Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The last time The Manager saw the end of the road

(You see that picture above? That's what you get when you can't bring yourself to type the actual name of The Manager into a Google Image Search.)

Ideally, this year will mark the end of The Manager's second tenure in Toronto. (Or at the very least, the end of his tenure in a uniform and in the dugout. He'll never really leave the Jays.) With that in mind, we started to cast our thoughts back to The Manager's final season of his initial managerial stint.

With so much time having passed since that 1997 season, it's almost hard to recall just what a mess that season was. So we took a stroll through Baseball-Reference's archives for the team, and found some fuel to our irrational distaste for the man we once championed as an under-appreciated genius.

A team that was built to win. Sort of.
For anyone who wants to be the contrarian, and posit that the 1997 squad was a bad team that no manager could fix, think again. That year, the team underwent significant change, bringing in big time free agents Roger Clemens and Benito Santiago (fresh off a 30 homer season).

The team jettisoned John Olerud - never one of The Manager's favorites - in that offseason, sending he and his team-leading .854 OPS to the Mets for starter-closer-starter-closer-starter Robert Person. (And before you make the claim that this was to clear room for Carlos Delgado, you should know that Joe Carter was first baseman to start the season. Because The Manager loved Joe, even after he fell off the cliff. So there.)

Moreover, they also sent a number of prospects (who turned out to be nothing much) to Pittsburgh for Orlando Merced, Carlos Garcia and Dan Pleasac (who, aside from Pleasac, turned out to be nothing much). With the acquisition of the 30 year-old veteran Merced, The Manager could push the young Shawn Green back to the bench, in spite of his two respectable seasons as a 22 and 23 year-old (.835 OPS in '05, .790 OPS in '06).

This was truly a team built for The Manager. He could rely on a group of aging, rickety old sods whose reputations far outshone their performance. He could field a lineup with a 38 year-old Otis Nixon and his rapidly declining defense. He could continue to pencil the 37 year-old-and-declining Carter into the cleanup spot for most of the season (and the three-spot when he really struggled). He could push Delgado and Green into the sixth and eight spots in the lineup, or park them on the bench in favour of Juan Samuel or Rueben Sierra.

(And let's not forget what a massive clusterfuck that whole incident was. The Manager felt that two years worth of decent production wasn't enough proof of Green's worth, and he felt that Green still had to play his way into the lineup, even as veterans scuffled their way into playing time. Somehow, the rotted-out hull of Rivera, who had just been tossed to the scrap heap by the Reds, merited at bats while the future of the franchise languished...Nobody recount this story to Travis Snider, okay?)

As the year went on, and the Sierra experiment blew up, the Jays slipped to the back of the AL East. It took until June 23rd, when the team was already 14 1/2 games out of first, before The Manager would slide Delgado, by far the team's best hitter, into the cleanup role. King Carlos would eventually hit fourth in 40 games, which is exactly one more than the number of games that busted-out mediocrity Mariano Duncan (and his sub-McDonaldian .531 OPS) hit second.

Duncan had taken over the two-hole and second base duties from Carlos Garcia, who spent most of the season revealing himself to be Carlos Garcia: A below-average slap hitter with terrible plate discipline (.253 OBP, .309 SLG).

That 1997 season was a long arduous slog, made all the more so by the high expectations coming into the year. The light at the end of the tunnel came only after it was clear that the season was finished, and the team began moving towards its next generation. Shannon Stewart would step in for Nixon, Green would get a regular turn, and newly-acquired José Cruz Jr. would take Merced's spot in the lineup. The team that would go on to win 88 games the next season under Tim Johnson was beginning to finally take shape, while The Manager was setting the scene for an acrimonious and unapologetic exit.

In the midst of a late season slide that saw them lose 11 of 13 games, the team finally gave The Manager his walking papers on September 23rd. Joe Carter would switch his jersey number to 43 in memoriam. Pitching coach Mel Queen took over for the final five games of the season, and promptly moved Green into the two-hole, while relegating Duncan and Garcia to the bench.

The team went 4-1.

(And in case you are wondering: Yeah, there is totally a way that we could look at this and point the finger of blame at Gord Ash. Except that The Manager had a lot of sway in those days over the young GM through his close relationship with team President Paul Beeston. Umm...oh. Ruh roh.)

39 comments:

bkblades said...

Well, I'm glad you brought this happy post on a day of official drinking.

And I still vaguely remember Orlando Merced's career day against some National League team, possibly the Pirates, where Cito's mastery came to fruition for one day through sheer luck. This is going to be one long season.

Tao of Stieb said...

The funny thing is that I really liked Merced. But I think I just liked his goggles, and all of his wristbands and shit.

That's the sort of thing that gets you geeked when your team is in the tank.

mike in boston said...

i've said this before: the only way to get Cito to leave early is to pester him everyday with questions about the obvious parallel between now and then, making liberal use of words like OPS and UZR and WHIP. All his BS about confidence is easily refuted statistically.

The only people who can do this are the media, and quite frankly none of them do it. The Manager gets a free pass from the beat reporters and columnists and it needs to stop. The only people who follow this team right now are stats and prospect porn people. The media needs to adjust their coverage accordingly. This means questioning each Managerial decision accordingly.

mike in boston said...

i missed the realignment talk the other day. here is my proposal and i'd be interested to hear why it couldn't work.

balanced schedule + floating payroll-based realignment every year.

the basic idea is that you have a cut off date in january after which divisions are set for the upcoming season based on payroll. this would create an A division with the Yanks, Sox, Angels, etc, a B division with the $80 million payroll teams, and a C division with the rest. Each division winner makes the post-season and a wiildcard is awarded to the next best record.

rich teams play rich teams, cheap teams play cheap teams. no salary cap needed, and the rich teams still have a better chance of making the post-season via the WC

mark00z said...

Reading this makes me very glad I paid zero attention to baseball from the beginning of the strike until the 2001 NYY vs. ARI World Series.

Tao of Stieb said...

I've got a humdinger of a realignment post coming. But it's going to take a while to write it.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I'd just like to point out the similarities between Otis Nixon and Joey Gathright.

That is all.

JB said...

Tao -- thanks for reminding me about this nightmare. I remember this season very well and it really made me dislike Cito even more.

I just hope the media is a little more educated now and actually fires the questions that need to be asked of Cito-logic. I really hope he just quits because although Beeston may be a good business man, his baseball acumen can't be that great because of the way he protects Cito.

sarah said...

I might be able to forgive The Manager if he started wearing That Manager's tie.

The Southpaw said...

Thanks for digging out all those repressed memories of abuse! Now I'm afraid to leavew the house!

Anonymous said...

Is there any point in this season where if the Jays are just so shitty that they would pull the trigger on firing The Manager or are we stuck with him all season long no matter what?

At least Gathright doesn't look like he's 76 years old. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

Darren Priest said...

Great stuff. So many memories. That really takes me back, but it also makes me hate Cito more than I want to.

Is he Joe Torre? He's clearly not Terry Francona.

One thing seems irrefutable: in 2010, the Jays would be better off without Beeston's influence.

Anonymous said...

Tao - if you're going to shorten St. Patrick's Day, please use St. Paddy's. Patty is female.

Just sayin.

Matt C said...

Thanks Tao, now where is the fucking Jameson's.

Tao of Stieb said...

So many nights have gone awry after a first taste of the Jameson's led to a few more.

(Although if we're talking Irish whiskey, we'd prefer a bottle of Bushmills' 10 Year. Tasty.)

eyebleaf said...

Oh, Tao.

Anonymous said...

Joey Gathright and Otis Nixon? You're really going to try to compare the starting centre fielder of 1997 to a guy who might crack the club as a fifth outfielder and pinch runner? Not to mention Otis Nixon's .370 OBP in '96 to Gathright's .313 last year? Basically they're both black guys with speed?

Anonymous said...

league:(

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nowVZphXG9E&feature=player_embedded

Tao of Stieb said...

Touché. I didn't realize Nixon's OBP was that high, although I did know that he was good for some walks.

I guess I figured them to be slap hitting speedsters. Who happen to be black.

Um. I'm kinda uncomfortable with my latent racism.

sarah said...

Bushmills is awful, you racist.

Mike O'Hanlon said...

you want to drink Irish ... try to find a bottle of Paddy. Next to Midleton, it's the one I turn to every March 17th.
Mike

Anonymous said...

Who wants to be Irish? That's like wanting to be black.

Umm, sorry. Yeah I gotta go anon on this. I have a semi-public job and Chris Rock humor is not gonna fly.

eyebleaf said...

Racism!!!1

Anonymous said...

Here I just wanted to draw a contrast between Nixon and Gathright and apparently I've called you racist. T'was not my intention.

Tao of Stieb said...

Well, you kinda pointed it out. Now I feel sad. Will find it that much harder to walk past the Amnesty International kids on the sidewalk today.

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side. Now the chance that you and Jeff Kent become besties has skyrocketed.

Tao of Stieb said...

@Sarah

How dare you diss Bushmills? On this, it's biggest day of the year?

Did Bushmills show up at your prom and question your choice of dress? I don't think so!

Rude!

Jimmy said...

Bushmills? That's Protestant swill!

Anonymous said...

Can we get Ron Washington next year?

SP said...

How can you talk about the 97 season without bringing up Jacob Brumfield?! Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane. Man that was a shitty time. I never want to think about the Olerud-Person trade again. If it weren't for drafting Doc, that trade alone would wipe out all of Ash's accomplishments.

I'll always remember 1997 as the season I started to appreciate on-baseness without even knowing about the OBP stat (TSN didn't show it and I didn't read baseball books). Such was the rankness of Cito's beloved vets. I think calling Garcia simply below average is pushing it. We went from Robbie Alomar to Carlos Garcia within 2 years.

Tao of Stieb said...

It says something about how bad Garcia was that Craig Grebeck seemed like a huge improvement.

Anonymous said...

That's probably the first time Craig Grebeck and huge have been used in the same sentence.

Anonymous said...

huge wonder following this post! i've placed the information you have blogged about in the garden and sprinkled it with water. hopefully it will grow? :) do you have varicose veins, high-blood pressure in need of equine-temper provider then you should

Anonymous said...

Somehow these bot comments are still less annoying than Fake JB

Bitey said...

I remember when Merced threw someone out at 1st from right field. That was cool.

JB said...

Sarah's cooch is legendarily hairy.

brainiac said...

"Jimmy said:
Bushmills? That's Protestant swill!"

- excellent quote McNutty

JB said...

I agree that I'm annoying.

Tao of Stieb said...

Was that a quote from The Wire? Musta missed that one somewhere along the way.

But I'll say this: If Bushmills is Protestant, than those Orange bastards can make a fine liquor.

Thank god I'm an atheist.

Bwilly said...

In 97 Cito was trying to save his job, now not so much so. I think/pray that things will turn out differantly in 2010