I worry about Kyle Dubas.
I worry when I see him defending Kevin Cash’s removal of Blake Snell in the World Series and, by extension, defending Pete Carroll’s unwillingness to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch from the one yard-line near the end of Super Bowl XLIX.
I worry that numbers and process matter more to the Maple Leafs general manager than results.
The decision by Cash was twisted logic. Not only did he take out a pitcher throwing brilliantly, maybe as well as he has ever thrown in a Game 6 of the World Series, but he went to one who was struggling terribly in the playoffs. And he says he would do it again if given the opportunity.
This was the hard-and-fast Tampa Bay way in baseball. Don’t let a pitcher go three times against the same lineup. Even though Snell had gone through the top of the Dodgers lineup rather easily the first two times.
Alex Anthopoulos was all about numbers when he first got hired by the Blue Jays. He couldn’t see anything else, even as he was promoted to general manager. Then he started to change and grow: He began to realize that numbers matter greatly, and an athlete’s emotions and character matter just as much. He began to understand that sport is a human pursuit, and at its best a balance between new-school numbers, new ways and old-school attitudes.
All Anthopoulos has done since making that shift in philosophy is finish first in 2015 and every year since then, first in Los Angeles, now in Atlanta, where the Braves have been in first place three straight years.
Hockey isn’t nearly as tied to numbers as baseball or football. The game still has such a random element to it.
But I worry that Dubas puts process ahead of everything else and there is no current evidence to indicate it has worked thus far for the Maple Leafs.
THIS AND THAT
Gary Bettman and the players are talking about numbers. Dollar figures. Clawbacks. Escrow. The number of games to be played when and if there is an NHL season. But Bettman said they are not, repeat not, negotiating or renegotiating the memorandum of understanding agreed to in July. He said that with a straight face. Sometimes the commissioner is funny, just not in a very funny kind of way … The Blue Jays are going after free agents George Springer, Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMathieu, to name three. But according to Bettman, they are not negotiating with anyone … There is some support for Mike Babcock to be named head coach for Team Canada for the 2022 Olympic Games — he did win gold in 2010 and 2014 — but there will be hockey people pushing for Jon Cooper or Bruce Cassidy to take over the Canadian team … And know this: If the 2021-22 NHL season doesn’t get started on time, and with fans in the stands, you can’t be that Bettman will find a way to not negotiate his way out of returning to the Winter Olympics, scheduled for China … The Kawhi Leonard fallout in Los Angeles is rather predictable. It was heading in that direction in Toronto before the great Raptors playoff run. Had it not been for Masai Ujiri’s leadership, Nick Nurse’s way of handling his team, internal team maturity from Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors could have been a smouldering tire fire trying to sure Kawhi was happy. Under difficult circumstances and with conditioning guru Alex McKechnie playing a key role, the Raptors were able to finesse their way through the Kawhi year, which the Clippers clearly could not do last season, costing Doc Rivers his job.
HEAR AND THERE
At the baseball winter meetings 30 years ago, the Blue Jays didn’t just come away with Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. One day earlier, they traded for Devon White. It was the two best winter days in Blue Jays history … White doesn’t get remembered enough for his brilliant play in centre field and for being the unlikely leadoff hitter who stole 104 bases, hit 49 home runs and scored 324 runs in his first three Toronto seasons … The San Franscisco 49ers have moved the remainder of their home season to Arizona, which makes me wonder: where are the San Jose Sharks, also in Santa Clara County, going to hold training camp and play their home games this NHL season? … The Raptors say they have spoken many times to Terence Davis, arrested for domestic violence in New York in October. What they haven’t said: whether they’ve spoken to the woman who was allegedly assaulted by Davis … I’m Zoom called out. I really need a conversation, a long one, a short one, with somebody in person, even socially distanced. This one question, one follow-up journalism thing has gotten real old real fast … Still without a hockey job: ageless defenceman Ron Hainsey, who can think his way to helping somebody … Those who know him best really like the Leafs signing of defenceman Mikko Lehtonen. He’s not a kid, he turns 27 in January. “If they use him properly,” I was told, “they could have a real find here. A puck mover who can play the point on the power play.” Lehtonen had 25 goals in 77 KHL games in parts of two seasons before leaving for Toronto.
SCENE AND HEARD
The Lou Marsh Award winner, as Canada’s athlete of the year, will be announced on Tuesday. My way of thinking: It’s a two-man race and almost impossible to distinguish between the two. One side, soccer genius Alphonso Davies; on the other, basketball genius Jamal Murray. There’s no wrong choice here, just one or the other … If the award was for sportsman of the year, not athlete of the year, that would be different. Then, Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif would be a strong candidate. But you can’t pick an offensive guard who played three games in the calendar year and spent the rest of the time battling COVID-19 for the Marsh … Canadian female athlete of the year, chosen annually by The Canadian Press, should come down to golfer Brooke Henderson and soccer player Kadeisha Buchanan. There’s no wrong choice between those two either … The non-fight fight between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., the eight-round draw that had Tyson winning six rounds on my scorecard, did 1.2 million pay-per-view buys in the United States, which is something around $70 million in Canadian dollars. Jones, by the way, looked partially scared to death and partially disinterested in fighting Tyson. Huge money for junk. Go figure … Football looks better on TV than it does live. Tennis looks way worse on television than it does live. You can’t sense the speed of the game when you don’t see it in person … New respect for Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, who punted his national anthem singer, Mark Donnelly, who was planning to sing at an anti-masker rally in Vancouver. It’s your team, Francesco, and you can do what you want. National anthem singers are a dime a dozen … If I was a parent of a junior hockey player or even an agent, I’m not sure I’d want my kid locked in an Alberta hotel room for two weeks, all in the name of quarantine and the apparent upcoming world junior tournament … Zach Cunningham of the Houston Texans leads the NFL with 10 tackles a game. Former CFLer and pseudo Canadian Alex Singleton has started six games for Philadelphia, averaging an impressive 9.3 tackles per start.
AND ANOTHER THING
From the department of dumb and dumber: Kyrie Irving qualifies for both — posting a statement online that he won’t take questions from media this NBA season. It reminds me a little of Dexter Manley posting a note at his vacant Super Bowl podium asking for questions in writing that he would answer the following day. Manley came back and answered the questions, which was odd, because not long after that he admitted he couldn’t read … Junior hockey was its best when the old man legends were part of the game. Larry Mavety was one of those. He passed away on Friday at the age of 78. The sport is not as rich or provocative today as it was on Thursday … The more I watch rookie Chase Claypool the more I see he still has another level to take, while he’s scoring touchdown after touchdown as an NFL rookie. When he stops dropping catchable passes and adjusts better to balls in the air, the Canadian kid is going to be close to unstoppable … Every time I watch Derrick Henry, especially in the fourth quarter of a game, I wonder: are we seeing the modern day version of Jim Brown? … This season has been a struggle for Edmonton running back Chuba Hubbard and Oklahoma State. Last season, he ran for a remarkable 1,926 yards and 21 touchdowns. This season, losing games to injuries, he has run for just 625 yards and five touchdowns … No doubt Kyle Lowry would be proud of pal DeMar DeRozan, who chased a home intruder out of his Los Angeles home. The intruder thought he was breaking in to billionaire Kylie Jenner’s home … The NBA has announced it won’t be testing for marijuana this coming season. A better question: why does any professional league test for marijuana anymore? … Gentlemen get your chequebooks ready, Speedy Banks, the most entertaining player in Canadian football, and a whole bunch of CFL players less entertaining , will be available in free agency in February … Happy birthday to Giannis Antetokounmpo (26), Kevin Cash (43), Andy Stewart (50), Justin Smoak (34), Johnny Manziel (28), Jim Plunkett (73), Tim Foli (70), Art Monk (63), and Christian Yelich (29) … And, hey, whatever became of Josh Gorges?
PASSING ON BUEHRLE FOR BASEBALL HALL
At first glance, when the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot arrived in the mail the other day, I had a thought: maybe I should vote for Mark Buehrle, John Gibbons’ favourite player, who is eligible for the very first time.
It’s not that I believe Buehrle is necessarily a Hall of Fame pitcher. He was more a Hall of Fame person, a tribute to longevity, a pro’s pro, an upper-echelon but not superstar pitcher. And this being his first time on the ballot, I thought a welcome vote would be the right thing to do.
Hall of Fame voting is complicated. It’s why almost no two ballots look alike among those who are privileged enough to vote. Jack Morris complained more than once that you play your career and the worst part of the Hall of Fame process is having a bunch of strangers poke and prode at your career, like walking through a buffet line, picking it apart for good and for bad.
In a very soft year for the ballot, unless you happen to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and I don’t, there is only one sure thing. That’s Curt Schilling. After him, the voting is expected to be all over the place.
Normally, I use all 10 vote opportunities provided but this year I had trouble getting to four. The obvious choices, unless you look the other way on the steroid years, are few.
Which brought me back to Buehrle. Until I started breaking down the numbers. His were oh so similar to Andy Pettitte, who I didn’t vote for last year, and Tim Hudson, who is also on the ballot for the first time. After looking at it, I couldn’t pick one over the other and couldn’t find a way to vote for all three.
So I wish Mark Buehrle well. I don’t suspect he’ll ever make it to the Hall of Fame. That shouldn’t in any way minimize the wonderful career he had.
JURY STILL OUT ON JAYS GM ATKINS
This is five years for Ross Atkins as general manager of the Blue Jays, the anniversary passing the other day. And for as long a time as that has been, there is no definitive scorecard on how he has done in the job.
We have watched him to grow into the job, from nervous awkward public person who stumbles over his words, saying little, to less nervous, less awkward, somewhat likeable (especially when you put the microphone away) and one more assured of himself that he has ever been before.
Is he a great general manager? That we don’t know. Is he good at the job? In combination with team president Mark Shapiro, there is no certain final mark here. Basically, Atkins inherited Vladdy Guerrero Jr. and fired the people who talked him into drafting Bo Bichette. His big moves: signing Loudes Gurriel Jr. and Hyun-jim Ryu and trading for Teoscar Hernandez, who hopefully isn’t a 60-game sensation. He didn’t do well making deals to trade away veterans Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Steve Pearce, Gio Urshela and we still don’t know what he got for Marcus Stroman.
The Jays do talk a better game than they’ve talked in years, looking like players in the free-agent market this winter and looking as though they’re about to make moves of significance. Five years should normally be time enough to define a general manager. It will take longer than that to know exactly what Ross Atkins will become.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020