Half Truths and the Toronto Blue Jays


Over the past few years, Blue Jays fans have become far too accustomed to seeing their players hit the disabled list on a regular basis, and despite the frequency of these occurrences, it still feels like a punch in the gut every time it happens. Almost as frustrating, however, has been the organization’s recent trend of either miss-diagnosing injuries, or simply flat out lying about them to the public. Most Blue Jays fans surely remember the B.J. Ryan fiasco of years past, where the big left hander missed time in the spring because of a “sore back”, when in reality the All Star closer had all but completely blown out his elbow, and was merely weeks away from Tommy John surgery. The situation also spurned one of the best lines in Blue Jays history – “It’s not lying if we know the truth.” But that was a different time with a different front office… or at least that was supposed to be the case.

The first two instances of this debauchery that immediately come to mind occurred a little over a year ago, during spring training leading up to the 2012 season. Supposedly healthy when they reported to camp in February, before long both Sergio Santos and Dustin McGowan found themselves being held out of games. In the case of Santos, then-manager John Farrell spoke to the right hander being too amped up too early trying to impress his new team, and that they wanted to slow him down to a more normal routine. For those who have somehow forgotten, Santos would make just six appearances during the 2012 season, before months of rest – and eventually surgery – was required to repair a bum shoulder.

With Dustin McGowan, the organization declared he was suffering from a foot injury and he’d be off the mound for a few days, but that he should be 100% in time for Opening Day in April. They even went as far as to sign him to an often-ridiculed (and rightfully so) two-year extension for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. That foot injury somehow turned into a shoulder injury over the course of a couple weeks, leading some – or at least me – to question whether the foot injury ever even existed in the first place. McGowan still hasn’t thrown a pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 13 months since he signed that fully guaranteed, major-league contract. Considering I haven’t read an article mentioning his rehab in a solid month or two, I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation of it happening any time soon, either.

The team was decimated by injuries during the season, but as all of them happened during nationally televised games – as opposed to hidden on backfields of a spring training complex – it was pointless for the organization to try and feed the masses any kind of bullshit. When Kyle Drabek throws a pitch and he immediately grabs his right elbow with a grimace on his face, you don’t need a medical degree to surmise that maybe he just injured his UCL.

February 24, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie (13) in the dugout against the New York Yankees during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason and spring training leading up to 2013 is a different beast entirely. Casey Janssen underwent shoulder surgery in mid-November, and the public didn’t even know he had been having issues with it until a week after he’d already gone under the knife. It was also just supposed to be a quick cleanup of some AC joint spurs, yet Janssen was just barely ready for Opening Day 20 weeks later, and is still on a very strict pitching schedule.

During March, starting third baseman Brett Lawrie left to represent Canada in the World Baseball Classic. In an exhibition tilt against the Cincinnati Reds on March 6th, Lawrie felt a grabbing sensation on his left side and removed himself from the game. Originally it was thought he might only miss the first round, but he needed to be evaluated by the Blue Jays back in Dunedin before a more accurate prognosis could occur. An article from the Globe and Mail, written by Tyler Harper on March 7th, quoted General Manager Alex Anthopoulos as saying

"“He’ll be back on Monday, he’ll get some more exams, but he said it has improved today. It’s just one of those things that you need to rest. It’s very mild, which is certainly good news, and they’re saying two-to-three weeks on the really conservative side, which means there’s obviously a chance that it’s sooner than that.”"

He used the words “very mild”, and “chance it’s sooner than that” when describing the two-to-three week timeframe. In reality, Lawrie missed almost six weeks, and it’s fair to say that with a healthy Jose Reyes, it might’ve been another week until our great maple hero returned.

In addition to Lawrie, Sergio Santos again made headlines this past spring. After appearing in a few games – and looking downright filthy, forcing many to question Janssen’s grasp on the closer job – he was shut down for a few days because of some right triceps soreness. Upon his return, while he still looked pretty good, there was a little missing. His fastball was still buzzing but he struggled to command it, and his monstrous slider wasn’t quite as sharp as it was when we saw it in early March. Regardless, he was declared ready to head north, and after making three appearances on the home stand, he was once again held out of the Detroit series because of that same triceps soreness. Santos pitched in back-to-back games against the Royals on the 12th and 13th, and was then officially placed on the disabled list yesterday with, unsurprisingly, a sore right triceps.

I can only really see two possible explanations for the inaccuracies in the diagnoses I mentioned above. The first, which is more than a little farfetched, is that the Blue Jays employ a training and conditioning staff composed of morons who can’t even operate an MRI machine, let alone comprehend and analyze the results it offers. Considering the Blue Jays are a professional sports team valued by Forbes at $337 million back in 2011, and are owned by a media conglomerate valued at $18.36 billion in 2011 (according to Wikipedia), I doubt those are the kind of doctors they choose to employ.

The second, which is far more realistic, is that the organization simply doesn’t find it necessary to keep the ticket paying public in-the-know when it comes to player injuries and recoveries. They may see it as a competitive advantage issue, as if the public knows, so do opposing teams. The thing is, baseball isn’t like hockey or football – both of which are far worse when it comes to “stretching the truth” about injuries to be fair – where a certain weak spot on a player could be targeted and exploited. What could the Yankees or Red Sox possibly gain by having the knowledge that Brett Lawrie’s going to miss six weeks instead of two or three? They’re not going to alter their roster in any way, shape, or form because of that news, and if they would, they have such a poorly run and reactionary front office that you really don’t need to worry about them anyways.

My question is, how much truth does a professional sports organization owe to the public when it comes to injuries? Fans, whether it is through ticket and concession sales or TV revenue, are the gasoline that runs the engines of professional sports. If the team was a corporation, the fans are the shareholders whose investments allow for the corporation to flourish, and without those investments the corporation will fail to survive. What kind of accountability should they be held to, for, perhaps not lying, but certainly stretching and smearing the truth for their own unforeseen benefit?

April 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) sits in dugout against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Lawrie situation hung with me all March and into April. Not necessarily in a “Why isn’t he back yet?” way, but as the weeks progressed and Brett, well, didn’t, I wanted to know why the team’s original timeline was so horribly far off reality. If a doctor says something will heal in two weeks and it’s still bothersome five weeks later, either a setback occurred or the injury was more serious than originally anticipated. The organization said neither of those things; simply that he was “progressing.”

What drove me to write this article are the shenanigans that are currently revolving around Jose Bautista, and I legitimately fear that this is once again a situation where the team is giving us half truths and paying us little more than lip service. Tonight will be the team’s 15th game of the year, and the sixth of which Bautista has missed due to three apparently separate issues – a sore ankle, a stiff back, and an ear infection. What bothers me even further is that the team constantly uses the “day-to-day” line. They’ll say he’s out tonight, but should be good for tomorrow and can pinch hit if needed. Manager John Gibbons has used that line on more than one occasion, and it was glaringly untrue last night. Down one run in the bottom of the ninth, both Rajai Davis and Maicer Izturis were allowed to bat, and both created outs to end the game. Not only did Bautista not pinch hit, I didn’t even see him in the dugout. Jose Reyes, he of the gnarly ankle, was seen sitting on the bench in both Chicago games, cheering on his teammates with a huge smile on his face. Where was Jose Bautista? At this point, how much trust can we place on anything the team says about injuries?