Jays From the Couch takes a trip down memory lane, resulting in a ray of precedence and hope for the Toronto Blue Jays
What an absolute travesty the first 16 games of the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season has been. This is indisputable and been very painful to witness/experience. The team has been a Titanic of 30+ stars who have seemingly all hit the iceberg all at once. Troy Tulowitzki has been bad, Russell Martin has been terrible, Steve Pearce has been horrific, Devon Travis has been a nightmare and Jose Bautista has been a horrifyingly bad nightmare. The 3-13 record has been no accident in the sense that they have earned that record – “optimists” could point to Pythagorean and BaseRuns records of 5-11, but the team has been terrible. Is it time to panic as fans and an organization? I get the sense that many fans have already reached a panic threshold, but this week has had me reflecting back to the magic summer of 1989.
I was 13 and preparing to leave with my parents and sister on a two week trip to visit family in Scotland, as my mother was born and raised near Glasgow and most of my family still lives there. I was bursting with anticipation, as I had only been to Scotland once before when I was five and had only limited memories – like trying to teach neighborhood kids to play baseball with a soccer ball and no bat in a Clydebank park. I remember flying out of JFK airport in mid July and the Blue Jays being 8 games back. Now for you young folk out there, this was an era when I rushed to the mailbox each week to get my Sporting News, which was my sole source of Blue Jays news. No games on TV, no internet, no MLB App – NOTHING!
Needless to say, there was absolutely zero MLB news available where we were staying in Clydebank. Interestingly, we arrived just after Glasgow Rangers had signed its first prominent Catholic player in club history (Mo Johnston), who had previously been a Celtic player…and rumored to have been re-signing with Celtic that summer. Needless to say, as a sports junkie even then, I was enthralled by the Old Firm rivalry and the news of the day. After two weeks of Old Firm news, resulting protest marches in the streets, and getting buzzed for the first time by having my older cousin sneak me a few Ciders, we returned home to the US.
I was in absolute shock – I just couldn’t believe it. When I looked at how the Blue Jays had played while we were gone, I was amazed even more. Somehow, they had gone from being 8 games back when we left to being “only” 4 games out of first place when we returned. Their record had gone from 44-47 to 51-53 while I had been away, for a run of 7-6…hardly on fire. However, their division rivals stumbled badly and the Jays picked up significant ground.
So why am I strolling down memory lane? The 1989 Jays turned out to be a pretty decent team and lost to the eventual World Series Champion Bash Brother-fueled A’s by 4 games to 1 in the ALCS. However, prior to that disappointment, they had had a pretty putrid first half to the season. Their nadir was on May 14th when they lost 14-1 to the Twins and dropped to 12-24 on the season. At the end of the equivalent of this weekend in 1989, they were 8-10 and proceeded to go 4-14 over the next 18 games, and didn’t reach .500 until July 25th while I was in Scotland. They were still at .500 with a 59-59 record after their 4-2 victory in Boston on August 14th, and then proceeded to win the AL East with 89 wins – 2 games ahead of the Orioles.
Good teams go through bad and even awful stretches. It is certainly possible that all of the Jays aging players have all hit the iceberg simultaneously and will be bad all year. It is also possible that Travis isn’t as good as we thought, Donaldson doesn’t get healthy and some of the starters go down for extended stretches. However, it is also possible that the 2017 vintage of the Blue Jays just happened to time its awful stretch right at the beginning of the season.
I don’t know if some combination of negative scenarios will endure and the Jays will be sellers at the trade deadline, but I think it is just as likely that they will enjoy a torrid hot streak at some point and claw back to .500. As I wait to see if it starts this weekend in Anaheim, I’ll be gearing up for Sunday morning’s 7:15am kickoff between Celtic and Rangers in a Scottish Cup semi-final match. If I am feeling frisky, I may give old Mo a toast of Cider after Celtic win 4-1 and move just one win away from the treble.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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