Blue Jays' Public Enemy Number One

USA TODAY Sports

It's Boxing Day in Canada. For me, public enemy number one is anyone getting in my way at the parking lot and the mall.

The Sporting News came out with a slideshow profiling who they thought was "Public Enemy #1" for each team in Major League Baseball. They picked Jeffrey Maier for the Orioles, Jeffrey Loria for the Expos Marlins, and Bud Selig for the Astros all of humanity.  For the Toronto Blue Jays, they picked Bill Madlock, the Detroit Tigers' designated hitter who slid way off the basepaths into Tony Fernandez in 1987. Fernandez's season was ended when his right elbow hit the hard Exhibition Stadium surface (Madlock blamed the wood frame around the bases for the injury) and shattered. Shattered also was the Blue Jays' playoff hopes, who ended up blowing a 2.5-game lead to lose the A.L. East pennant at Tiger Stadium a week later. The Blue Jays won the game Fernandez was injured and the one after that, but then lost the last seven games of the season.

It’s a story that many Blue Jays fans of a certain age would definitely remember, but I think it is a bit dated and my guess is that 90% of Blue Jays fans (TFSML excepted) would pick someone else more contemporary as the club's "Public Enemy #1". So let’s look at the possible candidates for that title. And to any of the candidates reading this: don't worry if you're named to the unenviable title, Dave Winfield and Robbie Alomar were hated in Toronto after the seagull and spitting incidents, respectively, but managed to be rehabilitated in the fans' eyes eventually. Fans are fickle; the title is not for life.

Candidates

Alex Anthopoulos

Wanted for: Failure in building a playoff team, poor talent evaluation, not living up to the hype built up by the fanbase

General manager Alex Anthopoulos was loved by Blue Jays fans when he was first hired, receiving nicknames like "ninja" and "boy genius" in his tenure when he re-built a depleted farm system, got rid of Vernon Wells' contract, oversaw a complete re-branding, getting Steve Delabar for Eric Thames, moved the triple-A affiliate to Buffalo, and pulled off massive trades with the Marlins and the Mets to acquire stars like Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and R.A. Dickey. Unfortunately, the 2013 Blue Jays were a massive flop and some fans grew critical of him. They've recalled how he fell short in the bidding for Yu Darvish, his mistakes in judging the talents of Yan Gomes and Emilio Bonifacio, failing to sign two first-round draft picks, not being able to acquire Doug Fister from the Tigers, not signing free agents, selling the farm, non-tendering J.P. Arencibia, and not making any significant upgrades this offseason.

J.P. Arencibia

Wanted for: Poor performance, whining about hurt feelings on the radio

Catcher J.P. Arencibia was loved by Blue Jays fans when he first came up to the major leagues, going 4-for-5 in his first game, hitting a double and two homers, including one on his first major league pitch. His good looks, youthfulness, and love for tweeting didn't hurt. But then as the numbers slipped, down to .194/.227/.365 this past season, fans and the media started becoming very critical of the young catcher. Arencibia responded by biting back, attacking Sportsnet analysts Dirk Hayhurst and Gregg Zaun on Twitter and morning radio. The backlash was so strong that he ended up quitting Twitter. The former first-round draft pick and top prospect ended up being non-tendered and allowed to walk for nothing.

A.J. Burnett

Wanted for: Being injured a lot, then opting out of his contract to go to the Yankees

Pitcher A.J. Burnett was loved by the Blue Jays fans when he first signed in 2006 as a potential number two to a rotation fronted by Roy Halladay. He never lived up to what many Blue Jays fans wanted him to be, mostly because injuries sidelined him for his first two seasons in Toronto, pitching just 135 and 165 innings in 2006 and 2007, respectively. He finally had a healthy season in 2008, where he had an 18-10 record, 4.07 ERA, 221 IP, and American League-leading 231 strikeouts. However, in June of his walk year, Burnett tipped his cap to the boo birds in Toronto after a bad outing and admitted that he was looking for an opportunity to go somewhere else, where "baseball is breakfast, lunch, and dinner." True to his word, Burnett opted out of the last two years of his contract to go sign with the Yankees. Of course it was J.P. Ricciardi who gave him the player-friendly contract, but Burnett was lustily booed when he came back to Rogers Centre in an epic duel with former rotation mate Roy Halladay, who ended up getting a complete game.

Roger Clemens

Wanted for: Requesting a trade from the Blue Jays, alleged steroid use, having an affair with a 15-year old, being a shithead

Pitcher Roger Clemens was loved by the Blue Jays fans when he first signed in December 1996. In my baseball newsletter (I was 10) I wrote an article about how Clemens and the new uniforms would breathe new life into a franchise that was coming off of three horrible seasons after winning for so long. And, boy, did he deliver: Roger Clemens became the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax to win back-to-back triple crowns in 1997 and 1998, going a combined 41-13 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.061 WHIP, striking out 563 batters in just under 500 innings, throwing 14 complete games and six shutouts. Despite Clemens's performance, the Blue Jays finished below .500 out of the playoffs in the two seasons, and Clemens soon demanded to be traded when it was clear that Interbrew was not opening its wallet to make a better team for 1999. He got his wish when Gord Ash shipped him out to the Yankees for David Wells. Clemens had unnatural ERA-'s of 45 in 1997 and 57 in 1998... "unnatural" because he was later alleged by former trainer Brian McNamee of using performance-enhancing drugs starting around the time when he joined the Blue Jays. Oh and he also allegedly started having sex with a 15-year-old Mindy McCready. And Cito Gaston called him "an asshole," and he beaned Mike Piazza and threw a broken bat at him, and he stopped traveling with the team on road trips later in his career.

Bob Davidson

Wanted for: Robbing Devon White of a World Series triple-play, calling interference on Yunel Escobar, being an umpire

Umpire Bob Davidson was probably not loved by anybody ever because he is an umpire. After Devon White's Catch in game three of the 1992 World Series, Terry Pendleton was called out when he passed the runner in front of him, Deion Sanders. Sanders was then caught in a rundown between second and third, with third baseman Kelly Gruber running him back to second before diving to tag Sanders on his ankle to complete the triple play. However, Bob Davidson, the second-base umpire, waved his arms repeatedly to call Sanders "safe". As you can see in this video, Davidson had a pretty good view of the tag and just plain missed it.

The next batter struck out, so no damage was done (and of course the Blue Jays ended up winning the game and the World Series), so most Jays fans are probably just annoyed at the fact that they were denied the second triple play in World Series history. However, the incident with Davidson in 2011 actually cost the Blue Jays a win against the Angels. It happened in the wee hours of the morning on April 10 (in the east coast; it was still late April 9 on in Anaheim). The Blue Jays and the Angels were knotted at fives entering extra innings. With two outs in the top of the 13th, the Blue Jays had Adam Lind at third and Yunel Escobar at second with Edwin Encarnacion at the plate. Encarnacion hit a grounder to third, third baseman Alberto Callaspo fielded it but threw wide of first, scoring the go-ahead run for the Blue Jays... or so they thought. Right after Lind crossed the plate, Bob Davidson ran in to call Yunel Escobar out for runner interference, even though he was nowhere near Callaspo. In the bottom of the 14th, the Angels won it on a walkoff single by friggin Maicer Izturis.

Yunel Escobar

Wanted for: Poor performance, writing gay slurs on eyeblack, being too "flashy" on the field

Shortstop Yunel Escobar arrived in a trade for Alex Gonzalez (with Tim Collins and Tyler Pastornicky), one that was seen as a good "sell high" trade after Gonzalez went on a hot start to the season, hitting 17 homers and slugging 100 points above career average. Escobar had been in the dog house in Atlanta after reportedly clashing with Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones and we kept wondering why--he seemed like a jovial player in Toronto. He was still a fan-favourite going into 2012, even getting his own bobblehead day, but then a poor April and a weak August and September brought his numbers much below his career average. People started noticing more and more air-headed plays, like unnecessary spin moves and bumping into other infielders on pop-ups. But that's not what ultimately did him in: in a mid-September game in 2012, a Blue Jays season ticket holder James G. noticed Escobar wearing the letters "TU ERE MARICON" on his eye black stickers, which was interpreted as a gay slur. The Blue Jays had a horrible season filled with injuries and broken dreams (this line could also have been used to begin almost every single profile in this piece) and then this unnecessary drama happened. After the incident, a press conference was hastily organized, with a very apologetic-looking (and -sounding) Yunel Escobar sitting beside an annoyed Alex Anthopoulos, a crappy Spanish interpreter, and John Farrell who claims to not be a regular reader of his starting shortstop's face. What's worse than the eyeblack incident, and the horrible presser that followed, was the fact that other players were trying to explain away the crime by saying that all other Spanish-speaking players do it. In any case, Escobar apologized and then was suspended for three games.  He came back to the Rogers Centre with a forgiving round of applause from the home town fans, but only played a few more games in Toronto before he was shipped to the Marlins and then the Rays.

John Farrell

Wanted for: High treason

It's now kind of fun to look back on Escobar's press conference and imagine what manager John Farrell was thinking about as he sat on the dais, because he was probably counting down the days as a Blue Jays manager. After two months of rumours and innuendo, the Boston Media reported that the Red Sox hired John Farrell on October 20, 2012. Farrell had been a pitching coach in Boston before being hired as the manager with the Blue Jays, but he was already interested in hopping back down to Boston after Terry Francona got canned after the 2011 season. The Blue Jays had to publicly come out to announce a "no lateral moves" policy for club staff.

Frankly, by the end of 2012, I don't think there were too many of us left who actually liked Farrell. His lack of understanding of platoons, poor bullpen management, love for bunting in the first three innings, and his politician-like interviews annoyed a lot of us. But it was the way he left (exacerbated by Boston Media reports) that left many of us hurt. He wanted to leave Toronto for the "epicenter" of baseball, and he upped his jackwadness by saying "if memory serves me correct, I was traded," when Toronto reporters asked him about his exit from the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays fans welcomed him back, like they do with so many former players, with a rousing round of boos when Farrell returned as a Red Sox manager. Jays fans were confident that Farrell had made the wrong choice to leave, especially with all the acquisitions that were made in the offseason, but flash forward to October and the same fans who had mercilessly booed Farrell had their hearts broken as they saw the man win his first World Series.

J.P. Ricciardi

Wanted for: Ineffective drafting, poor trades, failure to produce a playoff team, saying "chowdah"

General manager J.P. Ricciardi was touted as a prized acquisition from the A's front office, who sought to re-build the Blue Jays franchise using Moneyball principles after the disastrous Gord Ash regime. In his eight years at the helm of the franchise, a lot of promises were made about building up a winning team, but little was delivered. The Jays finished above .500 in half of those years, but they did finish in second place in 2006, albeit 10 games behind first. His draft philosophy was to prefer college players with higher floors rather than gambling on high schoolers with higher ceilings. Among his 14 first-round picks, he chose just three high schoolers (Travis Snider, Justin Jackson, and Kevin Ahrens). At the time he was ousted, the the top Blue Jays prospects were arguably Zach Stewart, Chad Jenkins, and David Cooper, and it got pretty thin heading down from there. His poor relationship with the Syracuse Chiefs ended a long-term affiliation and forced the triple-A team to pack their bags for Las Vegas for four inconvenient seasons. He did make several good trades in retrospect (acquiring Ted Lilly, Marco Scutaro, Justin Speier, Shea Hillenbrand, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion), but the poor drafting, almost a decade of poor-to-mediocre baseball, and handing out huge contracts to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios that just didn't work out, puts him on this list.

Rogers Communications Inc.

Wanted for: Building a statue of their founder, being cheap, cell phone contracts and roaming charges

Rogers Communications was viewed as "cheap" owners with "payroll parameters" to meet, but they finally opened up their wallets the past offseason when they authorized the big deals with the Marlins and Mets, and the signing of Melky Cabrera. There were Blue Jays fans detested the company's decision to build a statue commemorating their founder, Ted Rogers, in front of a property they owned, the Rogers Centre, before putting in statutes of Blue Jays legends. They have been blamed for the Blue Jays having a stale stadium and an even staler marketing team.  I think that a lot of the frustration comes from the fact that Rogers is a huge corporation that charges Canadians a lot of money for cell phones (especially data when roaming), home phones, cable TV, internet, home security systems, and whatever else they do nowadays.

I'm pretty sure that there are other names that could be on the list as contenders, especially for a club that has not been to the playoffs in 20 years, but I'll let you nominate them in the comments.

Hat tip to @KennedyMLB for passing on the link to The Sporting News' slide show.

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