By Emily Senger - Monday, April 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
Sports reporter Kelly Nash had a close call over the weekend while she was…
Sports reporter Kelly Nash had a close call over the weekend while she was killing time during batting practice at Fenway Park by taking pictures of herself in the stadium.
When Nash, who covers the Tampa Bay Rays as their sideline reporter, looked at the pictures, one of them showed a baseball whizzing past her head.
Writing at Fox Sports, Nash says:
“I was taking a picture of myself in the seats above the Green Monster during Red Sox batting practice.
“Producer Art Dryce had called out ‘heads up!’ a few times while I was taking pictures around the left field section, but none of those balls actually fell close to me, so I took my chances turning my back on batting practice for a picture. Continue…
By Michael Friscolanti - Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Alex Anthopoulos
Heading into his fourth season as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, 35-year-old Alex Anthopoulos is fresh off his busiest winter yet. Two blockbuster trades netted some of the biggest names in baseball—from Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to all-star shortstop José Reyes—and boosted team payroll by more than US$40 million. With opening night set for April 2, fans are salivating for something they haven’t tasted in 20 years: the playoffs. Expectations could not be higher. Maclean’s caught up with the architect of the Jays’ revamped roster in Dunedin, Fla., the team’s spring-training home.
Q: Last time we spoke, two spring trainings ago, you talked about how thorough you are—almost obsessive, as you put it—in the pursuit of useful information. You said you even canvassed the team cook for his opinions.
A: I’m still the same way. But I think the one tweak or adjustment, if you want to call it that, is that I have to remember my vote should count for more. That’s not to sound arrogant. If things don’t go well, they are my decisions anyway. Sometimes when I look back, the things I regret are things that I may not have been completely sold on. What I think I’ve come to is: canvass everybody, get everyone’s opinion, but it’s really my vote.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 at 3:18 PM - 0 Comments
The Baseball Hall of Fame failed to elect anyone this year, for the first time since 1996. This was the big test year for whether the sportswriters would soften their stance on the steroid era, since several known users and suspected users were on the ballot for the first time. We got the answer: the majority of sportswriters eligible to vote agree with Ken Burns that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens “deserve to suffer for a while.”
Though Burns isn’t eligible to vote, his thinking does seem to sum up a lot of what voters feel: no one from that era is clean except scrappy little singles hitters (“I know one person in all of the Major Leagues I’m absolutely certain didn’t, and that’s Ichiro Suzuki”) and although Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are indisputably qualified – even if you discount their obvious steroid-enhanced years – they need to be kept out at least for a while because that whole era makes it “impossible for us to judge excellence.”
Personally I’m more inclined to side with Daniel Tosh – and this is the first time I have ever quoted Daniel Tosh in a favourable manner – who said this a couple of years ago:
We’ll put an asterisk next to Barry Bonds’ name, sure, as soon as we put one next to Babe Ruth’s name. Getting to break records before black people were allowed to play? Excuse me, where is that asterisk? Why don’t people talk about that?
Is that facile? Sure. But what I think is more relevant is that Burns’s big problem with the steroid era – we don’t know who was clean and who wasn’t – applies to almost any era of baseball, unless we think that performance enhancers of one kind or another magically appeared at a certain point in the ’90s. When you add in the fact that every major league baseball player before 1947 is tainted by the fact that some of the best players in baseball weren’t allowed to compete against them (not their fault, unless you’re talking about Cap Anson or somebody, but it does diminish the level of competition they faced overall), there’s a serious question of why this one era has to be treated so differently from all the others.
I’ll add this: I’m not sure if it is fair at all for me to feel this way, but I sometimes feel like the steroid era is dealt with particularly harshly because it was an era of big hitting and home runs, which fans tend to like but which baseball purists often find a bit vulgar. (By the way, I myself prefer a high-average, speed-based approach to baseball; aesthetically speaking, I’d rather see a player with 100 stolen bases a year than 100 walks, even though I know the 100 walks are usually going to be more valuable to the team.) The factors that went into creating the pitchers’ era of the ’60s, like the pitchers throwing at batters and building up the mounds as high as they could, never really seemed like a huge problem.
More to the point, Gaylord Perry‘s open and proud cheating always seemed cute because it was a triumph of smarts and con artistry over sheer athletic ability, as opposed to steroids, where the point is to enhance athletic ability. A scrappy guy triumphing over the limitations of his body is fun; a big strong guy making himself bigger, stronger and more resistant to injury is not (and it certainly won’t be fun for him when he gets older). I’ve just never been sure that the fans, as a group, felt quite as betrayed by the steroid era as the sportswriters did. Whereas the revelations of the gambling era, and even the era when baseball had a really bad cocaine problem, shocked fans because the players were making their level of play worse through the things they were doing. And I wonder: if steroids had produced a game built around singles and speed, rather than slow people hitting homers, would the sportswriter backlash have been quite so fierce?
I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing the impact of steroid use. But the fact that the fans loved the hitting bonanza of that era is an unavoidable part of the story; so is the fact that, as Dave McMahon notes in that Burns piece, there is no way to tell for sure that anyone – even the scrappy singles hitter – is truly “clean.” As with the era when baseball was overrun with gamblers, the people we believe to be “clean” as opposed to the “dirty” ones often says as much about our preconceptions as our knowledge. There were probably a lot more games thrown in 1919 than the ones we know about, and there were probably a lot more steroid users in baseball than the ones who are being made an example of. Not that steroid use, circa 1998, was as bad as throwing a baseball game at any time in history.
Finally, every time the Hall of Fame ballot comes out I feel bad that Tim Raines didn’t get in, because he’s Tim Raines, and I’m an Expos fan, and everybody needs a cause, and he’s mine. At least Raines moved up the ballot enough that he has a real chance to get in someday, if only because the sportswriters’ obsession with baseball’s steroid problem is clearing a possible path for players from the era of baseball’s cocaine problem.
By Peter Nowak - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Last week’s post about how the budgets for television shows may need to go down in order to adapt to the internet sparked some interesting discussion over on Twitter. The discussion involved films, of course, with one commenter suggesting that A-list actors such as Tom Cruise command huge salaries because they’re proven draws.
That got me thinking: do movie executives really cast their movies based on the drawing power of the actors? Of course they used to, so the better question is perhaps whether they still do? And if so, is it possible to play games with such a system, similar to how baseball manager Billy Beane played “Moneyball” with the Oakland Athletics?
Surely I’m not the first person to have thought of this – it would actually only surprise me if this sort of thing wasn’t widespread in Hollywood.
Beane’s Moneyball strategy, for the uninitiated, was a system of picking players based on non-traditional statistics. For much of its history, Major League Baseball has aligned the value of its players according to traditional stats, like batting average, home runs, stolen bases, earned run average and so on. If one guy consistently hits .300 and 40 home runs, then he’s an all-star who should make big bucks, or so the system has gone.
Beane, however, didn’t have those big bucks to spend with the A’s, so he instead focused on what he felt were more important statistics, such as on-base average and slugging percentage. After all, it doesn’t really matter how a player gets on base – whether it’s through a hit, a walk or even hit by a pitch – because once he’s there, he has the same chance to score a run as a good hitter, which is the only thing that matters in a game that’s decided by one team outscoring the other.
As dramatized in the Brad Pitt film, Beane put together a successful team based on his stats that had no bona fide all-stars, just players who put together solid numbers but were paid modestly. The “Moneyball” strategy has of course had a big effect on baseball since, with many teams now employing statisticians that study such numbers.
The logic seems to apply to movies as well. Over the past year, Tom Cruise was again the highest paid actor, according to Forbes. The illuminating part, however, comes from looking at the magazine’s most overpaid actors list, which calculates the revenue from their last three films against salaries. Right there at ninth most overpaid is Cruise, whose movies earn $6.35 for every dollar he’s paid.
Contrast that with the most profitable actor, Kristen Stewart, whose movies (which have basically been Twilightfilms, so far) earn $55.83 for ever dollar she’s paid.
The two lists are quite obvious when compared. The overpaid list includes established, big A-listers including Cruise’s ex-wife Nicole Kidman and comedians such as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Eddie Murphy. The most profitable list, meanwhile, is made up mostly of young actors such as Stewart’s co-star Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe and Shia Labeouf.
The major flaw with Forbes’ process is equally obvious when the types of movies the actors star in are considered. People go to see comedies based on the actor/comedian, while not many go to big event movies like Transformers to see Labeouf. Comedy actors thus probably merit higher pay while their movies earn less than blockbusters, which pay their stars relatively little. This skew explains much of the two lists.
Still, the inclusion of dramatic actors such as Cruise and Kidman on the overpaid list does lend credence to the fact that paying an actor large amounts of money to star in a movie is pretty risky, if not foolish. From a financial perspective, it would seem to make more sense to play Moneyball with actors. As long as it’s not a movie that’s completely dependent on the actor’s personality, young players consistently deliver a better bang for the buck.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 5:42 PM - 0 Comments
It’s the cleverest promotional idea in big-league baseball this year. And baseball, by the way, is the hardest sport in which to win that title. On June 30 the Tampa Bay Rays are having a “Turn Back the Clock” game in which the players will wear the uniforms of the 1979 version of the Rays. I hear some of you saying that the Rays were created almost twenty years after that date. Pshaw! A bagatelle! A mere detail, as this photo of Rays manager Joe Maddon modelling the throwback uniform proves!
It’s in the nature of baseball that everyone believes the version of the sport played on television when they were young is the ideal version. For us Gen-Xers, though, this is objectively, inarguably true. (What, you prefer steroid-altered baseball? 1960s no-scoring, no-.300-hitters baseball? Racially segregated baseball?) The Rays’ alternate-history throwback doesn’t have a colour scheme you would wear in a boardroom. What this uniform has going for it, like the real ’70s uniforms it’s imitating, is that it is at least consciously designed. It clearly wasn’t created by having a computer algorithm pick a basic shade of red and pass it to a focus group. In a brilliant fake-historic touch, the trite mean-animal name that the real team was born with, in the world-run-by-idiots era of the “Toronto Raptors”, has been reinterpreted as denoting the Rays of a lemony ’70s sun. It’s too good to last just one game!
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 18, 2012 at 5:22 PM - 0 Comments
“Mr. Clemens, you are free to go.”
With that, retired pitcher Roger Clemens was…
With that, retired pitcher Roger Clemens was found not guilty of perjury on Monday afternoon. Clemens faced prison time for charges that he lied to U.S. Congress in 2008 when he claimed he’d never used performance-enhancing substances during his 24-year career.
“It’s been a hard five years,“ the Cy Young Award winner told reporters after learning the decision.
As the New York Times reports, the verdict was decided by a panel of 12 individuals who mostly do not follow baseball. They heard from 46 witnesses during a trial that lasted more than two months. “It was a major, especially painful, defeat for the government in its second failed attempt at convicting a player whose legal problems highlighted baseball’s continuing drug woes,” the paper reports.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine
Shawn Green became a much better hitter after he started hitting a lot of balls at a practice tee. But it wasn’t the practice that mattered. The former Toronto Blue Jays player tells us he blossomed into an all-star after he developed a kind of mystical relationship to his tee work: it “became an object worthy of contemplation.” His fascination with the practice swinging allowed him to become a power hitter despite his skinny build. Later on, after an off year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Green used another practice device, a contraption called “The Dinger,” to “recapture stillness and presence.”
The argument Green sometimes seems to be making is that hitting isn’t a matter of pure athletic ability or park conditions—it’s all about being at one with yourself. “I played the game from a deeper place than ever before,” he says of the 2001 season in which he hit a career high in home runs, and “as a result, my statistics improved and everyone loved me.” The message of the steroid era—which isn’t a major presence in this book—was that success in baseball goes to the biggest and strongest. Green’s story is a more pleasant one about statistical success going to people who are at peace with themselves.
Green can’t always make this argument successfully, in part because so many of the things he describes, including his statistical ups and downs, are standard for every player’s career. And his attempts to explain everything in a quasi-mystical way lead him to some odd conclusions: when he learns that all his tee practice has caused him to sustain an injury, he decides this was “the tee presenting me with yet another important lesson” about keeping the right balance between self-worth and self-deprecation. Or maybe he just swung the bat too many times and got hurt.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 1, 2011 at 2:59 PM - 3 Comments
Canadians are healthier in most every sense than a long list of wealthy, developed nations
At 144, we are in better shape in most every sense than a long list of wealthy, developed nations. Our Canada Day special is a reminder that by many global measures we are a blessed bastion of privilege, peace, freedom–and big roomy houses. Read on to find out the ten reasons why there has never been a better time to be Canadian and be sure to check out the full story here.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 1, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 11 Comments
By many global measures we are a blessed bastion of privilege, peace, freedom—and big roomy houses
We are Canada. At 144 years we are neither young nor old, as nations go. And nations do come and do go, it bears remembering. You don’t have to be very old to appreciate that the world map that occupied a corner of your childhood classroom is a relic of another age; that borders once drawn in blood aren’t indelible at all, they are just lines to be moved, or bent or erased by popular will. Yet, here we are, still in this together, and doing rather well.
Like any worthy anniversary, it is deserving of celebration but also of the appreciation that future years together aren’t guaranteed, they must be earned, and mutually agreed upon. Back when Canada was a mere pup of 115 years, Ralph Klein, then the brash young mayor of a brash young Calgary, called Canada, “perhaps the only country in the world held together by curiosity.” He asked if such a confederation of interests and regions can endure. “[N]o one is quite prepared to give up on her yet,” he said, “as if we all have some lingering desire to see how this ongoing exercise in nation-building ends.”
And why not? No. 143 was not the easiest of years, but it was largely free of any soul-sucking existential debate on Canada’s future. There was a federal election, and no one died in the process. Economic uncertainty lingers, but we emerged stronger than the year before, and healthier in most every sense than a long list of wealthy, developed nations. And, yes, let’s not lose sight of that inarguable fact: we are rich.
By macleans.ca - Monday, June 27, 2011 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
Owner blames MLB for rejecting proposed $3 billion TV deal
The Los Angeles Dodgers have filed for bankruptcy protection. The organization’s owner Frank McCourt blamed Major League Baseball for rejecting a $3 billion television deal that he says would have solved the Dodgers’ cash flow problems. The deal would have given News Corp’s Fox Network broadcasting rights for Dodger’s games and injected the beleaguered organization with $385 million upfront. McCourt is heavily in debt, having been unable to fulfill payroll and other financial obligations. He is also reportedly mired in bitter divorce proceedings with his estranged wife Jamie. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge is expected to decide in August whether the McCourts will divide ownership of the baseball team.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, April 18, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 1 Comment
He won the National League’s MVP and led the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs. Still, he’s working even harder on his game.
There’s an etiquette about batting practice in the big leagues. It’s fine to goof around outside the cage, talking to teammates, opponents, or the various hangers-on, as you wait your turn. But once you’re standing at the plate, it’s all business—take your hacks and make way for the next guy.
Then there’s Joey Votto. It’s not that the Toronto-born first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds violates the convention—far from it. He just makes it seem like an extra commandment. The preceding hitter has barely cleared the box before the 27-year-old is in his crouch, bat at the ready. He slashes the first pitch down the left-field line, then works his way right across the diamond—tock, tock, tock. The next five balls get launched into or over the high netting that tops the outfield walls at the Reds’ spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz.—three in a row to right, then two to left. It’s all so workaday that Votto doesn’t even bother to watch them go, he’s already waiting for the next pitch. Focused is a term that hardly does him justice.
So when the reigning National League MVP, coming off a season where he hit .324, smashed 37 homers, and batted in 113 runs and led the Reds to their first playoff berth in 15 years, proclaims that he can get better still, who’s to argue? “I want to be great at what I do. I take a lot of pride in it,” says Votto. “And I try not to sell myself short in my work and preparation.” Between awards ceremonies this past winter (Votto also collected the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete, and the Hank Aaron Award as the NL’s top hitter), he worked out five hours a day, six times a week at his Florida home. The guy who had the best on-base percentage in baseball, and went an entire season without an infield pop-out, talks about how he hopes to be a more efficient hitter, stronger defensively, and a better teammate. He speaks earnestly about proving himself all over again, and how he really measures himself against the man who finished a distant second in the league’s MVP voting, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, “the best player in baseball.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:33 PM - 0 Comments
For some it’s a tryout, for others a tune-up for the regular season. A behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Blue Jays at spring training.
By Mike Wilner - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
From a Canadian star’s comeback to the Mets’ money troubles, what to watch for this year
Already blessed with one of big league baseball’s strongest starting rotations— Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt were a combined 40-22 in 2010—the Philadelphia Phillies landed the biggest catch of the off-season when free-agent lefty Cliff Lee signed a five-year deal worth US$120 million (Lee turned down the New York Yankees, despite their offer being worth US$28 million more). The Phillies’ rotation, which some say is the best in major league history—at least on paper—now boasts three Cy Young Awards, 13 All-Star appearances and a World Series MVP to its credit.
PLAYING IT SAFE
Justin Morneau’s season ended abruptly last July when the Minnesota Twin took Toronto Blue Jay second baseman John McDonald’s knee to the head while sliding into second base. The 2006 American League MVP, who was one of eight big leaguers last year to miss games due to a concussion, was hitting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs at the time of the injury and was scheduled to start in the All-Star game. But even by the time spring training rolled around, the 29-year-old New Westminster, B.C., native had yet to be cleared to play. Morneau, who carries many of the Twins’ hopes for a repeat trip to the post-season, managed to work his way into some pre-season games by mid-March; he believes he’ll be back for opening day.
By Shi Davidi - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:28 PM - 0 Comments
It starts with a talented farm team and a major league approach
Development always takes precedence over winning in the minor leagues. But if a farm team enjoys some success, all the better. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the double-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, succeeded on both fronts last season. Many of the Jays’ top prospects—including pitchers Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart, as well as shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria—blossomed, and the club finished second in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division with a 79-62 record. The result: plenty of post-game dance parties. “There was a strobe light hooked up to the rafters in the clubhouse,” says left fielder Eric Thames, his face brightening at the memory, “and there was a fog machine.”
Though the party ended abruptly in the semifinals when the Fisher Cats were swept in three games by the Trenton Thunder (the New York Yankees’ AA club), the way the club groomed its players has become a model for what the Jays hope to achieve system-wide. This season, the organization will implement what assistant general manager Tony LaCava calls “a major-league-centric approach” to player development. The plan is to institute uniformity throughout the organization when it comes to coaching, ingraining the game’s fundamentals from one level to the next.
The goal is to create “an expectation that when you come to the major leagues, you do things a certain way,” says LaCava. “It’s really going to be a lot of the mechanical things. Certainly the different bunt plays, pick-off plays, our approach to stopping the running game—every aspect of the game.” In theory, this would prevent players from needing to decipher different coaching philosophies as they rise through the ranks, allowing them to focus instead on adjusting to the stiffer competition.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
It’s only his first year, but Farrell says his Jays will be a ‘contender’
In the summer of 1987, the biggest story in sports was Paul Molitor’s bat. The future Hall of Famer had smacked a hit in 39 straight games—one of the longest streaks in baseball history—and was threatening to break the unbreakable: Joe DiMaggio’s 56-gamer. On the last Wednesday of August, with all eyes on Milwaukee, Molitor and his Brewers hosted the last-place Cleveland Indians.
On the mound for the visitors was a rookie right-hander named John Farrell. “I shouldn’t have even pitched that night,” he says now, smiling at the memory.
He is not exaggerating. At 25, Farrell was mere days into his big-league career, and only got the starting nod because a teammate twisted his ankle. Even then, the game almost never happened; heavy rain hit Wisconsin all afternoon, drying up just in time for the national anthem. “There was no batting practice,” Farrell recalls. “Did that have something to do with what happened? Possibly.”
What happened, of course, was Molitor went 0 for 4, with a strikeout, a double-play groundout, and nothing close to a base hit. The streak was snapped.
Nobody knew it at the time, but for Blue Jays fans, the box score from that night offered a glimpse of the glory to come. Playing first base for the Indians was Pat Tabler, who, five seasons later, would help hoist Toronto’s first-ever championship trophy. The Cleveland left fielder—Joe Carter—was destined to be a post-season hero (“Touch ‘em all, Joe!”). And Molitor, who joined the Jays in 1993, would bat .500 (12 for 24) and earn MVP honours in the same World Series that ended with Carter’s bottom-of-the-ninth blast.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Travis Snider, J.P. Arencibia, and Brett Lawrie take up residence in a Clearwater mansion
Three young men with money to burn, living in a mansion in Clearwater Beach, Fla., while coeds on March Break stroll nearby streets in their bikinis. What could possibly go wrong? Fortunately for the Blue Jays, outfielder Travis Snider has a well developed sense of responsibility. The 23-year-old has rented the digs for the duration of spring training, and agreed to house rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, 25, along with infield hopeful Brett Lawrie, 21. The idea is to keep them out of trouble—or at least, try to. Reassuringly, Snider’s father Denne is there to help, while Lawrie’s parents, Cheryl and Russ, also drop by for a visit. The atmosphere is frat-house deluxe: a typical night entails a dinner of barbecued chicken filets and hamburger patties (no buns—too many carbs), followed by games of Nerf basketball and dips in a lavish-looking outdoor pool featuring faux rocks and a waterfall.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 5:54 PM - 1 Comment
José Bautista breaks down a life-changing home run, explaining the power swing that’s made him a star
As half-truths go, it at least had the virtue of utility: “I don’t measure my success in home runs,” José Bautista said during a recent break from Grapefruit League action in Dunedin, Fla., and somehow he kept a straight face. The idea was to manage expectations, of course. At that the Blue Jays’ Miracle Man of 2010 has proved surprisingly adept. “As long as you’re driving in runs, scoring, getting on base for your teammates,” he will say, “that’s all you can really ask.” Or: “Sure I hit a lot of home runs last year. But we didn’t make the playoffs. I’d rather hit 30, or even 20, and have our team win 100 games.”
It’s the sort of howler you serve up when you know you’ve become an every-day player at the ripe age of 30; when you’ve just taken a magic carpet ride up the major league home-run rankings; when, on the basis of one astounding 54-dinger season, you have just inked a deal for enough cash to buy a small Caribbean island.
It’s a bit like hearing Barack Obama say he doesn’t care how many votes he gets, and don’t think for a second that Bautista believes it. Whatever the merits of bunts and sacrifice flies, any baseball-related conversation he has these days eventually works its way back to the subject of homers—more specifically, the subject of 50 homers. Because when Bautista stepped up to the plate last fall in a game against the Seattle Mariners and hammered a Felix Hernandez fastball into orbit over the Rogers Centre, he knew as well as anyone that his life had changed. Fifty thrusts a player into the same sentence as Hall of Famers like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. It lumps him in with scarlet-lettered stars like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, or invites comparisons to one-season wonders like Brady Anderson—the Alannah Myles of the American League. Bautista would hit four more before the season was out. But 50 is the yardstick with which others will now measure his performance, even if he does not.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 5:28 PM - 0 Comments
Canadian Brett Lawrie’s go-go attitude has, at times, led to trouble. But it also makes him a prized acquisition.
Greg Hamilton has witnessed a few tours de force in his time with Canada’s national baseball program, but none compare to the show a brash teenager from Langley, B.C., put on three years ago during a double-header in the Dominican Republic. Playing as an 18-year-old with Canada’s national junior team, Brett Lawrie cranked five home runs over two exhibition games against a team of Seattle Mariners prospects, cementing his status as one of the game’s up-and-comers. Scouts drooled, and Lawrie whipped up the major league draft rankings. Hamilton, now coach of this country’s national team, was struck not so much by the number of homers as where Lawrie hit them: “He literally went foul pole to foul pole. I’d never seen anything like it. I think you’d have to poll a lot of baseball people to find one who had.”
The Blue Jays, in short, got themselves a bona fide blue-chipper last winter when they dealt pitcher Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for the infielder, the highest drafted position player ever to come out of this country. But fans expecting an athlete in the Sidney Crosby mould—all maple syrup and say-the-right-thing—might want to brace themselves. Lawrie is not the sort of player to tread lightly on people’s sensibilities. “I don’t try to piss people off,” he tells Maclean’s, “but I think my personality has sometimes had that effect.”
To this, the 21-year-old attributes his upbringing, and unbridled ambition. Raised in a sports-mad family, Lawrie took his competitive cues from his father Russ, who coached him in Little League, and his sister Danielle, who went on to become a star pitcher with the Canadian women’s fastball team. Russ was known as a tough coach, says Brett—to the point that other parents were aghast at how he dealt with his own kids. “At the ballpark, my dad would yell and scream at us,” he recalls. “But it kind of set us straight. My sister and I both had a high level of intensity. My dad was always there to push us to go further in the game.”
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 5:02 PM - 0 Comments
Rajai Davis was once a pigeon-toed kid in ankle braces. Now he’s a base-running wizard.
Rajai Davis wears low-top cleats because he likes his ankles to breathe. “It makes me feel faster,” he says. “I’m convinced.” The stats certainly support his theory. Last season, while playing for the Oakland Athletics, Davis and his size-10 Nikes swapped 50 bases, third-most in the majors—and just eight shy of the entire Blue Jays roster.
It was an impressive feat, considering the feet. Davis, one of Toronto’s key additions for 2011, was born with “pigeon toe,” a deformity that left both his feet pointing inward. “When I was a baby, I couldn’t walk right so I had to wear braces on my legs,” he recalls, after a recent round of batting practice. “My heels were connected like Forrest Gump.”
In truth, the device wasn’t quite as elaborate as the movie version. But it was depressing enough that his mother, Diana, couldn’t bring herself to snap a photograph. “I hate that I never took a picture,” she says now. “But it was a difficult time for me. It was hard to see your kid in such a thing.”
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 5:02 PM - 2 Comments
How Ricky Romero went from a kid in East L.A. to opening day starter
Some words burn into a player’s memory, motivating or enervating—unbeknownst, in many cases, to the men who speak them. For Ricky Romero, they came courtesy of a vigilant groundskeeper at Goodwin Field, the pristine ballpark at Cal State Fullerton, when the future Blue Jays ace was nine years old. Having encountered a jug-eared Latino kid gazing wide-eyed across the meadow, the man jerked his head toward an open gate in the left-field corner. “You can’t be here,” he said.
Young Ricky had been standing on the warning track, drinking in the sight of the fabled Fullerton Titans as they shagged flies, and, as he puts it, “grass like no grass I’d ever seen.” He was at the university that day with his father Ricardo, a sewing machine repairman who was making a service call on the campus, and who had urged his son to catch a glimpse of the field. Now, chastened by the scolding, Ricky trudged back to his dad’s beat-up company truck. “I got in and told my dad they’d kicked me out,” he recalls. “My father turned to me and said, ‘You watch, one day you’re going to be pitching from that mound.’ ”
The memory still gives Romero chills. He would indeed pitch from that hill—as the ace of Fullerton’s 2004 championship team, while riding a fully funded scholarship into the 2005 Major League amateur draft. He’d fight injury and self-doubt on an unexpectedly long route to the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation, and with each milestone passed, he made a bigger liar of that groundskeeper. Last week, Jays manager John Farrell announced that the 26-year-old left-hander would be the starting pitcher at the team’s home opener, and the irony hit Romero like a wave. Opening day starter is an honour reserved for the presumptive leader of a pitching staff. Not only is he here, he’s evidently here to stay.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
How the Jays’ 33-year-old GM worked his way up from the mailroom
Aroldis Chapman, a left-handed pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, is owner of the fastest fastball ever thrown: 105.1 miles per hour. They call him “The Cuban Missile,” which is quite a compliment. To missiles.
Back in December 2009—nearly a year before he uncorked that record-setting pitch—Chapman was a highly coveted but somewhat mysterious free agent, a skinny, 22-year-old defector whose magical arm was more word-of-mouth legend than radar-gun fact. Few scouts had actually seen him with their own eyes, and even as major league teams lined up to bid for his services, baseball executives were scrambling for scraps of intelligence on the game’s latest phenom. Smack in the middle of that hunt was an equally unknown rookie: Alex Anthopoulos, who, at the tender age of 32, had just been named general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“It was like going into an exam,” he says of the Chapman pursuit. “You had every intention of trying to do well, but you opened up the book the night before and tried to cram.” And when Anthopoulos says “the night before,” he means the night before his wedding—and the day of. “I don’t want to say too much,” he smiles. “My wife is going to read this and really want to kill me.”
By Colby Cosh - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
Conan vs. Leno
The Conan O’Brien-Jay Leno feud began in earnest on Jan. 7, with NBC’s announcement that it intended to give Leno an 11:35 p.m. show and move O’Brien’s Tonight Show to 12:05 a.m. The world gaped at what followed: O’Brien’s public rejection of the deal, his prolonged Viking-funeral farewell from Tonight, the tag-team mockery of Leno by late-night rivals Letterman and Kimmel, O’Brien’s exile from TV, his return, and, inevitably, a book (Bill Carter’s The War for Late Night) about the whole fracas.
Steve Jobs vs. Jim Balsillie
Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie tussled over the future of mobile devices under the looming shadow of Google’s Android operating system. Jobs boasted that the iPhone was beating RIM’s BlackBerry and declared RIM’s PlayBook tablet “DOA.” Balsillie countered with a volley aimed at Apple’s most notorious weakness: “We know that while Apple’s attempt to control the ecosystem and maintain a closed platform may be good for Apple, developers want more options and customers want to fully access the overwhelming majority of websites that use Flash.”
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 1:00 AM - 0 Comments
Now that the Giants have won their first World Championship since moving to San Francisco, that’s another Curse broken. As you know, the Giants left New York for California and were therefore Cursed, even though the Dodgers did exactly the same thing and won a World Series two years after they moved — no one ever said that Curses were consistent. The 1959 Dodgers, by the way, won with a seemingly unimpresive roster that didn’t compare, at least in terms of performance that year, to their great Brooklyn teams or the great L.A. Dodger teams of the ’60s. The Giants this year won with a team that looks even less impressive on paper (particularly the offense) compared to the great Giants stars of the past — Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Barry and Bobby Bonds — but “on paper,” of course, is not where games are won.
So now the Giants’ California Curse is over, but the team they beat, the Texas Rangers, remains Cursed because they left Washington D.C. for the greener (metaphorically) pastures of Texas. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the team that used to be the Expos is Cursed for abandoning Montreal and making us Expos fans bitter and angry and inclined to write blog posts. And the Milwaukee Brewers are Cursed even though nobody actually remembers that they used to be the Seattle Pilots — even Seattle doesn’t remember, but the Curse remembers, and hit not only Milwaukee, but also the expansion team that Seattle got to replace the Pilots. Some have argued, however, that the Curse of the Pilots is really the Curse of being associated with Bud Selig. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
It would be nice if we could get some tips on how to put a Curse on a baseball team, instead of waiting for the team to move or do something involving a goat. But for now, the Giants’ victory teaches us that there is no longer any price to pay for abandoning New York, whereas the Nationals continue to be a cautionary tale about what happens when you abandon Canada.
By macleans.ca - Friday, October 1, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
K’naan is the Teflon man, Hillary Clinton’s hair makes waves, and Elmo opens up about that Katy Perry fiasco
A big week for Hillary’s hair
“Oh Hillary, that hairstyle just doesn’t cut it,” carped the U.K.’s Daily Mail, bemoaning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “lanky locks.” “Hillary Clinton wears hair clip to the UN: ‘Do or don’t?” asked the Huffington Post. Hill’s hair, object of fascination throughout Bill’s presidency, had the fashion police on high alert at the UN. Meanwhile, its owner quietly intensified U.S. efforts in the fledgling Mideast peace process.
Not so big in Iran, then
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stirs trouble abroad, it’s a safe bet he faces problems back home. This week, the Iranian president was in full diversionary mode, suggesting the U.S. played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then mocking Western media for spotlighting cases like that of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death for adultery. (Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, also faces the death sentence for creating online forums Tehran considered a political threat; a similar campaign is building in his favour.) The uproar over Ashtiani, complained Ahmadinejad, is far greater than that over the plight of Teresa Lewis, a borderline mentally challenged woman executed in Virginia on Thursday. His remarks didn’t stop U.S. media from looking past the bluster to the real story: growing divisions among Iran’s conservatives over the election 15 months ago that gave Ahmadinejad his second term. No wonder he wants to change the channel.
C’aan the man do no wrong?
What does K’naan have to do to be criticized? After organizers of a Vancouver-area charity concert fell short of his $40,000 fee, the Somali-Canadian musician refused to take the stage, leaving fans and the charity in the lurch; Simon Fraser University, where the benefit was being held, reportedly offered to pay the difference, to no avail. Yet event organizers, including charity chief Clement Apaak, fell on their swords, accepting full blame, and offering refunds. The Teflon star’s cred is unblemished by even a summer spent touring for Coke, to whom he sold his hit, Wavin’ Flag, for its World Cup marketing campaign, the corporate giant’s biggest ever.
A homer odyssey
If you hadn’t heard the name Jose Bautista before this fall, don’t feel bad. The Toronto Blue Jays slugger had hit fewer home runs in his three previous seasons combined than he has in 2010, and there was nothing to presage the power surge that this week lifted him into the company of legends like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Having surpassed the Jays’ team record of 47 dingers, Bautista cracked his 51st and 52nd over the weekend, giving rise to inevitable questions about the source of his unaccustomed power. Bautista swatted aside queries like so many hanging curve balls. “I understand because of the [sport’s] history,” he said when asked if he’d used performance-enhancing drugs. “But those days are gone.”
The devil is in the details
With his bald head, sinister black Van Dyke beard and dark sunken eyes, it’s hard to forget that Scott Robb, who’s running for Edmonton’s city council, is a practising Satanist. Still, religious issues aren’t a big part of the message for the founder of the Darkside Collective. Rather, the 31-year-old security guard’s platform focuses on opposing a plan to shutter Edmonton’s City Centre Airport, and proposes to run downtown light-rail transit lines underground. Robb eschews political donations and is spending his own money—$400 so far—on his campaign. Which would mean his name isn’t the only eerie similarity he bears to Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford.
Elmo loves Katy Perry—but not inappropriately. “We had a good time,” the Sesame Street puppet told Good Morning America. Elmo’s talk-show appearance was meant to help defuse reaction to his onscreen play date with the pop singer, whose low-cut, cleavage-revealing costume irked parents and led the show to cut the segment. “We’ll have another play date,” Elmo told host George Stephanopoulos, who until recently hosted ABC’s Sunday political show This Week, where he interviewed powerful world leaders. In other news Perry- and puppet-related, the pop queen will appear in a special live-action episode of The Simpsons this Christmas. “In the wake of Elmo’s terrible betrayal, the Simpsons puppets wish to announce they stand felt-shoulder-to-shoulder with Katy Perry,” said Simpsons executive producer Al Jean.
How many women does it take to make a cabinet?
With the election of Simonetta Sommaruga to the Swiss cabinet, the conservative country crossed an unlikely threshold: with Sommaruga, a Social Democrat, as transport minister, Switzerland, which until 1971 barred women from voting, now has a majority-female cabinet—three men, four women—what Social Democrat chair Christian Levrat called an “essential, decisive step.”
A real guitar hero
Vancouver’s Don Alder entered the sixth annual Guitar Superstar competition on a whim—the top 10 finalists, he’d heard, get a nod in Guitar Player magazine, the enthusiast’s bible. Not only did the 54-year-old win, he earned the night’s only standing ovation. Judges deemed his performance “flawless” and “transcendental,” with one adding: “The world needs to hear you.” Alder took up the guitar at the urging of Rick Hansen, a childhood friend (they were together when Hansen was injured after being thrown from the back of a pickup). They were out fishing eight years ago when Hansen said, “Why don’t you get back to your music?” Alder told the Vancouver Sun. “He told me failure is not trying—ever since it’s taken me down this amazing journey.”
Do as he draws, not as he does
What began as a campaign against plagiarism ended as a lesson in irony. Taiwan’s “Protect Copyright” contest launched last year, soliciting entries for a poster campaign. Judges were particularly fond of Wu Chih-wei’s dramatic entry, “Work—Shattered,” featuring a plunging paper plane, words trailing its wings like smoke. The entry earned him a medal and a cash prize, and his poster went up all over Taiwan. Only problem: he’d ripped off Dutch artist Dennis Sibeijn. Wu was stripped of his prize and faced up to three years in jail, but Sibeijn declined to press charges. He would like an apology, though.
Aafia got her gun
Aafia Siddiqui is a 38-year-old Pakistani neuroscientist with degrees from MIT and Brandeis University. Arrested in Afghanistan in 2008, she was found to carry bomb-making recipes and a list of American tourist attractions. When U.S. officials visited her for questioning in jail, Siddiqui grabbed a discarded rifle and began shooting, saying in exquisite English: “I want to kill Americans.” The FBI called her a terrorist. Yet during her trial Siddiqui’s lawyer argued she’s mentally ill. Siddiqui disagreed. So did the judge, who gave her 86 years in prison. That led to riotous protests in Pakistan, where PM Yousaf Raza Gilani called her a “daughter of the nation.”
He hasn’t got a wife to spare
Maybe Ndumiso Mamba figured a man with 14 wives would take a philosophical view of infidelity. But Mamba lost his job as justice minister of Swaziland this week after he was found under a hotel room bed with his king’s 12th wife. Rumours of an affair between Mamba and Nothando Dube, a former Miss Teen Swaziland, had run rampant in the royal court for weeks. Dube reportedly disguised herself as a soldier to sneak out for their trysts, but officials loyal to King Mswati III cottoned on and set up a sting operation to catch the pair. Some predicted Mamba would be allowed to flee. But a long prison term seems more likely. “Mamba knows too much,” said one expert. “If he flees into exile with the royal secrets, that would be a major problem.”
Too mad for Mad Men?
He’s still a contender for Hollywood’s greatest train wreck, but things are looking up for Mel Gibson. News that he’s in danger of losing his house—and his church—to unpaid construction bills didn’t stop Jodie Foster from rising to his defence. “When you love a friend, you don’t abandon them,” she said. Her vote of confidence came as details of Gibson’s ugly split with wife Oksana Grigorieva trickled out: he was apparently willing to cough up $1 million for tapes of his foul-mouthed tirades. But some were buzzing about a comeback. Last week’s hot rumour from Liz Smith had him signing on for a role in the hit series Mad Men, though she retracted after producers demurred.
Catch and release
Captains of Chinese fishing trawlers don’t often trigger diplomatic crises. But that’s what 41-year-old Zhan Qixiong did when, on Sept. 8, while poking around islands claimed by both Beijing and Tokyo, he allegedly rammed Japanese coast guard cutters—twice. Arrested and jailed in Okinawa, he sparked the most serious standoff between China and Japan in recent memory, a dispute closely watched by a world concerned about a rising China. The incident sparked nationalist fervour in both countries, with some in Japan complaining after Qixiong was released on Saturday. Japanese PM Naoto Kan maintained that Tokyo would issue no apologies.
Buck stops here
Last week, Linda Buck, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist who studies how the brain processes odour, retracted two journal articles because they don’t pass the smell test. That makes three times Buck has disavowed papers co-authored with her one-time post-doc Zhihua Zou (who conducted the experiments), because she couldn’t duplicate the findings. Zou, who has reportedly returned to his native China, agreed to the first retraction, but not to last week’s.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
Plus, the quest to save a man in the Amazon, one of history’s most famous battles, a year without sex, East Germany’s legendary secret police and what women want
TOP OF THE ORDER: 25 WRITERS PICK THEIR FAVORITE BASEBALL PLAYER
Edited by Sean Manning
This is supposed to be a book in which well-known writers pay tribute to baseball players, but the love is so ambiguous it feels more like hate. Not all of the writers go as far as Whitney Pastoriek, who spends most of her essay bashing Roger Clemens as the ultimate example of McMansion-building “lack of character.” But disappointment is a common theme, as in Craig Finn’s account of Kirby Puckett, whose story ended in “infidelities and shocking public behaviour.” Even Neal Pollack’s essay on the irreproachable Greg Maddux becomes partly an excuse to bash all the “mega-sluggers and their bulging neck muscles” around him. There aren’t many outright love letters in here, and most of them have to do with older players: W.P. Kinsella’s foreword offers a laundry list of favourites since the ’40s (along with a completely gratuitous complaint about modern pop music being too loud), and veteran sportswriter Roger Kahn recalls his encounters with Jackie Robinson, the baseball equivalent of a saint. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Carrie Rickey even spends her pages paying tribute to a player who doesn’t exist: Crash Davis from Bull Durham.
When it comes to real, living players, though, the contributors to this book often seem to be working out their own conflicted feelings about the game. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone turns his entry on slow-footed slugger Jim Rice into a rant against the “stat geeks” who tarnished his reputation by pointing out that he wasn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame, while Michael Ian Black remembers how Mets leadoff man Mookie Wilson indirectly led him to confront his own youthful racism. That may be, in the end, the best tribute to baseball and the people who play it: in spite of steroids, scandals and sabermetrics, baseball players can still get ordinary people very, very angry.
- JAIME J. WEINMAN