As the September breeze reminds us that we must fall back to the cold authority of winter, the course of the baseball season makes us reflect on ourselves. Spring training brings out the kid in all of us, excited for the new possibilities. The hot summer keeps us stoked for the desire burning inside. We pray for winter to be gentle with us and move quickly to the birth of new joy.
But the fall ignites a brilliant, colourful array of tranquility in knowing what we have accomplished. We work so hard for the memories that we take with us, after the dust settles. We look back on what has been done and realize that all of the work has been done to define who we are. The work is not completely over. We have miles to go before we sleep. Just ahead is that defining moment for which maps out the extent of our successes.
In baseball, we call that the postseason. The final tournament to declare who is the ultimate champion of the year. And yet, not everyone gets to define themselves under that golden glow. Many of us must face other realities. Our legacies of the past year lead us to other definitions. We must look at those possibilities carefully, or else we may spiral into paths we wish to never cross again.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, this postseason means another year where they failed to reach their most important goal: winning the World Series. We are not all meant to be kings. We can’t all raise our heads as if blessed by some supreme power. Some of us must scratch and claw for everything and anything that we get. We appreciate it because we earned it. We strut because we are not done yet. If this is our end, we would rather be defined by who we are. We swagger up to the world and say, Bring the judgement down, but we decide what it will be.
This installment of Blue Swagger looks at judgement for two players who are no stranger to it.
Sep 18, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Allen Dickey has gone from arguably one of the most overrated players in Blue Jays history to quite possibly one of the most underrated players in the game today. He is not an ace pitcher. Maybe he never was, but people judged him as one who needed to produce.
This season, Dickey stands at a 13-12 record, with a 3.82 ERA and over 202 innings of work. His 165 strikeouts vastly outnumbers his 69 walks, helping to keep opposing batters to a .237 batting average. Nothing sounds dominating on the surface. Should it?
He is the most well-known knuckleball pitcher in the league ever since winning a Cy Young award while playing for the New York Mets, not the Blue Jays and not in the American League. Was it ever fair that he would be able to shut down bats completely in a new league for a new team with new players to give him run support?
Dickey does not reason why he should or should not be compared to other award-winning pitchers. He does not bring up his victories. He does not demand praise. His job is simply to pitch. In his last start against the New York Yankees, Dickey threw six innings, giving up two runs on five hits, striking out three Bronx Bombers on the way to a good no decision. His three starts before that were all victories. In fact, in his last ten outings, Dickey has only thrown two games where he gave up more than three runs. On a consistently thrown pitch that is often put in play, he never once gave up double digits for hits to any team he faced in that stretch of time.
He’s a knuckler. He bleeds runs. He also keeps his team in the game. He is signed until he can be an unrestricted free agent in 2017 for $12 million a season. He is a steal compared to other well-known starters in the league. Whether he is back with the Blue Jays or is traded in the offseason, Dickey has pitched to what defines his abilities. And if that’s not enough, if you want blood for blood, remember this: after being relatively poor and out of the game until his comeback with the Mets, Dickey donates part of his annual salary to the JaysCare charity. If you judge him harshly, can you honestly say you would do the same as him with your money to a city which constantly criticizes you?
Sep 20, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (10) doubles to deep center allowing a runner to score during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start with numbers. Edwin Encarnacion made a hit list out of opposing pitchers in the past week. He hit ten times for six RBIs, including two doubles and a home run. His batting average was .357, second only to Jose Reyes (.419), but produced more runs without committing as many errors.
Now, let’s forget those solid figures for a second.
This man was heavily criticized as well in a number of organizations, including Toronto, for not producing in the past. Arguably, without Encarnacion, even though he was hurt for a major amount of the season, the Blue Jays would not have come close to the success they had without him. Whatever light went on in his head and in his game, the Blue Jays are defined by how much Edwin contributes. It is no longer a question of if the club needs him; it’s now a question of what would they do without him. By all accounts, the Blue Jays would be hard-pressed to say that they were a top contender for the postseason next year if he were to be gone.
These two players have had their share of judgement. Some of it well-deserved. Some of it went too far. It must be tough being the only baseball club in a country that adores another sport in a city that is starved for playoff glory. The Blue Jays’ drought is not since 1967. Another team deserves that distinction. Do not put that burden on these two men.
They are the masters of their own judgement. Dickey never defined himself as an ace. Edwin never defined himself as an RBI machine. They have carved out a place for themselves by wearing the blue and white of their new home. They did it by their actions. They have made themselves good assets for this franchise and this city, still fairly young in terms of baseball lore. Instead of looking for the second coming of Alomar, we should allow Dickey and Edwin to dictate their own legacies as good ballplayers who tried to help the Blue Jays to win as best they could. Let the fall carry us to winter with a path of new heights, instead of burying the swagger with thoughts of what was not to be.