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  Sun, June 20, 2004


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Jays' decisions puzzling
Elliott on Baseball column
By BOB ELLIOTT, TORONTO SUN

JAYS' DECISIONS PUZZLING

WHAT DOES this trip say about the last-place Blue Jays?

Other than the fact they have resided in the American League East basement for most of this week, or 23rd out of 30.

What are they thinking on the coast, when ...

- Third baseman Eric Hinske bats sixth against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. This with the Jays having a depleted roster -- Frank Menechino hitting third and Reed Johnson cleanup. Hinske hit seventh Thursday, with Frank Catalanotto in the lineup.

Would you not have said in the spring that the Jays' top three run producers were Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells and Hinske? Or would you say Hinske's bat speed has diminished?

- Gregg Zaun catches ahead of Kevin Cash three of the first four games. Zaun is doing a good job, but he is not the future.

- Howie Clark plays at first base ahead of Josh Phelps two of the first four games. By not playing Phelps when Delgado is injured, the Jays further devalue him on the trade front. Will a National League team be interested in a guy who plays behind Clark?

- When Justin Miller was injured, Josh Towers was recalled, so Jesse Harper was placed on waivers. Harper was 3-0 with four walks and 18 strikeouts at class-A Dunedin. Three days later, the Jays demoted Simon Pond. In comes Towers, out goes Pond, and out of the organization goes Harper, who gets claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.

And the schedule hasn't even warmed up yet. The Jays play the New York Yankees 19 times in their final 70 games.

And then there are the Devil Rays, with Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Aubrey Huff.

You knew months ago that the Jays would chase the Yankees. But the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, as was the case earlier this week?

THE BEST

"Best player ever? I didn't see Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle play and I'm sure most people around today would say Barry Bonds is the best and he may be. But by the time it is over and he retires, I think a lot of people might say the best ever is Alex Rodriguez." -- Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

"I was the catcher last year when we gave up Rafael Palmeiro's 500th homer. If (Ken) Griffey had hit his, I could have been the answer to a trivia question: Who was the catcher for two different 500th home runs?" -- Cleveland Indians catcher Tim Laker.

After hitting his 499th homer against Cleveland last Sunday, Griffey flied out, walked and grounded out in his last three plate appearances.

SHORT ADDS

The Chicago Cubs continue to sign and acquire shortstops. They traded for and released Damian Jackson, who was hitting .067. That cleared a spot for Rey Ordonez, who is hitting .097. The latest addition is Ricky Gutierrez, who was hitting .175 when the New York Mets released him.

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SCOUTS' HONOUR: 31 JAYS PICKS IN BIGS

FORMER JAYS SCOUTS are again walking around with their chests stuck out.

A survey of Major League Baseball rosters by The Sporting News and author Stan McNeal shows that once again the Jays are top dogs with when it comes to getting their homegrown players to the big league.

Former scouting directors Bob Engle, now with the Seattle Mariners, Tim Wilken, now with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Chris Buckley, still with the Jays, have 31 players in the majors who were originally signed by the Jays -- nine with Toronto and 22 on other teams.

The Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox are next with 30. The Expos have nine on their roster, with 22 on other teams, while the Sox have five at Fenway and 25 elsewhere.

The top-five producers are rounded out by the Minnesota Twins (29) and Texas Rangers (28).

The worst at getting homegrowns to the majors are the Florida Marlins with 10 -- one on their roster and nine on other clubs.

ROOT ROOT

Whether it's Yankee Stadium in the Bronx or Boston's Fenway Park, fans are on their feet cheering for a strikeout each time their pitcher gets to two strikes on a hitter.

The SkyDome crowd was on its feet throughout the top of the ninth twice when the Arizona Diamondbacks were in town last week.

However, the enthusiasm was for the seventh strikeout -- meaning a free slice for tout le monde at Pizza Pizza.

Blue Jays closer Jason Frasor, pitching in a one-run game, got Doug DeVore to pop up for the final out, giving the Jays the victory. The outcome was booed.

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DON'T BLAME THE TRAINER

TRAINERS NEVER should be blamed for injuries.

As we approach the first anniversary of the Jays canning trainer Scott Shannon, let's look at some numbers.

In 2002, with Shannon in charge, the Jays had 11 players on the disabled list totalling 565 days. The most serious was righty Chris Carpenter, who missed 112 games, followed by Luke Prokopec (72) and Steve Parris (63).

In 2003, with Shannon running the show until July 11, the Jays used the disabled list 10 times, totalling 228 missed games, with relievers Bob File (103 games) and Doug Creek (93 games) leading the way.

For the final half of 2003, with George Poulos and Dave Abraham in charge, the Jays used the disabled list seven times -- some of the players were injured while Shannon was the trainer -- totalling 212 missed games.

This season, the disabled list has been used 13 times and the games missing in action total is at 254 games and counting.

At one time, the Jays were fielding a team without either of their opening-day catchers (Greg Myers and Kevin Cash), their first baseman (Carlos Delgado), their second baseman (Orlando Hudson), their shortstop (Chris Woodward), left fielder (Frank Catalanotto) and ace right-hander Roy Halladay.

All didn't go on the disabled list at the same time, but all were missing from May 30 to June 8.

It's not Poulos' fault. Just as injuries were not the fault of Shannon.

ONE FROM THE CROWD

Former Leaside slugger Buck Reed tells of seeing Milwaukee Braves righty Lew Burdette declining to sign a baseball for a youngster.

"Don't think so son," Burdette told the surprised young boy. "That baseball shouldn't be signed by some old fogie and left to sit on a mantle or in a drawer. I'll sign your cap, your shirt and your program. You take the ball home and learn how to pitch."

When Josh Beckett of the Florida Marlins blanked the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, he became the first to do so since Burdette did it in 1957.

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EX-JAY OF THE WEEK

JOSE CRUZ, TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

JOSE CRUZ was acquired in a deadline deal from the Seattle Mariners in 1997.

Then-general manager Gord Ash sent Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric to Seattle for Cruz.

Cruz was with the Jays until the end of the 2002 season and then wasn't tendered a contract. He played for the San Francisco Giants in 2003 and this off-season signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Cruz had a key hit for the Devil Rays in their win Wednesday, a seventh-inning two-out, two-run homer against San Diego to earn him ex-Jay of the week honours.

An indication on how things are going for the Rays was the ball Cruz drove, which hit on top of the Petco Park centre-field wall and then bounced over it.

What would have happened to that ball a month ago when things were going bad?

"It would have hit a bird," Cruz said.