Come for the beer and the ballgame, stay for the bullpen blow-up. That pretty much sums of the mid-to-late-April, 2014 Toronto Blue Jays.
And the most frustrating part is that just about every arm in the bullpen has caused or been apart of a meltdown in the past week, so it’s not as though any one arm has experienced consistent failure.
Thanks to a stat from Mark Zwolinski of the Star, the bullpen has allowed 22 ER on 23 hits in 23.2 innings starting with the double header against the Twins last week. The kicker: 24 walks.
WHAT’S WITH ALL THE WALKS?
Just peeking over at the stats, I see that Aaron Loup has 8 walks in 9.1 innings – he had 13 all of last year in 69.1 innings. The league has a .103 batting average against him and he’s got a 4.82 ERA. What the bleep is going on?
There are more examples. Though in a small sample size, Sergio Santos has doubled his walk total of a year ago. Brett Cecil is on pace to double his total of a year ago.
Speaking of Brett Cecil, he came in last night in the top of the 7th with a runner on base and a 3-2 lead (ERA of ZERO coming in, by the way), and promptly walked Nick Markakis on four pitches, then intentionally walked (cheater) Nelson Cruz to get to Chris Davis – superb idea, walking a really good hitter to get to another really good hitter with another really good hitter on deck.
He left with a 4.15 ERA, and the Jays blew a 3-0 lead, including a 9K performance from Drew Hutchison, in a very frustrating 11-4 loss.
FIRST LIVE GAME OF THE YEAR
Yeah, I’m one of those guys. Always have been.
As you can see, the Jays had a solid 2nd inning. Dioner Navarro and Colby Rasmus went deep, staking the Jays out to a 3-0 lead on O’s starter Bud Norris, who was alright, but ripe for the picking if the Jays were willing to be patient, and make him work, as opposed to swinging early and wasting at-bats.
Outside of a rough 5th inning, Drew Hutchison was quite good. 1 walk, 9 Ks, 2 ER; the only real blip being a solo-homer by Jonathan Schoop Doop-a-doop (YEEEEEEAH RIGHT it’s pronounced “Scope”).
Then he left, and the Orioles scored 9 runs against the Jays’ suddenly-flawed bullpen.
Another blown game, another solid start wasted, another blown opportunity against a division rival on home turf. Way to go, fellas.
– Hutch, like I said, was impressive. Can’t remember if I’ve seen him live before, but he works a quick game, his fastball reached 95 MPH, and he got out of a couple jams. Hope he keeps it up.
– Navarro and Rasmus got the crowd going with those dingers.
– J-Bau drove in a run to prevent the Jays from allowing 11 unanswered runs, and lined out hard in the 6th.
– Jose Reyes, a quiet 0/4.
– Ryan Goins, a strikeout and a pop-out – sorry, I’d still prefer Kawasaki…
– The guys doing the replay stuff in New York messed up that call in the 8th – Esmil Rogers hit the bat of Schoop, and the umps and replay crew called it an HBP.
We’ll say that’s why Rogers went on to allow the next four out of five guys to reach base.
– Cecil’s line tonight: 0 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 ER. Thank goodness I picked him up in fantasy.
– Rogers’ line tonight: 1.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER. Thank goodness I’ll never pick him up in fantasy.
– Brett Lawrie’s batting average after an 0-for-4 performance: .157.
Did you know that the Go Train runs express from Oshawa to Toronto during afternoon rush hour? I didn’t, but we got from Whitby to Union in less than 45 minutes, and I got to watch batting practice for the first time since I was a kid.
This was the view from our seats, in a spot I’ve never sat before. Front row in right field.
From the standpoint of a pure baseball fan, great place to sit. We almost got run into by Jose Bautista as he chased down a foul ball!
The seats, and the funny guys sitting around us, made the horrible turnaround of the game a tolerable experience.
The Jays get to recover from a huge let-down of a series with a nice, easy series against the last place Red Sox. Should be a breeze, I’m sure.
A pair of former White Sox will square off as the red hot Mark Buehrle takes on Jake Peavy.
Forgive me, but after the last two nights, I’ll be watching the Raptors get chewed out by angry Brooklyn fans.
For Jays Balk, I’m @TheAsherRoth
Free agency is flashy. Trades tickle our attention. Status quo stagnates our senses.
Actually, any lack of action bores us to the point of hunting for something to worry about.
Anyone follow the Olympic Men’s Hockey coverage?
I’ve never seen an undefeated team that’s played hard with no single performance to pick on as a poor effort torn apart so meticulously by the talking hockey heads on TV.
Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal in the tournament, even though he’s played as hard as anyone could ask him to.
But if Canada doesn’t triumph in a few hours, his lack of production (ON PAPER) will be talked about ad nausium.
When big things don’t happen, we search for other things to talk about.
The Blue Jays have done little this off season except acquire some career backup catchers to replace JP Arencibia, which really isn’t as bad an idea as it sounds.
People don’t want to hear (me say) that career backup catchers (or even poor career starters) have historically succeeded at the Skydome.
Check out Greg Myers’ numbers when he came back here in 2003 at the age of 37 and had a career-high 15 home runs and batted .307 (career .255 hitter).
He also took over as the Jays’ starting catcher the year Roy Halladay won his first Cy Young award.
No, people don’t think about that.
They see that Dioner Navarro is 30 years old and hasn’t been a starter since 2009.
They DON’T discuss how he hit .295 the year the Rays came out of nowhere and won the east.
What it comes down to is that people (that I seem to talk to) these days love complaining about inaction.
Other teams have acted this off-season to fill holes in spots they’ve felt the need to fill.
But in the social media world where headlines keep us engaged, a lack of them make us cynically lose interest or assume the worst.
We spent money last year. WHY AREN’T WE SPENDING MORE NOW?
People don’t want to hear that a healthy and steady-minded Jose Bautista and a steadily improving Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie could provide more than enough offence.
People don’t want to look at RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle’s numbers toward the end of last year, or imagine a healthy Brandon Morrow, or remember that we have Jose FREAKIN Reyes.
No, they see pretty good players change teams (not involving the Jays) and they don’t picture the possibility of all the stars aligning for the Jays just like they did for the Red Sox last year.
But truthfully? Everything written above is hypocritical in a sense.
The sports writer says you must deny the worst and make an argument out of a position assumed by a stir-crazy fan waiting for the baseball season to start so the Jays can exact some revenge on the Sox and prove to the Yankees that a few flashy signings can’t account for a 40 year old short stop and no catching depth.
But really, that stir-crazy fan woke up recently to this picture:
… and said, rationalize this for me, will you?
It sure has been something else watching the spiralling demise of my favourite city’s councillor-in-chief.
Hilarious? To me, this view is simply too easy.
Is it funny to watch city council run around like a headless chicken trying to make crucial decisions on transit, Casinos and crumbling infrastructure without the support and undivided attention of its “leader”?
Is it funny to watch a man with some serious issues – whatever they may be – but is clearly too blinded (Proud? Stupid? In denial?) to deal with them?
At this point, you’d have to be pretty sadistic to derive joy from this mess.
If not hilarious, then is it pity we should feel?
Without diving full-out into the laundry list of massive, unforgivable errors this man has made throughout his time in public office, it’s awfully hard to feel sorry for Mayor Rob Ford.
Just for a second, let’s ignore all the political faux pas'; AKA cancelling David Miller’s Transit City plan without any vote from council, tirelessly trying to profit off the desperation of gambling addicts by building a downtown casino, and blowing off a large percentage of his civic duties in order to coach a high school football team.
Should we feel sorry for a man who gave a small child the finger after she told him not to drive while on the phone? For a man who belligerently mocked fans at a Leafs game? For a man who claimed the students on the team he coaches would be out of school and in street gangs if not for him?
These are not actions to derive pity from.
So what do we make of the crack scandal then?
For starters, it appears Ford’s mantra of denying (and therefore, lying about) every scandal that emerges is working less and less as his staffers and allies realize that perhaps there’s truth to all the rumours.
After all, he’s been caught with his foot in his mouth so many times.
When questioned about his antics at the Leafs game, he denied he was even at the game – then apologized when it was proven that he was.
When questioned about flipping the bird at the kid, he denied it flat out – not the wisest move when your name is written on your licence plate.
When this crack scandal emerged, following days of curt, one-worded answers and Toronto Star-bashing, he finally released a statement in which he declared he does not use crack cocaine, nor is he an addict of it.
Lesson learned. You can’t be accused of lying if you stick to the present tense, right?
But clearly Ford is rattled. And why shouldn’t he be?
Let’s not forget that Mayor Ford is little more than a puppet for the Conservative agenda in this city.
Right-wing councillors flocked to his aid when he promised such things as tax cuts, subways, and stopping “wasteful” (read: necessary) spending.
They did so because David Miller spent the previous two terms doing such heinous things as boosting spending on transit and bike lanes and (God forbid) raising Toronto’s profile on the global scale.
They wanted their man, and they got him. If only they knew what they were in for.
But issue by issue, the right and centrist allies have defected as they realize that what they needed was a leader who could convince his detractors to join his side on issues.
Not a man who tries to coerce his enemies to follow suit; despite having no authority to do so in a soft-mayoral system.
Nor a man who believes a volunteer coaching job takes priority over city business at a time the city needs strong leadership more than ever.
Nor a man with clear substance-abuse issues who embarrasses himself at important events for image (and agenda) boosting.
And so, following Ford’s (alleged) emotional firing of his chief of staff, now his press secretaries have quit, supposedly because his speech on Friday was not what they recommended he say.
Now, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Sun have begun admitting that there may be problems afoot.
The mayor’s response? The media are just a bunch of maggots.
Now his staff are dropping like flies. The Deputy Mayor can’t even hide his disdain for this whole ordeal.
The marionette has freed himself from his strings, but at what cost?
When Rob Ford runs in the next election, who will be by his side?
If Brother Doug runs for provincial office, surely he won’t have time to spin Rob’s shenanigans in a positive light. He’ll have his own problems to deal with.
Who on council will support him? Will it be Georgio Mammoliti, or will he flip-flop his stance and join whoever is most popular in the present like the cowardly turncoat that he has proven to be (read: former NDP member)?
Today, appearing far sooner than many expected, with his back to the wall, the mayor (tearfully?) apologized to the media for calling its members maggots and seemingly did his best to be polite and accommodating to their need to meet their deadlines.
In other words, he attempted to make nice with the people he so despises for calling him out on his many lies. In other words, for doing their jobs.
As a proud citizen of this city, I couldn’t feel more ashamed.
A special thanks to the Toronto Star for capturing this photo; one of the many screenshots of Big Foot’s appearance on CBC recently.
Wait, that’s not Big Foot. That’s University of Calgary professor and Senior Wookie Laureate Tom Flanagan.
And that clear look of disgust is due to his lack of judgement on acceptable TV studio attire.
“But Stephen told me he cut CBC funding so much that they couldn’t afford to heat the studio anymore,” Flanagan’s saying to himself, I would assume. “He must have been hyperbolizing…”
Flanagan knows all about hyperbole.
“I think Assange should be assassinated,” Flanagan said about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2010 on CBC’s Power & Politics – the same show that he was screen-grabbed on for the above photo – taken nearly three years later.
I mean, he must have been hyperbolizing – at least CBC must have figured he was. This would be the only reasonable explanation for continuing to feature his opinion on a popular show of political influence.
And this must be why my tax dollars continue(d… until today) to pay for him to appear on television.
Today, Dr. Chewbacca faced an uproar of criticism for giving his take on child pornography – stating that he feels there is “no harm” in viewing child pornography, and that people shouldn’t be thrown in jail for their taste in photographs.
He added that he has “no sympathy for child molesters” – no sympathy, take note. He didn’t say he condemns them, he just doesn’t agree with their actions.
Hey, maybe he’s got a point.
It’s not the dog that’s vicious, it’s the owner. It’s not the gun that’s dangerous, it’s the man holding it.
It’s not the child porn VIDEOS or PHOTOS that are deplorable, it’s the guys that are DOING the acts (IN the photos/videos being watched) that he doesn’t sympathize with.
It’s not Flanagan’s cup of tea (even though he was a self-professed member of the Man-Boy Love Association’s Mailing list – goodness knows how he landed there), but why should we fill jails with guys who simply have questionable taste in art?
After all, it would be far better to occupy cells with pot-heads, right?
Obviously his views are screwed up. This should surprise nobody.
And here’s where it gets curious to me.
This is what it takes to get the guy off the air – a comment that implies he sympathizes with people who enjoy child pornography.
But is this SO much worse than expressing that a specific living person should be killed?
Clearly this is an issue of apples and oranges – both are horrible, there is no need to measure them up against each other.
At least there wasn’t, until CBC opened up the question.
We all know that the CBC is a public enterprise – meaning their bills are paid by Stephen Harper’s government.
Stephen Harper: who Flanagan advised for years and helped with various campaigns.
So, CBC, I guess child porn is the line.
Forget Flanagan’s view that Western colonization and civilization is “justifiable and inevitable”.
And hey, it’s fine that you want Assange murdered, since he was leaking private conversations about Harper’s government.
Yes, Harper’s staff distanced themselves from this opinion, but they were perfectly fine with him appearing on the network they own.
This whole debacle paints a picture of the impending death of television.
In an age where shock and sexy visuals rule over quality and relevance, the CBC has continued to do all they can to garner ratings.
I guess Arctic Air and Mr. D just aren’t cutting it.
Kevin O’Leary’s popular on Dragon’s Den? Let’s give him three shows!
People are flocking to our website to catch a glimpse of a man wearing Mr Snuffleupagus?
Who cares if he wants detractors killed and thinks First Nations peoples deserved to conquered for being primitive? He gets ratings!!
Well, this guy did support a man who was rewarded for lying to parliament by earning a majority government.
Oh, to be a Conservative…
As a die-hard Jays fan this off-season, I don’t think I could be in a more blissful head-space if I tried.
This off-season, Alex Anthopoulos turned from the ultimate chump (a title Toronto general managers like to pass amongst each other every few months) to the ultimate champ by not only disposing of the weaker links of the team, but by acquiring major upgrades in return.
Goodbye ignorantly homophobic Yunel Escobar, and champion swing-and-misser Kelly Johnson. Have fun turning double plays together in a permanently closed dome in one of the warmest baseball locales in the league.
Hello to a team that makes fantasy baseball owners, baseball video game players, and, of course, long-time Jays fans drool.
Not a day has gone by since the Marlins trade that I haven’t thought about how much I look forward to the start of the season; working out the lineup and rotation in my head over and over.
For a measure of understanding, while I was alive for the back-to-back World Series titles, I was only five years old when Joe Carter touched ’em all, and was far more interested in pushing cardboard buses back and forth around my house than sitting down to watch my eventual favourite team win the ultimate prize. Don’t judge.
No, I didn’t follow the team closely until Roger Clemens joined the team in ’97. Some exciting years, but no playoff action.
Sadly, the most exciting off-season I’d had prior to this one was when J.P. “who needs a long-term plan??” Ricciardi acquired A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, (C.J. Nitkowski, D.J. Carrasco… sorry, got carried away), Bengie Molina, Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay.
We all know what happened to that train-wreck.
Anyway, I’ve been so excited this off-season, that I’ve been scouring the internet for season previews and opinions on the Jays roster on a daily basis – despite the fact that it’s mostly the same information over and over.
Last night I read a post by this man, TSN Radio’s Scott Ferguson, highlighting a number of questions that still remain for the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season.
So, to copy Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans’ habit of answering Richard Griffin’s mail, I’ve decided to try to answer Fergie’s questions.
After all, this is a far more appropriate outlet than the comments section of his article..
1. How will John Gibbons fit in during his second time around as manager?
An interesting question.
I will admit, when I first heard Gibby was re-hired, I was not pleased. For whatever reason, the last time he left town, a sour taste was left in my mouth.
This likely had a lot to do with his altercations with Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand, and the fact that I couldn’t understand what the heck he was saying half the time.
While I’m merely following the rest of the herd by coming around to the re-hiring, I think it would be hard not to trust AA’s judgement of character at this point.
As for how well he’ll fit in?
Let’s face it: this team, now dominated by alpha-personalities and enlarged egos, needs a strong, but fair, guiding voice.
A guy who’s not afraid to change the lineup around if guys are struggling – unlike Cito Gaston’s habit of keeping Vernon Wells in the cleanup role during his statistically disastrous ’09 season.
Who better than a hard-headed Texan to tell Brett Lawrie when to reel in that energy on the bases?
He can’t be too bad of a guy if Hillenbrand praised him years after the tussle.
Maybe I’m crazy – but I’m optimistic.
This is the head scratcher of the off-season, but I think I’ve finally worked out an answer… even if it’s not definitive, nor does it contain much conviction.
I believe Emilio gets the starter’s job, and Maicer comes off the bench – to start.
Yes, Emilio is a super-sub who can play anywhere in the infield or outfield, but it’s hard to justify not having that speed – 30 steals in 33 attempts in just 64 games in ’12 – in the lineup on a daily basis.
He also hit .296 in 2011, so has shown that, when healthy, he’s not a liability at the dish.
For those who think Bonifacio would be more valuable as a pinch-runner, let’s not forget that Rajai Davis is still on the team. Rajai will need something to do…
But Maicer is no slouch, and that’s what makes this decision a tough one.
Here’s a guy who played under Mike Scioscia for eight years. In my opinion, Scioscia knows his character guys.
If you look at the Angels roster since 2001, and if you ignore all the giant splash signings of outfielders that mostly didn’t pan out, you’ll observe that there are less-flashy players that stayed with the Angels for a number of years, despite lacking a great deal of obvious skill.
Jeff Mathis comes to mind. A guy with less career hits than strikeouts, Scioscia kept him around for his defence and character.
While Izturis failed to ever really earn a starter’s job on the Angels, one could argue this would provide him with the ultimate motivation to take the next step.
Marco Scutaro, anyone?
Ultimately, though, they’re both serviceable veterans who can switch-hit, and we can all agree that either one is an upgrade over Kelly Johnson.
3. Will Ricky Romero bounce back and be the starter he was in 2011?
History would imply that it’s more than possible.
If we look at great pitchers over the last number of years, it is not SO unusual for a starter to have a set-back before recovering to be just fine.
Note Roy Halladay’s 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings in 2000 (three years before winning the Cy Young). How about Cliff Lee’s 6.29 ERA in 2007 (the year before winning the Cy Young)? Or how about Tim Lincecum’s 5.18 ERA this past season?
Starters have hiccups. It’s just the nature of the biz.
The fact that Romero likely pitched hurt for a great deal of last season is an excuse. If he was hurt, he shouldn’t have played.
But he’s a proud guy who was handed the ace role and felt that he could battle through it. He couldn’t.
But with the pressure of being the ace gone, I can’t think of a potentially better 5th starter in baseball.
I’m not saying he’ll immediately be his 2011 self again.
But I’m not saying he won’t, either.
4. Will RHP Josh Johnson return to the All-Star form he displayed a couple of seasons ago?
I believe this question was much more crucial prior to the Dickey acquisition.
Bringing Johnson in as the new ace, as originally seemed to be the plan, was undoubtedly a risky move after an injury-plagued ’11 and a sub-par, for his standards, ’12.
However, when you slot a guy with ace stuff and composure in the #2 or #4 slot, it’s hard to imagine how you can lose – especially when you throw a flame-thrower out after junk-ballers Dickey or Mark Buehrle
Out of Spring Training, I’m going to say no.
While Santos is getting paid like a closer, I don’t see how you can justify taking away an incumbent’s job without direct cause.
Janssen was lights out last season in Santos’ absence, and unless he’s reeling from his shoulder surgery and Santos is remarkably better, I think it’s Janssen’s job to lose.
6. Will shortstop Jose Reyes stay healthy playing on artificial turf?
This question is more speculation than logic, obviously.
I’ll say this much: while the artificial turf is damning on the eyes and a thorn in the side of purists, is it really as much of a problem as we all say it is?
Have any Jays players in recent years had any injuries that have been attributed to the wear and tear of playing on turf?
I know one of the reasons Devon White left in the 90’s was because of the turf, but this is not the same turf that was used back then.
Did Yunel Escobar or Brett Lawrie or any Jays infielder complain of turf-related injuries since the new AstroTurf was put in?
Anyway, if Reyes is going to get hurt, I believe it will be despite the turf, not because of it.
I believe that out of the gate, the entire structure of the bullpen will depend on who has options for the minors, and who doesn’t.
While Loup was very good in his rookie year, I’m always wary of the sophomore slump, and he has options for the minors remaining.
This is the first time I’ve heard Crawford’s name this off-season, so I’d be shocked if he’s still in the mix.
The question will be what to do with Cecil and J.A. Happ. Does AA decide to keep Happ on the team as long reliever? Or does he use his remaining option to send him to the minors to condition as a starter so that he’s ready if someone gets hurt?
As for Cecil, he has no options remaining, which would be a lock to make the team – if he’s any good.
Last spring training, Cecil had a pretty good Grapefruit League until his final, disastrous start landed him back in the minors.
I believe that this spring, any set-back of that sort will lead to a DFA.
But if he proves to be a valuable bullpen arm, he could conceivably start the year on the big club, and his leash will only grow shorter once Luis Perez (remember him??) returns.
8. Will Brett Lawrie regain the power stroke he had late in the 2012 season?
There are many questions surrounding Mr. Lawrie.
Will he be able to reel in his enthusiasm and temper and be able to become the superstar that everyone thought he’d be?
My answer to all these questions and more: HE’S 23! GIVE THE KID A BREAK!
Because he came up so young and tore it up so soon, everyone expected immediate results – without asking the question of just how many position players around the league are ready for the big time at such a young age.
When you bring a guy up that raw, there will ultimately be growing pains.
As for his power stroke, how much power were they expecting out of him in the lead-off role?
With the additions at the top of the lineup, Lawrie will likely hit 6th, behind Adam Lind or Colby Rasmus, and with more and more protection in the lineup, he’s only going to get better.
Be patient, people. He’s a kid. Enough trade talk.
9. Is Jose Bautista‘s wrist well enough to make him one of the great power hitters again?
Well, he says it is. If it’s not, it’s gonna be a long season…
10. Will Colby Rasmus ever become the great five-tool player the Jays expected him to be when they acquired him from St. Louis?
Rasmus showed flashes of brilliance last season, but probably more flashes of whiffing.
Here’s my take: when they got him in ’11, his self-esteem was at its worst.
Last season, his spirits were up, but he was playing through pain later in the season, and it didn’t help his numbers at all.
Granted, these are merely excuses, and they paint him as extremely delicate.
But, unlike last season, when the Jays secondary options in centre were Rajai, a completely raw Anthony Gose and the completely non-intimidating Mike McCoy, this year Colby’s got Melky Cabrera, Bonifacio, Rajai, and a more mature Gose waiting in the wings.
I think it’s a win-win, personally. If he breaks out, it’s a bonus. If he struggles while showing flashes of skill, they could always trade him for assets and adjust accordingly.
11. What effect will having seven players away at the World Baseball Classic have on the bonding and preparation of the Blue Jays?
This is probably the scariest question because we won’t know the answer until April.
Spring Training is not only important for getting into game shape, but for bonding with your team-mates.
Unlike most years, where the bulk of the roster knows each other already, this year is not like other years.
Let’s hope Gibby has a bonding plan that doesn’t include holding hands in a circle and trying to untangle the knot.
MY DREAM LINEUP
1. Reyes, SS
2. Cabrera, LF
3. Bautista, RF
4. Encarnacion, 1B
5. Rasmus, CF
6. Lawrie, 3B
7. Lind, DH
8. Arencibia, C
9. Bonifacio, 2B
(I give Rasmus the 5 because it’s a vote of confidence, which can’t hurt his self-esteem, and because Mr. Lind needs to prove himself before I give him a heart of the lineup spot)
(I’m sure everyone has a differing plan for this list. I give Morrow the 2 as a show of respect for the incumbent. But if you want to suck up to JJ to try to make him re-sign, you give him the 2. In addition, if you REALLY want to boost confidence in the incumbent, you give Ricky the opening day start – but I really don’t see that happening…)
You couldn’t have expected any different than the casual reaction to Brian Burke being relieved of his duties as general manager.
Scoffing, mockery, some quip about golfing, or 45 years and counting, or some other shallow, generic anti-Leaf remark that we Leafs fans have grown accustomed to since the dawn of expansion.
Or, of course, comments about the Leafs’ performance under Burke, or the Kessel trade, or the Komisarek signing, or the Kessel trade, or his outrageously inaccurate predictions about the abilities of his roster, or… the Kessel trade.
While Burke, himself, refused to blame anything other than his hockey-related performance for his dismissal, it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to determine that there was more behind this sudden decision than Burke, or the MLSE board, is letting on.
This decision was personal, and that is what has bugged me enough to make my inaugural post on this site about the whole ordeal.
Obviously, one can look at Brian Burke’s transactions as general manager, and can look at the team’s record throughout his tenure, and can make a perfectly valid case for his dismissal.
Yes, the trade with the Bruins for Phil Kessel has been an endless string of slaps to the face of Leafs Nation.
Tyler Seguin looks to be a star centre – which, admittedly would have been useful to a team that hasn’t had a top-line centre of any value since Mats Sundin was pushed out of town.
But regardless of what you think of Dion Phaneuf and his ability – or lack there of – to be captain, take a long look at that trade with the Flames and tell me it wasn’t a steal.
Think back to how horrible Vesa Toskala was that season, and how much of a miracle it was that Burkie managed to get anything other than a bag of pucks – much less J.S. Giguere – in return for him; WHILE unloading the albatross of a contract that was Jason Blake in the process.
I’m not saying Burkie did a fantastic job, either.
Obviously, some of his decisions where goaltending is concerned have been questionable, to say the least.
Offering James Reimer a long-term contract after a promising run – during which the team was long-since out of the playoffs, and the rest of the league was mostly unfamiliar with him – was likely a mistake.
Jonas Gustavsson turned out to be a mistake, but one can blame a number of factors other than Burkie (ablations, Francois Allaire) for that outcome.
But it’s not like netminding has always been one of Burke’s strengths (see: Dan Cloutier).
Prior to Burke’s arrival in Toronto, the Marlies (or St. Johns Maple Leafs previously) never made headlines, much less the AHL Finals.
Regardless of the performance of the big club, this team (Kessel trade aside) is headed in the right direction.
While Burke and Ron Wilson are long-time friends, Wilson was Cliff Fletcher’s hire, not Burke’s.
This made it impossible for Burke to relieve Wilson, a coach whose run-and-gun style never truly meshed with Burke’s “belligerent, truculent” model, until things were at their absolute worst.
Last spring, Burke finally hired his coach in Randy Carlisle. He got all of 18 games to work with him.
Players that Burke brought in, such as James Van Riemsdyk, Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, etc, will never get to fully show whether Burke’s judgement on their fit for the team was an accurate one.
Three-and-a-half years is not nearly enough time to evaluate a general manager’s performance, in my opinion.
And anyway, we know that the decision to axe him was not based on performance.
If it was, logic would dictate that he would have been relieved of his duties either during the collapse last spring, or at the conclusion of the campaign.
Or even at the end of this 48-game season, should the Leafs have failed to make the post-season once more.
No, this was a personal decision, and the tone of it could not have been more clear to me.
As Burke acknowledged, this decision came out of left field to him.
While no company is required to give a warning prior to dismissal, and while there is no easy way to let someone go, was it necessary to send him out to Russia to scout the World Juniors if a decision of this magnitude was on the horizon?
Was it necessary to make him sit and wait for the retched lockout to end, only to have his jubilance towards the long-awaited start of the season deflated by a sudden, and vaguely explained dismissal?
No, the Leafs don’t owe him anything. At least not by rule.
But how about by convention?
This is, after all, a man who has championed the cause for LGBTQ rights in sport, and did so in a city with one of the biggest Gay communities in the world.
A man who, without any hesitation, accepted his own homosexual son with nothing but love and respect.
This may seem like it should be the norm, but we’d all be naive to think it is; especially in the sporting community.
A man who continued to champion this cause, and barely missed a day on the job, after that same son perished in a tragic accident just weeks after coming out on national television.
Yes, Brian Burke has a no-nonsense, prickly persona to the media.
Yes, he told the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons this afternoon that the best part about losing his job is that he’d never have to talk to him again.
But Burkie is not a horrible person, and he has feelings – feelings that are likely more fragile than he’d ever let on to the media.
You can bet this is torture for the poor guy.
Burke called this job the “Vatican” of general managing jobs. A job that he took on with a number of huge promises that he was ultimately unable to fill.
That will haunt him for a long time.
In the mean time, Burkie stays on as a senior adviser to the MLSE board, and will not be involved in hockey-related decisions, as he admitted to thinking (and likely hoping) the job would entail.
Seeing as this would require him to advise the board that ultimately chose to dismiss him, based on his generally abrasive clash with corporate culture, and based on his attitude towards winning that MLSE (see: Raptors, Toronto FC) has shown consistent ineptitude towards…
Well, let’s take wagers as to which TV network scoops him up first.