It Could Have Been Worse

Winning last night certainly takes a lot of the sting out of it! I still can’t explain the hitting woes (except that I think we’ll find out that Josh Donaldson has been hurt worse than they’ve let on), but before you go saying what a horrible collapse the Blue Jays had this September, consider this. At no point during the 2016 season did Toronto ever have more than a 2-game lead in the American League East  – and they only led by that much for four days. Four! They only led the division at all for 32 days during the entire season. That’s basically one month out of six.

Now, admittedly, the Jays did hold that 2-game lead from August 28 through August 31, and 29 of their 32 games in first came after July 30. Obviously, that makes their September slide feel all the more painful. But even if they hadn’t won last night, I really think it seems a lot worse than it actually was.

Edwin Encarnacion reacts to his game-winning three-run blast in the 11th inning.

Not convinced? Well, consider this. The Jays spent 111 days in either second or third place this year. That’s three times more time than they spent in first. And, really, they were never more than about 5 games from falling completely out of the playoff picture. So, hanging on for that home wild card berth was probably where they should have ended up anyway.

Since the two-team wild card format was introduced in 2012, I’ve always wondered how much qualifying for that wild card game would really feel like making the playoffs. Well, having gone through it now,  I think it really does … and I’m not saying this just because we won! Still, it does seems strange to have the fate of an entire season come down to a single game. The baseball season has always been a marathon, not a sprint. But then again, it’s not like this never happened before the advent of the wild card.

Back in 1908 – the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series! – the fate of the National League season came down to just one postseason game. It wasn’t actually a playoff. It was a makeup game made necessary by the fact that the Cubs and the New York Giants had finished the season tied in first place and now had to replay a tie game from a few days earlier, on September 23, 1908.

Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star didn’t get much out of Fred Merkle even 40 years later.

Even now, 108 years later, that tie game is one of the most famous in baseball history. If you don’t already know the story, in a nutshell, the Giants should have won that day with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, but the baserunner on first base, 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle, never touched second. When the Cubs made a play to force him out, the ruling was made that the Giants apparent winning run didn’t count. For plenty more, you can Google Fred Merkle, or watch this clip of Keith Olbermann from 2013.

Merkle was dubbed “Bonehead” for his baserunning blunder and after the Giants lost the makeup game on October 8, 1908, his so-called “boner” would literally haunt him until his dying day. And beyond, really, because anyone who knows his name today is likely to know it because of that play.

A sample of some of the headlines that appeared above his obituary in
newspapers across North America the day after Fred Merkle died on March 2, 1956.

You may have heard Sandy Koufax recently, lauding Vin Scully and telling about how when Scully was covering the Dodgers in the World Series, he would say a prayer before it got started. Scully didn’t pray for the Dodgers to win, but for no one to make the type of mistake that would live on in infamy. No doubt Vin Scully had Fred Merkle in mind.

7 thoughts on “It Could Have Been Worse

  1. Wow — baseball is an unforgiving profession!
    It’s a good job most 19 year old men don’t have their biggest gaffes follow them for the rest of their lives. I would have changed my name.

  2. Another interesting and thought-provoking piece and I DO remember, long ago, reading bout Fred Merkle’s blunder, specifically at the time of Billy Buckner’s big booboo!
    However, I personally haven’t thought, nor do I believe the average fan or public-at-large has thought, that the Blue Jays have, as you put it ‘collapsed’ over last year AS FAR AS TEAM PERFORMANCE GOES! I (and ‘they’) rightly appreciate that the team’s HITTING and RUN SCORING has collapsed since last year and it most certainly has and WAYYYYYYYYYYYY more than could possibly be attributed to any Josh Donaldson injury known or secreted as HIS personal stats are merely a tad off but in SOME areas better!
    The BIG shock and STORY is the mystical and uncanny total flip-flop of last year and this year in that last year they were a totally dominant, destructive hitting machine with merely fair to beleaguered as far as their pitching went whereas THIS year it has been 100%, completely the reverse!

    ‘That’s baseball!’

    “PLAY BALL!”
    GO JAYS!

    1. I think “that’s baseball” is the only real answer!
      But I do think there are too many people who feel like they fell apart down the stretch … though they might not be saying it today! (And please note that Tosh was commenting on my original text were I referred to the Jays collapse “this year” as opposed to just “this September” which is all I really meant.)

  3. There’s a great book about that 1908 season called “Crazy ’08” by Cait Murphy. In addition to covering the pennant race, it really shows just how weird baseball and America were in that era.

    The regular season is a marathon and not a sprint, but this season proves you need a good finishing kick. It compares with the women’s marathon at Rio ’16, where the difference between a gold and silver medal was nine seconds — a difference of one-tenth of one percent in the runners’ respective times, over a distance of more than 26 miles!

    By a couple of metrics (Wins Above Replacement, Pythagorean Win-Loss Projection), the Jays finished pretty much where you’d expect. The Orioles punched a bit above their weight and made the wild card chase more interesting. Texas, on the other hand, “should” be a .500 team (82-80) yet ended up with the best record in the AL (95-67). This year’s “We Wuz Robbed Award” in the American League goes to the Seattle Mariners.

  4. Well, whatever the history, I’m glad we won last night. Let’s hope Texas will provide more wins for the Jays! Thanks as always for your messages.

  5. While unlikely to achieve the legendary status of “Merkle’s boner”, Buck Showalter’s decision to not insert Zach Britton, baseball’s best reliever, with Ubaldo Jiminez obviously struggling and the game (and season) on the line, deserves to achieve some notoriety as “Buck’s Boner”. I equate it to the decision by Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, in the 2015 Super Bowl – 20 seconds left, 2nd down on the New England 1 yard line, Marshawn Lynch in the backfield (whom New England had been unable to stop during the final drive), and he called a pass play! It was of course intercepted and New England won the Super Bowl. Both Carroll and Showalter are well-respected through lengthy, generally successful careers in their professions; but fair or not, they will have those highly questionable UNSUCCESSFUL decisions hanging over them for the rest of their careers. As for the Blue Jays, they capitalized on that decision, and accordingly deserved to advance. Go Jays!

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