Back in the fall of 2007, I was asked to participate in a season-ending roundtable to wrap up the Blue Jays’ season. Since that blog is now dormant, I decided to steal the idea.
So what follows is the first of a three-part post featuring a few people who know their stuff answering 10 questions about the Toronto Blue Jays. Your panelists, other than myself, are:
Squizz: driving force behind one of Canada’s top soccer blogs, occasional poster to the site you’re looking at right now and author of the dormant blog from which I stole the roundtable idea.
Cole: Reporter from Atlantic Canada and Blue Jays optimist who has been saying “this is the year” every season since Toronto last reached the playoffs. Also a member of the original panel.
Katy: A former Jays employee. Check out her tumblr — fun baseball stuff keeps popping up.
Eyebleaf: Ever-optimistic blogger behind the excellent Sports and the City. Curious about the Jays, Leafs, Raptors or how much you should hate Vernon Wells? Check out his site.
Tao of Stieb: Proprietor of the best Blue Jays blog that ever did grace the Internet, the Tao of Stieb.
And now for the questions…
What was the best play / moment / game of the Jays’ 2009 season?
Chris: Scutaro stealing second on a walk. I have never seen anything like that before, and I doubt I ever will again.
Squizz: It was not so much a single moment as a period of time — the first month and a half of the season when the city seemed willing to delude itself into thinking this was a legitimate playoff team. It’s tough to remember now, but the excitement was palpable. I was too cynical to be sucked into the hype — and for being right, my reward was another shitpile of a season and a frightening city-wide descent into pessimism, apathy and hostility.
Cole: Surprisingly, for such a poor season, there were actually many great moments. Obviously, the walk off wins at the beginning of the season were nice and a welcome change from past years when it seemed the Jays would never win walk offs. Although, they were kind of spoiled by the end of the season when the Jays GAVE UP a number of walk offs, including more than one to the Yankees.
. There weren’t any walkoff winners quite as poignant as Gregg Zaun’s grand-slam last season (I have no shame in admitted I was teary-eyed), but there were some good ones for sure – Overbay’s two-run bomb in the 12th inning back in April and Hill’s walkoff double late in the season (if for nothing else than to restore a little joy in Blue Jay Land).
. The whole Yankees bean-ball brawl also was kind of a highlight, as it was nice to see Jesse Carlson stand up for his teammates. On the topic of bean balls, Halladay beaning Ortiz in retaliation for Papelbon ending Lind’s season was also pretty nails too. Man, I hate Papelbon. I originally wrote this before his choke job in the ALDS, but now that that has happened, joy is once again restored. I like to think in some way this was karmic retribution for him ending Lind’s season, but, perhaps (and hopefully) it’s just a sign of a new suckier Papelbon who we can mock without mercy when he looks in with that douchey glare and then quickly has to turn over his shoulder to watch ropes through the infield.
. I would have to say overall, however, that nothing beat the excitement (and eventual result) of AJ versus Doc at the Dome. The season was young, the Jays were atop the division, it was a hugely anticipated showdown and it worked out just how everyone hoped. I’d say that’s my number one.
. It’s funny because it was a dreadful season, but I still have a lot of great memories of it. I suppose that’s mostly from the 27-14 part of it though.
Katy: That’s a tough one…when you are there for every single home game you have a lot to choose from. I’m going to say Doc vs. AJ was insane this year.
Eyebleaf: It happened early, when the Jays were the kings of the AL East; A.J. Burnett’s return. Doc handled it, as we knew he would, and the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre was nothing like I had ever experienced. It felt like playoff baseball.
Tao of Stieb: The Doc-A.J. showdown is the one thing that clearly stands out in retrospect. Maybe that reflects bad on the state of the team, but it felt like a playoff game with the way that the Dome was packed and the Jays were the focus, even in the midst of hockey playoffs.
What was the biggest surprise of the 2009 season?
Chris: Aaron Hill. I think every expected him to be respectable, nobody (that I know of anyway) expected him to have a season quite like that.
Squizz: The fall from grace of Cito Gaston. He rode back into town on a white horse last season, reigniting the passions of even the most casual baseball fans… of course, once the bubble burst, we realized he was riding a wave of nostalgia more so than competence. Still, the virulence directed at this formerly-beloved Toronto sporting figure by season’s end was depressing — it’s always a shame when a local hero has their great victories overshadowed by late-career events (see Favre, Brett).
Cole: I think the emergence of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind would be a pretty easy choice here.
. We always assumed these two guys would blossom into good ballplayers, but the numbers they put up were kind of foolish. It will be quite interesting to see if they can continue that sort of production and I’m actually going to be a bit of a pessimist and say I think it’s doubtful we’ll see both these players hit over 30 homeruns next year. I’m hoping though.
. Honestly, I think Aaron still has more development as a hitter. Dude just doesn’t walk and if he could learn to be more patient, the numbers he put up would have been amongst the best in the entire league (they already were in many cases, I know, but his OBP isn’t exactly mind-numbing). I know it’s a catch 22 though, as if he’s not aggressive as he is, perhaps he doesn’t hit as many homeruns. Hey, I’m selfish, I want his 35+ homeruns, 100+ RBIs AND a .400 OBP.
Eyebleaf: I’d have to go with the immense failure that was Alex Rios. If you would have told me at the start of the season that Rios would struggle so badly and eventually be claimed on waivers, I’d never have believed you. Oh Alex, what was supposed to have been…
Tao of Stieb: Adam Lind’s emergence. I had figured that he’d possibly contribute 20 homers and 75 RBI if he had a good year, but he really reached a whole other level this season.
Where did the season go wrong?
Chris: I didn’t think it was a bad move at the time, but the season went wrong back in 2008 when Cito was brought in.
Squizz: When I started almost letting myself believe all of the hype that was constantly swirling around me. Then boom, rotation explodes, bats get silent(er), losing streaks and another long, languid summer of meaningless baseball. It may be a little narcissistic to think the sporting gods have it in for me, but I can’t come up with a better explanation.
Cole: I’m going to go ahead and say it went wrong during that faithful series against Boston where the Jays got swept, en route to their nine-game losing streak. Damn you Wakefield. That much is obvious though, I suppose.
. Really though, even with that nine-game slide, the Jays had built themselves up enough of a cushion that they weren’t even in bad shape at that point. So really, I don’t think there’s any one place you can pinpoint. The season probably went wrong when the team went north with the 25 man roster we had, because it obviously wasn’t good enough to win – the only kick to the nuts was that we were deluded into thinking they were good enough to win by the boner-inducing 27-14 start.
Katy: Complacency in player attitudes and in ownership. It’s supposed to be a sports team first, business second, but not everyone sees it that way and make decisions accordingly.
Eyebleaf: The season went wrong right from the get go. The 27-14 was the last thing this team needed. It wasn’t a contender to begin with, and the hot start put pressure on everybody. It all went wrong when Snider got sent down, and Litsch got hurt, and Wells and Rios became black holes in the lineup, and Millar played so much, and when Cito couldn’t put together a lineup to save his life. It went wrong in every which way after the salad days known as the 27-14 start.
Tao of Stieb: The night that the Jays faced Tim Wakefield and suddenly stopped hitting for the next two weeks. Basically everything fell to pieces after that.
And so, after 1514 words, you’ve reached the conclusion of the first installment of the 2009 Blue Jays roundtable. Come back on Saturday for part two to find out who the biggest letdown of 2009 was (it’s not who you think!) and Monday for part three to see what one move each of our panelists would make in the coming off-season.