Friday, August 07, 2009

Top 5: Memory is a strange thing, especially with the '92-93 Jays

Naked appeals to nostalgia — hey-hey, the past is the only place where it is guaranteed not to get worse — are not much of a crank-turner.

It is two-fold when the Rogers Jays have a reunion weekend of the 1992-93 World Series teams. It is a cash ploy, possibly complete with charging $60 for an autograph. However, having those memories of where you were and what you were doing knits us together (Scott Carson, you went for a burger in the ninth inning of Game 6 in '93, really?), even if it was fleeting. For my family, it was the one time all five of us got wrapped up in a sporting event.

It was timing. My sister Trina and brother Shawn were too young to follow the 1987 Canada Cup or the Ben Johnson scandal in '88. I draw a blank when trying to recall who was in the room July 27, 1996 when Donovan Bailey became the world's fastest man.

Such sweetness can never last. It was obvious even at the time Jays fever was a phase. Two days the 1992 playoffs started, you could find people calling the American League Championship Series "the semi-finals," but here are five memories of those years:
  1. Devon White in centrefield: It was how Devo got there, not just what he got to in centrefield, striding after a long fly ball, almost never seeming to be in a hurry as he robbed another hitter of extra bases. It was wings-for-feet stuff.

    White never was much for plate discipline (353 bases on ball, 1,047 strikeouts). Cito Gaston got it right by pencilling him into the leadoff spot. He represented the absolute limit of how a leadoff man could be effective without a great on-base percentage, because he had some pop and was an efficient basestealer (75 swipes with only eight caught stealings in '92-93).

    Of course, he made his name in centre. In a sense, it is almost better to try to remember how it was knowing Devo would catch it rather than go back and check fielding metrics. It is tough to recall the catch he made on Terry Pendleton in Game 3 of the 1992 Series, because my dad had sent me down to the basement to fill the woodstove. That still burns (and it's not the last time the old woodstove will appear in this post).

  2. Rickey Henderson in a Jays uniform: The phrase rooting for laundry had yet to enter the vernacular in the summer of 1993.

    The Jays had been scraping by with Darrin Jackson, Rob Butler, Turner Ward and Willie Cañate (a Rule 5 pick who was never seen in the majors before or after that season) variously filling in. Any established player would have been upgrade. Pat Gillick went out and acquired the best leadoff hitter ever as a rental player.

    Of course, try being 16 and riding in a car with a mom and sister who mostly knew Rickey Henderson for having torn apart the Jays in the 1989 playoffs, stealing bases, drawing walks, hitting home runs and styling. To them, it probably did come off as the equivalent of the Leafs hiring Kerry Fraser to work in their front office. However, Henderson was on-basing .469 at the time of the trade and what some invariably called "showboating" didn't seem so bothersome. It actually seemed kind of cool.

  3. The return of Tony Fernandez: Getting Tony back in early 1993 meant that one everyday player from the Blow Jays era got to win a ring. Fernandez was punching the clock with the Mets when Gillick acquired him to fill a hole. He raked for the rest of the season, hitting .306/.361/.442. Without him, they maybe don't repeat.

  4. Doug Linton: A common bit of announcer-ese is that it takes 25 players to win a pennant. That is actually off; it usually takes 30-35, with players arriving from the minor leaguers to shore up the roster throughout the season. Remember Dan Johnson arriving from Triple-A last season to hit a game-winning homer for the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park?

    In 1992, the Orioles came into SkyDome for a mid-August series and won the first two, cutting the Jays' AL East lead to one game. With a sense of urgency mounting, it fell to a 27-year-old rookie whose eventual career ERA was 5.78) to be a stopper in the third game.

    Linton went out and held the Orioles at bay with an effort that was practically Halladay-eqsue, throwing eight innings of three-hit ball in a 4-2 win. It was his first win as a Jay. It was also his last.

    The Orioles made a push in early September, but somehow that stands out as the "sorry, Baltimore, not this year" game.

    Doug Linton is now a pitching coach in the minors with the Modesto (Calif.) Nuts. One of his sayings is that the same pitches which get batters out at one level will also get them out at the next. It was true in '92.

  5. The Alomar game: The personal story of Oct. 11, 1992, actually began in 1989.

    There was a game at Yankee Stadium in late July when the Jays lost 7-6 on a walk-off hit in the ninth inning. A quick check reveals it was July 30. They had been ahead 6-1, so it was the kind of loss that turns people into inanimate-object kickers.

    Dad was going on it about how the Jays, who were below .500, were done. Of course, being 12 years old and thus inclined to side with sports heroes instead of than the man who put a roof over your head, I bet my dad $5 they would win the AL East.

    Twelve-year-old me did not know all the math, but the Jays were only four games out. They had a plus-26 run differential, plus they had a run of games coming up against the dregs of the AL (they went 6-0 vs. the White Sox, 5-1 vs. the Tigers, 6-1 vs. Cleveland). They clinched, and Dad paid off.

    So Oct. 11, 1992 rolls around, with the Jays having won two in a row to take a series lead over the Oakland Athletics. There was that sense of blood in the water, since the team which extends a 2-1 series lead to 3-1 in a best-of-7 almost always wins (except for you-know-when).

    As you'll remember, Jack Morris started in all four of the Jays' losses in the '92 post-season. The A's scored five runs in the fourth inning off ol' Jack to take a commanding 5-1 lead. However, knowing what was at stake, there was a feeling. Who knows why. I made the same $5 bet, this time at 10-to-1 odds.

    I had a Sunday afternoon hockey practice. Off I went. Attendance was kind of sparse that day; everyone was skipping practice to watch the game. As I came off the ice, the radio broadcast was on the arena's PA system, so I heard in passing that it was 6-4 in the bottom of the eighth. I was standing in the doorway to the dressing room changing clothes, straining to hear the play-by-play. Anyone who walked down that hall would have seen me doing a fist pump while wrapped in a towel when Roberto Alomar took Dennis Eckersley over the wall for tying two-run homer.

    My mom picked me up (I was only 15, so I hadn't started driving). We got home in time to see Pat Borders cash in the winning run. The Jays had gone from trailing 6-1 to winning 7-6, which not that I realized at the time, was a reversal of that game three years earlier.

    A lot of other stuff had to happen for the Jays to win that World Series and the next one. That was the point of no return, the defining moment. When I free-associate with that period, what comes to mind is Alomar throwing his hands up after he connected off The Eck, not Joe Carter after he touched 'em all. That was a pretty good day too.

    As for the bet, my dad paid off the $50. However, my dad didn't become a contractor who could make Mike Holmes look like a hack by throwing money away. We had the wood stove. It seems in retrospect there was an inordinate amount of wood that I had to split and stack that winter. And I didn't mind that one bit. You don't get many Roberto Alomar moments in this life.

It would have been nice to be on Yonge St. for all that, but wherever you are is the big time.


matthias @ said...

Great article. I miss watching the silky smooth Devon White out in CF. Doug Linton respect is always appreciated. I'll 'tweet' this post up, nice stuff.

Joseph said...

This is a great piece and it's always great to read how other ball fans were reacting to the moment. I agree with you about Alomar raising his hands when he hit the dinger of Eck. At that time Eck was unbeatable in almost all situations with great control so it was amazing to watch. In retro, Eck gave up to famous and series-changing homers: this one to Roberto and of course the unforgettable homer with 2 strikes to Kirk 'The Natural' Gibson of the Dodgers in the '88 Series. Thanks again!

Tim in London said...

Never discount your resemblance to Scott Carson (at least in the tiny photos I've seen of the both of you) as a reason for your success Neate. Whoe really went for that burger?

Dennis Prouse said...

Turner Ward? Willie Canate? Man, that sure dug up some memories. Great post, Neate - now you will have me wallowing in Jays nostalgia.

I got to meet a bunch of them at Rideau Hall in February 1993 when the Government of Canada hosted the Jays for a reception. For a fellow unrepentant sporks geek, it remains a great memory. (I have a great photo of myself with Joe Carter.)

eyebleaf said...

This was beautiful.

Vintage Sagerbombs.

Anonymous said...

It makes me laugh to see all the people stroking Sager's ego over this. Do you people not realize this guy is bottom of the totom poll in the Ottawa media, I think he writes about girls basketball and tiddlywinks. I give him credit for trying, tho.

Tim in London said...


I don't follow Sager for what he does in his day job. I read what he and his colleagues put forth here b/c it's a forum where they can express free speech about sports w/out corporate pressure. If you want that go read the Blue Jays MLB site where everything is butterflies and candy canes. Otherwise, provide constructive criticism. I'm happy to read your opinions, but not if it's just a drive by shooting.

sager said...

Thanks for the positive comments, everyone and that includes the person who likes my comprehensive tiddlywinks coverage.