How many times have you seen “Toronto Blue Jays” and “benches clear” in the same headline? What if we narrowed it down to the past year? It would still be tough to settle on a shortlist. Whether someone is clocking Jose Bautista or going after Josh Donaldson following another outburst by the ex-MVP, we see a clear pattern followed by Toronto’s warriors to the north: complain, antagonize, chirp, repeat. The act is beyond tired.
During what appears to be a late-season collapse by Canada’s team, the situation got worse. The club’s 11-15 September put Jays players on edge in a unique way. There’s been heated exchanges with members of the media along with the typical shoving matches and brawls. (A September 26 altercation even led to a season-ending injury to Joaquin Benoit, the team’s most dependable reliever down the stretch.) Whether the team blows it and misses the MLB playoffs or not, the Toronto Blue Jays are playing a losing game.
Lots of bark, little bite
Umpires probably know the Jays as the team that never agreed with a called strike. Pitchers know them as both solid hitters and great baseball fans. After all, who likes to watch Blue Jays home runs more than the Blue Jays hitters who hit them? The viewing parties may be accompanied by bat flips, which predictably lead to aggressive exchanges or retribution later. Or they just come with chirping.
The exploits of Donaldson and Bautista are well known, but the taunting is by no means limited to batters. Marcus Stroman, the club’s No. 1 starter who managed a 4.34 ERA in his losing (9-10) season, revels in yelling from the mound after a strikeout in a style that jives so well with the Toronto Blue Jays’ big-bark persona.
The 5-foot-8 Stroman — the smallest man on the field when Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve aren’t playing — is known for his loudmouth mound demeanor and its negative feedback from opponents. Yet we can’t recall seeing him in an actual physical confrontation. Bautista and Donaldson, for all their bat-flipping swagger and obscenity-laced tantrums, are not throwing punches when met on the field by opponents, either. Stroman and Bautista fight most of their battles on Twitter.
Bautista’s one-sided brawl with Rougned Odor was a good example. After a hard, illegal slide into second, Bautista seemed surprised when Odor throttled him with a right cross. Collectively, the Toronto Blue Jays’ habit of barking without bite puts them at a disadvantage. When Benoit and Devon Travis sustained injuries in a scuffle with the Yankees on September 26, they seemed remarkably fragile. As Toronto limped to the finish line, both key players are out of action. Lose-lose, they call it.
A state of constant confrontation
Who can keep track of all the beefs? There was Donaldson jawing at the Angels bench (and, naturally grabbing his crotch) in 2015; the benches clearing in the 2015 ALDS after Bautista’s bat flip; the full-on brawl with the Rangers early in 2016; Donaldson actually taking on his own manager, Jays skipper John Gibbons; and most recently the spat with the Yankees.
Toronto seems to be in a constant state of confrontation and/or retaliation, with most people unable to keep score. Most opponents just know they don’t like the Toronto Blue Jays.
This opinion became apparent following the Odor-Bautista tilt. Initially, many expected a backlash against the hotheaded Rangers second baseman for his attack on the veteran Joey Bats. However, many players publicly and privately reveled in seeing Bautista’s clock cleaned. MLB reporters described the widespread approval of Odor’s actions by current and former stars, sometimes naming names.
Toronto’s reputation as a thin-skinned bunch continued in the Yankees series, when the offense that started the rumble was … an inside pitch that nicked Donaldson’s elbow guard. The next inning, J.A. Happ threw behind Chase Headley before connecting on a second pitch. New York rookie Luis Severino retaliated by hitting Justin Smoak — and the rest is history. Absent any recent beef between Yankees and Blue Jays players, the entire thing seemed like an overreaction.
Blame the media
After the first presidential debate of 2016, Hillary Clinton had a good line. She said in so many words, if someone is blaming the microphone, they probably didn’t have a good night. The same applies to MLB teams blaming the media with their season slipping out of control. When reporters walked into the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse in September and saw pictures of reporters with “Xs” drawn on their faces, you had to wonder about the team’s collective psyche.
According to the Toronto Star, Jays players had singled out the reporters and wrote, “Do not grant them interviews,” to eliminate any misunderstandings. After a bad loss in the season’s final week, Jays players also turned up the music so loud it became impossible to conduct post-game interviews. Then there was the reference to the time Stroman got so heated with a reporter they had to separate them.
(In a hilarious personal testament to the Jays’ thin-skinned nature, Stroman blocked our Twitter account without any interaction between us, ever. His place in an “overrated” list was likely the only trigger. It was the first block in our lightly used Twitter account’s history. Fans of irony will appreciate the tweet we we were trying to quote when we learned of the news: “Lions never concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. Never.”)
Of course, the beat writers didn’t blow two saves in three games in the heat of the wild-card race. Or cause the offense to go cold in the second half. Or create drama where there was none and hurt the team’s chances, in or out of the MLB Playoffs.
Maybe the clubhouse culture will change
if when Bautista moves on to another team. But the presence of Donaldson, the team’s best player, and Stroman, the most vocal starter, may very well keep the brash line moving. Whether or not the collapse continues or the Jays make the MLB playoffs, we recommend trying on that “boys of summer” vibe you get from Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout on a day at the ballpark. The Jays’ act just isn’t working for them.
Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY