John Gibbons also gets the deep background treatment. Spanning a couple of chapters, I enjoyed reading a good deal more about the amiable Texan who stumbled into the managing job for a second go-round with the Blue Jays. We learn about Gibbons’s first attempts at playing baseball, in Gander, Newfoundland, his getting hit in the head with a bat the first time he played catcher and his minor league journeys with both former Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi and Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. Davidi and Lott also take us back to the scenes we all remember from Gibbons’s first time around managing the Blue Jays: the run-ins with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. While Lilly’s comments aren’t in the book, the authors do an excellent job tracking down Hillenbrand as well as some of the team members who were there in the clubhouse at the time.
Once the season gets going, I found that the background vignettes into the players offered some interesting insights but failed to connect to a larger whole. The compelling overarching storyline still allows the reader to use these stories as colour for, what otherwise, was a fairly depressing season. My favourite chapter was actually one that really took a look into one of the more interesting corollaries of sports in the modern world: social media. In chapter 12, “The Social Game,” the authors are not hesitant to highlight the problems that J.P. Arencibia had the with the media in 2013. They are somewhat disapproving of the way in which Arencibia lashed out at the media members who were most critical about his game, particularly Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst. Additionally, Davidi and Lott shed some light on the way that advertisers use players to shill for them on social media and how decisions to abandon platforms like Twitter could have bigger implications.
My biggest beef with “Great Expectations,” however, is the amount that isn’t in the book. Josh Johnson is barely mentioned, despite being the cornerstone of the big trade with Miami and, perhaps, being the ultimate example of someone for whom we had “great expectations.” I would have loved to have had more insight into Johnson’s frame of mind as he tried to work through his struggles as well as his injuries. Emilio Bonifacio is also only a peripheral character in the book, showing up as one of the key sticking points in the big trade but his activity with the Jays are practically footnotes from then on. The revolving door of waiver claims and designations for assignment (DFA), particularly for pitchers, is also not mentioned at all. Todd Redmond, who ensconced himself as a 28-year-old rookie in the #5 starter’s role midway through the season, is barely noted and neither is the transition of Esmil Rogers from a reliever to a (sometimes) effective starter.
The book closes with another Dickens quote: “Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There is no better rule.” While this book looks great and provides some fantastic action photos from throughout the season in a 16-page colour insert (my favourite is the last photo of Jose Reyes), there is a lot within that is outstanding as well. Well researched, well written and immensely enjoyable, the casual Blue Jays fan will want to read “Great Expectations.” Even if you’re a die-hard who follows Jays Journal and other blogs on a daily basis, there’s enough behind-the-scenes info that hasn’t come out yet to satisfy your thirst for Blue Jays knowledge.
“Great Expectations” is at its best when it’s taking us behind the scenes of the Blue Jays, revealing the magic behind the curtain. Davidi and Lott’s in-depth reporting goes straight to the primary sources (where possible) to give a clear picture of the way that the Blue Jays management team tried to pull off a massive transition in a short time. As a summary of the discourse that surrounded the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays, the book is an excellent snapshot not only of what happened but of what people were saying, thinking and doing throughout the lost season.
“Great Expectations: The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season” by Shi Davidi and John Lott is published by ECW Press and is available now.
If you like what you’ve seen by Jay Blue, read his work and listen to his podcast on Blue Jays from Away and follow him on Twitter: @Jaysfromaway.