Blue Jays’ Springer signing forges bond between Godfrey and COVID doctor

Stephen Brunt joins Lead Off to discuss what he thinks the Blue Jays will do next with their starting rotation, making the case for them to sign a mid-level starter or two, rather than making a blockbuster type trade for a top of the rotation guy.

TORONTO – Paul Godfrey feared the worst when Gina, his wife of 53 years, was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto last month. What was initially thought to be bronchitis turned out to be COVID-19, which in her case was complicated by a related pneumonia. Upon arrival, she immediately received supplemental oxygen because her levels were so low.

All Godfrey could do was leave Gina at the emergency room entrance, since he also had the coronavirus, suffering only mild symptoms. For the next eight days, he tracked her progress through regular calls with Dr. Nathan Stall, a leading geriatrician at Mount Sinai who is also assistant scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“Dr. Stall basically saved her life,” says Godfrey, the former Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO who is now Postmedia’s executive chair. “They took her and went to work right away.”

In the days that followed, Godfrey kept tabs on his wife’s progress through daily calls with Stall, while Gina found reassurance in the doctor’s calming and polite demeanour. During one of those calls, as a measure of appreciation, Godfrey told Stall, “Look, I’m in the newspaper business, I don’t know what I can ever do for you, but if there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”

Without missing a beat, Stall replied: “There is something … go help the Blue Jays sign George Springer.”

The request caught Godfrey off-guard, as to that point, Stall hadn’t shown any hint of knowing his history with the club.

But as a lifelong Blue Jays fan, he very much did, and with speculation swirling in late December that it was down to Toronto or the New York Mets for the star outfielder, he “half-jokingly” called in a favour.

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“Given the difficulties the Jays have historically had in luring free agents north of the border and Springer’s ties to Connecticut, I was worried he was going to bolt for the Mets,” Stall remembers.

At that point, Francisco Lindor still hadn’t been traded and DJ LeMahieu had yet to re-sign with the New York Yankees.

Why Springer?

“I saw Springer as the most realistic ‘big fish’ free-agent signing given that the Jays seemed to be most linked to him,” Stall says. “I also always liked Springer — in fact, I find him so likeable that I’m somehow able to overlook him being such a central participant in the Astros cheating scandal. He’s clearly a very positive presence both on and off the field, a super likeable guy, and I really respect him for his work on helping kids with stuttering and being so open about his own struggles with the condition.”

Godfrey well knows the passion fans have for the team as someone who helped Toronto land an expansion spot in 1977 as chair of the former Metro Council, and served as Blue Jays president and CEO from 2001 through 2008.

But when Stall asked for Springer, “I almost fell off my chair,” he chuckles. “That’s the last thing you expect a doctor who you’ve been praising to say. So we laughed about it. And I said that after the pandemic’s over I’d like to get together and talk baseball over dinner one night. I just left it at that.”

A few days later, however, Joe Natale, the president and CEO of Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays (and this website), called Godfrey to check on him and Gina. During their conversation, Godfrey told him of Stall’s top-notch medical care, his great love for the Blue Jays, as well as his request.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

“Joe thought it was a very, very unique story,” he says.

That was that; Gina soon returned home and has since made a full recovery, and then, last Tuesday, word filtered out that the Blue Jays had reached an agreement on a $150-million, six-year contract.

Like most nights since the pandemic hit, Stall was working on his research – he’s been a relentless advocate for increased protection of long-term care centres and a strong critic of the province’s vaccination inefficiencies – periodically checking Twitter when he saw the news.

He immediately called Dr. Jonathan Zipursky – his best friend, fellow epidemiologist and hockey teammate on a Grade 5 squad that included one Aubrey Graham, better known now as Drake.

“We were ecstatic,” says Stall, “a real shot of hope during a very tough year for both of us.”

Stall and Godfrey also connected, laughing over the way a request made in jest became reality.

And in case the Blue Jays are listening, the doctor’s greedy wish list includes J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius and Trevor Bauer, while his realistic wish list includes Jake Odorizzi, maybe James Paxton and two of Gregorius, Tommy La Stella, Kolten Wong and Justin Turner.

“I think the Jays should continue to capitalize on a market that is atypically open and available for them owing to the pandemic. … If they can lock up talent they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, they must, especially as the kids continue to mature and get better,” Stall says.

“The most likely outcome? A memorable dinner with Paul.”

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