In conversation with Cavan Biggio

Getting to know one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ most underlooked prospects

In conversation with Cavan Biggio

Blue Jays fans know that a team rebuild is well underway in Toronto. Since their last playoff appearance in 2016, the Blue Jays front office has produced one of baseball’s top farm systemsa collection of minor league teams which are responsible for developing promising young players. From Class-A affiliate Lansing Lugnuts to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons, Toronto is stacked with talented prospects. Even casual fans may be aware of the MLB’s first-ranked prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and tenth-ranked Bo Bichette. However, even some Blue Jays loyalists haven’t heard of the Jays’ hidden weapon: Cavan Biggio.

These three infielders are part of the core group of prospects projected to make their debuts in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. However, though Toronto media has shined the spotlight on Guerrero Jr. and, in part, Bichette, less attention has been given to Biggio.

The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Biggio in 2016 from the University of Notre Dame. Coming from a baseball family, Biggio learned the game from his father, Hall-of-Famer second baseman Craig Biggio. After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons in Class-A and Class-A Advanced, in 2018 Biggio moved to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate. There, he began demonstrating his leadoff potential. While he only had a .252 batting average, Biggio got on base at a rate of .388, making him third in the Eastern League and first on the team based on his on-base percentage.

After the regular season, Biggio took part in the Arizona Fall League, an off-season development league. In an interview with The Varsity, Biggio said, “Fall League was incredible. [I] played with a lot of great players… guys that I’ve been playing against for the past two, three years.” He added, “I was able to play the outfield there and be able to get some good work out there and set myself up for the season. So overall, I think [it] couldn’t really be better.”

It’s clear that Biggio got some great work in during the off-season. 28 games into the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ season, he’s already off to a blistering hot start. As of May 5, Biggio is first on the Bisons in home runs and runs scored, second in on-base percentage and runs batted in, third in batting average, and fourth in slugging.

When asked what he credits his early season success to, Biggio simply replied, “I would credit that to just trying to use the whole field a little more.”

He noted that last year he was “a little bit… pull-happy in Double-A,” and so going into this off-season he relied on the full field to put the ball into play. He says that that is “where you see the two strikes and trying to battle and put the ball in play, versus trying to get the head still and striking out more when I was in Double-A.”

Biggio also focused on developing his fielding during the off-season. He said, “I worked on it a lot… in spring training… I take a lot of pride in my defense, trying to separate offense from defense as best as I can.”

He added that he also tried to smooth his footwork out because he saw it is very important, “especially playing second, third, and first: they’re very different. And I think just being able to get some reps at all three of those positions.”

In the early going, the off-season work has been paying off, as Biggio has only committed one error the entire season. Biggio has always been a phenomenal fielder but has seen drastic improvements in the last year, committing just one error in the Arizona Fall League’s innings and 14 errors in Double-AA’s innings.

Once Biggio breaks into the big leagues, he might be something that the Toronto Blue Jays have recently been lacking — a true leadoff hitter. As mentioned, Biggio is in the top three of the Buffalo Bisons in batting average and on-base percentage at .341 and .478, respectively, as of May 5. While those numbers are sure to regress, it doesn’t change the fact that Biggio has consistently been able to get on base throughout his career. But what makes him an important component and a future weapon of the Blue Jays are his baserunning abilities.

“I think it’s very important to my game just because I walk a good bit and I don’t think I’m really any good when I’m walking a lot… I think I can score on a double in the gap, but to make things easier… I [like] to pick my spots to be able to get in scoring position for my teammates to drive me in.”

He added that he thinks it is very important to be able to steal a run early in the game. “I see it dying out in baseball, but I’m trying to be consistent with it in my game and just trying to pick my spots when I can go.” In the early going, Biggio has the second most stolen bases on the team, tied with Jonathan Davis.

With his power, contact, and speed, Blue Jays fans should expect to see Biggio leading off in big league games soon. He has the toolset to be part of the rare 30-30 club — 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases — a feat that only 40 players in history have accomplished.

While the limelight is on Guerrero Jr.’s call-up and Bichette’s broken hand, Biggio is quietly developing into a five-tool player that can challenge the likes of his teammates and the rest of the MLB. The fifth-ranked second-base prospect in baseball made his Blue Jays debut with the Bisons this season and should be a key piece in many future playoff runs.

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.

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.