(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.)