A.J. Burnett, A Nipple Ring & Toronto -
It has to be tough being a sports writer in the 21st century. Back in the day, (1998 and prior) to collect a columnist's body of work you had to stack newspapers in your garage. Or, you could wait for that particular columnist to re-release his or her collection in book form for $34.95. The latter option is always a blast, especially if you have an affinity for needlessly wasting money.
Well, the Internet has taken the amount of information that we're able to digest and lead it along the same path as Britney Spears' diet after her first trimester. The result: We - I'm assuming that I'm not alone - get to sit back and watch writers - sports writers in particular - pull fabulous 180's on polarizing subjects. It's sports talk! You gotta love it!
So let me make a pledge. If I take a hard-line stance on something that contradicts a subject I previously wrote about, within a reasonable length of time, I will link to my previous article. That way, I can't write that Bryan McCabe is a shoe-in for the Olympic team and then reverse tread because of one game. (Damien Cox.)
Which brings us to the Blue Jays overpaying for A.J. Burnett.
If the following headline looks familiar, that's because it has frequented Toronto newspapers since early August in 1997:
"Jays can't compete in TOUGH AL East."
Back in the glory days when people stayed for almost a full six innings during most home games, the Blue Jays were absolutely loaded with pitching.
The '93 World Series is a terrific example. Juan Guzman and his Mohawk geri-curl started Game 1. Dave Stewart - quite simply, one of the all-time great post-season pitchers - started Game 2. Pat Hengten, a young 19-game winner started Game 3. Al Leiter was lingering for critical middle-relief. Todd Stottlemyre was bloodied and insulting the mayor of Philadelphia. And finally, Duane Ward and Danny Jackson were frothing all over their manly mustaches for the late innings.
Contrast that with the game I attended this year, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon against the New York Yankees. As always, I need to leave it to my girlfriend - who knows virtually nothing about sports - to state the obvious.
Why? Because the climate of athletic over-analyzing has blinded most fans to basic, simplistic truths, that, for the most part, are right in front of our faces.
"Whose our pitcher?" It was Josh Towers... "He doesn't look good. He looks like a loser. Fetch me a pretzel."
Is there any type of rational response to something that frighteningly logical? I think not.
Let's be honest. The experience of going to a Jays game with anyone other than Roy Halladay pitching is right on par with walking into a job interview completely unprepared.
This is not meant to be a slight to Josh Towers, or for that matter Guestavo Chacin and Ted Lilly. Most of them have comparable - or, in some cases, better - career numbers to A.J. Burnett.
But once A.J. was "wooed off my feet" by J.P. Ricciardi, he became something that can't be illustrated by scouring the so-so results of his young career.
He's the hired gun. The young hot-shot from the National League that inspired the Blue Jays to go on their first spending spree since the mid-90's. As well as someone that looks like they would be entirely comfortable wearing a sleeveless shirt to a fancy restaurant. Most importantly, A.J. shuffles the aforementioned starters a slot down the rotation, where all of a sudden as a third, fourth and fifth starter, they don't look that bad.
And if you're still not sold on the A.J. Burnett era, check out this beauty, courtesy of a Jerry Crasnick piece on ESPN.com:
"He's a different kid, with the tattoos and the nipple rings," said a scout. "I think Toronto will be a good off-the-field city for him."
You're sold now, aren't you?
The bottom line for me... Say what you want about the 3-16 Toronto Raptors - and I intend to - but at least we can recognize them for what they are: A horrific, abominable, rudderless franchise being piloted by Rob "Forrest" Babcock. As for the Maple Leafs, in spite of the doom and gloom that you hear from the local media, (which was highlighted recently by Mike Ulmer acting like he should win the Pulitzer for coming up with five reason the Leafs could win the cup) they're a competent franchise that competes on a consistent basis for the Stanley Cup.
Since 1993 the Blue Jays have not entered a season as a sure-fire contender or an all-out stinker. Instead, they have been a fan's worst nightmare: A mediocre team that isn't awful, but is never, ever, really good. That mix doesn't lead to anger, or, for that matter, rabid excitement.
Mediocrity leads to apathy and indifference.
Where will the Jays finish in '06? I don't know. But I hope that if it isn't going well people will care enough to secretly hope a come-backer strikes A.J. Burnett right in the nipple ring. Sure beats a quiet crowd absorbing another 80-82 season, and a city not caring either way.
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