The Toronto Blue Jays are not good at storytelling. That has not stopped them from trying.
Just one very recent instance – Jays general manager Ross Atkins explaining how trading for nothing at the deadline was a great idea because the team has a “really good projected offence.”
Point taken. Why spend actual dollars on a tangible offence when you already have an amazing imaginary one? If the team ends up bombing out of the playoffs, we can all sit around with a spreadsheet on our laps and dream about how the Jays should have won the World Series. It’s right there in the projections.
This strain of foot-in-mouth disease has plagued the regime of Atkins and CEO Mark Shapiro for the entirety of their eight-year run in charge. They may be good earners and good builders and it’s even possible they may some day be winners, but they are not born explainers.
So they’ve stopped. And it’s working.
Of all the managerial misses during their time in Toronto – and there are a few – Alek Manoah is shaping up to be their Moby Dick. There is now a possible world in which he becomes the greatest failure of man management in Toronto baseball history.
Manoah entered the season as the Jays’ No. 1 guy right now and for the next 10 years. He leaves it as a complete cipher who may or may not ever return.
What’s happened to Manoah? Who knows?
During the off-season, he was everywhere. For a minute there, it felt like he was keeping a fleet of camera crews working on rotating shifts.
Manoah did media like he was running for office. As though the more you heard his name, the better off he would be. Because he was the most interesting guy on a roster full of blank-faced cliché machines, the opportunities for exposure were significant. He was also good for a reactionary quote, which made him a commodity in the States as well.
Was inviting all that hype a good idea?
In hindsight, no. Also in foresight, oversight, mid-sight and any other sight you can think of. Anybody with an ounce of sense could see what Manoah was setting himself up for. But the Jays seemed to encourage it and, at the very least, tolerated it.
After being told over and over again that he was the bee’s knees, Manoah went into the campaign flat. Then, he was pounded two-dimensional. What a shocker.
He was demoted in June, but no one in the Jays’ organization could explain what was wrong. The best manager John Schneider could come up with was how Manoah would be fine “when he is himself.”
A month later, Manoah was back in the bigs. Schneider seemed to commit to keeping him in the majors for the rest of the year. After a few more weeks, he was optioned again. Then he disappeared.
A couple more weeks passed. Manoah finally popped back up on the long-range radars – not the man, but news of him. The new plan was that he would work his way back to Toronto via Buffalo. Again – no explanation about what the hell was going on. Just a bunch of nonsense about tests that didn’t show anything. Where’d he do these tests? Better question – where was he, precisely? No one would (or could?) say.
The promised rehab never happened. More time passed. The next story out there was that Manoah’s season was over. The latest is that he has received a series of injections in his throwing arm. I guess we’ll see him in Dunedin in February. Or not.
So what is it? The guy’s leaving you on read? He’s gone walkabout? There’s something really wrong with him? It’s a personal issue? No clue.
A few assumptions can be made.
Whatever has gone wrong here is the Blue Jays’ fault. Not because they did anything wrong, but because cultivating a talent such as Manoah’s is their job. If he fails at his work, they’ve failed at theirs.
Whatever the truth is here, it can only vaguely resemble the stuttering cock-and-bull story the Jays have been dribbling out for months. Every time someone in the Jays organization opens their mouth on this file you can see their eyes darting around as they try to keep the current party line arranged in their minds.
And however this ends, it’s probably not going to be well.
This organizational train wreck should be a disorienting, 24-hour-a-day public-relations disaster, but it isn’t. Because while the Jays are evidently not good at managing young talent, that lack has forced them to develop compensatory skills.
If this were New York or London, a sports-media search party would have been sent out for Manoah. He’d have been doorstepped and forced to either talk or flee. But this is Canada. We don’t do that here.
The Jays know there is no imminent danger of whatever story they come up with being contradicted. The only person who can do that is Manoah. For reasons that are his own, he has adopted silence as his new mantra. A little late, but he finally got there.
The Jays gambled that if they were winning, people wouldn’t care as much. So instead of pretending to keep everyone up to date, they’ve pretended nothing is happening. ‘Alek Manoah? Name rings a vague bell. We’ll check that out and get back to you.’
If the team were four games out and sinking, Manoah would be the metaphoric cudgel being used to beat it. A problem with bad teams is that there often isn’t a specifically bad thing to hold against them. They’re just bad all over. But not this team. It has a focal point of incompetence.
However, the Jays aren’t bad. They’re looking pretty good. Cruising altitude achieved and the postseason on missile lock.
So for now, Manoah is something we can argue about later. If the Jays keep winning, later may never arrive. By the time later shows up at spring training, the Jays can jump directly to the Alek Manoah redemption arc or, failing that, make up some whoppers about why he left.
That’s the thing about storytelling the Jays have finally figured out. If you don’t have a good one, pretend there’s no story to tell in the first place.