While Alex Anthopoulos has been busy trying to lock up draft picks, sportsnet.ca has been wheeling and dealing as well.
We’re pleased to announce that the work of the popular Blue Jays blog, Tao of Stieb will soon be appearing on sportsnet.ca to complement our already leading coverage of Canada’s only MLB team.
Given the stink that’s been made the past week over ESPN The Magazine’s use of unnamed sources in their Spydome story, we understand fans unfamiliar with Tao’s work might be somewhat reluctant when it comes to reading an anonymous blogger.
But with a four-year track record of providing some of the most insightful and engaging fan-generated Blue Jays content on the web, we’re sure our Ottawa-based addition’s identity won’t be an issue.
But before Tao’s first entry appears on sportsnet.ca, we thought it’d be a good idea to run a few questions by him to give those of you who may not be familiar with him an idea of the type of analysis and perspective to expect in the weeks and months ahead…
1. Where did you come up with the blog title?
The blog title is a tribute most obviously to the man with the greatest slider-moustache combination in baseball history, as well as to one of my all-time favourite movies, The Tao of Steve.
It was early in the 2007 campaign, and in the excitement of the first month of the season, I had considered starting a blog. I was standing on a sidewalk, thinking of blog titles when this one popped into my head. I literally ran back to my desk to start writing. I was in such a rush that I forgot the whole “i before e” rule and got the spelling of Our Patron Saint’s name wrong.
2. When and how did you start following the team?
It was right around the end of the 1970s that I started to pay attention to baseball, and my fandom was split between the Montreal Expos (the team I most often saw on TV), the Pittsburgh Pirates (the team with the awesome pillbox hats and Kent Tekulve) and the Milwaukee Brewers (the team with Robin Yount).
When you’re a kid, you’re allowed to split your allegiances for such specious reasons. The Jays were a bit of a laughing stock around my neighbourhood, with any goofed up pop fly or grounder between the legs in our front-lawn games referred to as “Blue Jays plays.”
But as the games became more readily available on TV in Atlantic Canada, and as I started to hear more about the new stars of the Jays like Damaso Garcia, Lloyd Moseby and Luis Leal, I started watching more games, and became more of a fan.
What probably clinched my full transition to exclusive Blue Jays fandom was reading the Sports Illustrated baseball preview before the 1984 season, which predicted a second place finish (behind the mighty Tigers) and featured a young Tony Fernandez as the exemplar of the team’s forthcoming success. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
3. How close do you think the Jays are to contending for a playoff spot?
A lot will depend on whether there are new playoff spots to be had through a new wild card scenario, and how that additional spot (or spots) are accessed. But setting those external factors aside, I can see a scenario where this team wins 90-plus games as soon as next year, and with some luck on their side and against either the Sox or Yanks, they could squeeze into the 2012 postseason.
Would I start to amend he roster in anticipation of a 2012 run?
I think I’d be cautious about sacrificing the team’s longer term success for a run next year, but when you look up and down through the Jays’ roster, you see a lot of players who are about to transition from “young” to “experienced.”
Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil are all about to shed their sheen of newness, as are Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escobar, Travis Snider, and to some extent, J.P. Arencibia. Add to that the players who are emerging through the system like Brett Lawrie, and the goal of having potential all-stars at every position starts to seem more realistic.
4. Who are some of your favourite Jays player of all-time and why?
As mentioned before, Fernandez was the guy who really brought me into the fold.
Like a lot of other guys of my vintage, I started trying to throw with that sidearm floaty motion that Tony used to such tremendous effect, but was significantly less successful with it myself.
Oddly enough, I would probably slot Jimmy Key in as my all-time favourite Jays pitcher, just ahead of Patron Saint Stieb and Roy Halladay. For a couple of years, it seemed as though Key was making every televised start, and I love watching the precision with which he pitched.
He wasn’t a big strikeout guy, but I always seem to remember him walking off the mound after an inning-ending K, which I’ve taken to mean that he could dial it up and get the batter when he needed to (This is how legends are made…I fully expect someone to tear up that theory with their fancy “statistics”).
Aside from those two from my early years, I was also a huge fan of Mark Eichhorn. I still do love pitchers with peculiar deliveries, and what Eichhorn did in 1986 and ‘87 was really cool to see. Hitters were befuddled by the way the bottom would drop out of his pitches.
As for the later era of the Jays, I’d like to take a moment to underline just how awesome Carlos Delgado was. He left before Jays blogs emerged, and before the sea change in how people assess offensive performance. But if we now had a player with a .282/.392/.556 slash line (as Delgado posted over his 12 years in Toronto), we’d be at a loss for superlatives.
People know Delgado was great, but I think they forget the extent of his game.
5. What of type of following do the Jays have in Ottawa and do you think minor league baseball could ever work there again?
I generally judge the imprint of the team by the number of Jays caps that I see, and at this point, I probably see a dozen or so per day in the limited time that I’m out and about and not hiding in my basement. So I think there is some level of support for the team.
Having said that, there is really only one scenario in which an affiliated franchise works in Ottawa again, and that’s if Rogers were to own the franchise themselves. I don’t see any other prospective owners out there, nor do I see a scenario where someone comes in who could invest the money necessary to rebuild a fan base and product in the city.
If Rogers (or some other prospective owner who is hiding in the weeds) were willing to invest in the marketing and promotion of the team, and willing to fix the ballpark in Ottawa (which has begun to go to seed), then there is a way forward towards making an affiliate a success.
But I’m not holding my breath.
6. Who are some of your favourite non-Sportsnet baseball writers?
You know, I’ve been struggling to read some Roger Angell books recently, because I feel like I should like them. But there’s a part of me that snaps back to what I really appreciate from the sharpest of the bloggers out there today: Concision, and facts.
Angell’s a good writer and some of the observations that he draws out are interesting. But some of it is the lyricism that leads to obvious knowledge that gets handed down from father to son.
As for those on the Jays’ beat, the first two that I’d mention are a bit of a cheat, since both are Fan 590 and Sportsnet contributors, but I’ve always had a lot of respect for the Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt. I think Blair has a great voice when he writes, still has an abiding affection for the game, and resides on the right side of the divides between scepticism versus cynicism, and wit versus sarcasm.
Brunt literally wrote the book on the Jays (Diamond Dreams: 20 Years of Blue Jays Baseball), which is a must-read for Jays fans if you can find it somewhere, since it has been out of print for a decade or more.
The first time that I can really remember tying a byline to a writer when it came to Jays coverage was a story written by Brunt just after the signing of Dave Winfield. The way we think of that move now is very different, but I remember both the crisp language, and the way that Brunt was able to take enough of a critical distance to look at whether the “proven veteran” was the piece that helped remove the moniker of “chokers” from the franchise.
I think what I appreciate about Brunt is that when he writes on the tempest in that day’s teacup, he brings a lot of nuance to the discussion where others simply hammer away at the same points and punchlines. I think Brunt is my Polaris, and I still aspire to follow his path (Or, failing that, at least have him over for a barbecue).
As for those who are active on the Jays beat now, I really enjoy John Lott’s perspective in the National Post. He seems to seek out his own stories and doesn’t follow the pack.
As far as my fellow bloggers, I’m driven mad by Drew Fairservice at Ghostrunner on First because I’m constantly left wishing I’d just written the piece that he just posted.
7. What do you think the future holds for the Jays young Big 3 of Snider, Rasmus and Lawrie?
I often say that I’m not a soothsayer, so I try to avoid predicting the future. But for the sake of being a sport, I can see all three as everyday players for the next four years, with Lawrie being at the head of the class offensively, but with all three contributing at above average levels.
I know a lot of people are getting off the Snider bandwagon, but I think there is enough evidence that he can be a very good player for this team as he matures. He’s still just 23, and I think that we won’t even see him hit his peak until 2014, so there’s still plenty of time for him to figure out how to work the count in his favour more often, and how to lay off breaking balls down in the zone.
As for Rasmus, I’m loving watching him in centre. He looks effortless out there, which is a quality that someone will eventually mistake for loafing or being some sort of malingerer. But I think it speaks to a calm and a confidence in his defensive abilities, and I really hope we get to see him blossom into a superstar.
8. What off-season moves would you like to see the team make?
I’ve started – ever so slightly – to warm to the idea of acquiring someone via free agency to supplement the core that is here. I don’t think it’s the right time to get into eight-to-10 year deals at $20 million per season, so that probably takes the Jays out of the Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols sweepstakes.
But if there is a guy like a Kelly Johnson or Omar Infante who could be had at a reasonable rate for a short-term deal, then we could see them making that move. As they say, there are no bad one-year contracts.
And as much as people have moaned and groaned about the results, we actually liked the approach that Alex Anthopoulos took to building the bullpen this year. If the Jays can reconstruct it with guys like Micah Owings or Joel Zumaya or Javier Lopez without getting stupid about it or squeezing their own prospects out of opportunities, we’d welcome those sorts of moves.
AA being AA though, we’ll guess that the impact player who the Jays get in the off-season will be a player who is currently comfortably secured in another team’s everyday roster, and no one has really even heard that he’s available.
And when that move is pulled off, just watch us all as we try to rub the incredulity out of our eyes.