The end of the 98 season left no one in doubt that Shawn Green had arrived on the baseball scene the way he would have at least a couple of years earlier if he had only been given the chance to play every day like he had in 98. I would imagine there were a lot of red faces in the Jays organization amongst those who had constantly put him down, and also in the stands too. I wonder just how many Shawn Green haters became Shawn Green fans last year? Well we the true fans know that we can do without that type of support. No one needs fair weather friends.
There were also many who thought his great season of '98 was a one off. It was up to him to prove them all wrong.
The subject of friends must have brought at least a little sadness to Green when he learned his mentor Jose Canseco would not be back the following year. When he was first signed we all read what a bad influence he would have on the team. How he would lead the young guys into his wicked ways. I had never met Canseco, but was dumb enough to believe the things I read. Now I have to be the first to say just how wrong I was.
Jose did bring an influence to the team. Especially those young guys, but not the bad influence that was projected. He gave them hope and confidence in themselves. He encouraged them to believe in themselves. He told them what they were capable of rather than focusing on what they were not capable of. Jose I would like to publicly say here Im sorry for believing things I had no proof to substantiate. What you did for Shawns confidence I dont think anyone else could have.
How will Shawn do without his friend there to guide him? That remains to be seen. He says he and Canseco will still keep in touch. That he will go to him if he needs physiological help with his game and that Canseco will be there to offer that support. After all friends move away, but they dont have to stop being friends.
I had a feeling, no more than a feeling that the Jays would finally go out and do something to prove to Green just how wrong they had been about him. That they would honor him for making Blue Jays history the past season. They would present him with a lithograph or the like the way they had done for both Hentgen and Clemens when they had won the Cy Young. I eagerly contacted the Jays to ask when this night would be. After being there throughout all the bad times I wanted to be there to celebrate with Shawn on his special night. The reply to my letter nothing short of disgusted me. No there were no plans to honor him. Nothing was to be done. There would be no Shawn Green Night at SkyDome. I should have known better, but Im not giving up without a fight. If this event does not happen it will not be for my want of trying. If this feat had been achieved by Delgado, or Gonzalez the night would already have been set, but no this was Green and remember Greens no good!
After all the trials and tribulations that the Jays went through in the off season it would have been nice to know there was more to the Jays than a pitcher who wanted it all and them some and a manager who seems to have trouble distinguishing lies from the truth. Something more than a team that fired first base coaches just because they did not buy their round of drinks. (Something I can hardly believe knowing how generous Jack Hubbard was always to me personally.) He did so much for that outfield. Surely thats what he was employed to do? Even though there was cause to look ahead on some points others just make the team look cheap and uncaring.
With all of the off season transactions carried out the Jays were a whole new ball team come the first spring game. Gone were Roger Clemens who wanted to play for a winning team closer to home. Yes Roger I believe your 162 miles further away from home now and although your with a winning team I pray you never get that ring, for basically telling the guys they were not good enough for you. To my mind they are too good! Woody Williams was traded to the Padres along with Carlos Almanzar and Peter Tucci from the minor leagues for San Diego starter Joey Hamilton. As I said before Canseco left. He really did want to be closer to home. The Miami resident signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. Gone was Benito Santiago, and a few new faces and a couple of familiar ones appeared. Back was Big Daddy Cecil Fielder, and Geronimo Berroa. Joey Cora was brought in to play second, (although once homer Bush was acquired in the Clemens trade he knew he had no future with the club and retired.) Graham Lloyd also came with big Boomer Wells in the Clemens trade. The addition of Wille Greene to play some third, DH and outfield the team looked in reasonable shape to repeat what they had started the year before.
Shawn as always reported for Spring training before he had to. He showed up on February 21 full of confidence. What a change to see reports that were saying good things about him for a change. Reports about that confidence and his eagerness to get started. Although this eagerness was very apparent it did not seem to stretch throughout the whole team. It was not too long before they had a 3-9 record. Could all the constant talk of Tim Johnson and his infamous lies, and the following feud between Johnson and Ed Sprague have anything to do with it? I guess we will never know, but Im sure it could not of benefited anyone. Will Johnson still be managing at the end of the season. Will he still be there at the start of the season. Only time will tell. We all make mistakes, and he was man enough to admit both publicly and to his team that he had indeed made a major mistake. Thing is can he really be forgiven? That should be up to the people who really matter. The 25 men who go out and play for him and the coachs who he had the conflicts with. Not us or the media.
I did not have to wait too long for my answer. March 17th, the day I left home for Spring training Johnson was fired. It seemed as if the Sprague feud was the final straw. Jim Fregosi who managed the Phillies in 93 when they met the Jays in the World Series was appointed the new manager.
There was something in the air when I walked into Dunedin Stadium for the first time. An excitement that had not been with this team for a very long time. One of the first people I saw was Fregosi. He was happy and smiling and doing everything he could to make everyone feel welcome. As long as he was not working with the team every autograph request was met with a yes, and a chat with the fans as he signed.
Shawn was waiting outside the batting cage when I first saw him. He was with Captain Carlos, who as usual was always the joker. The first thing Carlos had to do was embarrass me. Just wait Carlos. Your turn will come! Shawn was looking so happy and relaxed, just like he had the year before. There was something very different about him this year. Somehow he seemed different. I cant explain what I mean by that, but gone was the guy who knew whatever he did he would still be just a guy on the team. He was replaced by a guy that was a major part of the team and he knew it for sure. One look in his eyes told me that he was ready to take on that roll and was eager to do so.
It seemed as soon as Fregosi, arrived the team started to turn around. They started to win a few games and everyone was having fun. They were meeting the fans, signing autographs like I have never seen before. Most of all they were playing their hardest, and getting the little things done. By this time it was way beyond hope that the team could even reach the .500 Plato, there was promise in the air.
On the last day of
Spring Training I spoke to Shawn. I told him that this season
would be even better than last, and that I was hoping for 40/40
this year. I told him I knew he could do it, and he said he
thought he could too. I asked him to do it for me this season.
There was a special and personal reason that I asked him for
this. He said he would try his best. What more could I ask!
The 1999 Regular Season
The team started the 1999 season on the road in Minnesota. They lost the first game but went on to win the second, and lose the third and final game. Then it was on to Baltimore where the triumphed over the Os. By this point you could already see that this team meant business.
On Opening day at SkyDome in Toronto David Wells won his second start for his new team. They lost just one game to Jose Cansecos Tampa Bay Devil Rays. By Now Roger Clemens must have been wondering what he ad left behind as the Jays were playing so much better than his new team the New York Yankees.
April 18 1999 will have to go down as my second best Green memory. After being told that there would be nothing to honour Shawns great season the previous year I was informed that there would be a presentation on this day. I was very emotional as I stood behind the Blue Jays dugout and watched as Gord Ash presented Shawn with a silver bat. All the memories of the platooning, the Sierra Fiasco, and all the put downs by both the team and the media became just bad memories. At last they were realizing what I had seen so long ago. Shawn could be and will be a star player. The smile on his face was a mile wide. I tried to take pictures, but I did not want to miss a thing. Even though the ceremony was very rushed it happened. That was all I wanted. I will forever be in debt to the member of the Jays management who called me to tell me of this special day. You see I had mentioned to him that something should be done, and when I was informed that something would happen somehow it just did not seem to be true. To me this was like seeing the team win the World Series all over again. This was Shawns special day. A day Im sure we both thought would never come. At least whilst he was still a Blue Jay.
The next morning I eagerly raced to check the newspapers for the story. I wanted to read about this great day, but no. Once again Shawn was forgotten. Not a mention of the presentation in any Toronto Newspaper. I had taped the game and no there was no mention there either. Not even when he hit a home run, to celebrate the great day. He had been over shadowed yet again by the retirement of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. The only mention of Shawns special day was a tiny piece I found on line from a Baltimore newspaper, and a mention, by Tom and Jerry on the radio. Go figure!
On April 21 he had been hit on the wrist badly by a pitch. It seemed like there could be a bad injury. The ball must have hit right off a bone, as the impact sounded like the ball hitting the bat. Whatever damage was done though could only have been good. The next day, April 22, he hit a massive 449 foot home run into the right field, fifth deck in SkyDome. Only team mate Carlos Delgado had been up there before. Shawn was now one of the real big boys. Apart from himself and Delgado, only massive power hitters, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and former team mate Joe Carter had ever hit the fifth deck with homer, but they all hit theres to left field. Now who says he cant hit! The Jays left after the April 22 game for their second road trip of the season. They headed to New York to take on Clemens new team the Yankees. Clemens decided to put himself back a day in the rotation. Was he not man enough to face his old team?
Sadly the next pitch Shawn received to his wrist would not be as lucky as the last one. He was up to bat against Yankee pitcher Andy Petite on May 28 and this time when the pitch made contact with his left wrist in the bottom of the fourth. He came out to play the field in the top of the fifth, but had to be removed from the game when it became evident that he would not be able to hit through the pain. X-rays would show a fracture to a small bone in his left throwing wrist. Although it was not a major injury it would dash all the dreams that he may have had of making the 1999 All Star Team.
He was out for a full
week. He tried to return to the line up on June 4 against
Montreal, but only managed another four innings before having to
admit defeat and take a seat on the bench again. He finally
returned to the line up to stay on June 11 against the Phillies,
but his power was not there. He admitted himself that he was
making swings that were not how they should be and the wrist
seemed to have a mind of its own and moving how it wanted
to and not how he wanted it too. He did have a good day at the
plate though on June 19 when he went 2-4 with 3 RBIs.
Things started looking up and up from then on. From the date of his return to the all-star break he went on a tear hitting 9 home runs in 20 games. He finished up before the break hitting .327 with 25 home runs and 70 RBIs. Now who could say he was a second half player! Could there be a chance he could be an All-Star after all?
July 7 1999 must have been a dream come true day. Shawn was named to the 1999 All-Star team along with fellow Blue Jay Tony Fernandez. The following day he learned that he would be a contestant in the home run derby.
The players were allowed to choose who would pitch to them and Shawn chose and old friend, Ben Strack from California to pitch to him. They had been friends for many years and it was Shawns way of saying thank you for all the help he had given to him over the years.
In the derby he only managed two homers, but you could see just how nervous he was. Hitting after NL great Mark McGwire, who managed 13 homers in the first round must have been an awesome task. Still he did himself proud and finished 5th of ten.
The look of excitement as his name was announced as an All-Star on July 13 was a sight to behold. I had never seen him look so happy before. He managed to get an infield hit in his only at bat and made a great play in the field too. Yes Shawn Green was the All-Star I had predicted in 1993.
After the excitement was over he said the hi-lite of it all was meeting his baseball hero Ted Williams for a few moments on the Monday. Surely 1999 had to be a season to remember. Even more so than the 30/30 season of 98. As I had said to Shawn in Florida just before the season started. The best is yet to come. I think I was right! Who would have thought that the skinny kid who only played against righties until the 98 season would be an all-star? Who apart from me and one or two others.
July 19 saw his first homer of the second half of the 99 season, and what a homer it was. A grand slam to tie the game at 4. And would you believe it, again it was off a lefty! This time the victim was Bruce Chen, of the Atlanta Braves
The hit streak lasted until August 1st, ending at 28 games for a new Blue Jay record. He had tied John Oleruds 26 game hit streak of '93 on the day Cito Gaston and Joe Carter were inducted to the Jays Wall Of Fame at SkyDome. It brought me great pleasure that not only did he do it on that day, he did it in grand style with a home run.
The Jays were still fighting for a spot in the playoffs by chasing the wild card with Oakland and Boston. At one point they were two games ahead and then there was a seven game losing skid that put them two back. Neither Boston nor Oakland could really capitalize on the skid though. By the time it was over the Jays were two back of both teams. The pitching staff looked worn out. We had to pray that things would turn around and that everyone would find a second wind and put up their best performance of the season if the post season dreams were to stay alive.
The dream was not to be.
What did turn out to be a season of many dreams for Shawn was not
to be on a team level. Once again there would be no play
offs, and no World Series rings. The season would end as it
would for so many teams on October 3 1999.
The off season started full of rumors. Would the Jays be able to afford to keep both Shawn and Delgado. Money was tight. The answer seemed to be they would try, but if they would not sign long term then they would be traded.
At first it seemed like Delgado would be gone and Shawn may well stay. Delgados agent David Sloan spoke out early. He said his client was not willing to sign a long term contract. This made it look even more like Delgado would leave and Green stay. A part of me was happy, but something said that Shawn would leave too. I could just feel it. I had, had my last meeting with him as a Blue Jay. It was over. There was a certain distance in his eyes the last time we spoke. It seemed as if he could not look me in the eye. That look would have probably said good bye.
The rumors became stronger and stronger. The final nail in the casket for me was when Cito Gaston was hired back as hitting coach. Surely this was saying to Green, that they did not want him back.
Shawn had now admitted too that he would not be signing long term with the Jays. He said it was not the Gaston situation, but would not elaborate further.
I knew it was over at this point for sure. It was just a matter of time. Each day I feared this would be the dreaded day. That day came on November 8 1999. Two days before Shawns 27th birthday.
The rumors of a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that would include Shawn for Raul Mondesi were too strong to ignore. Late on November 8th the deal was made. Shawn and minor leaguer, second baseman Jorge Nunez for Mondesi and left handed reliever Pedro Borbon.
In a press conference later that day Shawn said it was what he wanted. He wanted to go home. To play in front of his family and friends on a regular basis. He wanted to settle down.
Shawn received much criticism in the following days because of the massive contract that he had signed with the Dodgers. $84 million over 6 years, that included a $4 million signing bonus. Once again he gave a large sum to charity. It was stated that he would be giving $250,000 per season to the Dodgers childrens charities as well as his other numerous charitable organizations.
Of course most people could only see what they wanted to see. A greedy man who ran for the dollars. The contract worked out to an average of $14 million a season over the six years. They could not see what I could see. A man who had been put down so many times by the Blue Jays. No matter what he did it would never be good enough. It meant more to be appreciated than all the money in the world. Now he has both!
Just before the trade Shawn won his first Silver Slugger award, and just after the Gold Glove. He had committed only one error in the season.
I hope that the Jays really look at what they gave up. Apart from the Gold Glove right fielder, they gave up 123 RBIs, 42 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and most of all the most fan friendly and community orientated player every to wear a Jays uniform.
Even though I wont be able to see you several times a week like I used to I will be there in Toronto for the pre season games and whenever I can manage a road trip too.
Thank you Shawn for everything you did for me and the people of Toronto. Many will forget you, but many will also remember. The loyal fans like me who really care. You touched our lives. I hope we touched yours just a little too.
Good luck with the Dodgers.
Forward to 2000
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