You could probably set a Joe Carter jersey on fire or defecate on a picture of Dave Stieb, and it wouldn’t cause half the reaction among the Blue Jays faithful as a remark or two against the back up infielder. In a city that loves hockey, a sport in which visible effort counts for so much, McDonald’s enthusiasm despite a lack of talent has endeared him to the fan base in a way that not even the best player in baseball, Jose Bautista, could.
Personally, my nerd boy fanaticism for McDonald was won over during the 2007 season, when his play at shortstop was pretty much the only reason to go down to the ballpark. He single handedly made baseball watchable and fun. The Jays could be down by five runs but there was a chance that McDonald would reward your staying and watching with a diving play to his right and then a throw to first base from the same position that he landed in with his dive.
It also helps that McDonald is a generally nice guy. A couple of years ago I had the chance to interview a few Blue Jays for a goofy little web segment on The Score. While I was setting up to ask McDonald a few meaningless questions, he asked if we could excuse him for a second. Of course we had no problem obliging. McDonald then went over to Pat Tabler who had apparently brought some children from Sick Kids Hospital to watch batting practice the day before. McDonald was asking Tabler about one of the kids in particular, generally concerned about his situation and wondering if there was anything he could do for him and his family. Once Tabler promised McDonald he’d put him in touch with the family in question, he came back to do our stupid little interview, which suddenly made me feel ridiculous and small.
This wasn’t a one time thing either. McDonald is the first to organize visits to veterans hospitals whenever they play in Baltimore and he’s been known to quietly involve himself in charities and other hospital visits whenever he gets the opportunity. His actions off the field are the epitome of what fans want from a baseball player: a benevolent athlete who seems to understand how lucky he is to be playing a sport for a living and so he does all he can to give back to the universe for it.
That, and he’s really, really great at defense.
Anyway, this is why John Lackey’s comments following last night’s game seemed enraging to so many Blue Jays fans. The pitcher who gave up a home run and a double to the normally light hitting McDonald was obviously frustrated when he said:
Everybody’s had success with him in the past. You can’t give up hits like that to him when you have other guys in that lineup who can hurt you.
Whether true or not, Lackey’s comments aren’t exactly the most gracious. But before Jays fans across the internet organize hate campaigns against the struggling pitcher, let’s pause for a moment and take a look at our What Would Johnny Mac Do? bracelets.
Before insulting McDonald, Lackey hinted at something bigger than baseball being on his mind when he said, “Everything sucks in my life right now to be honest with you.”
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe points out that during Spring Training, Lackey confirmed to media that his wife, Krista, was battling breast cancer. While personal problems aren’t an excuse to begin talking negatively about competitors, it should be remembered by Blue Jays fans eager to exact some sort of misguided payback on someone who made some dumb comments that Lackey has enough problems both personally and professionally that he probably doesn’t need our insults and mockery as well.
And besides, with a visit to Minnesota to play the Twins, Blue Jays fans should be saving up all their disdain for continuing the onslaught of insults on Denard Span.