Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Casey Effect (or, why the Blue Jays suck)

The Blue Jays have been near-historically bad at hitting into double plays and hitting with runners in scoring position this year, and baseball fans throughout Toronto have been puzzled over why a team comprised of, on paper, solid hitters would all suddenly suck en masse. Theories have included fired hitting coach Gary "Take" Denbo, a realization that the Jays' hitters just might not be that good, or even just dumb luck.

But everyone is overlooking the real reason: history.

2008 marks the 120th anniversary of Ernest Thayer's legendary baseball poem 'Casey At The Bat.' Everyone knows this classic tale of the Mighty Casey (a character who was half-myth, half-Mark McGwire, half-Paul Bunyan, half-Roy Hobbs) striking out with two men on and his team down by two in the ninth inning. As Jays fans will recognize, you can substitute Casey's name for Matt Stairs, Alex Rios, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, etc. in many real-life on-field situations this season.

And it suddenly occurred to me, the Jays aren't sucking just 'cuz. They're sucking due to a heretofore secretive tribute to Thayer's poem conceived by Major League Baseball. Every team with a player named Casey has to be terrible at the plate this year. Call it the 'Casey Effect.' Observe...

* Toronto, Casey Janssen. Even though Janssen has been injured all year, it still counts.

* Detroit, Casey Fossum. The Tigers are actually a pretty good hitting club, but certainly are below expectations given their powerful lineup. Perhaps the 'Casey Effect' only applied to their win-loss record. Also, Casey Fossum is still in the majors?! He's got to be one of the 10 worst players in baseball.

* Cleveland, Casey Blake. The Tribe have a team OPS of .714. Yikes. Perhaps they were doubly penalized since (here's a great trivia question) Flynn and Blake were the two guys who were on base ahead of Casey. You remember: "But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake/And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake." I'm going to start a movement to bring back 'lulu' and 'cake' as ways of describing crappy players.

* Kansas City, no players, but the team is near the bottom in every hitting category and K.C. = Casey. Yay homonyms!

* Los Angeles/Anaheim, Casey Kotchman. The Angels have a team OPS of .697, yet are defying all pythagorean projections by sporting a 51-34 record, and they'll probably walk away with the AL West title. Weird. Christopher Lloyd-manipulation-level weird.

* Boston, Sean Casey. Ok, here's the exception that proves the rule. Boston pretty much lived through 86 years of suffering through Mudville's heartbreak, so they were given a pass. It's possible MLB excused the Red Sox because Casey is such a nice guy. Seriously, Sean Casey's main claim to fame as a ballplayer is that he is well-regarded as probably the nicest guy in the majors. His nickname is 'the Mayor,' which I'm not totally sure is the best term of endearment. Does this mean Manny and Big Papi have to be ready with a truckload of TNT in case Casey turns into a giant snake monster?

You might think that it would be strange and pointless for MLB to engage in a league-wide conspiracy like this. Really? Explain why Barry Bonds hasn't been signed yet. More like Collusion At The Bat, brother.

N.B. Ok, two Casey Blake anecdotes. First, my pals and I caught a game in Cleveland a few years ago and had some time to kill during a rain delay. So we were looking through the Indians' team magazine, and one of the features was a piece asking a bunch of little kids about who their favourite player was. One seven-year-old liked Casey Blake because, quote, "he gets a lot of action." I presume the kid meant Blake was an exciting player or something, but that didn't stop us from making a bunch of jokes at Blake's expense for the rest of the trip (and, for all time). Let's just say some cracks were made about Blake liking Michael Jackson and Gary Glitter albums, if you catch my drift.

The second anecdote comes from a Jays/Indians game from last year. My friend Lori took notice of Blake's face on the video screen and said "I wouldn't mind being Lady Blake." This led to us referring to Casey as 'Lord Blake' for the rest of the game in hoity-toity British accents. Unfortunately for Lori, she's not a seven-year-old boy, so it will be tough to win Lord Blake's heart.

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