Where the Blue Jays currently stand at spring training

Will Vladimir Guerrero Jr. be Toronto’s next star?

Where the Blue Jays currently stand at spring training

Every year, mid-February signals the beginning of spring training for baseball season. In Arizona or Florida, players of all ranks meet to play lazy, unimportant games and warm up for the long season ahead. And with this start, every year without fail, baseball fans forget what spring training is actually about.

From Reddit and Twitter to the Facebook comments section of Sportsnet’s posts, every type of fan can be found complaining about plays so inconsequential that they swiftly escape our memory as soon as the first pitch of the new baseball season is thrown. Whether it is criticisms over a pitcher’s speed and velocity or a hitter’s lack of hustle after a ground ball, spring training elicits unusually pessimistic and overly-serious responses from fans, prompting the question: does spring training actually matter?

The short answer is no. The long answer is absolutely not. Spring training is nothing more than a glorified warm-up for old players and an introductory showcase for minor leaguers. Take the 2010 Cleveland Indians, for example. Although Cleveland won almost 70 per cent of their spring training games that year, they went on to finish the regular season barely winning 40 per cent.

Currently in the Florida Grapefruit League, the Toronto Blue Jays are barely toeing a 50 per cent record: they’ve won nine games and lost eleven. But that’s not important. The few takeaways from the Blue Jays’ spring training are important though, and all of them revolve around the minor league talent.

As has been the case ever since Toronto drafted him, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has generated the most buzz this spring — but unfortunately, not for the right reasons. Suffering a Grade 1 strain to his left oblique a couple weeks into training, Guerrero was taken out of the game for at least three weeks.

Let’s break down what this means. First, Guerrero will not be starting the season in the majors, as he has been reassigned to play for the minor league after recuperating. The Blue Jays’ front office is probably relieved about this. Because of the strict constraints and policies regarding service time — which dictate when a player reaches free agency — teams try to work around the rules so that their top prospects can remain under team control for as long as possible. This usually means keeping star prospects on minor league rosters longer than necessary, and bringing them up mid-season so that they gain an extra year of service time. This extra year of player control can make a difference of millions of dollars, and can also prolong the exit of a star player in his prime.

Such a move was almost inevitable for Guerrero: everyone anticipated the announcement that he would be beginning his season with Toronto’s minor league affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, instead of with the Jays at Rogers Centre. But Guerrero’s injury has freed the Jays’ front office from the ire of their already-disgruntled fanbase.

Spring training can give managers a good indication of how they will organize their order — who will bat lead-off? Who will bat clean-up? — and how they will position their outfield. But unless any significant injuries occur, spring training does little to predict the outcome of the regular season.

The baseball season is long and expansive: players reach peaks and lows and experience plateaus several times during the six months of play. To view spring training as anything other than a quick exhibition of up-and-coming minor league talent or a chance for seasoned players to warm up before the start of the gruelling season is naïve.

Marcus Stroman is the opening-day pitcher for the Jays. His first pitch on March 28 will start the baseball season for Toronto, and we’ll all just have to take it from there.

Major League Baseball awards bookend an eventful season

There’s always next year for the Blue Jays

Major League Baseball awards bookend an eventful season

The Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, handing the Los Angeles Dodgers their second World Series loss in a row. Whether you’re a Dodgers fan wallowing in disappointment all over again, a Red Sox fan celebrating your club’s ninth championship, or even a Blue Jays fan forgetting already almost all that has happened this season and thinking wistfully of the impending Guerrero era, you’d be inclined to agree that 2018 was a pretty fun season for baseball.

For starters, there were three teams who recorded no-hitters — up from last year’s grand total of one. Oakland’s Sean Manaea secured one, and Los Angeles’ quartet of Walker Buehler, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore combined to secure another no-hitter. In addition, Seattle’s James Paxton became the second Canadian-born pitcher to record a no-hitter; even more symbolic is that he achieved this feat against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.

However, none of the aforementioned pitchers won the coveted Cy Young award, which went instead to Tampa Bay Rays’ Blake Snell in the American League (AL). Snell recorded a remarkable ERA of 1.89, helping Tampa Bay surpass expectations. The Rays finished comfortably third in the AL East division, eighteen games over .500.

In the same league, the pitcher who generated the most buzz preseason on account of his ability to both hit and pitch, Shohei Ohtani, won Rookie of the Year, which came as a surprise to no one. Ohtani, along with Silver Slugger winner Mike Trout and Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons, made the Los Angeles Angels an exciting team to watch, though they did not ultimately reach the playoffs.

In the National League (NL), Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. won Rookie of the Year, while the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom also became a first-time winner, securing the Cy Young with an almost unbelievable ERA of 1.7.

And it was a good year for pitchers — specifically, for the strikeout: for the first time in Major League history, there were more strikeouts recorded than hits. In more hitter-friendly records broken this season, the previous record of 80 walk-off home runs was broken in August.

One player who contributed to setting this record was Mookie Betts, who had a year that can only be described as spectacular. The Red Sox’s right fielder finally won the AL MVP award, as well as a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger — all while helping his team win the World Series. Boston combined to win more awards than any other team, with three Gold Glove winners and three Silver Slugger award recipients, to secure 2018 as the year of Boston.

In more local review, the Blue Jays put up a less than impressive season: no pitcher landed in the league’s top 50 lowest ERAs and no hitter landed in the top 50 highest averages. To say Toronto was mediocre would be a compliment, as the Jays were uninspired and utterly forgettable.

However, that may have been partially due to the moves the team made during the season: the Jays dealt JA Happ to the New York Yankees, Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians, and Curtis Granderson to the Milwaukee Brewers. If Toronto fans want any claim, however small, to Boston’s World Series win, it would be in Steve Pearce, who had started the season with Toronto until being traded in June, and was named the World Series MVP.

Pearce, Betts, and JD Martinez will make the AL East a difficult division to compete in for years to come. This season, the AL East was the only division to have two 100-win teams in the Yankees and the Red Sox. The former would go on to be eliminated in the Division Series, whereas the latter would go on to win the whole thing.

On the flip side, not a single team recorded a 100-win season in the NL. In fact, four teams had to play one extra game — increasing their total to 163 games in the regular season — because they were tied for division champs: the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies to clinch the NL West, while the Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs to clinch the NL Central. Milwaukee would go on to lose to the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, though they found some consolation, as newly-acquired Christian Yelich secured the NL MVP award for his incredible season.

From no-hitters to walk-offs, 2018 gave baseball fans a lot to be happy about. Established teams, like the Red Sox, the Dodgers, and the Yankees, delivered what their fans expected — while the Braves and the Brewers surprised all with their dominance. With the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel as prominent free-agents this offseason, 2019 can be the success story for teams that had unimpressive seasons this year.

Wherever the superstars land, and however players are traded from one team to another, one thing is for sure in this offseason: March can’t come soon enough.

Blues men’s baseball finish second, women’s lacrosse fourth

Results from the Blues at the OUA Championships

Blues men’s baseball finish second, women’s lacrosse fourth

The Varsity Blues men’s baseball and women’s lacrosse teams competed in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championship action this weekend. The Blues baseball team earned silver in Ajax, while the women’s lacrosse team competed for bronze in Peterborough.

Capturing silver

The Blues baseball team entered the baseball playoffs at second place in the standings, behind the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, last year’s championship runners-up.

Toronto opened the tournament on Saturday with a tightly contested 4–3 victory over the Western Mustangs. Gabriel Nakonechny sealed the victory with a walk-off single. The Blues also routed the Brock Badgers with a 9–1 victory. In the evening, Nakonechny followed up the stellar performance with another walk-off single to defeat the McMaster Marauders 3–2.

Toronto entered the final day of the tournament on Sunday with a 3–0 record. In the semifinals, the Blues defeated the Guelph Gryphons 5–2. Following a nail biting extra-innings showdown final with the Golden Hawks, the Blues earned silver. Toronto levelled the score in the top of the ninth inning but were unable to take the lead. In the bottom of the 11th, the Golden Hawks broke through with a walk-off single to win the game 4–3 and clinch the OUA Championship.

Almost bronze

With head coach Jim Calder at the helm, the women’s lacrosse team finished the regular season fifth in the OUA with an 8-4-1 record.

The Blues opened the OUA Championship Friday evening with a decisive 12–8 victory over the reigning champion Western Mustangs. Laurel McGillis and Brynne Yarranton led the Blues with four goals and a hat-trick respectively.

Unfortunately, Toronto was unable to get past the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, dropping their semifinal match 10–2.

The Blues were unable to secure bronze for a second straight year, losing a tough 6–5 overtime decision to host Trent Excalibur.

A look at the Blue Jays’ forgettable 2018 season

What Jays fans can expect next season

A look at the Blue Jays’ forgettable 2018 season

This has been a forgettable season for the Toronto Blue Jays — memorable only in the players and personnel that their fans bade farewell to. This season marked the departure of manager John Gibbons, Josh Donaldson, JA Happ, Roberto Osuna, and most likely Marco Estrada due to injury. This was also the first season in a decade that José Bautista’s name did not show up on the roster: the franchise legend signed with the Atlanta Braves, and was later traded to the New York Mets and then the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Blue Jays finished the season with a dismal sub .500 record, more than 20 games out of Wild Card contention. The year started uncharacteristically well for the Jays, who usually struggle in April. May, however, saw a return to dismal form: for the first time in franchise history, the Jays failed to win back-to-back games throughout the entire month.

The only noteworthy achievements this season — and the only few instances that the league paid attention to the Jays — were when Happ was named an All-Star, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales the American League Player of the Week in April and August respectively, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. the American League (AL) Rookie of the Month in July.

Superstar woes

The Jays’ five most popular players — Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, and Troy Tulowitzki — all had tumultuous seasons. Shortstop Tulowitzki didn’t play a single game due to a bone spur in his right ankle that had carried over from last season. His absence, however, was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed minor league call-up Richard Ureña to shine. Ureña recorded an impressive .292 BA in 39 games played. When Ureña wasn’t playing, offseason acquisition Aledmys Diaz played the position, batting a modest .266 in the process.

Donaldson was out with an injury in May and was traded to the Cleveland Indians on August 31 for a player who is to be named later. With over 100 innings pitched, Stroman recorded a lacklustre 5.54 ERA for the season, while Sanchez fared only slightly better, securing a 4.89 ERA in only three more innings — not what anyone expected from two young pitchers who were once considered infallible. Osuna was meanwhile traded to the Houston Astros after receiving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence in May. Charges against him were withdrawn last Tuesday.

All in all, the players who Jays fans thought were mainstays were either traded, injured, or subpar in performance. Though this allowed unexpected players like pitcher Tim Mayza and Ureña to shine, it also marked the end of the veteran-dominated team that characterized the Blue Jays organization for the past four years.

Unexpected surprises

The offseason acquisitions of Yangervis Solarte, Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk, and Diaz were seemingly a step in the right direction at the time, yet, bar Grichuk, most of the Jays’ outstanding new players were minor-league call-ups.

After making his Major League debut on September 5, Rowdy Tellez hit six doubles within his first three games, setting an MLB record. Two weeks later, on September 20, the Jays managed a seven-run comeback in the top of the ninth inning to walk off the Tampa Bay Rays 9–8. Though this match was far too late in the season to be at all meaningful, it was a much needed reminder of how fun baseball can be.

Looking forward

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the rookie on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and for good reason. Not only did he win Pipeline Hitter of the Year, but he finished the minor league season with an unbelievable .381 BA. Though Guerrero wasn’t called up to the major leagues this season, he will surely start making his mark come March.

And Toronto only got a quick taste of what Rowdy Tellez and Dwight Smith Jr. will be bringing to the plate. In only 66 at-bats, Tellez managed 14 RBIs and 4 home runs, while Smith Jr., who plays left field, secured a .266 BA with 64 at-bats.

As the postseason plays out — and either Mike Trout or Mookie Betts receive the AL MVP title — the Blue Jays will have to reconfigure their players in order to secure a sustainable core that can make a winning team.

They will have to find a manager who will be ready to lead the incoming rookies through a rebuild. The manager will have to build up a group of players who can survive the AL East, pitted against the Rays, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox, which will make for a tough division to succeed in for the coming years. It is hard to do, but possible.

Next year, Blue Jays fans can look forward to seeing the beginning of Guerrero Jr.’s and Bo Bichette’s Major League journeys. Overall, though, it doesn’t seem like the 2019 season will be any more memorable than the one we have just witnessed.

Baseball must live on

MLB attendance is down league-wide as the average game length continues to increase

Baseball must live on

Attention spans have shortened and with the rise in popularity of competing sports leagues, the NBA has replaced the MLB as the second most popular sports league in North America, behind the NFL.

In an recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, host Bill Simmons says that he believed that people under 35 generally do not care about baseball. “When you go to the games, half the people are on their phones,” he said. “I got LAFC MLS tickets and you go to the game and people are into it, and its two hours and you’re out!”

The slow pace and long schedule of baseball has increasingly become a problem. The MLB has adopted new rules: the number of mound visits per game are limited, intentional walks are no longer thrown, and managers have only a 30-second window in which they can challenge a play. Each of these changes was made with the end goal of speeding up the pace of play.

In the end, there is no way to control how many hits or walks will occur during a game, and there is no limit on how much time a pitcher is allowed to take between pitches. The long, tense nature of the sport is unavoidable. And despite rule changes, in 2017, the average game length reached a record high, at three hours, five minutes, and 11 seconds.

Another point made in Simmons’ podcast is that an overdependence on statistics may actually be hurting fan engagement. When I find myself watching baseball with my roommates, one asks, “Hey what’s OBP? What about RISP?” and none of us know. Interesting baseball discussions have boiled down to analytics, a jumble of numbers, citing past matchups, and hitting averages against lefties or righties — the list goes on.

Simmons explained that the league has become so “stat obsessed” that there is no room for arguments. Meanwhile, basketball fans can argue about a player for hours since there are many arguments that do not refer to statistics.

Chuck Klosterman added that baseball arguments are often about “should we even care about batting averages?” and that he is “constantly being told what stats not to think about.”

Baseball’s dependence on numbers has halted conversations and simply made baseball debates less engaging. Ultimately, we must ask whether the level of argumentation is truly a reflection of the sport’s health. In my household, baseball games mainly provoke statistics chatter — much less engaging than our chats during the NBA season.

Now, let’s get down to the numbers regarding the MLB’s troubles. In June, Fortune reported that attendance is down 6.6 per cent since the same time last season and that there hasn’t been such a drastic dip in attendance since 1995. MLB attendance is now at its lowest in the past 15 years and there is a chance that average attendance dips below 30,000 for the first time since 2003. This may support the argument that the sport’s overuse of statistics and lengthening games has not done well for the MLB’s ratings.

Ironically, the advanced statistic Three True Outcomes percentage (TTO) is the clearest signifier of baseball’s slowing pace. TTO shows the percentage of at-bats that result in a walk, strikeout, or home run. Reporters have noticed that baseball has transformed from a “game of intense strategy, scrappy hitters, crafty pitchers and defensive wizardry,” into a sport that solely emphasizes the matchup between batters and pitchers. This year TTO reached a league average of 33.5% of at-bats, the highest rate in history, which means the league has never seen so few balls hit in play.

As the average number of home runs and walks reach their highest rates in history, the games only get longer. The MLB is walking a tightrope as there is pressure to shorten the game, but there is also pressure to promote excitement — which means base runners and home runs.

The recent decrease in ticket sales and TV ratings display that the sport is in obvious trouble, but baseball is still too special and popular of a game for it to die out completely.

Personally, the game’s slow pace adds a level of tension that no other sport can offer. Every motion and every inch in baseball can decide out or safe, win or loss. The use of statistics creates a fascinating strategic element that is unparalleled in any other major sport. It remains the only sport where players can depend more on technique and knowledge than pure athletic prowess.

While young, flashier soccer and basketball players have put pressure on the MLB to reinvigorate its own fan base to see a rise in viewership, I strongly believe that this is only a phase and there are many decades of great baseball ahead of us.

Why the Blue Jays needed to move on from Roberto Osuna

The former Blue Jays closer was charged with assault in May

Why the Blue Jays needed to move on from Roberto Osuna

On May 8, Toronto Blue Jays fans woke up to disconcerting news. The news wasn’t related to an injury or a sudden trade — instead, star closer Roberto Osuna was arrested for domestic violence. The 23-year-old was charged with assault and put on administrative leave by Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred. Osuna later received a 75-game suspension retroactive to his arrest date.

The arrest left Blue Jays fans scratching their heads, wondering how to react. Osuna is the first Blue Jays player to be suspended under the MLB’s new domestic violence policy, effectively allowing him to set a precedent for how the team and fans would react to a similar situation in the future.

Do we, the fans, burn his jerseys? Should the team bring him back? On the scale of ethics and objective athleticism — which side does domestic abuse weigh more?

It’s first important to explore the domestic violence policy that dealt the punishment to the young pitcher.

The official transcript of the policy, established in August 2015, noted that the MLB would conduct an independent investigation into any occurrence of domestic violence, but did not specify how or with what means the investigation would occur.

Since the policy’s debut, only a handful of players have been suspended under its pretense: Aroldis Chapman, José Reyes, Héctor Olivera, Jeurys Familia, Derek Norris, Steven Wright, José Torres, and now most recently Osuna, whose 75-game ban is the third longest given out under the new policy.

Immediately following the arrest, Blue Jays’ General Manager Ross Atkins announced that the team had no interest in trading Osuna and that once his suspension was lifted on August 5, he would be re-integrated into the team. The announcement fueled the cloud of confusion that hung over an already-discouraged fanbase. Osuna was once the bright spot on a team filled with mediocrity.

As a Jays fan, I’ve spent countless evenings at the Rogers Centre listening to a lulled crowd suddenly get jolted by a burst of energy, spirits lifted when saw they a certain relief pitcher exiting the bullpen and the sound of his walk-up music echo throughout the stadium.

Osuna was the cherry on top of the whipped cream: he gave hope to fans and rejuvenated a game. A tie in the 11th? Well, it’ll stay that way because Osuna is on the mound. Up one run in the bottom of the ninth? We’ll get that W because we can always count on Osuna.

The conundrum that took hold of Toronto due to Osuna’s behavior is an indication of the current culture and outlook surrounding domestic violence that is held by the MLB. The league’s new domestic violence policy, though not nearly extensive enough, is a positive step in attempting to correct a culture decades-long in the making. Other leagues, such as the NHL and the NFL, don’t have any specific policy for domestic violence to begin with.

However, the new policy’s mere existence does not erase the dark history of ignoring violence that mires the MLB. The outlook that the MLB had on domestic violence for decades prior to the naissance of the policy reinforced a culture rife with the acceptance of violence, so long as the perpetrator was an asset to a team. This culture is still very much alive to this day. The essential agreement among managers, players, and many fans, has been: who cares what a player does in his personal life as long as he delivers on the field?

The debate about the extent to which players should be punished for actions in their personal lives has turned reporter against colleague, fan against fan, and — possibly — player against player. To dive deeper into this discussion, it is important to first decide what components make up an athlete. Is style important? Personality? Would Mike Trout be lauded more confidently as this generation’s best player if he had more swagger? Do we take into account things other than the objective mechanics of pitching, hitting, or catching when discussing a player?

According to the MLB — and the awards that it gives out — the answer is yes.

The Roberto Clemente Award — most recently awarded to the Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo — is annually given to a “player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, and community involvement”. The league very publicly rewards players for their behaviour and community participation off of the field — in effect, affirming the idea that many components make up an athlete, ones that surpass muscle and sweat.

If the MLB wants to publicly reward its players for doing good off of the field, then it should handle opposing manners with the same publicity and vigor. Athletes have long been considered role models. They grace our cereal boxes, talk to us from the screens of our TVs while promoting a new Adidas shoe, and make their presence felt in whichever city they are representing for the given time.

Osuna’s incident isn’t just an unfortunate incident of violence: it is an endorsement of a lifestyle and outlook that has always been promoted within sports culture. It is representative of a culture that surpasses baseball; one that reveres Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, despite the disturbing rape allegations that plagued him in 2015 and 2016.

It is a culture that emphasizes charity and community, but buries instances of violence and abuse. It is a culture that teaches young people that they can be violent and receive minimal punishment — because let’s face it: at the end of the day, to Osuna, who is a multimillionaire, a 75-game suspension is nothing.

The most prevalent question is: do we care that a guy beats up his girlfriend if he’s throwing over 100 miles per hour? The answer should always be yes. The rings, the banner, and those frosty, tense, baseball nights in late October should be a reward for good behaviour — not a guarantee.

And thankfully, the Blue Jays’ front office got it right. On July 30, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, Roberto Osuna was traded to the Houston Astros, for three right-handed pitchers: Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez. None of these pitchers have numbers as spectacular as Osuna’s — but none of them have been arrested for domestic violence either.

It is easy to get lost in numbers, statistics, and sabermetrics when it comes to baseball. It is easy to view every player as an amalgamation of averages and percentages. The Blue Jays — in the midst of a season where nothing is going right — did something good. They chose morality over athleticism; a decision that will no doubt cause controversy and be scoffed at by local fans and enemies alike.

It seems ridiculous to trade a young, controllable, skilled player — but this move also breathes some humanity into a league that is obsessed with moneyballing every trade and acquisition. It also sends a clear message: Osuna will not use Toronto’s mound or people as the basis for his redemption. No one is beyond redemption, but Atkins and his associates made it clear that Osuna would not get the satisfaction of forgiveness from a crowd that, prior to May, loved and revered him. The Blue Jays’ stance on violence is therefore unmistakeable: it will not be tolerated.  

I, for one, am glad I don’t have to see Roberto Osuna sport a Blue Jays uniform any longer. I will be sporting my own blue-and-white jersey with pride.

Jerry Howarth: voice of a generation

Reminiscing about Howarth’s 36-year career with the Toronto Blue Jays

Jerry Howarth: voice of a generation

For many, the start of spring is signaled by several sounds: birds chirping, the quiet pitter-patter of rain. For Toronto Blue Jays fans, the beginning of spring is marked by one man’s iconic voice as he calls the ballgame over the radio.

Jerry Howarth had been the Jays’ play-by-play announcer for 36 years until he stepped away from his duties earlier this year. Howarth spoke with The Varsity about his career and beginning a new life away from the radio.

Broadcasting for a professional sports team is no easy job. While the public is only tuned in for a couple hours, an announcer’s work starts hours beforehand. Prior to a single word being transmitted across the air, Howarth spends hours preparing and studying for the upcoming game. However, now in retirement, Howarth has found a new way to spend his time.

“It’s pretty much the same… the hours I used to spend… getting ready to broadcast and then actually broadcasting for three hours, I do now in the form of duplicate bridge,” says Howarth. “Now I’m back to preparing, doing my homework, and getting better and better playing duplicate bridge with partners in a big room of 50, 60, or 70 people. And that’s for three hours as well… My every day is pretty much the same, substituting bridge for baseball.”

Howarth also adds that time away from baseball allows him to spend time with his wife, two sons, and three grandsons. Of course, you can take Jerry Howarth out of baseball, but you cannot take baseball out of Jerry Howarth.

“I go out to the first game of every series; I’ve been out about 15 [or] 16 times,” he says. “What I do is I get out on the field at about quarter to four — I visit with [Manager] John Gibbons, the coaches, the players.” Howarth also greets the media staff, and in particular, reunites with those of the visiting team. “You give each other hugs and it’s a wonderful time,” he adds.

Through the 36 seasons of baseball that Howarth called, the Blue Jays achieved two MVPs, four Cy Youngs, a Rookie of the Year, a no-hitter, two World Series, and a Hall of Fame player in Roberto Alomar. But two memories stand out the most.

On the evening of October 24, 1992, the Jays needed just one win against the Atlanta Braves to win their first World Series Championship. The broadcasting duties were split between Howarth and award-winning announcer Tom Cheek. The innings were split with Howarth calling the game in the third, fourth, seventh, and eighth innings, while Cheek called the other five. If the game was to go into extra innings — as we now know it did — the two would alternate innings, with Cheek starting the 10th.

In the top of the 11th, Howarth called Dave Winfield’s two-run double, which gave Toronto a 4–2 lead heading into the bottom of the 11th. “When we went to a commercial break, I realized, ’Hey Jerry, Tom has been doing this since day one,’” recalls Howarth. “The Blue Jays were on the verge of winning their first-ever World Series. All of Canada is waiting. It’s only right that [Cheek] calls the bottom of the 11th inning.”


“When we came back after the commercials, unbeknownst to Tom, I simply said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve had the pleasure of calling Dave Winfield’s two-run double. Now here’s my partner Tom Cheek taking you the rest of the way.’”

“Tom was so surprised and happy all at the same time. He just sat right up, said ‘Thank you Jerry’ and called the bottom of the inning. Atlanta scored one run, but the Blue Jays would win it 4–3 at the end of 11 innings.” The decision felt right to Howarth; he believes that it made him happier than if he had called it himself.

The second memory is one that many diehard Jays fans hold close to heart. One of the most emotional home runs in franchise history came off the bat of infielder John McDonald. In 2010, McDonald’s father passed away, and according to Howarth, his dying words to his son were, “John, hit a home run for me.” McDonald wasn’t known for his power; in 16 major league seasons, McDonald had only managed to hit 28 home runs.

Days later, on Father’s Day, Howarth witnessed a scene straight from a movie, as the Jays were playing at home against the Chicago White Sox.

“John came in for defensive purposes and he came to the plate for his first at-bat since his dad passed away. He hit a line drive down the left field line. It just got over the wall — home run! We knew it was for his dad,” remembers Howarth. “As he rounded the bases, everybody was just crying and so was John. I was too when he hit home plate. He looked up to the sky and pointed there. It was only later we found out what his dad had said to him. It was certainly divine intervention that day, and that goes down as one of my most memorable calls.”


Howarth’s career also gave him the opportunity to support Indigenous communities. While many are aware of the use of racialized stereotypes in certain team mascots, Howarth only really understood what impact these had after receiving a letter in 1992. “The Blue Jays went to the World Series in ‘92. I was talking to the fans of the tomahawk chop and took a pitching coach out to the mound for a powwow with his pitcher,” he recalls. “I was part of all of that.”

“One day I received a letter from someone from a member of the First Nations up north,” he continues. “[It] said, ‘Jerry, I love your work. I know what you do on the radio is important to you; it’s also important to all of us. I heard you talk about the tomahawk chop and powwows and talking about the Braves and it’s offensive to us who live that life. We have very little say here in our own country. If you think about it, I would encourage you to just think about this please. The next time it comes up, maybe you can think about how hurtful it is for our people and what we have to be subjected to regarding those names and how we find them so offensive.’”

“I wrote him back… and I said, ‘Sir, thank you very much. That was right straight from your heart. I really feel for you and what you’re going through regarding this. I’ve never felt that way before… because of you for the rest of my career, I will dedicate myself to never using the words Braves or Indians or [the NFL’s Washington Redskins], especially with Cleveland’s redface mascot Chief Wahoo.’”

From that point on, Howarth says he “didn’t use those words at all” and that he “didn’t want to draw attention to himself.”

Howarth’s personal decision to exclude these names was essentially unnoticed for over two decades until listers started to catch on. In an interview with Jeff Blair of Sportsnet, the two discussed the decision of eliminating these words from the broadcast. The interview went viral.  

“I was very happy that it all came about that way, so that people began to recognize at least an issue that maybe they hadn’t thought of before,” says Howarth.

Yet the decision came with some backlash. Some made it clear that Howarth should “just stick to calling the game.” To this, Howarth responds:

“We’re talking about life, not so much ‘does politics have a place in sports?’ You do what you think is right from a human element [and] human standpoint. Colin Kaepernick did what he thought was right regardless of the consequences. He didn’t put himself first. He knelt because he felt that there were issues regarding race in the United States, which there definitely are; when you take a look, there’s no questioning that. This is life; it’s not sport separate from life, it’s not politics separate from life. It’s all a part of life.”

Howarth continues, “You have to weigh what you think you can do best to accommodate other people to just eliminate as much as you can — racism, whatever it happens to be, and just try to do the right thing… Let’s make that happen for life so that people can enjoy their lives.”

While Howarth and many protesters of the Cleveland’s red-faced Chief Wahoo logo look forward to its elimination from on-field attire in 2019, more systemic changes are on the way for Major League Baseball. Coming off the inaugural season of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has begun its shift to 32 teams, something that seems to be on the way for baseball. But Montréal Expos fans should not get excited for a potential refurbishment of the Expos, according to Howarth.

“There’s a possibility, maybe not as strong a possibility, as perhaps some other cities might be involved too. Montréal, while they had a history together, they left because the fans didn’t come out to Olympic Stadium,” says Howarth. “The Olympic stadium doesn’t fit that bill anymore.”

“Will the fans not come out again? Will they draw eight thousand a game? Well, what about another city that would be fresh, [that] would have a brand-new stadium, and [that] would be happy to have a team that they might end up drawing an average of 30,000 to 35,000 fans for a game?” Howarth adds, “I think Montréal [is] certainly in the running whether they get a team or not. I think they’re long odds right there to do that.”

Despite stepping away from the radio, Jerry Howarth is not done telling stories. His autobiography is scheduled to be released in February 2019, featuring over 100,000 words on his life on and off the field, from high school, to the army, to his 36 years as the Blue Jays’ radio play-by-play announcer.

Are the baseballs juiced?

Why the MLB needs to come clean about the historic rise of home runs

Are the baseballs juiced?

Aaron Sanchez, the Toronto Blue Jays’ young ace, was sidelined for most of the 2017 season because of a blister. In July, Sanchez’s teammate and fellow pitcher Marcus Stroman was also unable to pitch due to a blister. Stroman publicly commented on the matter, claiming that blisters had become an “epidemic” within baseball.

Noah Syndergaard, David Price, and Taijuan Walker all battled blisters throughout the season as well. These blisters left multiple fanbases scratching their heads, confused at how perfectly healthy players and even aces were left unable to pitch because of what seemed to be an issue with the physical composition of the ball.

These blisters, which seemed to contribute to most pitcher-related injury news in 2017, foreshadowed a larger problem in MLB. A few weeks ago, FiveThirtyEight confirmed an alteration to the balls used in games.

The signs were all there. For one, the number of home runs per season has dramatically increased over the past year — and no, that’s not because of Giancarlo Stanton. The average number of home runs per game in 2017 was 1.26, which is almost 50 per cent higher than 2014’s average of 0.86. There was a 46 per cent spike in home runs between the two years.

In order to explain this spike, it is important to talk about the anatomy of a baseball. There’s the cowhide shell, which is the white leather exterior of the ball, the cork and rubber core, and the yarn that separates the two. The core, however, is where most of the alterations seem to have occurred.

The core of a baseball is made up of four parts. First, there’s the cork pellet that sits in the very centre of the ball. Then there’s both black rubber and a rubber ring, all of which are held together by pink rubber. In a study comparing the densities of balls made in 2014 and balls made in 2017, the ESPN Sport Science team, headed by Dr. Meng Law, found that the pink rubber was around 40 per cent denser in the older balls than in the new.

This decrease in density can be explained by a study done by Kent State University. Looking at the molecular composition of the cork as well as the pink rubber, researchers found that the pink layer of the core had 10 per cent less silicon relative to older balls.

These changes may seem subtle, but they have an impact: baseballs now weigh on average 0.5 grams less than they did a couple years ago. They are also bouncier, which The Ringer estimates can add three feet to the distance a ball travels off a slugger’s bat. This means that a hit that would normally be caught on the warning tracks is now likely carrying over the fence for a home run.

You may be wondering what the problem here. Are more homers bad? Is baseball now an objectively easier game to play? Will 50 home run seasons, like those of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, become the norm? No, no, and maybe. It is important to clarify that the problem with this revelation isn’t that the balls are being ‘juiced,’ but rather, the lack of transparency on the side of the MLB. Keeping mum on alterations to equipment can have serious repercussions, both in sabermetrics and in injuries.

Houston Astros pitcher and 2011 American League MVP Justin Verlander commented on the matter to his nearly two million Twitter followers. “All I’m saying is I don’t care if balls are juiced (seriously),” he tweeted this month. “We’re all using the same ball so it’s a fair field. My issue is I don’t like being lied to. I knew something was different. Century old records are being broken and numbers are skewed.” Verlander was specifically referring to the findings that the exit velocity and launch of a baseball now had a higher correlation to the chance of a home run — something that can be explained by the less dense balls.

Whether the lower densities initially caused the blisters is uncertain; what is clear is that the athletes are frustrated and the fans are frustrated. It seems that everyone except the MLB is frustrated. This then poses the question: why keep the alterations a secret? And why vehemently deny — as Commissioner Rob Manfred has done numerous times — something that was ultimately proven to be true?

Maybe the secrecy is due to some kind of contractual obligation with Rawlings, the company that manufactures the balls in Costa Rica. Or perhaps it comes from fear of backlash — from those who refer to themselves as ‘purists’ and oppose any and all change, scoffing at pitch-clocks and the like. It is true that the culture surrounding the game of baseball has been challenged over the past couple of decades, from social issues, like attempts to remove racist rhetoric from vocal celebration, to technical elements, like adding instant replay. Baseball culture is notorious for rejecting any evolution the game may go through.

This has to change. Progress is good — it is as simple as that. In 1858, baserunners weren’t obligated to touch all the bases in order. In 1884, a player needed six balls to attain a walk. In 1885, bats could have one flat side.

Were it not for change, we would be watching a game where pitchers threw spitballs, players wore no protective gear, and the bats resembled canoe paddles. Baseball is a game that has been transformed into the phenomenon it is today thanks to changes it has undergone throughout its almost two-century existence. It is high time that fans, both old and new, regard the evolution of baseball as a benefit to the game instead of a detriment. For now, however, the MLB owes its athletes and its fans transparency. The way in which Manfred goes about explaining and justifying this issue will be indicative of the MLB’s commitment to the truth — or lack thereof.