“Didn’t bode well for the Toronto Blue Jays when I had to hit cleanup. I’ve never hit cleanup in my career, but– funny story– I actually got a text from about five or ten past players who were like, ‘DeRo, you didn’t hit cleanup when you could actually hit, now you’re hitting cleanup in the AL East!?!’ ”
DeRo, of course, is Mark DeRosa, speaking there of his experience on Canada Day as he joined Mike Wilner last night on his Blue Jay-A-Day Pre-Game Show on the Fan 590 (audio here*), and hoo boy, he was slightly candid during the whole appearance– and not just about his own career and what went wrong with the 2013 Jays, though he was that, too.
It was a hell of a performance; one that made Wilner’s praise clear, and his repeated assertions that DeRosa was the one member of the team reporters would run to for a good, thoughtful quote fully understood. But not only is the veteran– whose contract status for 2014 is still up in the air, though the Jays hold a cheap option on him and would be crazy not to exercise it– worth listening to for reporters and fans, but if this interview was any indication, he ought to have the ear of club higher-ups, as well.
That notion was at its most striking– and important– when he spoke about the difficulty he had in adjusting to the ugly Rogers Centre turf, and when he spoke about the comments from an anonymous Jays player about teammates not being with the club at the end of the season, which caused a stir earlier in the month– especially after Don Cherry waded in, bringing with him his tenuous grasp on the etymology of “grinder.”
On the turf issue, DeRosa was blunt. Asked whether he’d prefer an all dirt infield, like exists at Tropicana Field, DeRosa explained:
I think so. I think so. It’s what you’re used to playing on. Not to say that Tampa’s field is great by any stretch– I love being on grass, that’s the way I think the game’s supposed to be played. I understand why the Rogers Centre is turf, with the amount of stuff they do there, but I didn’t even think about it when I signed. Then I got to Toronto and was taking ground balls– you still don’t think about it. Then game speed kind of hits and you’re like, wait a second, I’ve got to move further back to create more range side to side, but yet I can’t go too far back where I can’t reach first base. So you found yourself in some obscure positions from time to time.
Earlier, he had not pulled any punches about the impact the turf had on the club:
It affected me more than I thought. It took me– first off, let me say that I didn’t expect to be playing as much as I did early on, with Brett going down. It affected me almost to the point of [taking] a good month, month-and-a-half to find out where I needed to play on the turf to not only make up for lack of range– because the ball was getting on you so quick– but also the seams that were in the turf that would create bad hops that no one could really see unless you were walking out on the turf.
So, yeah, I think it does negatively impact us. I always look at it as a visiting player. You come in as a visiting player– I played in Toronto numerous times– and you come in and you deal with it for three or four days. You know it’s a great place to hit. You know you’re probably going to get some balls that find holes, and you kind of just deal with whatever the defensive side you get that series. But when you’re on there every day– and I think Emilio Bonifacio fell victim to it too, as well– it took us a while. It took myself, Maicer, even Reyes– and then when he came back with his ankle not 100%, you could tell his range was completely diminished and was having trouble getting to balls up the midde.
I don’t know what you can do about it. I know they’ve talked about eventually going to grass in there, but I think a smart thing to do– or something that should be talked about– is maybe making the Spring Training field a turf field, if they’re going to keep it. Just something where you can use it to our advantage– the Blue Jays’ advantage. It’s better than being almost a– [having] an impact on us through the first month of the season where we had so many new guys. So, yeah, it did play with my mind a little bit for a while.
Some actual stability, in terms of players, which the Jays at least look like they’ve got going on the left side of the infield, would certainly help too. And as much as it maybe seems odd that, in 2013, with the turf having been in use for years, it takes a player on a team that struggled so badly and so visibly on it to point any of this out, but I do believe that it’s a situation that’s worsening– and that DeRosa is probably right in suggesting that it needs, somehow, to be addressed.
What I can’t really speak to, however, is certain club policies and how they compare to the way things are done throughout the league. DeRosa, of course, can offer a rather informed opinion on that, and he did so when asked about the number of players who weren’t with the club at the end of the season’s final weekend.
“I think, for what I’ve learned about the Blue Jays organization is, that’s the way they do things,” he explained. “If you’re not an active player on the active roster, you’re headed to Dunedin to get your rehab and your stuff in, and if you can’t help us going forward, then you’re probably not going to be back with the team, so… that’s kind of an organizational thing that I don’t necessarily agree with, but that’s the way they do it.”
Ouch. But… understandable, especially considering some of his other comments on the matter.
It’s frustrating. I mean, you can look at it one of two ways: we were out of it so early– I felt in August that in September you knew the young guys were going to come, and you had to see what the younger guys had to offer– the Anthony Goses, Ryan Goins, Kevin Pillar, all these young guys that came up are going to get an opportunity to play on a team that’s not going to the postseason. Would I have liked to have seen some guys grind some stuff out? Yeah, of course. But then again I’m not inside their bodies. I grinded my wrist thing out and it cost me three years of my career. So I tread lightly when I talk about stuff like that. I’m a little different, I think football has made me that way– I grew up playing it, and you just… you play through stuff until you can’t anymore and surgery’s the only option.
That being said, Brandon Morrow’s dealt with the injury issue for a while now in his career, and it’s something that he’s going to have to find a way to grind through if he’s going to take that next step to being that counted-on ace that everybody thinks he can be, myself included.
A guy like Brett Cecil had such a miraculous year, he doesn’t want to jeopardize anything going forward, so everybody has different scenarios for why it happened, but at the end of the day I always tell myself I’m not inside their bodies to make a judgment on it.
It’s an admirable attitude to have, especially when speaking of the last days of a waste of a season. Personally, I tend to want to err on the side of caution and am happy that guys like Morrow and Cecil– who were maybe not so randomly singled out– did what was best for an incarnation of the Jays that has a chance to actually matter, but I do understand how the sensible thing isn’t always thing that’s looked upon most favourably, especially when you’re sharing a clubhouse with a guy who said he followed Chipper Jones around like a puppy for the first five years of his career, trying to emulate him.
But DeRosa, unsurprisingly, was sensible and insightful when it comes to the matter of leadership, and perhaps surprisingly seems to have looked positively on the clubhouse culture that was fostered over the course of the season.
I think the biggest misnomer in the game is that the best players on your team have to be your leaders. I think I’ve played on enough teams to know that it’s not necessarily the Greg Madduxes of the world and the Albert Pujolses of the world that are the leaders behind the scenes. Definitely they lead by example, and those are the guys you try and emulate– you try and follow and see what they do– but we did, more than the fans probably even realize, try and keep that clubhouse as together as we could, with as much injury as we had and as bad of a start as we got off to. I remember calling an early meeting in New York, after getting swept in New York, and just kind of asking people to air out all their differences, to kind of– ‘let’s build some kind of common bond’– but that clubhouse was strong. For as bad as– I don’t want to say ‘for as bad as we played’– but for as much as we underachieved, the clubhouse never was lost.
There never was any animosity towards anyone in the clubhouse, there was never any difference of opinion that wasn’t aired publicly amongst the guys. So we stayed as strong as we could– I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for. I wish it could have been better, but at the end of the day, I think there are some guys that need to step up, vocally, but I also think there were some guys this year who spoke in those meetings that I didn’t think would, and I think the team will be better off for it. And as far as quitting on it, I’ll allude to what I said before– I don’t know what other people feel, as far as pain threshold goes. I’ve always been taught to go until you can’t go no more, so… that’s how I was raised and that’s how I approached it. Whether that’s right or wrong, I’ll leave that up to other people to answer.
It’s a generally positive answer, but with more than enough of the other side of the coin in it to make it sound completely sincere. Maybe that’s the trick DeRosa is pulling, but I don’t think so. This isn’t an Anthopoulos answer where you walk away thinking, “Yeah, well, what the hell else is he going to say?” And in doing that, he has actually managed to even reinforce the positive aspects he’s speaking about– at least in my mind he has.
There is one element of the leadership issue, however, on which he can’t help but full-on gush:
Outside of numbers– taking statistics– Munenori Kawasaki meant more to that team this year than anyone on that roster, and that’s 100% truth. That guy came in, breath of fresh air, having to take over for one of the best players in the game. And to things that he was able to do– and I know the fans really loved on him for the energy and the way he went about his craft, and his interviews, and everything that went along with Muni, and just his fun-loving attitude– but his ability to work an AB, his ability to get a bunt down, to move a runner, to do everything fundamentally solid, I hope– my hope would be he bought himself some more time in the big leagues. I would hope that. I don’t know what his contract status is, or where he goes from here, but he can play in the big leagues. There’s no doubt about it. What he meant to us, as far as– like you said, bridging the gap in the clubhouse– was immeasurable.
Oh, OK! Bring Muni back. There will be no campaigning from me to ditch the spirit animal. Um… probably.
Anyway, the gap he refers to in that last quote is about the various cliques that develop in the clubhouse, many of which tend to fall on language lines. But don’t go getting all righteous about the existence of such a gap– the kind of which is common throughout the sport– as DeRosa, ultimately, speaks favourably of how it all went.
We had a great clubhouse. I’ll say that. We did have a great clubhouse. It’s tough when guys are going down and you’re losing and it’s not going the way it’s supposed to go, and it’s easy to lose people. But I thought for the most part we kept it as good as we could.
How good was that? Good enough that apparently he could (jokingly) call out Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, to their faces, about their roles in the season’s demise– a subject about which he evidently understands a thing or two:
I was sitting in Arizona in September with Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero on either side of me, and you rehash on the bench what we could have done differently, or what could have gone differently, and I turned to them and I said, ‘You realize you guys are two of the biggest reasons,’ and through no fault of their own! But it’s tough when you lose two thirds of your rotation by the middle of May. It left our coaching staff in a tough spot, it left our GM in a tough spot– it just leaves you in a tough spot.
R.A. and Buehrle obviously didn’t get off to the starts that they’re used to getting off to, but they rebounded and battled. I thought they did a heck of a job, both of them. What Mark Buehrle’s been able to do in his career can never be questioned. What R.A. was able to battle through and– you know, he’s throwing a trick pitch. It’s not an actual pitch. Some days it’s going to work and some days it’s not, and for him to pitch in the AL East and be as effective as he was, I thought, was an advantage for us. But when you lose Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, J.A. Happ, Josh Johnson, that was– for me, if there was one fluke to the entire Toronto Blue Jays’ says, it was Josh Johnson, because I’ve faced Josh Johnson multiple times, and for him to have one win, and to pitch with the chance to make a $100-million contract, and all the things that come with it, he would have been the number one free agent out on the market. So, a lot of us, myself included– I felt terrible for him, to watch him go through what he went through after the great spring he had. And I completely believe that any team that gets this guy, whether it be Toronto next year, or if he goes somewhere else, will get one of the better pitchers in the game. I don’t know if he’ll ever recapture the early glory that he had, but anything close to that, any team would love to have. So that one was surprising.
That… all… is… pretty much bang on, eh? And as far as DeRosa himself goes, he’s certainly not saying anything to me regret my suggestion from late last month that I think he ought to stick around. Especially if we can get him behind a microphone more often, because this was some very seriously great stuff.
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