Eleven years ago today
The Jays traded Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky to the Braves for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.
The Braves hit the All-Star break with a 52-36, good for a four-game lead in the NL East, but were unhappy with Yunel. He wasn’t hitting much, .238/.334/.284 in 75 games. On defense, he made the odd error, 9 to that point, for a .975 fielding average. Yunel was also personally not well-liked by the Braves manager, players, or, for that matter, fans. Chipper Jones, in particular, seemed to dislike him, and as Larry goes, so goes the Braves.
Gonzalez was having an excellent first half of the season with the Jays. He had 17 home runs, 50 RBI, and a .259/.296/.497 line in 85 games. He played solid, if unspectacular defense and had 11 errors for a .972 fielding average. Usually, I wouldn’t care about error rates. Still, I listened to Braves broadcasters telling listeners that, while Yunel could make the spectacular play, he is far more likely to make an error on an easy play than Gonzalez.
It was a sell high/buy low trade for the Jays. Gonzalez was hitting far better than anyone imagined he could. Yunel had come off a 2009 season where he had hit .299/.377/.436, receiving some MVP votes, they couldn’t hit at all in 2010.
After the trade, Yunel picked up the pace, some, with a .275/.340/.356 in 60 games. 2011 went much better, .290/.369/.413. Unfortunately, 2011 didn’t go as well .254/.299/.335.
In 2012 he hit .253/.300/.344 with 9 home runs, but his numbers weren’t the big story for Yunel that year. He played one game with words written on his eye black. It wasn’t noticed until a friend of our site, @james_in_to posted a picture to Flicker. You can see it here. It was a homophobic slur.
I sent a link to the Jays PR department, giving them a heads up and asking for a comment. It didn’t come. At the time, I posted:
Here is what I don’t get: why didn’t one of the coaches or players say to Yunel, “this is a bad idea”. Not just the Spanish-speaking ones but any of them. I mean, if you couldn’t read it, wouldn’t you be curious enough to ask, ‘hey, what does that say? I know I would be. Maybe it says more about me, but if there was writing on someone’s face that I didn’t understand, I’m sure I’d ask. And, of course, there are enough guys on the team that wouldn’t have had to ask. That no one cared to read it, or read it and choose not to stop him, is as big a deal to me as Yunel doing it in the first place. But then everyone seemed happy to have the problem start and end with
Also, this has given me a new appreciation for this little website of ours. In reading what people are saying on Twitter and other places, I’m amazed at the number of people that think the way to deal with a homophobic slur is by making racist remarks or think that, because they are anonymous on the internet, piling on homophobia is the way to be. Thank you to everyone here for keeping the discussion of a very troubling story on a level that makes me proud to be here.
I still don’t know why a teammate didn’t say something. I’m guessing that they didn’t think it would be noticed or didn’t care. We were told that Yunel had words in his eye black most games, so why wouldn’t someone take a look?
A few days later, there was a press conference. Luis Rivera translated. At that time, I thought that was a mistake, that they should get someone trained as a translator who could help Yunel or smooth out some of the language. But, instead, Rivera struggled in the job.
Yunel’s statement, at the top of the press conference, went well. But then the questions came. He was doing ok, and then came to the ‘I have friends who are gay’ line. That begged for the question ‘who’. And then he said his hairstylist and his decorator.
Yunel ended up suspended for three games and, after the season, traded. He and half a dozen others went to the Marlins for multiple guys. It was a trade that helped us ‘win the off-season, but not so much the season. Yunel was quickly traded to the Rays and then went to the Nationals and Angels. He had a couple of pretty good seasons but was considered a bit of a disappointment. 2017 was his last year in the majors.
Gonzalez, after the trade, hit .240/.270/.386, in 72 games, but the Braves went to the playoffs, though I think they would have made it with Yunel too. The Braves lost out, in the first round, to the Giants, 3-1. Gonzalez hit .200/.200/.267 in the 4 games. In 2011 Alex hit .241/.270/.373. So, as a Brave, he hit .241/.277/.377 in 221 games. After the 2011 season, he signed with the Brewers as a free agent. He spent two seasons there and played 9 games with the Tigers in 2014.
The other players in the deal:
- Tim Collins was flipped to the Royals two weeks after this trade. He, Gregor Blanco and, our friend, Jesse Chavez, went to Kansas City for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. In 4 seasons with the Royals, he has a 3.54 ERA in 275 games. He got in a few games with the Cubs last year.
- Tyler Pastornicky had the Braves starting shortstop job out of spring training. It didn’t go well. He hit .248/.281/.324, with 2 steals, in 45 games, before being sent down to the minors, and he got passed by Andrelton Simmons on the depth chart. Tyler played 124 games over three seasons with the Braves, hitting .243/.295/.314. He last played organized ball in 2015 in the system. Pastornicky was one of those guys I hoped would get a long look in the majors at some point. He was fast and played good defense, but it never happened for him.
- Jo-Jo Reyes had a 5-8, 5.40 ERA in 20 starts as a Jay, before he was put on waivers and taken by the Orioles. He pitched a game with the Angels, in 2015 and a game with the Marlins in 2016.
I enjoyed watching Yunel, at least until the scandal. He was fun to watch on defense, and there was a fair bit of potential in his bat, but he never endeared himself to us. Maybe, in part, because the teams he played on disappointed us.