John McDonald announced his retirement today.
Johnny Mac was always a favorite around here. I remember the long debates about whether he should be a full time shortstop or not
He got the absolute most of of his talent. He played defense as well, and smart, as anyone you will ever see. I think it was because he practiced so hard. A number of times I was able to watch infield practice before games and I was always impressed with how hard McDonald practiced. The thing I noticed the most was that he always made the effort, in practice, to make every throw to first from straight overtop. And every throw was perfect. The times I watched, he always stayed out there the longest, sometimes needing a coach to stand in at first base, so he had someone to throw to.
I asked Brian Butterfield about him:
Last year in Seattle we watched fielding practice in Seattle before the game and John McDonald is out there to the very end. That's why he's so good at it?
That's exactly right, he's the best I've ever been around, I've told this to several people in the game, he has the best work ethic and gets himself into the right position better than any infield that I've ever had and I've been blessed to be around some great ones. And it's not a mistake for me when he makes a play in the hole that brings the house down. I don't get as excited because it's something I expect from him because it's something he's rehearched so many times. He's rehearsed going into the hole and getting the ball in the air as quickly as he can. He rehearses it. He rehearses it at game speed. When you look at him after he is done taking ground balls he's got a lather, he's tired and he practices defense quickly at game speed the way you should. He's the best.
I also remember watching him take batting practice in Seattle. Actually, at first I didn't realize it was him. I wasn't paying close attention, then I noticed that every hit was going right down the left field line, many clearing the wall in left, sometimes just foul, sometimes just fair, all within a few feet of the foul pole. I thought, who could be doing that? I was surprised to see it was McDonald.
It was around the time that Cito had convinced John to go all out pull, figuring he could hit some home runs. In 2010, he hit a career high 6 home runs, in just 163 at bats (he tied that high mark with the Diamondbacks in 2012, in 213 at bats. My memory is that, when he first started the all out pull swing, he hit a bunch of home runs, i think he had 3 in a week, but opposing pitchers soon caught on and his home run pace slowed.
I still thought it was a good idea. He never was much of a hitter, so getting the occasional home run was a plus.
Of course, everyone's biggest memory of Johnny Mac was his home run on Father's Day, the week after his dad passed away. Before he died John's father told him "Hit your next one for me." Who fired it would come in his next at bat. If you can watch this and not tear up, you have no heart.
It was the best moment of the season.
Of course, my other main memory of John McDonald is being at games in Philadelphia and Cito started John in left field. Now, in reality, McDonald didn't have the bat to keep his great glove at shortstop. There really was no excuse for using him in left field. And, as good a fielder he was on the infield, he was equally terrible on defense in the outfield. Being fair, he had no experience at the position. I'm sure, if he had a few weeks to work at it, he would have been a good defensive outfielder.
But, on that day, well the best way I can explain it is: after a couple of balls hit in his direction, the Phillies fan, sitting beside me, asked me "What's wrong with your left fielder?". I tried to explain that he was a terrific shortstop, just misplaced in the outfield.
John McDonald got the very most of out his talent. He played in the majors for 16 seasons, 7 with the Blue Jays. In 1100 games, he hit .233/.273/.323. But the reason he was a favorite was his defense and how hard he worked. He wasn't called the Prime Minister of Defense for nothing.
And I think he was a favorite among his teammates too:
I think that, if he decides to, he would make a great coach. I'd hope he could instill some of his work ethic into his players. I hope the Jays offer him a job.
Share your favorite John McDonald memories in the thread.