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Given a couple of breaks, perhaps to small bones in Mitch Williams’ left hand, the Toronto Blue Jays might not have won their second straight World Series. But victory is theirs, and as the first back-to-back world champions since the 1977-78 New York Yankees, it’s time to ask just how good these Blue Jays are.
But first, it’s necessary to determine who they are. The 1993 Jays’ post-season, 25-man roster featured 10 players whoweren’t there in 1992. That figure, in fact, may be misleadingly low. The only Blue Jays pitcher to make a post-season start for the team in 1992 and ’93 was Juan Guzman. Their ’92 closer was Tom Henke; in ’93, it was Duane Ward. Four of their nine regular players changed. The 1992 champions had Manny Lee at shortstop, Kelly Gruber at third, Candy Maldonado in left field, and Dave Winfield in the designated hitter slot. This time, those positions were filled by Tony Fernandez, Ed Sprague, Rickey Henderson, and Paul Molitor. Fernandez and Henderson came aboard after the season began, though the players that they were replacing left over the winter.
The back-to-back Yankee champs, by contrast, went with the same regular lineup in both seasons, tinkering only with the identity of the outfielder serving as their DH. In the 1978 World Series, an injury to Willie Randolph put Brian Doyle at second, and he hit .438. Their pitching was different, with Goose Gossage taking over for Sparky Lyle as the closer, two 1977 starters gone, Don Gullett hurt, and Mike Torrez sent to the Boston Red Sox to give up Bucky Dent’s homer in the American League East playoff game.
Beyond the lineup, the Yankees lacked stability. After all, George Steinbrenner owned the team. Billy Martin managed the ’77 crew, then was replaced by Bob Lemon in mid-’78 as the Yankees ran down the Red Sox. The Jays have complete management stability, from General Manager Pat Gillick, the only GM in franchise history, to stoic skipper Cito Gaston. (By the way, Cito, a lot of managers call this special play when they’re trailing by a run at home in the ninth and the leadoff batter has reached first: It’s known as a bunt.) There’s no question that each Blue Jays personnel change was thoroughly considered, and it’s hard to argue that any change, except the loss of late-1992 addition David Cone, weakened the team. Also note that the Yankees and Blue Jays each built their teams on the biggest payrolls of their time.
Both teams succeeded in the wake of expansion, too. Reflecting the state of the game, the Jays’ pitching was awful in the ’93 World Series, and no better than fifth in the AL. Bad luck played a role, too, as Jack Morris, their top winner in ’92, was hurt and ineffective this year. Their calculated risk of substituting Ward for Henke paid off, but like everyone else, they couldn’t find enough arms for middle relief. The Philadelphia Phillies were undone by their middle relief corps as much as The Mild Thing. The Phils beat the Atlanta Braves because Atlanta’s middle relief was worse, and, for the second year in a row, they had no reliable closer. Like their pitching, Toronto’s defense is strictly middle-of-the-pack with the exception of Roberto Alomar at second, Devon White in center field, and, if the spirit still moves him, Fernandez at short.
The Blue Jays’ offense scored the second-most runs in the AL. Unlike the league-leading offense of the Detroit Tigers, the Blue Jays didn’t rely on the home run. They managed to outscore opponents who didn’t have enough pitching to stop them, using singles, doubles, triples, and speed, and they could have scored even more if Henderson had hit better than .215, albeit with 22 steals in 44 games.
Three great hitters form the core of the Blue Jays. Joe Carter got the sudden-victory homer in Game 6, the same way he gets the big RBI during the regular season. Alomar is outstanding in every phase of the game. At age 37, Molitor may not be this good much longer, but over the last three seasons, he’s shown why they’d be measuring him for a Cooperstown plaque if he’d stayed healthy in his prime years. Three franchise players, a great glove in center field, a warrior like Stewart, potential 25-game winner Guzman, the big hammer in the bullpen, and a front office that knows what it wants and how to get it is plenty to win in these times.
The Blue Jays are no team for the ages. They are the best act going in this age of dilution.
Or as baseball’s sponsors might say: Jays Light, they’re the right team now.
The Bank Doesn’t Make Pizza (or Piazzaa) It may be impossible to cover baseball these days without talking about economics. But in its Oct. 16 issue, the Economist—Britain’s conservative news-weekly and Washington wonks’ must-read—proved it couldn’t talk about baseball.
The “newspaper,” as this slick magazine insists on calling itself, offered an interesting perspective on interleague play. Its editors are for it, arguing that it would be bad business for basketball to banish Shaquille O’Neal from half of its venues. Yet Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey are not invited to half the stadiums in the major leagues. The magazine also asks whether fans in Pittsburgh would prefer to see their team play the Marlins or Brewers for the 13th time of the season or watch Frank Thomas and the Chicago White Sox for the first time.
These reasonable, unsentimental arguments ignore television’s ability to allow fans to watch these players in action, league traditions, and the danger of introducing rationality into the rooting mentality. The piece also betrays these Brits’ lack of less-subtle concepts. In discussing baseball’s stars, they mention “Nolan Ryan, who at age 46 is retiring after winning fame as one of the greatest pitch-out artists in baseball” (emphasis added). You probably thought Ryan won that fame for being the greatest strikeout pitcher in baseball history.
The Economist galaxy of baseball stars also includes Dodger catcher Mike Piazzaa. Maybe that’s the British spelling. Or maybe it’s a reference to the Dodgers’ mid-’80s telephone number for ticket information: (213) HOME-GAME. Leave off that last E for “error.”