In his new book, Full Count: Four Decades of Blue Jays Baseball, the local sportswriter and host of The Jeff Blair Show looks back on Toronto’s team through its formative years, its glory era, and the last 20 years of meh. We sat down with Blair to discuss the current state of “dream team” disappointment, drinking the Kool-Aid, and why, sometimes, Madonna trumps baseball.
People keep saying that it’s too early to be let down by the Jays so-called dream team, but come on! When can we all admit this is a nightmare?
Most baseball people would say that 40 games is when you can really judge a team—you’ve gone through the rotation several times, so you have a better idea of the long range. That said, I’m worried about a few things—the defence hasn’t been that good, they’re striking out a lot, and the on-base percentage is awful.
Presumably, getting on base is pretty important.
Right. I can see where people are worried. The hardcore fan who’s followed the team might be willing to be patient, but what happens when you raise expectations is you’re getting a whole bunch of people who bought into the sizzle.
Did you drink the Kool-Aid coming into this season?
Not really. I predicted that they’d finish second in their division and would lose in the first round to Texas. I never looked at this team as a World Series team because I don’t think it is. One of the reasons I held back a bit was because I thought José Reyes would get injured.
And he did.
Yes—although the artificial turf here is so bad that I thought he was going to blow out a knee or hurt his hamstring. I never thought he’d do it to himself by sliding into second.
You were ranting about the crappy turf on your show the other day. Please explain.
There are only two teams in baseball that use artificial turf—Tampa and Toronto. Essentially, it’s a layer of carpet over a layer of dirt on concrete. Just standing on it hurts your knees, so imagine playing 81 games on it.
Why don’t we have real grass?
One of the problems is that the Rogers Centre is a multi-use facility. Putting grass down would be really difficult with concerts and the Argos chewing it up. Also, you can’t just lay down the grass. You have to lower the existing foundation. It’s not something you can do overnight and it’s pretty costly—$5 million or $10 million.
This is Rogers. That’s a couple of bucks!
Yeah. Ultimately, they are going to do it—probably in four or five years.
Who would you say has been the biggest disappointment so far this season?
Probably José Bautista. It’s not entirely his fault—you can’t really criticize a guy for not playing hurt, but I know the fans are feeling dissatisfaction. We’re seeing a lot of what we saw last year—he’s arguing with umpires when the call doesn’t go his way. I know one of the things the Jays were working on at spring training was trying to change the culture of the team. This was a really whiny team last year.
In your book you talk about a lack of hometown heroes. What about Brett Lawrie? Could he be that guy?
I would like to think so, but I’m not sure that the way he plays is conducive to a long career. He’s intense; nothing is done at half speed. Baseball is the type of game where if you hit a routine ground out, you’re going to be out at first—it doesn’t matter how fast you run, so there are times when you have to monitor your intensity. He doesn’t have that filter.
Why wouldn’t the coaches tell him to smarten up?
Everybody does, but it’s the way he’s wired. Until he jams his shoulder sliding into home plate for no reason, it’s not going to register.
The Blue Jays brass decided not to make a big splash over the 20-year anniversary of the first World Series win. Was that a good call?
At the time I didn’t think so, but I get it. Just a few years ago they had a big function to honour Cito Gaston’s career and it was all of the same guys from the World Series team, so it would feel like a re-do.
I guess you end up looking a bit like Al Bundy.
Exactly. One of the big complaints about the Blue Jays is that they have been stuck in the past. They used to do these things called Flashback Fridays where they’d bring out one of the old guys. I used to laugh and think that Kelly Gruber must live in the area, because every second Friday, there he was. Rogers did marketing studies and realized they needed to do something to bring in a new, younger fan base. It worked. You go to a Jays game now and there are a lot more young people.
You go to a taco restaurant on Queen West and every other person is in a Jays hat.
Right. They had to make a break with the past to move forward.
Since we’re allowed to be as nostalgic as we want to be, where were you on Oct. 24, 1992?
I was in Montreal writing for the Gazette then, so I was sitting at home watching it on my couch. When they won in 1993, I was in Montreal at a Madonna concert. Afterwards, I can remember walking by a bar and looking at the TV right when Joe Carter hit his home run. There were people around and it was like, “meh.” No reaction. I still get grief for that, but I wasn’t covering it and I had plans.
Hey, you’re preaching to the choir. I would have been at that concert.
It was The Girlie Show. It was a great tour.
Don Cherry or Ron MacLean?
Neither (dislike both intensely).
Hot dog or pizza?
Favourite sports book?
Bang the Drum Slowly.
Field of Dreams or Bull Durham?
Bang the Drum Slowly.
Rogers Centre or ACC?
Desert island album?
London Calling, by The Clash and a Bob Marley box set.