Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Blue Jays ship continues to sink

Is it the player's or manager's fault for the turmoil in Toronto?

As a fan on the outside looking in it would appear that the Toronto Blue Jays are a team in turmoil. Back in July the team jettisoned troubled but talented hitter Shea Hillenbrand after he wrote some disparaging remarks on a clubhouse chalkboard and was challenged to a fight by hothead manager John Gibbons. Hillenbrand was immediately released and picked up by San Francisco, the team blamed his temper for the rift and bid him good riddance.

But now comes this latest incident, last night in Toronto with the Jays playing Oakland. Pitcher Ted Lilly was handed an 8-0 lead after 2 innings, but was on the ropes in the third after allowing back-to back homers to make the score 8-5. After allowing 2 more baserunners, Gibbons came to the mound to take Lilly out. But a funny thing happened on the way to the dugout-Lilly didn't want to come out of the game, and he told his manager so. This didn't sit well with the skipper, and the two had a heated exchange on the mound before Lilly finally walked off the field.
But it didn't end there, as Gibbons left the field, entered the dugout, and then continued down into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse to confront the awaiting lefty. A melee ensued, and rumors flew that Gibbons had a bloody nose. Later the pair tried to downplay the incident, and Lilly claimed he shouldn't have reacted as he did, he was upset at the situation. He had a right to be, as he wound up being charged with 7 runs and the Jays blew the 8-run lead and lost, 12-10.
Was Lilly wrong to refuse to come out of the game? Yes, and he displayed an unprofessional attitude with his degrading behavoir. But as someone who has a little inside knowledge about Lilly (he is the proverbial "friend of a friend") I know that he is normally mild-mannered and even tempered. Something happened to trigger his reaction.

The bigger issue here is the manager and his treatment of his players. This is like Billy Martin circa 1978 or Lou Pinella circa 1990. This guy makes Ozzie Guillen look like Mr. Rodgers. Sure players and managers have had blowups, but 2 in two months, one resulting in the release of a .300 hitter and one seen on national TV, in front of a crowd of 28,00+ fans? Something is wrong here; you would think anger management should be mandatory for this guy, if not suspension and/or a fine. But GM J.P. Riccardi has said no punishment will be forthcoming. Evidently they back their manager and, so far, deny he has a problem with his players. Stud CF Vernon Wells even said as much when posed the question after the game.
The history with Lilly dates back to last season, when Gibbons and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg tried to force the erratic lefty to alter his pitching motion. Lilly tried, but didn't feel comfortable, so went back to his old style. Feelings were bruised, however, and although Lilly did excercise and option and remain in Toronto, the free agent is a sure bet to go elsewhere this offseason, even before this incident.
Despite their off- season spending spree and another potential Cy Young for ace Roy Halliday (16-3), the Jays have little hope of making the post season. And now they have alienated a valuable lefty pitcher and cut a quality hitter, all because they can't get along with the tempermental manager. Sounds like a problem to me.

Oh, Hillenbrand's message: sinking ship

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