Delving into the McDonald phenomenon

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:43 PM ET

Blue Jays utility infielder John McDonald was asked on Saturday if he ever gets the gears from his teammates for being Mr. Popular.

"On a daily basis," McDonald said, with a laugh.

It's a funny thing, this McDonald phenomena. He's generally beloved by Toronto fans, even when he goes 0-for-4 like he did Saturday in a 6-4 Jays loss to Tampa Bay. But his popularity rubs some the wrong way -- and when I say that, I mean guys who get paid to watch Jays games.

I've seen it often enough. They argue that there's something profoundly wrong for revering a guy who only plays part time and is .239 career hitter (heading into this season). They suggest the fans' adoration has as much to do with McDonald's skin colour as it has to do with the fact that they appreciate his hustle and defensive prowess ... never mind that Raptors fans fell for Jerome Williams and Reggie Evans for the same reasons. It might be the old 'everybody loves an underdog' factor. Whatever it is, Jays manager John Farrell laughed out loud when asked about it.

"There's been two times in this homestand that he's run out of the dugout to a standing ovation and it's like, I feel awkward because (he's in only as) the result of an injury," said the manager.

Whether it's deserved or not, the truth of the matter is, McDonald has become much more than just player who trots out on to the infield occasionally and dazzles with his glove. He's never going to be mistaken for a silver slugger, but the last three seasons, the East Lyme, Conn. native has developed into a pretty good major league hitter.

McDonald hit .210 in 2008, improved to .258 in 2009 and hit .250, with a career-high six home runs, last season. Better than that, his slugging percentage has improved profoundly in each of his last three years (moving northward from .269 in '08 to .384 in '09 and .454 last season).

This season, while continuing to dazzle with his glove at different spots on the infield, McDonald is hitting .265, with one home run -- a walkoff winner in the 11th inning against the Rays on Friday night.

Farrell doesn't see anything wrong with the fans' supporting McDonald the way they do, though he was probably a little taken aback by how lustily they booed DH Juan Rivera when he struck out in the seventh.

"John's endeared himself to the fans because of his hustle, and because of the acrobatic plays he can make and he has, over the past two years, made himself more of a threat at the plate," said Farrell.

McDonald actually scoffed when it was suggested he is becoming almost as appreciated for his bat as for his glove.

"I wouldn't go that far," McDonald said. "But there's no magic potion (to it). When Cito (Gaston) came on board, working with Murph (hitting coach Dwayne Murphy), they both started talking to me about pulling the ball more and just hitting the ball harder, instead of just putting the ball into play and running. It's just a more aggressive approach at the plate.

"For the first 10 years of my career I was trying to hit the ball over the second baseman's head, the inside-out swing."

McDonald says the teasing he gets inside the clubhouse is all in good fun and there's no resentment, though maybe some good-natured jealousy.

"The mentality in our clubhouse is, everybody's willing to pass the baton," he said. "I think we're all happy for each other in all the different things that we do. And I think we're all jealous too. Hey, I wish I had other guy's power, I wish I had other guy's arm strength.

"Adam Lind doesn't try to play like me, Aaron Hill doesn't try to play like me and I don't try to play like them," McDonald said. "But collectively we try to play together and win."

As for Rivera, the first-year Jay is quickly becoming the new whipping boy in Toronto. A career .280 hitter, who has 112 major league home runs, he's hitting .128 this season with one RBI and no homers. And the boos are getting louder.

"We can't control anything other than what goes on with individual workouts and preparation. He's doing what he can to get prepared," said Farrell. "He's battling."


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