Just two days after John Gibbons received a resounding standing ovation from Toronto Blue Jays season ticket-holders, the organization announced that former Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge was being hired as player development advisor.
So does that mean Gibbons’ replacement as manager is now in-house? That’s the obvious conclusion, since Wedge was the first manager hired by Shapiro with the Indians – Shapiro fired Charlie Manuel on July 12, 2002, after Manuel demanded a contract extension – and was the manager when the Indians made two trips to the post-season under Shapiro.
Wedge is Shapiro’s ‘guy,’ and most presidents or general managers have their ‘guys.’
It’s no surprise, really: Wedge, who including a 486-game stint with the Mariners has a career managerial record of (774-846), has been linked with the Blue Jays since Shapiro was hired in August.
The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t the only organization undergoing culture change, so are the Blue Jays.
The organization severed ties with Rob Jack, who had been their director of alumni relations, and several alumni members were openly examining their place within the organization after the departure of Paul Beeston – who surrounded himself in advisory capacities with many of the personalities from the 1992-93 World Series champions.
Cito Gaston, Roberto Alomar, Devon White and Duane Ward have all been fixtures at the Rogers Centre and have been mainstays in the organization’s community outreach programs. Pat Hentgen and Carlos Delgado have had more hands-on field roles, with Hentgen coaching and serving as a special advisor.
Hentgen – who would like to manage eventually, and would have been a candidate to replace Gibbons this past season – is hugely-admired within the big league clubhouse and minor league ranks, and expects to still be involved in the organization. The Blue Jays would also be wise to utilize Delgado in an even greater role. At any rate, balancing the new and old factions (remember, Shapiro’s predecessor Alex Anthopoulos gave all his lieutenants contract extensions last season before he left office) will be a bit of a political test for Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins.
No Silver lining
NBA commissioner Adam Silver is a bright guy, but removing the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy from the game makes about as much sense as folks who want defensive shifts limited in the Majors.
Silver sent tongues wagging when he suggested on Friday in an interview with USA Today that he was of the view that the league would change rules over the summer to prevent the intentional fouling of poor free-throw shooters – a strategy dubbed ‘hack-a-Shaq’ because teams employed it against Shaquille O’Neal.
Because of the presence of some poor free-throw shooting big men – keep an eye on the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond in Monday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors – NBA statistics show instances of the strategy being used is up almost 300 per cent from last season at this time.
Silver believes the strategy is damaging the entertainment value of the product, and points towards instances this season where players have actually jumped on the back of Drummond while teammates are shooting free throws to force him to the line.
Since time immemorial, coaches in all sports have been forced to balance the strengths against the weaknesses of their players and this is very much in keeping with that spirit. It’s true there is a stifling tendency in this day and age to coach the fun and drama out of games – look at the way NHL coaches have dumbed down overtime – and that there is nothing wrong with adjusting rules to accelerate or decrease offence if a balance must be re-struck, but removing an intrinsic strategic element of the game is a step too far. Better yet, have some of the big stiffs learn how to shoot a free throw.
Quibbles and bits
• One of the ways Shapiro will put his imprint on the organization is through a “mission statement,” which to his way of thinking is more than simply some catchy phrases.
Shapiro, Atkins, Gibbons, assistant GM Andrew Tinnish, director of amateur scouting Brian Parker, director of professional scouting Perry Minasian and director of high performance Angus Mugford met a little more than two weeks ago to begin the process of putting down some defining principles – “how do we differentiate ourselves,” in the words of Shapiro.
The new general manager believes an over-arching statement of principles is a necessity for an organization that has many different individuals spread throughout the continent and internationally.
• Sidney Crosby’s game-tying goal on Saturday night in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win helped set a franchise first: The Penguins had never in their history won a game in which they’d trailed 2-0 with six minutes left in regulation.
Crosby is back, with a 10-game point streak, and his 900th career point was recorded in 677 games, faster than all but 10 players: Wayne Gretzky (385), Mario Lemieux (463), Mike Bossy (582), Peter Stastny (599), Jari Kurri (632), Bobby Orr (638), Dennis Savard (647), Guy Lafleur (649), Bryan Trottier (651) and Steve Yzerman (673).
• God bless Cam Newton. His actions at his post-game news conference gave us all more to write and talk about than had he answered any questions, and he’s essentially laid down the narrative for training camp and the 2016 season already.
If anything, he’s made himself even more fascinating to follow. Because the shelf-life of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL hasn’t been great, Newton is the first of them to be the face of the brand which by default means he will be raising all sorts of deep and at times uncomfortable questions. I still think he’s up to it.
Somebody at the NHL office – or, maybe Brendan Shanahan – needs to have a quiet talk with Mike Babcock about his public handling of concussions.
Babcock wandered into ludicrous territory last week when he showed he didn’t understand not only the NHL’s concussion protocol, but also essentially said it was silly: That the player himself should have the final say whether or not he stays in the game.
Saturday, after Tyler Bozak was knocked out of the game by a Mika Zibanejad elbow, Babcock told reporters, “To be honest with you, I wanted him to stay and play on the power play. Just goes to show you that’s why they have other people making that decision, not the coach.”
The statement can be read two ways: First, you’d like to think, as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a head coach is the last person who should be judging a player’s health in the heat of the game, but given his earlier statements…well, was he being sarcastic?
Considering the appetite for legal proceedings surrounding this issue, a little more nuance and acceptance of responsibility would be appreciated from somebody who on so many levels is a role model for young coaches.
Jeff Blair is host of the Jeff Blair Show from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.