In what might be the most brutal deconstruction of a Toronto sports team in the history of the medium, Sportsnet baseball analyst Gregg Zaun tore the gauzy cover off the hip, young Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday on Sportsnet Radio Fan 590‘s Prime Time Sports, calling the club’s management philosophy “B.S.” and ripping young players for not caring.
The pretext for Zaun’s rant was the Blue Jays press conference to announce the three-game suspension for shortstop Yunel Escobar. Escobar had played a game with an offensive Spanish message written on his face, a stunt revealed only after website drunkjaysfans re-published pictures taken by a Toronto photographer james_in_to. Zaun was withering about both the suspension and the preparation for the presser.
Saying virtually everyone in baseball understood the meaning of the Spanish word Escobar had on his face, Zaun called it something you do in high school, not the majors. That Escobar was able to get away with wearing it on the field is “ridiculous.. No doubt he has a lot of talent, but he also has a lot of growing up to do... What made it worse was that press conference today... Everyone was on a different page. They didn’t have time to prepare, and yet they had a day to prepare. That’s the the best they can do?”
How was Escobar let on the field with no manager, coach or umpire seeing it?, asked Zaun. The former catcher then turned his artillery on the organization. “The atmosphere they’ve created in this clubhouse is consequence-free. if your name is so-and-so we’ll cut you some slack. We don’t expect you to play the game properly. If you’re of a certain stature in this organization, prospect-wise, you don’t have to perform well, because you’re a prospect... The three-day suspension is sending the message of consequence free environment...
Zaun then proposed, “If I were the manager of this team - not that I’m politicking for the job, I don’t want it - but I’d demand that they act like grown men, play the game like a professional. I wouldn’t ask major-league performances from the guys in that clubhouse, because that’s too much. But I’d ask for professional-calibre performance.”
Zaun criticized rookie outfielder Moises Sierra for not wearing the proper flip sunglasses in the outfield five separate times: “An absolute travesty. The fact no one said anything to him, that’s an absolute joke.” Zaun then ripped Canadian third baseman Brett Lawrie for his repeated “dumb” base running mistakes and his unapologetic attitude afterward. “This attitude that we have to have fun all the time,” Zaun told McCown. “That’s a bunch of crap... This is a business.”
Zaun said part of the problem is that general manager Alex Anthopoulos is not a baseball guy. “He’s a sabermetrician, a bean counter... and now he’s making baseball decisions. He hasn’t been in [the clubhouse] as a player or a coach. I’m cutting him some slack... What I’ve been watching is guys making idiot mistakes trying to run to third base on a ball hit in front of them, trying to do things they can’t do... then using the excuse of a consequence-free environment.”
It’s hard to evaluate manager John Farrell’s skill based on strategy, said Zaun, because of the personnel situation. “You can evaluate the culture that’s created. It starts at the manager...” The Sportsnet analyst is not surprised at how the team has unravelled. “There are too many young players on the team,” continued Zaun. “This generation of player that is in that clubhouse, minus a couple of guys, don’t care.”
Anthopoulos was given a chance to rebut Zaun’s comments after the team first declined the chance, but before they could get to the issues raised by the former catcher, Anthopoulos’s cellphone broke down, ending the chat.
Rogers Concentration: What makes Zaun’s indictment even more bizarre is that it features one arm of the vast Rogers organization - the Blue Jays - pitted against another arm - Sportsnet. Paul Beeston and the Blue Jays will no doubt be seething today. If/when it hits the fan, who will the Rogers suits defend and who will they jettison? Rogers told us they will comment Wednesday. Can’t wait.
Is Zaun correct? We aren’t around the team enough to speak firsthand. But Zaun’s credibility, his forthright description all season of a young team hyped beyond its capabilities rings true from watching their performance and seeing their strut, despite never being higher than four games above .500 the entire season. It seems reasonable to assume that Zaun’s brutal honesty is one of the answers as to why a failing club continues to draw excellent TV and radio ratings.
Nights like this Zaun makes Don Cherry look like an equivocator. But if he can take it, so can we.
HNIC Gets Their Men: Having been turned down by many experienced figures in the sports TV business - some of them twice - CBC has decided to split the executive producer job at Hockey Night in Canada between a man who formerly held the job, Joel Darling, and former NHL TV producer Steve Sloan. Darling will be responsible for being the face of HNIC to sponsors and in-game production.
Sloan gets command of in-studio responsibilities, i.e. keeping Cherry and Ron MacLean on a leash so the NHL will still give CBC a chance at renewing the national TV contract in 2014. Good luck with that. When they'll get to produce any hockey is another issue for Gary Bettman and Don Fehr to decide.
Sabol‘s Death: The greatest tribute to Steve Sabol of NFL Films - who passed away at age 69 on Tuesday - may be that every sports league wants to emulate the NFL’s media machine. And by that they mean NFL Films, the brilliant creation of Sabol’s father, Ed, that revolutionized the look and tone of sports films.
Under the Sabols, NFL Films turned a nasty, brutish game into art. Witty, innovative and pitch-perfect, NFL Films took sports coverage beyond the realm of the printed word and into the contemporary world of Apple and Madden NFL video games.
Sabol himself was often a genial host and raconteur introducing the films, a natural in the eye of the camera. Veteran journalist Don Banks of SI summed it perfectly: “@DonBanks The true measure of NFL Films can’t be measured, because it extends in so many varied directions.”