Welcome to First Take, the place to start each sports day. Read now what everyone will be talking about later.
While we wait for a cribbage partner for the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, it’s fair to ask whether one of the teams NOT making the Fall Classic – okay, it’s the Toronto Blue Jays – has entered its Night At The Improv phase. As in, taking suggestions from the audience.
Let us explain. We were minding our own business on Saturday, contentedly watching the Abbotsford Heat and Chicago Wolves on Bizarro Hockey Night In Canada when Twitter exploded with the news that the Blue Jays had traded their manager John Farrell to Boston for a marginal MLB infielder and a case of Gansett Lager.
This wasn’t some federal cabinet minister nixing a huge corporate takeover via group e-mail in the dead of night. No, this was real news.
First, trading a manager in baseball is a lot like a fish juggling. You just don’t see it much. And for good reason. There’s not much call for it. But such was the willingness of the Jays to get Farrell out of town that they swapped him like a Chinese knockoff jersey while the baseball world was riffing on A-Rod’s pickup lines. There’s no crying in baseball, and so the Blue Jays shed no tears that Farrell was going to surrender his team Blackberry.
We’ll leave it to the SABR guys whether Farrell was a good tactical manager. What he did well was give the Blue Jays a seawall against public opinion. (And if you don’t think that’s important, you’ve forgotten the Jim Fregosi/Tim Johnson years in the manager’s chair.) The public doesn’t understand that a modern manager spends a disproportionately large time nursing public opinion compared to setting up pitching rotations. He’s barker Vince Shlomi hawking hardball not The Schticky.
In this respect, Farrell promoted stability for Alex Anthopoulos’s Big Plan, the gauzy confection of prospects, time and empathy now guiding the club. Whenever the Jays looked like the cruise of the Titanic this season, Farrell looked in control, deliberate, unhurried. This was all explained by The Big Plan. No worries.
Now, what happens? How does an organization that has prided itself on orderly transition frame this “prisoner exchange” under cover of midnight as part of any big picture? As stability? How does it sell its long-suffering fans on its public deep denial on Farrell leaving that was, umm, disingenuous at best?
Clearly, we have reached the improv part of the evening, when the assumptions of structure and script go out the window as the Jays management plan burns like a dumpster fire behind the Rogers Centre.
There is plenty of promise on the Blue Jays. One can only imagine what Terry Francona was thinking, choosing the Cleveland Indians cavalcade over Jose Bautista and a lineup of young hitters. But the Big Plan narrative of steady-as-she-goes left town with Farrell on Saturday. What replaces it is anyone’s guess.
Minor Quibble: God bless Sportsnet mounting a Saturday doubleheader of AHL games. If you’re a fan of one of the NHL teams whose prospects/suspects was labouring in the games, it might have primed the pump for the future.
But if the idea of watching not-ready-for-prime-time players was to replace the real thing, then it came up several arpents from the shore. Put simply, for every bona fide prospect such as Sven Baertschi or Zack Kassian who showed a little flare, there were lines full of others who were aping the more retrograde aspects of the current NHL style.
Namely, crashing the net, active sticks, clogging the lanes, cycling down low … you’re growing sleepy … so sleepy.
Which should remind the NHL (if it’s listening to anyone’s voice but its own) that the success of the 2005 lockout reset was also a style makeover. Opening up the game again to skill and speed was almost worth the year’s hiatus.
Unless we missed one of Gary Bettman’s dynamic press availabilities, there is no indication that the shot-blocking festival is about to end any time soon. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
email@example.com / twitter: @dowbboy