Thursday, August 07, 2008

Zen Dayley: Requiem for Russ Adams; can't spell sob story without SOBs

Russ Adams is best known for not being something.

Let's think about what that says about us, rather than what it says about the first-round pick who was once the answer to the Jays' shortstop situation. Being a sports fan and cheering for a bunch of jocks employed by a multinational corporation, because it's your team, is an ultimate act of naive sentiment. It's odd how it's rare that any of that is saved for a bright hope who fell flat on his face.

(Maybe it's an offshoot of the self-loathing that builds up from having spent your waking hours worrying about the outcome of games you cannot control. To think I believed in Russ Adams?! He's dead to me.)

There's names for the exemplars of this phenomenon -- bust, flop, fizzle, dud, Ryan Leaf. It might be the worst ignominy to own in sports, on par with being a cheater. People will let an athlete off the hook for being an out-and-out rat bastard, but not for failing like Russ Adams has as a major-leaguer.
"I don't see playing baseball professionally, playing over two years in the majors, if someone thinks that's failing, I don't know what planet they live on. I'm not going to be sitting at home at 40 and think I'm a failure in life because I didn't play 20 years in the big leagues. That won't dictate my happiness." -- Syracuse Post-Standard
Hands up, everyone whose knee-jerk reaction was something along the lines, "Oh, go cry me a river." It might create the mental picture of Adams, barring some near-miraculous turnaround, spending the next 20 years dreaming of a parallel universe where he was the American League's answer to Chase Utley.

A lot of sports fans probably look it that way. It's not clear that the ballplayers actually do.

It's undeniable what springs to mind after seeing that quote from Adams, whose Triple-A rate stats in Syracuse this summer (.232/.322/.378) scream, "quintessential Quadruple-A player." This, of course, is from someone who as every Jays fan must know by now, was drafted ahead of Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher and Joey Votto (not just a Toronto boy, but a paisano of J.P. Ricciardi).

It's actually straight of out of the novel North Dallas Forty. There's a scene where the antihero Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte played him in the movie) recalls commiserating with a player who had been traded, dumped by a team that had publicly proclaimed he would be brilliant:
"He seemed like the only survivor of a ten-car collison who was trying to explain how it happened. Several times during the course of our conversation he had stopped to stare off into his disastrous past, thinking of all those glories he had only tasted slightly."
There's a double-edge to that analogy. It could seem empathetic or just downright cruel. But it's c'est la vie for a human footnote.

For anyone who needs a refresher, the Jays advanced Adams quickly through the minors after he was drafted in 2002 (Matt Cain and Cole Hamels, both now top-flight starters in the NL, were also available when Ricciardi made the 14th overall selection).

In 2005, he put up a decent enough first season as a rookie shortstop. According to his page, his age-24 season compared pretty favourably with that of Orlando Cabrera, who's been an adequate, sometimes all-star shortstop for a decade.

He had the throwing yips in '06. You can't presume to know what's in a player's mind, but the stats make it look like he was taking his defensive problems up to bat with him. The Jays eventually had to send him to Syracuse to learn how to play second base, which was a give-up play.

Inside of two years, the Shortstop of the Future has become one of among the couple hundred Triple-A veterans -- roster flotsam who move about the minors, their names known only to the most hardcore baseball fans. They're valued by MLB organizations for what might be called their overdeveloped flexibility. Most of them, almost as a survival skill, have learned to play several positions (good for when the big club is shuffling players around). They've been around long enough that they don't need to be babysat by their manager. They're also fully comfortable with the hard reality that they can traded, demoted, promoted, or released at any time.

Who knows why it didn't work out for Adams. One historical note is that left-handed hitting shortstops are a rarity. (Stephen Drew of the Arizona Diamondbacks is the only everyday SS in the majors who bats lefty.)

The thing is, though, is that most fans don't fully appreciate that it does take exceptional skill, the kind not found in 99% of the population, to even be a career minor leaguer. People also don't get, or don't care, that's it debatable whether failing as an everyday shortstop actually hurt Russ Adams as a person. He got far enough to get all his illusions about playing baseball shattered, but a lot of men never will.

Some day in the not too distant future, the Jays will probably waive him. Drunk Jays Fans and the like will write a blog post for shits and giggles. Maybe someone will do up a Top 10 list of Toronto sports busts, slotting Adams in with Rafael Araujo and Ricky Williams, but Russ Adams will just go on living his life. The wicked burn won't be on him.

  • So Joba Chamberlain goes on the disabled list on the same day that Jeff Karstens, the young pitcher whom the Yankees just traded to the Pirates, took a perfect game into the eighth inning. Yankees haters are travelling around in go-carts powered by their own sense of self-satisfaction, just like Ed Begley Jr.
  • Padres rightfielder Brian Giles has reportedly been claimed on waivers. Please make note of which playoff contenders need some help in rightfield.
  • Meantime, fellow Epic Carnival-ites Nick Underhill and Bill Baer had a little point-counterpoint over whether or not the L.A. Angels closer, Francisco Rodriguez, should be the front-runner for American League MVP because he's on pace to set a record for saves.

    Not gonna take sides, but relievers shouldn't be eligible for the MVP -- they already have the Cy Young Award.
  • Forty-six years ago today, 46-year-old Satchel Paige won a 1-0 game in 12 innings.
Damn, the Jays
  • Shaun Marcum was awesome last night.
  • The uber-prospect, Travis Snider, is going to get called up to Triple-A. J.P. Ricciardi said that would happen during his weekly fireside chat on the FAN 590. It's a fireside chant because the GM's pants are usually on fire by the end, for some reason.

    J.P. also said that "Cito Gaston will definitely be the manager next year."
  • Brett Cecil had a mixed result in his first start since being called up to Syracuse: Two runs (both earned) on six hits over five innings, with three walks and seven strikeouts. It was enough for him to get the win.

    (Danny Sandoval, last season's Ottawa Lynx shortstop, was 5-for-5.)
  • Drunk Jays Fans has already fired a preemptive strike against "all these people are jumping on the Rays' bandwagon just because they've played their first four months of good baseball in franchise history." It seemed to be tongue-in-cheek. The operative word is seemed.
  • The article on states "a competition (is) brewing atop the Blue Jays' rotation" almost likes an act of mawebolence aimed at the anti-A.J. Burnett types, stat geeks and the I Heart Halladay folk and combos thereof.

    Well, congratulations, because using the pitchers' matching win totals as a premise for an article worked. Pay no attention to any differences in their respective ERAs (Burnett, 4.57; Roy Halladay, 2.77), baserunners allowed per inning (1.437 to 1.021) or run support (4.65 for A.J., 3.91 for Roy). it worked. There's actually a small grain of truth to comparisons of between Burnett and that are based on the premise they each have 13 wins.

    A quick check at does show the pair is only a half-run apart in fielding-independent pitching (basically, what a pitcher's ERA would be with an absolutely average group of fielders behind him). Halladay's FIP is 3.00. Burnett's is 3.50 -- suggesting there's more than anecdotal evidence that his teammates have let him down.

    Of course, that's A.J. Burnett's just desserts for being just good enough to make you scream.


Duane Rollins said...

The thing is, though, is that most fans don't fully appreciate that it does take exceptional skill, the kind not found in 99% of the population, to even be a career minor leaguer.

Different sport, but...

My midget hockey coach won a Memorial Cup for Medicine Hat. He was undrafted but offered a two-way contract with the Leafs after his junior career.

He was a goon.

And, without a doubt he was the most talented hockey player I've ever shared ice with. His shot frightened us, he was an insanely fast skater and at one practice he stood at centre ice and told us to skate from the blue line and try and knock him off his feet--none of us could.

This was a CHL goon that would have probably been a borderline AHL player. I always use him as my barometer when considering how much talent pro athletes have.

sager said...

He told you to skate from the blueline and try to knock him off his feet, and that was intended to teach you what exactly?

Lloyd the Barber said...

Neate you left one question unanswered, how was Pinapple Express?

sager said...

It was a little long at 112 minutes, but there was enough good laughs from Franco/Rogen to make it worth checking out on cheap night or during a matinee.

Not, this is going to come off as apologist, but Pineapple Express was bound to suffer a bit in any comparison. If it had come out in 2005, we'd look it a lot different.

Now, after I got back, I started trying to figure out where it ranked among the half-dozen Judd Apatow comedies (not counting various Will Ferrell vehicles) that have come out dating back to The 40-Year-Old Virgin in summer '05.

The ranking I had was.

1. Superbad
2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
3. Walk Hard
4. Knocked Up
5.Pineapple Express
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Thing is, I don't know how any one movie on this list can really be compared with another, because the thrust and the target is different ... Superbad was a movie with teenaged characters that was made for 30-year-olds; Pineapple Express was a movie with 20-something characters that was made for teenagers.

Duane Rollins said...

He told you to skate from the blueline and try to knock him off his feet, and that was intended to teach you what exactly?

Good ole' Canadian toughness and heart, of course.

And upon looking him up I've learned that I was mistaken. He was drafted. In the 9th round in 1984. 172nd overall.

We went 3-33-2 that season, BTW.

sager said...

172nd overall in 1984 ... that would have made him one pick after, wait for it, Luc Robitaille.

Duane Rollins said...

Did I mention that the Leafs drafted him....

As a Leaf guy that grew up in Napanee, surly you know what the Leafs did with their three first round picks in 1989, right?

The Baby Bulls, baby.

Steve Bancroft (21st) sells real estate in Madoc now.

Rob Pearson (12th) is likely still a head case.

And, Scott Thorton (3rd!) had a decent NHL career, albeit asa third-line type guy. Of course all but 33 games were for teams not located in Ontario.

What were we talking about again?

Duane Rollins said...

And I do mean surly

sager said...

Yep ... that was the Ballard era. The Leafs were slave to Central Scouting Bureau's reports all the way, and they didn't even have anyone scouting Western Canada or Europe full-time, so they took a lot of OHL players.

A Leafs fan raised in Napanee might be the only one who could be sure that Scott Pearson (No. 6 overall in 1988 from the Kingston Canadians) and Rob Pearson weren't actually the same guy. (Well, Scott shot left and Rob shot right.)

Scott played for the Canadians, while Rob was playing against the Frontenacs that night in 1991 when someone in the vicinity of the Arnold's Auto Wrecking sign -- which as the now dormant Fire Larry Mavety site put it, is Kingston's answer to the grassy knoll -- launched a Coke in the direction of Eric Lindros during the waning stages of a fight-filled blowout win for Oshawa. It caused Oshawa Generals coach Rick Cornacchia to pull his entire team off the ice until a battalion of Kingston's finest circled the rink for the final minute and a half of the game.

For guys from Kingston born between 1975-81 (roughly), that game is our Woodstock. Everyone swears I was there, man, the night that guy chucked the Coke at Lindros, even though the old Memorial Centre only holds 3,379.

Duane Rollins said...

I wasn't there that night, but I was at every second of the famed seven game series between the Bulls and Kingston in '90 (I won't remind you who won that one Neate). The brawl in game four being a highlight--Mark Major was nearly killed by about 15 irate men wearing softball jackets with "Madoc" across the back because he kept trying to bait Bancroft into fighting him, even though everyone outside of the Leafs organization knew that his shoulder was screwed.

After the Bulls won game seven in Kingston the bus was met by about 1,500 fans back in Belleville. Still one of the craziest things I've ever seen. It was junior hockey at its best and worst and it was wonderful.

What were we talking about again?

sager said...

Originally this was a longish essay about Russ Adams. I don't remember so well.

You wouldn't be able to get 15 fastball guys in one place, ready to throw hands like that anymore...

... today they'd all play 'mixed slo-pitch' and go home and watch the UFC 87 on PPV.

(/prefers the good ol' days)