Excerpt: Jerry Howarth on constructive criticism and the Jose Reyes trade

Former Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes. (Paul Beaty/AP)

Excerpted from Hello Friends: Stories from My Life and Blue Jays Baseball by Jerry Howarth. © 2019 by Jerry Howarth. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com

The Jose Reyes Story

The advice I give to young broadcasters about constructive criticism bears repeating here: There is a good way to be constructively critical of a player when you are up in the booth. Pretend that player is sitting right beside you as you say it. That way, you can walk into the clubhouse the next day or mingle at the batting cage and not be afraid at all of what a player might say to you. You’ve already said it to him.

In my encounter in 2015 with shortstop Jose Reyes, many of you might be thinking, Did Jerry do the same thing with Reyes? The answer is: yes, I did. The only qualifier I would add is that a few days later, on a morning show with Dean Blundell on our flagship station Sportsnet 590 The Fan, I wish that my tone of voice had not been so harsh and angry. However, when I spoke to Dean about the situation, all the facts were still on the table.

I liked Reyes as a person. He was friendly and happy and smiling all the time. But as the 2015 season wore on, his play at shortstop began to slip badly. A couple of times, routine ground balls went right through his legs, costing his team wins and pitchers losses. I didn’t say anything at that time. But as I went through the clubhouse on a daily basis, I began to sense how it was affecting his teammates, who were losing games as a result.

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The Blue Jays went to Minnesota for a weekend series at the end of May. It happened again. With classy Mark Buehrle on the mound Friday night, Twin Danny Salazar led off and hit a ground ball to short. As Reyes bent down to field it, the ball went right through his legs. On the air I said, “That is the third time this season a ball has gone right through Jose Reyes’ legs.” I left it at that. But I was feeling for Mark and his teammates. Buehrle escaped that inning, and the Blue Jays went on to win it, 6–4.

Two days later, the Blue Jays led, 5–4, going to the bottom of the 7th inning. Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks led off and hit a ground ball to short. Reyes fielded it and threw it wildly to first base, allowing Hicks to reach on the throwing error. As the inning unfolded, Minnesota scored twice to take a 6–5 lead, aided and abetted by Jose’s error. Near the end of the inning, TV shots showed Reyes smiling. After the commercial break, I came back on the air. “Jose Reyes is hurting this team with his play at shortstop. He is hurting his teammates and the pitchers on the mound. They are not seeing even routine plays made behind them. Something has to change at shortstop, or the Blue Jays will not have a chance to make the playoffs this season.”

I was firm and direct and didn’t mention a thing about the smiling. And, yes, I also pretended that Reyes was sitting right next to me, in case he had an issue with what I was saying. Nothing was said as we boarded the plane and headed home. And nothing was said to me over the next two games at home. What I had said was fair and honest and spoke volumes.

On Wednesday, I was asked to go on the morning show. I agreed. I also knew what Blundell was going to ask me, and that was about Reyes and my comments on Sunday. I could have easily said, “I said what I said and have no regrets. Let’s move on.” But I did not. Instead, for the next six or seven minutes I told Dean what Jose was doing to his team and teammates. The longer I went, the harsher my voice got, to the point of anger. For the first time, I also brought up the fact that I thought his laughing was totally uncalled for and unacceptable. When I was finished with the show, I had mixed feelings about how my attitude may have come across but not about the content.

That night at the game, Paul Beeston, the president of the Blue Jays and a loyal friend of mine from day one, going back to 1982, called me into his office. “Jerry, I am not here to fire you, even though I am disappointed in you and what you had to say this morning. It was your tone of voice that bothered me the most. You have been around a long time, and I respect what you have done here, but that was not good.”

Jose Reyes. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

We had a good talk. “Paul, I am disappointed in myself, too. And you are right about the tone of voice. I was angry and upset. I should have just let it go and let my words on the broadcast stand alone for what I saw happening.”

That night, I looked for Reyes to apologize to him for what I had said that morning and how I had said it. I did not see him in the clubhouse before the game, so I pulled my good friend and third-base coach Luis Rivera aside and asked him if he would please ask Jose if he would see me after batting practice. He came up to me later and said that Reyes did not want to see me. That did not surprise me. A few days later, when the team was in Boston, I waited in the tunnel that leads from the clubhouse to the playing field — there was no other way for Reyes to get to the field. After some time, he came into the tunnel and started to the dugout. Halfway to the field, I stood right in front of him. “Jose, I’m sorry for what I said, and I am especially sorry for how I said it. You are a great young man and you love playing the game. Again, I am sorry.” He looked at me and said, “Okay.” I moved aside as he continued to the dugout. That was the last time we spoke.

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Sometimes even when we pretend that a player is right there next to us, there can be extenuating circumstances that can factor in. I have no regrets about what I said. I do, however, wish I had softened what I said a few days later and not let my emotions and feelings get the best of me. In the big picture, I also learned a valuable lesson about honesty. That came from Alex Anthopoulos. “You sure made that trade of Reyes to the Rockies a lot more difficult for me because the Rockies kept asking what was going on with Reyes. That deal took a few more weeks than I expected, but we pulled it off.”

I had never thought about that. My words could have negatively affected a transaction that was paramount to the Blue Jays’ future success in 2015, bringing Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to the Blue Jays.

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