Wrong fingers, Omar.
It feels like every time I start a new post I’m doing so with a snarky remark about this wretchedly slow off-season hitting some kind of a new low. As much as I’d like to avoid doing that again right now, it’s kinda hard not to, because we’re about to rehash a bunch of 2012 bullshit involving people who are no longer even in the Jays organization. (Yay?)
But actually, this is somewhat interesting, as last night we got some excellent — albeit curiously 18 months late — insight from Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun about the breakdown of the relationship between John Farrell and Omar Vizquel back at the end of both of their tenures as Blue Jays.
The short version of Elliott’s piece is that Vizquel paid for Henderson Alvarez’s family to fly from Venezuela to Miami so they could watch the then-Jays pitcher’s scheduled start against the Marlins in June of that year. However, a flurry of injuries hit the club’s rotation (as you may recall), and at some point after both the team and the Alvarez family had landed in Florida, Farrell bumped Henderson’s start back a game, which put him into the next series, in Boston. This angered Vizquel, who went to the manager’s office to complain, though he was rebuked, Elliott explains, with something like, “I’m not running a Little League team here, I’m doing what’s best for the team.”
Vizquel thought he had been slighted, began second guessing Farrell and 13 weeks later knocked Farrell’s failure to “jump on mistakes” by young players telling our Steve Simmons:
“It’s part of the inexperience. If you make mistakes and nobody says anything about it — just let it go — we’re going to keep making the same mistakes over and over. We have to stand up and say something right after a mistake happened. We have to talk about it at meetings. We have to address it in a big way in the clubhouse.
“Sometimes you have to punish players because they’re making the same mistakes over and over again.”
The next day Farrell screamed at Vizquel behind closed doors and wanted to release him.
With less than a week remaining in the season, the Jays did not think it was appropriate to release the future hall of famer.
There are some interesting strands to pull from this, especially looking back on what was being said at the time, the first of which is to reiterate — gauche as it may be in some circles at this point — that Farrell is absolutely fucking bang on. That doesn’t mean, however, that the disarray of his final weeks as skipper here isn’t in abundant evidence when looking back.
When the breakup eventually became inevitable, we heard about possible tensions between the manager and the front office. That became clearer near the end of the 2013 season, when Farrell contrasted his former and current employers, speaking about the difference between a “scouting-based organization, and one based on player development.
Acrimonious as it came off, those comments actually made it sound a rather cordial, academic split, like a band claiming after the fact that they broke up over “creative differences,” when the reality suggested by the Vizquel stuff makes it look closer to being about petty jealousies, or, to complete the analogy, sleeping with each other’s girlfriends.
Farrell could have justifiably been upset not only with Vizquel, but with management for not taking his side in the matter, and for saddling him with the supposedly HOF-bound carcass in the first place. There was, of course, more going on with the relationship than just that, which (self-indulgence alert!) I hinted at when writing at the time about Vizquel having been forced to apologize to the team and coaches for his comments to the Sun:
I tried to make clear earlier today that it’s as bad on one side to dismiss these concerns as it is to swallow Vizquel’s self-serving tripe whole hog, but I’m sorry, it really is just too rich for me to take [his comments] seriously, especially now that the Jays have made so clear that they’re not buying what Vizquel is selling– and also, in light of the conveniently ill-remembered fact that last year’s narrative was that the intimidating Farrell would have supposedly never allowed Boston’s chicken and beer brigade on his watch. So… which is it, people constructing a narrative from the crumbs in their ass in the desperate need to point fingers in the wake of a disastrous season?
I lose the plot just a little bit, especially at the end there — and not just grammatically (although: holy fuck, what was that??) — because it seems clearer now it wasn’t necessarily an either-or situation. Vizquel certainly didn’t have the credibility, especially as the club Latino Veteran during that summer’s Yunel Escobar situation and his previous complaints to the media about playing time, to suddenly be making these kinds of charges, but my presumption that all along this was the same Farrell who Clay Buchholz cowered from in Boston, in retrospect, seems off.
Fortunately, I had a firmer grip it all by the time of the next post on the site. In it I passed on the “rumour” — the earliest concrete statement on the saga that would then occupy the following month — from Jen Royle that the Jays were willing to let Farrell leave for Boston due friction between him and Anthopoulos . Many fans were aghast at both the presumption and the source, and I didn’t necessarily do as much as I should have to stop that. “This sure as fuck is a powerful bit of information to have slipped past the local wretches, coming to us from a source whose mere existence, I’d wager hard, is as much a revelation to Jays fans as her claim,” I explained. “Which isn’t to say it’s necessarily untrue, it’s just kinda seriously odd.”
That said, it’s not like there aren’t reasons to believe that something may be amiss between Anthopoulos and the hand-picked manager he spent so much of his first year on the job seeking out. My personal tendency is to not take this very seriously, but it’s undeniable that Farrell wasn’t particularly on-message during the Escobar press conference that went so badly awry, and that he hasn’t managed his ballclub, tactically, like a man taking a whole lot of input from what typically appears to be a very savvy, new age front office [2014 note: really???]. Add in the fact that Anthopoulos reportedly was open to discussion with the Red Sox last year, that he, somewhat unusually, has been insisting that a manager’s contract really only sets his rate of compensation– the implication being that he doesn’t see the need for an extension at this time — plus the suggestions, entirely suspicious and agenda-driven as they may be, that the clubhouse atmosphere is too lax, and you start to see where there may genuinely be issues.
Bigger still may be the fact that, if Farrell leaves, at this point, would anyone really care? I mean, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of John Farrell at all, and I’d have absolutely no problem with bringing him back for the final year of his contract and seeing how it goes, but if Boston wants to give up something to get him, how could you possibly not take it? And isn’t that a pretty serious indictment?
We obviously know now that something really was up, but interestingly, Elliott’s casting of Vizquel as so petulant brings the tensions between Farrell and the front office into sharper relief, I think. Most Jays fans are never going to think that Farrell rightfully felt aggrieved in wanting out, and I wouldn’t argue that they should, but it’s certainly interesting where it seems the club’s loyalties were laid.
Could the Jays have done something about Vizquel sooner, when the timing would have been more appropriate? The incident involving Alvarez, in addition to Omar’s complaints that May to Jon Morosi about his reduced role — “they think because I’m old that I probably can’t do the things I used to do” — may have been grounds enough for early dismissal, coupled with his utter uselessness on the field. John Farrell wasn’t running a Little League team, in other words, but maybe Alex Anthopoulos was.
Shit, just wasting a roster spot on a Veteran Presents totem alone probably does as much bad in reinforcing the notion of rewarding special privilege over merit than whatever supposed good it does, so the whole Vizquel enterprise is pretty questionable, in my view.
Of course, we don’t have nearly enough information to think any of this for sure, and right now it’s very easy to be sucked in by negativity’s vast gravitational pull when it comes to this team. Still, pushing up Vizquel’s petulance timeline makes it a little bit harder swallow the idea — easy as it is to believe regarding the end-of-season incident — that Farrell’s heart was already in Boston when friction arose between him and the front office.
Then again, maybe his heart was there all along. Or at least from the time he was denied the opportunity to take the job that was ultimately given to Bobby Valentine following Terry Francona’s firing after that club’s epic 2011 collapse.
That’s the easier narrative for Jays fans to believe, at least for as long as they believe in the club’s current front office. But how long will they?
I’m generalizing, of course, but certainly that worm hasn’t fully turned just yet. If a free agent splash and/or a winning start to the upcoming season doesn’t reverse its course, though, I can’t help but think that we’ll find Farrell’s days as a foil for this front office weren’t as neatly wrapped up at the knife-twisting end of last October as maybe we thought. Already I’m certain that you could find far more people willing to believe now than they were less than a year ago, when boos rained down in near-total unison on him at the Rogers Centre as he deliciously gave a mock cap tip to the April crowd, that Farrell was the one to keep, and right all along.
I’m not saying that I buy it, or that much of whatever amount of that sentiment is out there isn’t surely a testament to the aforementioned vast gravitational pull of the negativity surrounding this club, but picture this: the Red Sox visit the once-again struggling, excuse-ridden Jays in late August of 2014 and the crowd rises to cheer their former manager in a half-mocking salute designed to cut Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston to the bone. Wouldn’t it simply be over for them in a moment like that? Could the front office point to any asset in the low minors enchanting enough to save themselves?
It’s a little fantastical, to be sure, and the Jays season doesn’t have to go that way, of course. But what I guess I’m really just saying is, this Farrell thing surely isn’t just over for us yet — like an ex that got in our head but good. And now, when it comes to the Vizquel stuff we learned today, it gives us further pangs doubt that, at the very least on some of what led to our being apart, the piece of shit may have actually been right.