Midway through the Blue Jays’ combative series with the New York Yankees this week, everyone crammed into Toronto manager John Schneider’s office bunker for the pregame Q and A.
In the midst of the typical bumpf – “How’s Vladdy feeling?” – an old hand on the beat tried baiting Schneider into saying something intemperate.
It was a long, involved question about the Yankees and their effect on people. The crucial words were “smug and superior.” As in, is that how you see New York?
Schneider leaned back in his chair, delighted.
“That is a good question,” he said, voice rising comically. He didn’t need to say any more.
Everybody laughed. A couple of New York writers in the room turned their heads. They had a look that said, “Wait. Are these rubes making fun of us?”
In that moment you realized something important about the 2023 Toronto Blue Jays – they’re jerks.
They’re the sort of jerks who complain to the teacher a lot. The sort of jerks who imply that when they lose, it can’t have been fairly. The sort of jerks who say things like, “Shut up, fat boy” to end an argument.
The Yankees are also jerks, but that’s because they’re from New York. Being a jerk is the real source of Yankee pride.
Beyond talent, winning teams have a few things in common. They aren’t easily rattled. More often than not, they seem as though they’re having fun. They don’t have to love each other, but they are never seen fighting with one another. And they’re jerks.
Winning teams like to get on top of their opponents and grind them. They revel in the unhappiness of others. If you put one of theirs in the hospital, they will put one of yours in the morgue.
L.A. Dodgers? Nepo babies. Detestable. Philadelphia Phillies? Total dirtbags. Houston Astros? Absolute, insufferable, cheating knobs.
Good teams elicit strong feelings. Everyone else is just fine.
The Jays haven’t been jerks in a while. That 2015 team, the last really good Jays team? Jerks.
Jose Bautista alone gave off enough pompous aggro to power a wind farm. The bat flip may be the biggest jerk move in modern sports history. That’s what made it so beautiful.
The ′23 Toronto Blue Jays haven’t created anything close to a bat-flip-level jerk move yet, but they are headed in the right direction.
Another thing about winning teams – they are often in and around news. We’re not talking about six-game winning streaks. We’re talking about notable happenings, usually some sort of outrage that gets people exercised. Winning teams are interesting. Winning is a side-effect of that fascination.
Between them, the Yankees and Jays dominated the major-league baseball news cycle this week.
The jerk move that started it all – Aaron Judge’s sneaky little glances into the Yankees dugout right before knocking a ball out of the park.
That was brilliant stuff. His explanation – “I was kinda trying to see who was chirping in the dugout” – was even more brilliant. Patent nonsense delivered not just with a straight face, but a smile. Utterly enraging.
If he’d taken one look over? Maybe. But four looks over? Pull the other one.
That set everything off. The two teams spent the rest of the series sniping at each other on the field, off the field, to the media, anywhere they could manage it. The near riot over where the third-base coaches should stand? Childishly silly. Absolutely uncalled for. Also, irresistible.
The fact that Yankees pitcher Domingo German got ejected and suspended for sticky stuff was not that unusual. Except that he apparently had stickier hands than a quality-control manager at a glue factory.
“It’s the stickiest hand I ever felt,” umpire James Hoye told a pool reporter afterward. “My fingers had a hard time coming off his palm.”
Only a Yankees pitcher thinks he’s getting away with this. They check as a matter of routine. What was German’s plan here? To offer the ump his left hand instead and hope nobody was paying attention? Jerk move on a bunch of levels. Another reason for everyone to yell at each other.
I’m not sure these two teams actually hate each other, but they both look like they’re having a lot of fun pretending. This is another thing winning teams can do – wind themselves up without the need for external stimulus. They are auto-motivational.
The only disappointment about the series? That the Jays and Yankees won’t meet again until September. By then, they might be driving nails through their bats. Just a bunch of jerks trying to jerk their way into the playoffs.
If good teams are jerks, average teams are nice guys. They don’t want to make a fuss. They don’t like drawing attention. When they do, they shy from it, or get irritated that you’ve asked about it.
Since everything in this city right now comes back to hockey, it should be pointed out the Leafs are nice guys. When Florida’s Sam Bennett Jackie Chan’d rookie Matthew Knies into the end boards, that was a big-time jerk move. What’d the Leafs do about it? Nothing. They followed the rules and left it up to the officials, who also did nothing.
What would have a winning team have done? Accidentally-on-purpose broken a stick over Bennett’s back maybe. Anything to let Florida know it could not have its way with Toronto.
The Leafs went the other way, and the result was all their best players standing up on locker-clearout day trying to deflect all attention and save their own skins. Nobody was having fun. Many looked rattled and ill at ease.
Winning teams have a look and a feel. The Leafs don’t have it.
But the Jays do. We’re a quarter of a way through their season and people around baseball can already hear them coming. Unlike the team of a year ago, they’re not nice guys. No cute jacket celebrations. Less pointing at each other on the basepaths. More yelling at the other team. More complaining in general.
No, not especially nice. But maybe these Blue Jays are winners.