There has been a lot of discussion this spring about what is—or what ought to be—kosher in baseball, about whether overt expressions of pride should be part of the mix, or whether the sport must be played according to a great, grumpy code established by the ancients.
Should displays of emotion be allowed, given that a kids’ game is buried in there somewhere? Should a player be able to flip his bat when he hits the biggest home run of his life, and just how fast or slow should he trot it out?
And if he violates an unwritten rule in the judgment of his opponents, is it the other team’s right to plunk him with a pitch, even when that “sin” is a distant memory?
Funny—or not so funny—that the Toronto Blue Jays have found themselves right in the middle of that debate, because for long stretches of their early 2016 campaign, among the things lacking has been a sense of joy.
Canada’s favourite team was one half of the brawl in Arlington, punctuated by Jose Bautista taking one in the chops from Rougned Odor, and part of a pointless bean-ball incident in Minnesota that somehow turned a game against the worst team in creation into a blood feud. Its manager has been suspended once and ejected from games multiple times, and has looked many nights like he’d rather be in a dentist’s chair than in the dugout. Its best player, last year’s American League MVP, got tossed for an aside directed at an opposing coach (the ump mistakenly thought it was intended for him) who questioned his hustle—when he wasn’t hustling.
Never mind the countless argued strike calls, the stare-downs, the under-the-breath mutterings that have made the Toronto Blue Jays the bane of the umpiring fraternity.
Make baseball fun again? Blue Jays fans are right behind Bryce Harper on that one.
And the home team can start by making baseball fun like it was last fall.
It was a slog for most of April and May, and if you claim to have seen it coming, in exactly this form, well, here’s betting that you’re lying.
Iffy starting pitching? That could have happened. Roberto Osuna tumbling back to reality in his sophomore season? Sure, that would have been plausible. Catastrophic injuries? Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve killed a contender.
The culprit has been none of the above.
It was absolutely reasonable to wonder how Drew Storen would fare coming over from the National League, especially given the traumatic end to his time with the Washington Nationals, and those doubts have been justified so far. But the new folks at the helm of the franchise actually went out and invested precious payroll in the pen—in the form of Storen and Jesse Chavez. They had identified a potential area of weakness, and weren’t taking any chances. But how much was that really going to matter, with Brett Cecil back, and especially with an all-world offence that provided acres of room for error?
Ah, there’s the rub, a mysterious mass hitting outage that made the great, jolly, run-scoring juggernaut of the second half of last season look old and punchless and beatable and self-tortured on too many nights.
Bat flips have been a bit beside the point—which is why there is considerable irony in the Jays having assumed the mantle as defenders of free expression. Do you think, just maybe, that the rest of baseball, which wasn’t quite as in love with those Jays and their swagger, has been enjoying this a little bit?
The funk finally seemed to lift a bit with consecutive series wins over the Twins, Yankees and Red Sox, and especially during a big walk-off comeback win over Boston that was their first real flash of 2015 in 2016. The on-field mass hug that followed was absolutely appropriate.
And that’s where the old school meets the new school, where the head-down, run-out-every-ground-ball, act-like-you’ve-done-it-before crowd is in perfect agreement with those who appreciate athletes who show their feelings, openly preen over their accomplishments and act like they’re part of the 21st century, not the 19th.
You want to be one of those guys who celebrate and complain and emote all over the place?
Then we can talk.