Yesterday I got a letter from a listener who was angry and disappointed that I had the nerve to call Munenori Kawasaki a mascot on Baseball Central. She found the comment offensive, mean-spirited, and trolling.
Maybe some of you feel the same way?
I’ll tell you what. If you can show that Kawasaki is doing something for the Toronto Blue Jays that Jose Reyes can’t without basing your argument on Kawasaki’s eccentric clubhouse character, I will retract my statement and apologize immediately.
Until then, I stand by my words.
To be clear, I like Kawasaki. I think he makes for great entertainment and I wish there were more players like him—absolute wild cards who give 110 per cent of their ability all the time. As far as player mascots go, he’s an All-Star.
He’s been a great distraction from a rough start, and proven himself as a very serviceable backup infielder. I have no doubt he could platoon for a team that didn’t already have two switch-hitting super subs.
Sadly, Kawasaki’s 110 per cent threshold just happens to be the basement level of production for Jose Reyes. In fact, if Reyes turned in the numbers that Kawasaki has posted, we’d call him a thief and want him skinned alive for robbing the franchise.
But Kawasaki has the charm of being a mascot: you don’t have to be as good as everyone else as long as you can distract them from how bad they are. Your job is to keep things fun, win the hearts of the fans, lighten the mood, and field your position.
However, it’s a job you must do with the foreknowledge that there is nothing more fun than sustained winning, and when the team is placed in a situation in which it can sustain success, you must step aside.
Kawasaki’s character is a wonderful silver lining against diminished production, but, with the team in striking distance, the Blue Jays no longer need a silver lining. They need a gold standard, and that’s Reyes.
There is no doubt that Kawasaki has been an unquantifiable force in the clubhouse, but his antics are not the reason the Jays won 11 in a row and got back into the race. They are merely a sideshow to dramatically increased team-wide on-field production—production that they must sustain if the Jays are going to have any chance of winning the AL East, or eking out a Wild Card in a division where every team is above .500 and certain to viciously cannibalize itself.
If you honestly feel that losing Kawasaki’s “character” is going to cripple the Jays’ spirit, then you are essentially confirming he is, in fact, a mascot since he represents more good luck and mojo than actual performance, and that the Jays are only as capable as the mood of their clubhouse.
I can assure you, they are not.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t overvalue the sentimental impact of Kawasaki’s potential departure. The boys will endure.
If a professional baseball team—a group of players who’ve witnessed the cruel and sterile math of the game add and subtract personalities for years—can’t win without their favourite quirky, charming, backup shortstop, they were never meant to win.
Still, there is the chance that Kawasaki may not get demoted. The Jays have an eight-man bullpen and are considering shuffling Dustin McGowan through waivers or demoting Neil Wagner.
The consensus is that fans would be okay with the potential loss of McGowan to keep Kawasaki around. Ironic since McGowan was the former feel-good story of the Jays. Now he has been usurped by Kawasaki.
McGowan, finally in a situation to help the club after years of working himself back through injury, has a 97 m.p.h. fastball and years of big league experience, but the fan base believes the guy who’s hitting .220 and stands on his head during warmups is the better choice because he makes the players smile?
You know what else makes players smile? To quote Charlie Sheen, #winning.
Kawasaki has options, he’s easily replaced on field, and his quirk and charm can’t answer the hard question every general manager must ask, and ask daily, “what can I do to make my on-field product better?”
It’s a hard move, one that fans will certain react against, but it’s the right one. The fans love him, the media loves him, internet GIFs love him, but Kawasaki was a stopgap until Reyes was ready, and Reyes is ready.
So go ahead, chant his name, support his super pac, honour the fact that though he’s number 66 in your program, he’s number one in your heart. He should still go to Triple-A because that’s the best way he can help this club right now.
And don’t worry, Kawasaki has proven to the world he can help a club in the bigs. He’ll be back soon.