’re done” deal.  Three players per league, 10 outs, most homers wins.  Simple as that.

Event 2 – Target Hitting

This could be one for the Ichiro’s of the league.  Five targets on the field (one against the outfield fence, one over the fence in HR territory, a circle in RF, a circle in deep LF, and an upright target in the infield).  10 pitches.  Targets are worth a different amount of points depending on difficulty, with bonus points awarded for hitting all five.  Three players per league, most points wins.

Event 3 – Accuracy Throwing

Three players per league – one OF (preferably RF), one IF (preferably 3B) and one P.  Eacb plays their position and tries to hit targets that simulate throwing a runner out third from the outfield, throwing a runner out at first from third, and hitting the strike zone.  Points are awarded based on hitting the more difficult targets.  Hardest thrower would be great (think Aroldis Chapman trying to break 106 mph) but would obviously be an injury risk.

Event 4 – Fastest Runner

Two events: one timing players from home to first (think speedsters like Crawford vs. Ichiro), and one timing players from first to third (smooth baserunners who take the turn well).

Event 5 – Relay

Similar to the NHL relay that combined one-timers, passing, accuracy shooting, and puck control.  This could be split into four parts, with AL and NL competing head on.

1. Bunting – AL sends a player to bat with the goal of reaching base via bunt.  The NL’s goal is to throw the player out at first.  Winner gets one point.

2. Base Stealing – AL elects a different player to stand on first and attempt to steal second off an NL selected P/C/2B combo.  Again, one point on the line.

3. Sac Fly – AL elects a third player to stand on second and attempt to tag up on a fly ball to an NL selected RF/3B combo. 

4. Wild Pitch Control – Finally, a fourth AL player stand on third and attempts to score on a wild pitch.  This would test an NL catcher’s ability to retrieve the ball and throw a strike to the pitcher covering home.

Would an event like this ever be introduced?  Absolutely not, not with insurance premiums and contract clauses in the way.

But would fans love it?  Yes.

Would players love it?  I would think so.

Would it add a lot of flair and excitement to the All-Star festivities?  100% yes.

And after watching the NHL All-Star weekend, more flair and excitement are always a good thing.

If Only…Reed Johnson Stayed a Jay

Back in December I wrote an “If Only” column (if only the Jays could sign Major League’s Roger Dorn to play 3B), meaning to make it a weekly series.

Well, it took six weeks but today I present a second column:

If only Reed Johnson remained a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Johnson re-joined the Cubs last week and seeing his name again brought back a lot of memories.

Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t a huge Johnson supporter.  I thought he played well for the Jays and I loved watching him play.  He played hard, he got dirty, and he produced decent numbers (.281 average, 319 runs scored, .752 OPS in 5 seasons).  He played a pretty good left field, and he showed a lot of hustle and heart on the field (coincidentally the mantra of the 2010 club).

But Reed’s impact on the team went beyond numbers – he was a fan favourite.  I remember going to games in 2006 and night after night the loudest cheers were reserved for Johnson.  Fans loved his aggressive play.  He would dive for balls in the OF even if he was 70 feet away from them it seemed.  The crowd loved him.

At the end of the 2007 season the Jays were still being run by J.P. Ricciardi.  They had just completed a fairly successfuly campaign (83-79, 3rd in the AL East), and were gearing up to make a run at the Red Sox and Yankees.  Ricciardi had yet to deliver on the promises he had made to Blue Jays fans – namely a playoff spot.  His leash was getting shorter as fans were beginning to grow impatient, but most still trusted him to lead the team to salvation. He still had a chance.

That offseason started well enough for Toronto.  Ricciardi signed two Canadians (Scott Richmond and Matt Stairs), inked Shawn Camp and Rod Barajas to contracts, and picked up both Marco Scutaro and Scott Rolen in trades.  Sure he made a curious signing in David Eckstein (essentially screwing over fan favourite John McDonald) but that seemed a minor issue.

But on February 25, 2008 Ricciardi brought back former Jay Shannon Stewart.  Stewart had been a star with Toronto, and was incredible with Minnesota.  But after an injury plagued ’06, he signed with Oakland for the ’07 season and put up numbers that were respectable (.290 average, 12 HR, 79 R, .739 OPS) but down from his career norms. 

The Stewart signing was problematic for two reasons:

1. He was clearly on the downside of his career, and

2. He played left field.  Reed Johnson also played left field.

At first Jays fans, myself included, weren’t bothered by the signing.  Reed was coming off an injury plagued 2007 season of his own and was no sure thing to get back to his ’06 form.  Besides, Stewart was an ex-Jay, a former hero coming back home.  We could accept this.  Surely Johnson would win the job making Stewart an above-average bench player and 4th OF.  Reed was a much better defender, and much better on-base threat.

But to the shock of many, Stewart won the job.  To the extreme shock of everybody, Johnson wasn’t simply relegated to the bench.  He was given his outright release. 

I couldn’t believe it.  My friends couldn’t believe it.  Many Toronto sportswriters couldn’t believe it.  I think a large majority of Blue Jays fans couldn’t believe it.

And I strongly believe that March 23, 2008, the day Reed Johnson was released, was the day that Toronto Blue Jays fans turned on J.P. Ricciardi.

He had stabbed us in the back.  Gone was a versatile player and a fan favourite.  Sure he wasn’t an All-Star, but he was better than his replacement in pretty much every way possible.  It didn’t seem right.

Suddenly the lustre was off J.P.  People started looking at his previous moves more closely and found ways to criticize him where they might not have before.  What followed in the summer of ’08 was a complete disaster, and fans shifted the blame away from the players and manager and put it directly on Ricciardi’s shoulders.

Consider what happened:

– Eckstein didn’t do much and was traded away in August

– Frank Thomas was released after only 16 games making Ricciardi look like a fool

– Ricciardi’s hand-picked manager John Gibbons, not far removed from several physical confrontations with players, was axed, with fans blaming J.P. for hiring such a loose cannon in the first place

– Former MLB closer Armando Benitez, signed in the offseason to provide help to the back-end of the bullpen, was finally released after only 6.1 IP

– Kevin Mench and Brad Wilkerson, mid-season acquisitions meant to add pop to the lineup, were terrible, combining for 4 HR in 323 AB

– In June, J.P. further solidified his downfall with the Adam Dunn debacle, claiming the Cincinnati slugger (who Toronto could have desparately used) “doesn’t really like baseball” and “doesn’t have a passion to play the game.”  He was making a fool of himself and the organization.

Finally, on August 11, after hitting only .240 and playing in only 52 games, Shannon Stewart was released.

To make matters worse, the man who was cut to make room for Stewart, was thriving.  Reed Johnson signed with the Cubs five days after being released by Toronto, and put up very solid numbers in Chicago: .303 average, .358 OBP, .778 OPS.  Jays fans wept.

**************************

I’m not here to say that things would have been better if Johnson would have stayed.  Would the Jays have won a few more games?  Maybe, but they finished nine games back of the playoffs, so postseason baseball would never have happened.

But I think J.P. Ricciardi would have had more rope.  Fans would have tolerated his moves – good or bad – a bit more and wouldn’t have jumped all over him.  Maybe without such a public backlash against him, Ricciardi gets another chance to prove he can win here.  Maybe he isn’t fired in 2009.  Who knows…

In reality, the Johnson release was a good thing.  That was the spark that ignited the fan’s fire for J.P., and I believe started the road to his downfall.  Without it, maybe the above would have happened.  Maybe we wouldn’t have Alex Anthopoulos.  And does anybody out there truly believe the Jays aren’t in a better place now?

Whatever you believe, the moral of the story is clear:

Don’t screw with your fans.

Ricciardi did and he didn’t live to tell the tale.

500 Level Fan Year in Review – Part One

As cliched as it may sound, I have decided to run a year in review series of columns on 500 Level Fan.  I figured it’s my blog so I can do what I please.

To kick it off, we have a very special guest columnist to discuss the past year in books.  This man is all of the below:

– a loyal reader of 500 Level Fan

– an emailer / requester for specific columns

– a creator of dynamic and controversial trivia questions

– the world’s biggest Frank Thomas fan

Funny story about the last point above.  He was the most excited person in the city when the Jays inked the Big Hurt to a contract in 2007, and the most gutted / heartbroken / disturbed / crushed man in the city when they released him in 2008.

Anyways, without further ado, here is a look back at the world of literature from Dr. Nudathan P. Smart.

After successfully completing my 2010 New Year’s resolution (reading 12 books in 2010), I thought I owed it to the loyal fans of 500LevelFan to give a thorough review of the books that I read in 2010.  Consider this a more robust, versatile, and non-bias review compared to that of “Heather’s Picks” and Oprah.  With that in mind, let’s get it started:

–          Open (The Andre Agassi Story) – I remember watching Sports Centre when this book was released.  There was a lot of controversy because of Agassi’s drug use described in the book.  Although it was an interesting book I learned two things.  One: Agassi lost to Pete Sampras A LOT   Two: Agassi did cocaine one time.

–          Where Men Win Glory  (The Pat Tillman Story) – This is one of my favorites of the year.  A heavy read for sure but I needed to educate myself on the Afghanistan situation and it is nice to get confirmation that all men are not chauvinists (see note below on The Devlin Diary)

–          The Golden Spruce – because of this book I am no longer on speaking terms with my brother.  He recommended this after reading 70 pages.  For the first 70 pages, I agreed with him but then it got terrible.  In my opinion, if you are going to read about the logging industry, it should be clearly stated on the cover.  I hope my brother calls to apologize soon.

–          Wolf Hall – I visited England a few months before reading this book and I really liked it.  The only issue was that there were 11 people named Thomas and 7 named Jane.  Hard to keep track of.

–          The Road – very descriptive. I liked it but most people I spoke to seemed to be annoyed by it.  I found easy to visualize myself in the setting. 

–          Pilgrim – a story about the great psychiatrist Carl Jung and his work a mysterious patient (Pilgrim).  The cover was misleading as is shows Pilgrim with a hand gesture mimicking oral sex on a female but Pilgrim is actually an asexual being.

–          Devlin Diary – feminist book.  I am in support of feminists that stand for reasonable demands but all the men in this book were pigs.  Not all men are pigs.  My friends Mark, Craig, Cooper, Brady. Pat Tillman and Dad are all good men.  We do not deserve this generalization.

–          Lost City of Z – another great read.  I now have tremendous respect for the Amazon.  A truly interesting Non-Fiction.  The only issue was that I felt like I had bugs crawling all over my body and I don’t do drugs other than love.

–          Pillars of the Earth – amazing.  Loved it.  Read it.  It’s long.

–          Bishop’s Man – I should have known  better when my mom told me this was a great book.  Horrendous choice on my part.

–          Five People You Meet in Heaven – I am not sure how I feel about this book.  I really liked it but I am starting to think that  I only liked it because it was thinner than the lace on Coco’s g-string.

–          The Tiger – too many Russian names.  You know how when you read a book and there is a tough name, sometimes you just connect the combination of letters as that characters name even though you never take the time to read the name properly? Usually this strategy is okay, however, in this book I got burned.  There were at least 50 names that I could not read and they all contained the same letters.  This made it difficult to read.   

Top 3 books of the year: Where Men Win Glory, Pillars of the Earth, Lost City of Z

Honorable Mention: Wolf Hall & The Tiger