J.P. Arencibia wanted to talk.
It was earlier this season, in the dugout at the Rogers Centre, and the Toronto Blue Jays catcher had a lot on his mind – specifically, criticism he was getting from Sportsnet baseball analysts Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst.
Arencibia was striking out at a frightening pace, and hitting home runs, and making a meal of the game behind the plate.
But much of Arencibia’s criticisms of Zaun and Hayhurst mirrored the sentiments he expressed Thursday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan: that, as former players, they ought to have a greater appreciation of the day-to-day struggles he was going through, and the fans’ growing negative perception of him was being fuelled by their criticism.
That he wasn’t, in effect, getting a fair shake.
On Thursday, Arencibia unloaded, saying during an interview on Brady and Lang in the Morning, “there’s not one person in our clubhouse that respects those guys,” referring to Zaun’s alleged purchase of performance-enhancing substances (as detailed in the Mitchell Report), and calling Hayhurst “another guy who had below-average baseball tools.”
This was premeditated: Arencibia took to Twitter on Wednesday night to advise his followers he would address the issue on the Toronto all-sports radio station.
(Full disclosure: I both host a morning radio show and co-host Baseball Central with Hayhurst on the same station.)
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is right: this is one of those big boys vs. big boys things.
“Fair game, man, let’s be honest,” said the skipper, himself a former catcher. “I said before that I thought [Arencibia] was some kind of whipping boy and, sometimes, you got to fight back.
“He’s getting chiselled pretty good. He very rarely gets credit when he plays well. I think he’s doing a solid job behind the plate. I mean, who catches the bullpen? Our starters are struggling … but who catches the bullpen, too?”
Arencibia’s presence on social media makes it easy for the cynical to see him as some kind of publicity whore, but the fact is it’s just the way he’s wired.
“Doing things I do – being in social media and putting my face out there at charity events – exposing myself as one of faces … I understand I open myself up,” Arencibia said before Thursday’s game against the Detroit Tigers.
The flip side, is Arencibia is overly sensitive to criticism in a city where the Jays’ TV play-by-play voice, Buck Martinez, was a superb defensive catcher who took no quarter on the field; where Zaun, who resurrected his career as something of a dirt-bag catcher with the Blue Jays, is a TV studio analyst; where Jack Morris and his 254 wins and big-game pedigree are a radio analyst; where Hayhurst, a former pitcher, and his … well, okay.
This is a bad city and a bad time for Arencibia to have the kind of season that calls attention to himself.
Martinez and Zaun know what it’s like to have a crappy game behind the plate and, like many athletes who needed a certain amount of guile to extend their careers, they know B.S. when they see it. Morris and Hayhurst had opposite careers, but the guess is they each had a catcher cost them a game or two and also had them saved by a stolen strike every now and then.
Arencibia held his ground Thursday.
Asked whether he’d crossed a line by dragging in Zaun’s alleged PED use, considering one of his teammates, Melky Cabrera, was suspended for 50 games last year for flunking a drug test, he responded: “I talked with [Cabrera] as soon as I saw him today. There was no intent on him, and he completely understood my point. That’s all I have to say about that.”
When a city doesn’t have playoffs to worry about, it creates a vacuum. That leads to players such as Munenori Kawasaki getting folk-hero status while the likes of Vernon Wells gets booed out of town.
The Blue Jays have underachieved, and with Andrea Bargnani’s trade this week to the New York Knicks, there is an opening for the next pro athlete to get run out of town. Arencibia’s made himself the clubhouse leader in more ways than one.