Showing posts with label Toronto Blue Jays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Toronto Blue Jays. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Why teammates hold Roy Halladay in elite company a year after his tragic death

The tragic news of Roy Halladay's death has sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community. The two-time Cy Young award winner died at the age of 40 when his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. Frank Catalanotto, Halladay's teammate for four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2003-2006, was suddenly frozen when a co-worker relayed the news while he was giving a hitting lesson.

“I was shocked and I couldn't believe it,” Catalanotto said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Obviously, I was very saddened.”

Roy Halladay / Keith Allison - Flickr
Catalanotto arrived in Toronto in 2003 after the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in the offseason. He was relieved that he no longer had to face the 6'6" right-hander.

“I hated having to face him,” he said. “He had a nasty sinker, he cut the ball, and he had a great breaking ball as well. He could basically put the ball wherever he wanted; one of the few pitchers in the league that was able to do that. I remember facing him when I was with the Tigers and the Rangers and it was never fun. If you went into Toronto, you were hoping that you missed Roy Halladay. [He was] one of the best during my time in the big leagues, probably one of the top two or three best pitchers that I had faced.”

Coming together for the 2003 season, Catalanotto watched as Halladay's blazed through the American League en route to his first Cy Young award. The late pitcher posted a 22-7 won-loss record with nine complete games, while only walking 32 batters in 266 innings. His mound dominance gave his Blue Jays teammates the confidence that they were never in danger of going on an extended losing streak.

“We knew whenever he was pitching he was going to bring his 'A' game,” he said. “During those times, whenever you lost a game or maybe two-to-three games in a row, you knew that Roy was going to be pitching and that streak was going to stop. You always had that in the back of your head. We never went on big losing streaks because we had this ace that we knew that we could fall back on. It was great.”

While Halladay worked his magic on the mound, his teammates were often able to just sit back and admire his wizardry as he sent most challengers back to the bench with their hopes of getting on base dashed into oblivion. He was so stingy on the mound that Catalanotto likened it to having a vacation defensively whenever he pitched.

“It was almost like a day off defensively,” he said. “Playing behind him, you didn't get a lot of work in the field because he was striking guys out, and when you did get work in the field, it was never pressure situations because he very rarely had guys on base.”

Even though Catalanotto acknowledged that Halladay made their jobs a little bit easier every fifth day, there was no chill when it came to what Halladay did to create his electric nature on the mound. Early in Catalanotto's tenure with Toronto it was evident that Halladay's focus on preparation was unparalleled.

“I quickly realized that he was an intense individual and extremely focused in what he did every single day,” he said. “There wasn't a time when I ever saw just him sitting down doing nothing. He was always trying to get better whether it be through watching video of the hitters that he's going to face or video of himself and his mechanics. Whether [he was] going through scouting reports or working out and working on his mechanics and things like that, he always seemed like he was dedicated to his craft and left no stone unturned. For me, he was the biggest competitor that I have ever played with and it rubbed off on other guys on the team.”

When Catalanotto was able to get Halladay away from his intense moments on the mound, he found a different side of the pitcher that was hidden to baseball fans. Halladay had a jovial nature that included pulling pranks on his teammates, especially the rookies.

“The more you got to know Roy, you realized that he had a lighter side,” he said. “He wasn't always just ultra-focused on pitching. He did have a lighter side. And he was a jokester. He loved pulling pranks on the younger guys.”

Reflecting on Halladay's tremendous accomplishments that included multiple Cy Young Awards, a lifetime .659 winning percentage, and a postseason no-hitter, Catalanotto cited how Halladay's 2001 demotion to the low minor leagues fueled his transformation into an elite pitcher. Catalanotto feels his eventual selection to the Hall of Fame will vindicate Halladay's tremendous life and career.

“He accomplished a lot,” he said. “I know that early in his career he got sent down to Single-A to work some things out. He took that personally and he wasn't happy about it. I know that he wanted to prove a lot of people wrong, and that's what he did. He became one of the best pitchers of his generation and I do think that he deserves to be a Hall of Famer.”

More of Catalanotto's interview is featured in the video below.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bobby Doerr remembered as a calming influence on the Blue Jays franchise

Bobby Doerr built a Hall of Fame career as the “Silent Captain” of the Boston Red Sox from 1937-1951. The humble nine-time All-Star second baseman, died November 13, 2017 in Junction City, Oregon. He was 99.

Bobby Doerr / Blue Jays

An icon with the Red Sox organization as both a player and a coach, Doerr also helped to build the foundation of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Starting with the Toronto franchise during their inaugural 1977 campaign, Doerr served as their batting coach for five seasons. His profound impact went well beyond their hitters, as former Blue Jays All-Star pitcher Dave Lemanczyk recalled just how vital Doerr was to their operation.

“He just gave us the opportunity to compete,” Lemanczyk said Thursday night at the Firefighters Charitable Foundation Dinner in Long Island. “That was the big thing. He never got excited, [he was] very low key. … Sometimes as a baseball player, you let your emotions get a hold of you, and you try to compete at a level you shouldn’t be at and you end up screwing the pooch a little bit. He probably had a calming, almost like a grandfatherly influence on most of the guys he came in contact with.”

In addition to his easy demeanor as Lemanczyk observed, he said that Doerr’s reserved nature kept him from boasting about his legendary career. Even though Doerr wouldn’t be elected to the Hall of Fame until 1986, few of the players knew of his standing among the greats of the game.

“He was just a class, soft spoken guy,” he said. “I don’t think any of us realized that he was a Hall of Famer. He was just a kind gentleman who absolutely knew the ins and out, especially hitting, of baseball. Somebody who could put up with Ted Williams his whole career had to be pretty in tune with everything.”

Upon reading the news of Doerr’s passing, Lemanczyk’s memory was triggered by visions of a photo shoot they shared for a local department store. He dug up the photo and was immediately filled with emotion confronting the permanence of his former coach’s death.

“As soon as I read it in the paper, [I remembered] Alan Ashby, Jesse Jefferson, Bobby Doerr, and myself did a photo layout for Eaton’s department stores for a father’s day catalogue,” he recalled. “I happen to have that catalogue in the house and just looking at that brought an eerie chill.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tony Phillips, 18-year major league veteran dies of heart attack at 56

Tony Phillips, who enjoyed an 18-year career in the major leagues from 1982-1999 primarily with the Oakland Athletics, passed away Wednesday February 17, 2016 as the result of a heart attack according to Susan Slusser. He was 56.

An extremely versatile fielder, Phillips saw action at every position on the field except pitcher and catcher during his major league career. He amassed 2,023 hits with a .266 average over his 18 seasons with the Athletics, Detroit Tigers, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Mets.

Tony Phillips on his 1986 Topps card / Topps

Phillips played professionally as recently as the 2015 season, when at the age of 56, he played in eight games with the independent Pittsburgh Diamonds.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Frank Castillo, 44, former Chicago Cubs pitcher dies in swimming accident

Frank Castillo /
Frank Castillo, a 13-year pitcher in the major leagues, primarily with the Chicago Cubs tragically passed away Sunday July 28, 2013 in a swimming accident. He was 44.

While boating with a friend, Castillo decided to go swimming near his Arizona home. His friend that accompanied him on the boat ride frantically called for police when Castillo did not resurface.

His major league career started with his 1991 debut with the Cubs, for whom he pitched seven seasons before being traded to the Colorado Rockies during the 1997 season. He gained notoriety for while pitching in Chicago for coming one out short of pitching a no-hitter on September, 25, 1995 against the St. Louis Cardinals, when Bernard Gilkey broke up the bid with two outs in the 9th inning on a 2-2 count.

He also pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and Florida Marlins, last seeing action in the majors in 2005. He continued to pitch in the minor leagues and independent ball until 2008. After his playing career ended, he was a coach for the Cubs in their minor league system.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Mookie Wilson is forever endeared to Shea Stadium

For Mookie Wilson, he will always find comfort in the confines of Shea Stadium. For 10 years, Wilson was a fixture in center field, tracking down balls far and wide to the delight of the New York Mets faithful. It is no surprise that despite spending time as a coach for the Mets in their new digs at Citi Field, he remains loyal to its predecessor.

Mookie Wilson at Citi Tuesdays - N. Diunte
“It’s interesting that you use the word home because that’s what Shea was," Wilson said while making an appearance Tuesday afternoon as part of the Mets Citi Tuesdays promotion at Citibank in Lower Manhattan. "To me, Shea was home. Don’t get me wrong, Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark; I think that it is fan friendly. I would have loved played at Citi Field, but you can’t replace Shea. That was home for us. It was old, [and] yes, it needed repairs, but it was home and we loved and enjoyed playing there. I don’t think you can compare the two. Shea has its history and Citi Field is in the process of making its own history and it’s going to take time.”

The 56-year-old Wilson, while no longer part of the coaching staff remains on the books as an ambassador for the club, a position he enjoys.

“I think my role basically is to greet Mets fans, mainly to let them know that the Mets are still part of the community and that the Mets have partnered with Citibank and have some great promotional things going on,” he said. “I do encourage everyone to take advantage of the discounts are provided through this. It’s an effort by the Mets to show that their fans come first and they want to provide for them the best they possibly can.”

Mets fans were deeply saddened when the charismatic Wilson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in the middle of the 1989 season. He figured that he would have finished his playing career in a Mets uniform.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I think that most players think initially that they’re going to remain with the team that they start [with]. New York’s my home. I enjoyed it and the fans embraced me, welcomed me into the city, and claimed me as a New Yorker, one of their own. … Although I had yelled about it before about being traded, I think nobody wants to be traded. When it was actually happening, I was actually shocked because I didn’t think I would ever leave New York, but as the business goes, sometimes things happen.”

Leaving New York provided Wilson the opportunity to compete in the postseason two more times, as the Blue Jays lost to the Minnesota Twins in the 1989 ALCS and the Oakland Athletics in the 1991 ALCS. Even though the Blue Jays did not pick up his option for their 1992 World Series Championship run, Wilson felt that he had some small part in its development.

“I thought that in ‘89, ‘90, [and] ‘91, we should have won it,” he said. “That team [was] a very good team. We had everything, pitching, power, [and] speed; everything was in place and we fell short. We lost to two great teams, Minnesota [Twins] and the Oakland A’s. There’s no complaining about that. It was right around the corner. I was supportive of the championship club and I think I was part of putting those players on the right track.”

While Mets fans might see Wilson on the back fields of spring training giving advice to younger players as a part-time instructor, he is optimistic that he will return to full-time coaching in the near future.

“I do hope to get back into coaching at some point. I think that once baseball is in you, in your blood, and you spend most of your life in baseball, it’s very hard to just put it on the side and retire from it. I don’t think I’ll ever will.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book review: Heart & Hustle - An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer by Frank Catalanotto

Signed as a skinny 18-year-old from Smithtown, N.Y., Frank Catalanotto was almost cut from the Detroit Tigers during their fall instructional league after his rookie season in the minors. That was until minor league hitting instructor and former All-Star Larry Parrish intervened on the kid’s behalf.

“Yes, he’s weak and needs to get stronger, but his hand-eye coordination is great.  … He’s got a God-given gift. He never misses if he swings at it,” said Parrish to farm director Joe McDonald.

Parrish’s words were enough to save Catalanotto from baseball purgatory and give him the push he needed on the way to the major leagues. He is a central figure in Catalanotto’s rise to a 14-year major league career, detailed in his new autobiography, Heart and Hustle: An Unlikely Journey from Little Leaguer to Big Leaguer (Bantry Bay, 2012).

Frank Catalanotto - Heart and Hustle / Bantry Bay Books

Heart and Hustle is both inspirational and instructional, written not only for those who have followed Catalanotto’s career, but also for youngsters dreaming of following in his footsteps.

The first half of the book is dedicated to detailing Catalanotto’s trials and tribulations on his way to the big leagues. He opens the door to the exhausting grind of the minor leagues: the long bus rides, substandard food, lack of sleep and other challenges to your general well being while trying to play baseball at an optimal level.

For all of the challenges and setbacks that he faced in the minor leagues, including his near release, they were made that much sweeter when the Detroit Tigers made Catalanotto a late-season call-up in 1997. He would hold on that ride for thirteen more seasons, playing with the Rangers, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Mets before retiring after his release during the 2010 season.

Catalanotto breathes life into his expedition with a behind the scenes look at the game, detailing his game day routines, pulling back the curtain on a day that starts with him arriving six hours before the first pitch to begin treatment and all of the necessary preparations for a 7:05 PM start. Catalanotto’s immense pre-game preparation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding his attention to detail.

So meticulous is the Long Islander, that he kept a handwritten notebook with a scouting report on every major league pitcher he faced, using the advice of Parrish from his minor league days to keep records of the pitchers he would see on his way up through the minors that would follow him to the major leagues. Peeling away another layer, Catalanotto takes you deeper into the lengths he would go through to gain an edge on the competition, providing full page photos of the scouting reports he wrote.

He is also quick to reveal the most humbling time in a player’s career; the time when you find out it’s over. It is the rare player that can go out on their own terms, such as Chipper Jones, who is making his final lap around the league this year. For the majority like Catalanotto, a tap on the shoulder after the game and a quick talk with management seal the deal. He openly takes us inside the manager’s office and the locker room after a mid-season game with the Mets in 2010 that came with the worst news for a veteran; you’ve been released. The reader can only help but feel Catalanotto’s emotions as he wrestles with life after baseball.

Catalanotto bounces back quickly after accepting his retirement and settles the second half of the book serves with an informal baseball “how-to.”  He provides plenty of pointers from a major league perspective regarding conditioning, hitting, and psychological preparation, finishing each chapter with a neat summary of “Cat’s Tips,” which are easily digestible for young ballplayers.

While the sub-title of Catalanotto’s book suggests that his journey to the major leagues was unlikely, it is evident after reading that his character and determination put him on a direct path with destiny to a successful major league career when many other 18-year-olds would have thrown in the towel.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mitch Williams - Straight Talk from Wild Thing - Book Review

Admittedly, Mitch Williams’ best pitch was his fastball. No deception, just a high hard one that was at times, known to have a mind of its own. Earning the nickname “Wild Thing,” for his ornate pitching motion and resulting lack of control, Williams stays true to form with his new book, Straight Talk from Wild Thing co-authored by Darrell Berger.

Click here to read a full review of Williams' new book as well as watch video of him discussing the work on NBC 10 Philadelphia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

So long Brad Emaus

Brad Emaus / Xyku / Flickr
The Brad Emaus experiment lasted 42 at-bats. The Mets announced yesterday that they were designating the second baseman for assignment. They recalled Justin Turner from AAA Buffalo. As part of his waiver, the Mets have to offer Emaus back to the Toronto Blue Jays for $25,000, half of his draft fee.

Emaus looked overmatched by major league pitching, batting a lithe .162 during his tenure. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson justified Emaus' brief trial in Flushing. "We just decided that based on what we'd seen in spring training and what we'd seen so far this season, that we'd given it enough time."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brad Emaus and the history of the Mets Rule 5 draft

Brad Emaus
With signs pointing to Brad Emaus earning the nod for the second base position with the New York Mets this spring, click here to take a look at Emaus' career and the Mets recent history with their results in the Rule 5 draft.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Roy Hartsfield, 85, first manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, 1925-2011

Roy Hartsfield, the first manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and former second baseman for the Boston Braves passed away January 15, 2011 in Ball Ground, GA. He was 85.

Hartsfield played second base for the Braves from 1950-52 while maintaining a .273 batting average. He was traded after the 1952 season to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Andy Pafko. He would not return to the major leagues as a player after the trade.

The rugged second sacker entered organized baseball in 1943, playing for the Atlanta Crackers before entering World War II. Hartsfield served in the Navy at the famed Great Lakes Naval Base. In a 2008 interview with Hartsfield, he described the baseball legends that awaited him at Great Lakes.

"I played my first year in the Navy," he said. "I was the only minor league player on the ball club. All of the others were major leaguers. We had Virgil Trucks, Schoolboy Rowe, Clyde McCullough, and Billy Herman. We played a 50 game schedule, we won 48 and lost 2; I guess we did pretty good. Billy [Herman] helped me quite a bit with my fielding ability. He treated me very good. In fact, they all treated me like I was their son because I was so much younger than them. I was only 18 years old!"

After a year, he was sent out to finish his service. He detailed his service upon leaving the Naval Base.

"I spent 10 months riding a banana boat between Mobile, AL and Central America (Honduras and Guatemala). I was riding that boat when the war was over."

After returning from his military service, he floated between Single-A and Double-A before catching a big break in 1949. He was signed by Braves organization from Dallas in the Texas League that year and had a standout season at their Triple-A affiliate in Milwaukee.

"It was a little tougher, but probably that year, I had the best year in my life," Hartsfield said.

That career year catapulted him to the major leagues the following spring.

Hartsfield was the regular second baseman for the Boston Braves in 1950 and 1951. Looking at Hartsfield's stats, one might wonder how a second baseman who hit .273 suddenly disappeared from the majors without a downturn in performance. Hartsfield revealed why he didn't have a longer career with the Braves.
"I had a severe case of heat exhaustion before I went to the big leagues. I played in a double header in Savannah, GA and I became completely dehydrated. I didn't realize what was happening to me. Nothing like that had happened to me ever before. They took me to the hospital like it was all over. The second game of a doubleheader was when it hit me, got cramps like football players. The doctor told my wife, 'He'll never be the same in the heat anymore.' And he was absolutely right. I couldn't play doubleheaders. I played as long as I could but then I had to walk off the field. I realized at the same time, I was losing the job. They didn't pay two salaries for one job in those days. I have nothing against the Braves, they did everything they could to help me, sent me to every doctor you could think of. That was the reason. I have a lot of people ask me to this day why I didn't play longer. They didn't know that because I didn't tell anyone that. It didn't come out until later on."

Hartsfield would not return to the majors after being traded to the Dodgers, spending five seasons at the Triple-A level, including one as a player-manager before managing full time in 1958. He saw the writing on the wall after being traded away from Boston.

"When I was traded from the Braves to the Dodgers, I knew I wasn't going to go back to the big leagues as a player because of my reputation of not being able to play in the heat," he said. "I knew that. I told my wife, 'If we're going to stay in this game we've got to go in another direction instead of playing.'"

Luckily for Hartsfield, the Dodgers opened the door to managing that would make him part of the family.

"They gave me my first managerial job," he said. "I was very appreciative of that. They treated me very very well. I was fortunate in that the Dodgers gave me a job managing to begin with. In those days, they had started losing teams every year. The first year I managed was Class-A ball in Des Moines. I was told by Fresco Thompson that he couldn't promise me anything past the first year, because they were losing clubs. They not only lost the team, the whole league folded up."

For a 32-year-old, the prospect of being unemployed after spending their whole career in professional baseball was daunting. Hartsfield described how Fresco Thompson saved his career.

"Here I am sitting in November without a job after my first year. My phone rang and it was Fresco. He said because of leagues folding, the only opening was in Class-D ball."

Faced with the choice of a demotion or not knowing where the next check was going to come from, the choice was simplified for Hartsfield.

"I realize there is more prestige in managing Class-A ball then Class-D ball, however, I told him, 'I've yet to go to the grocery store and buy any groceries with prestige, so just run it on out here and work.' I did that two times for him. I stepped down twice. He told me I would be considered if anything opened above. I moved every year until I got the top job, managing  Spokane for three years before I got a job with the big club."

True to his word, Thompson moved Hartsfield up the ladder where he joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as coach from 1969-1972.

In 1977, he was named the manager of the expansion Toronto Blue Jays during their inaugural season. The Jays struggled with young talent as they matured at the major league level. Hartsfield knew that he would have to build from within as the other teams weren't going to make their top-level talent available in the expansion draft.

"We developed our own because nobody was going to give you anything in this racket," he said. "We agreed to have the right type of veterans mentally that would fit into our scheme of things."

While managing the Blue Jays, Hartsfield had a lanky rookie that would go on to have an All-Star career, albeit in another sport, basketball. Danny Ainge was a 20-year-old rookie out of Brigham Young University when he showed up for the Jays in 1979. Hartsfield had experience playing with another dual sports star, sharing the field with Hall of Famer Bill Sharman in St. Paul. Hartsfield related the situations of both Sharman and Ainge, as both chose basketball as their main careers.

"Sharman was a pretty good player on the Triple-A level," he recalled. "At the time, I wasn't judging Bill because he was a good teammate and friend. He made the right decision [with basketball], same as Danny Ainge, who played for me in Toronto. When you have an expansion ball club, you don't have full fledged major leaguers at every position. Bobby Doerr was my hitting coach and he was the one who signed Danny. He told me when he signed that his sport was basketball. Bobby was right. Ainge was a fierce competitor. He could have used a few years on the minor league level that he did not have. Who knows, maybe it would have helped, maybe it wouldn't?"

After being replaced as the Blue Jays manager to start the 1980 season, Hartsfield cited family responsibilities as the reason he retired after a short stint thereafter as a minor league manager. 

"I left Toronto and managed a few years in the minors," he said. "I was vested in the pension plan. I had 10 years on the major league level, so I didn't want to just manage for the sake of managing anywhere they offered me a job. I had a family that I didn't get to spend too much time with, so that determined my quitting."

In retirement, Hartsfield didn't follow baseball as closely as he did when he was playing and managing. He would visit the Braves annually, where for a day; he was back in the spotlight.

"Bobby Cox is a close personal friend of mine. The Braves invite me every year for an autograph session one night. They treat me royally and I get to visit with Bobby a little bit."

Somewhere in Heaven, the red carpet has been rolled out and the spotlight again is on Roy Hartsfield.