by mike in boston @mikeinboston
After several weeks of roundtables and interviews and Mike Toth, I finally have time to catch up on other stories and have a bunch of topics I’d like to cover. But the Jays took centre stage this week, so this will once again be a single-topic post.
If you watched WWF/WWE wrestling when you were a kid the following scenario might be familiar. Your favourite wrestler has been missing for weeks and weeks on end. There has been no news of what happened to him; he has just vanished. Then, here and there you see hints of his return. A few signs in the audience … a brief snippet of his entrance music … And then it happens: he comes flying down the ramp like a bat out of hell, cleans the ring of everyone in it by delivering his signature move, and then grabs the mic defiantly to announce that he’s back, and to put the rest of the punks out there on notice.
That’s how I like to picture Dirk Hayhurst’s surprising return to Toronto. As you’ll recall, word came out at the end of the Jays’ awful 2013 season that Dirk would not be back. He had appeared on TBS in the U.S. during the playoffs and his work was regarded as mostly good. So the assumption in Toronto was that he had been snapped up for a full-time gig in his native country. Jack Morris left around the same time to take another radio/TV job, after failing to get in to the hall of fame. The speculation was that Morris — whose work was widely praised — would return if he did not get in, so his departure was also a surprise. After the loss of the talented Ashby the year before, things were looking grim. (as an aside: how long until it’s ok to “ask the question” whether Jerry is the reason people keep leaving.)
But earlier this week Dirk announced via Twitter that he had joined TSN would be making regular radio hits on TSN1050. This came as a great surprise to all Jays fans. Not only was Dirk back, but he had moved to the competition. During his time in Toronto Dirk established himself as a polarizing figure. There can be no question that he presents a unique perspective on the game. Many mediocre players who have turned to broadcasting after their cups of coffee in the big leagues, but Hayhurst has written a very successful book about his time in baseball that goes well beyond the normal ex-athlete tell-all. Dirk has cornered the market on being baseball’s Everyman, and his signature move is to deliver existential insights into the human condition through his experience as a career minor leaguer.
While at Rogers Hayhurst worked with, and stood out from, the other Sportsnet baseball voices. Even though both played the game, Dirk did not suffer from Zaun Cherry’s “know it all / I have the only correct opinion” approach. Nor did he suffer from the uncritical homerism that characterizes Wilner’s contributions. Nor still did he suffer from Blair’s grumpily outdated views on the game. That said, he did fit in very well with the 2013 Sportsnet narrative that most criticisms of the team are dumb, and fans are dumb for thinking the Jays are a bad team simply because they lost so many games. So, Dirk brought something valuable to the Rogers family, and almost everyone on the outside believed that his departure was a real loss to that network, but that he could not be faulted for moving on to greener pastures.
Dirk’s return came on opening night. The Jays lost to the Rays, and Dickey looked horrible. Dirk was front and centre on Twitter offering his insights on the game as it unfolded. Unfortunately, his insights were indistinguishable from everybody else’s on Twitter: transparent attempts to be funny, in the hopes that others will heap praise on you for being so clever. Soon, Andrew Walker (of FAN590’s Brady & Walker morning show) said what most people were thinking:
So this is the new thing is it? 162 games of @TheGarfoose making fun of everything jays. Where's that button…. ? Sour grapes.
— Andrew Walker (@AWalksOfficial) March 31, 2014
Clearly the “sour grapes” part of Walker’s comment irked Dirk because the very next day he penned a long blog post in response. I strongly recommend that you go read it. Here are the highlights:
- Dirk was not renewed as part of general spending cutbacks at Sportsnet, as well as targeted reductions to baseball coverage
- JP Arencibia did in fact go to management about the criticism he was receiving from Dirk and Zaun
- Dirk was reprimanded for publicly criticizing Rogers’ music/production choices
- Twitter love Hayhurst
- Dirk was commended for stirring up a storm about Clay Bucholz
- Dirk’s lack of knowledge for how to navigate Rogers’ corporate climate is what led to him being let go
- Fairness in coverage at Rogers “comes with an asterisk.”
Wow. That was unexpected. True, false, or a little of both, these criticisms offer a peek into how things are run over at Rogers.
The response to the story has generally divided into two camps: 1) sour grapes from a bitter ex-employee, and 2) insight into the true state of journalism by Rogers employees. The truth is, I suspect, somewhere in the middle. Hayhurst is clearly upset that he was shown the door. His blog post as well as his Twitter stream are punctuated by digs that only come from a place of real sensitivity. If you didn’t care you wouldn’t bother sniping. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. In fact, Rogers has done this before, when Wilner was suspended for airing dirty laundry. But let’s also consider the source: Hayhurst is looking to land a full-time gig, and so he has an interest in keeping his name in the news.
Let’s cut to the bottom line: it is good for everyone that Hayhurst is back covering the Jays. There is a lot to criticize with this group of payers, this management, this stadium, and this ownership. If Hayhurst is right, then we cannot expect that criticism to come from Rogers affiliated journalists and media. Observers will decide for themselves whether Dirk is right or wrong about Rogers, because credibility is always in the eye of the beholder.
I like Hayhurst in small doses. He’s very one-dimensional, but that dimension is one worth exploring. He was over-exposed at Rogers and was not very good as an every day baseball talking head. There’s a special skill in being able to talk intelligently about baseball day in and day out, and in my opinion Hayhurst is not right for that role. I have not yet heard him on TSN1050 so I can’t comment on how that went. Regardless, I’m glad he is back on in Toronto, and this is a smart move by TSN.
Just a few things here, all of them bad news.
First, the team made news by booting their neighbour Steam Whistle from the Dome for being too visible. Apparently that was contrary to the terms of the deal they signed. This leave the Jays as the only team not to offer “craft” beer in their stadium. This looks pretty terrible.
Second, the team made news this week after Ken Rosenthal wrote that several Jays were willing to defer salary in order to make room in the budget to sign pitching help. This is so embarrassing for the Jays. A year after Beeston assured us that ownership are “all in” on winning, and that 2013 was not a one year commitment to that goal, a story like this is public perception poison. If I’m Jose or Edwin, I feel like I’ve been misled and I’m seriously thinking about asking for a trade.
Chris Zelkovich has a report on the ratings. It sounds like it is going to be an uphill climb in light of the disappointment of last year and this off-season.
Lastly, I’m not sure what Robert McLeod’s job description is at the Globe, but his writing on baseball is not good. Here’s a story that reads like a promotion for the 2014 Jays. The farcical quotes by Beeston are left to hang there as if they make any kind of sense. I’ve been shouting for a while that the Globe needs to find a Mirtle for baseball, and another for the Raptors. For excellent neutral reporting, John Lott is peerless right now.
Low Hanging Fruit
- I’m way behind on podcasts so I can’t comment on recent interviews and segments, but Dave Naylor’s March 7th interview with Steve Moore on the 10 year anniversary of his assault at the hands of Todd Bettuzzi was riveting radio. The discussion they had about “the code” was fascinating.
- Nice to see Ben Ennis getting some high profile fill-in gigs. He’s been cursed with lousy assignments most of his time at the FAN. I’ll be curious to see if he can take the mantle of “next in line” and do something with it.
- Steve Simmons implied on Twitter that Jays fans shouldn’t feel fondly towards Roy Halladay, because Doc asked to be traded to a contender. Damian Cox now has competition for the stupidest thing said about the Jays by a hockey writer.
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike in boston
[hatemailaccount at gmail]