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In his continuing series of profiles of former Blue Jays, Spencer Fordin corralled ex-catcher Ernie Whitt for a chat. The lefty-hitting part of the Jays' 1980s backstop platoon and the last original Blue Jay to leave the franchise may well be one of the most popular Blue Jays ever, which to be honest I've never entirely understood.

This is nothing against him personally -- Ernie was always a likable fellow, with a gregarious nature in conversation with fans and sportswriters that certainly served him well as his career wound down. Ken Huckaby, who hears Whitt's name spoken like a mantra, wonders, "Was he really that good?" Well, no, not really: his career OPS was .734, which even for a catcher in the 80s wasn't so hot. Defensively, well, Buck Martinez was the catch-and-throw guy: Whitt was easy to run on and, as Rickey Henderson discovered, even easier to get all riled up. But he developed some real pop in his bat, seldom got hurt, and was a very reliable performer for a good price.

My favourite Ernie moment was that famous game against the Red Sox in Fenway, when George Bell karate-kicked Bruce Kison and Ernie later hit a game-tying home run off their closer, yelling at him all the way around the bases. Good fun. I think his popularity among Torontonians stemmed partly from the fact that he was named "Ernie" --- c'mon, how can you not like someone named "Ernie"? Provincial premiers need not apply --- and partly because, with his brown mustache, jowly face and receding hairline, he looked like the ultimate '70s Canadian, complete with toque and developing beer belly and King of Kensington episodes (call it Wendell Clark Syndrome). The Marty York/Ernie Whitt connection sums up old-time Blue Jays sports reporting for me, for better and for worse.

Anyway, Ernie has some very nice things to say about Kevin Cash, the catcher of the immediate future. He talked specifically about his quickness and agility behind the plate, and a combination of a good arm and great release. Defensively, this puts me in mind of Tony Pena, who always seemed catlike behind the plate, even if he did slide his leg sideways all the time. Cash's reputation is definitely starting to precede him; I'm looking forward to seeing him live.

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_Spicol - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 02:07 PM EST (#95576) #
Ken Huckaby, who hears Whitt's name spoken like a mantra, wonders, "Was he really that good?" Well, no, not really: his career OPS was .734, which even for a catcher in the 80s wasn't so hot.

I'll grant you that Whitt wasn't anything special with the glove but in the 80's, he was clearly one of the best hitting catchers...probably Top 4 or 5 in the AL easily. For the years 1982 to 1989 (arguably, the years Whitt was the Jays' No. 1 catcher) there were 25 American League catchers who had at least 1000 Plate Appearances. Check out where Ernie ranks in the in the following categories:

Runs: 2nd to Fisk
Home Runs: 3rd to Fisk and Parrish
RBI: 2nd to Fisk
BB: 1st
OBP: 4th
SLG: 5th

Aside from the stats though, I'll tell you exactly why I was such an Ernie fan. He looked like my Dad. I'm sure that's why many people became his fans. He looked like a normal guy that you might have worked with or had a beer with at the Legion. He was fun to root for.
Craig B - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 02:43 PM EST (#95577) #
He was fun to root for.

Absolutely nailed... it can't be put better than that. He was fun to root for.

If Kevin Cash has ten percent of the agility of Tony Pena behind the plate, he will be awesome to watch. No catcher in my experience has ever had the grace of Pena... an old favorite who is actually causing me to root for the Royals now... something I thoguht I could never do.
_Matthew Elmslie - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 02:50 PM EST (#95578) #
Drifting a little off-topic...

"...causing me to root for the Royals now... something I thoguht I could never do."

Really? Why, what's wrong with the Royals? I mean, sure, they're a mess these days, but they're a franchise that I always want to like. Like the Orioles, or the Twins.

There are some teams that I could never cheer for, regardless of their personnel - Detroit, Los Angeles, St. Louis. Milwaukee. The Mets. Something about them just bugs me.

I liked Whitt too, although he was never one of my specific favourites. It's a shame Rick Trlicek never trned into anything intresting; I had high hopes for him aftr the trade.
Craig B - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 03:42 PM EST (#95579) #
Matthew... do you have a short memory, or have you repressed 1985 so completely that it ceases to gnaw at you? :)

Jim Freakin' Sundberg...

Loved the powder blue though. I had a Royals jersey in high school (junior high maybe?); I might have abhorred the Royals, but I liked that jersey.

#1 on my list of bete noires is not the Royals... it's the Braves. The Mets, I love to watch fail. The Dodgers are just about tied at #2 on the hate-list, when Murdoch bought them I felt a frisson of pure, perfect hatred that was hard to match. But I have a particular hatred for the Braves, and that's never going away.

The Tigers I seem to have forgiven, though. They have been replaced by the Yankees, who I admire but dislike. Were it not for a Yankee fan I know who is a true baseball fan, and kind and fun, they would be in the Pure Hate Zone by now, because their fans are mostly simply unbearable.
_Matthew Elmslie - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 04:21 PM EST (#95580) #
" you have a short memory, or have you repressed 1985 so completely that it ceases to gnaw at you?"

A combination of things. I didn't become a baseball fan/Jays fan until late June of '86, so I felt no pain from '85. On the other hand, I cheered for the A's in the '89 Series and the Twins in the '91 Series, holding no grudge, so maybe it wouldn't have made any difference.

If you think about it, the Royals and Jays were on roughly the same track as franchises, up until recently. Both were expansion franchises generally regarded as classy, with a similar colour scheme. Both reached similar amounts of postseason success at about the same stage. Both went into a severe downturn following a World Championship. The only difference is that the Jays seem much more likely to shorten this downturn and come out of it than the Royals currently do.

I'm toying with an idea for a future Blue Jay Way column that touches on some of this, a little.

I haven't forgiven the Tigers; just forgotten them. A) they're in another division now, and b) they're terrible. I'll start hating them again when there's any reason for me to think about them at all.
Mike D - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 04:21 PM EST (#95581) #
I was at the ten-homer game against the Orioles in '87, and good ol' Ernie hit three bombs and sent a fourth to the warning track. He was horrific against lefties, but hit righties well and his pull swing took advantage of the dishonest dimensions in right field at the Ex.

As for Yankee fans, let me just say this: I am a Leafs fan, and I am fickle, naive, overemotional, wildly optimistic and completely navel-gazing. In other words, although I fit the stereotype rather well, I understand how people who don't like the Leafs get mighty annoyed at their fans.

But I also live in New York, and please understand that Yankee fans are like the worst qualities of Leaf fans multiplied by fifty. In addition to the attributes they share with Leaf fans, typical Yankee fans are spoiled, bandwagon-jumping, eager to taunt, surprisingly ignorant of other players and other teams (unlike, say, Fenway fans), and possess the biggest entitlement complex this side of Brazilian soccer while denying -- to a man (or woman) -- that their financial advantages have a single thing to do with their ability to attract and retain talent.

I have similar feelings to the organization as does Craig B, but to fully appreciate Yankees fans, you have to listen to a talk radio show as callers-in express outrage that they "only beat freakin' Texas 5-2. Why don't we have Bonds or Sosa on this team?"

I have good friends that were Yankee fans that actually attended games in the '80s, and I have no quarrel with them. But you really have to go to Yankee Stadium to hear a stranger heckle you the entire game for wearing a Blue Jays cap, interrupted only by a question about whether Shannon Stewart is a rookie. Yeesh.

This must be said about Yanks fans, however: Best postseason crowd in baseball. Yes, that includes Minnesota.
Dave Till - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 05:00 PM EST (#95582) #
Ernie was popular because he looked more like an average Joe than a ballplayer. Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as Moseby and Barfield, who had muscles where most of us have fat, gristle and gunk, Ernie had an ordinary guy's build.

He also had an ordinary guy's work ethic - or the sort of work ethic we ordinary guys wish we had. As you know, catchers do all the in-the-trenches stuff, such as squatting in the dirt, getting hit by foul balls, and calming down frightened pitchers. Catching clearly requires sweat and sacrifice, and fans like it when an athlete sweats and sacrifices, as it makes us feel like spending $7 or $15 or whatever was worth it.

Ernie's at-bats were what made him most popular. He looked determined out there, and he swung as hard as he could every time. I can still him practically jumping out of his shoes to turn on the high inside fastball, which is the only pitch he could really hit for distance. I don't think he ever hit anything to left field, ever.

Finally, he was an original Jay, the last one, outlasting Iorg and Clancy.
_Sean - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 05:52 PM EST (#95583) #
I have to pipe up on this topic. I spent some of my formative years in Toronto, from age 3 until fifth grade, when the family moved back to Vancouver. During that time, I learned to love the pathetic Canucks, hate the Ballard-run Leafs, and cheer for the Jays.

Since my move back to the West Coast, I have added certain baseball teams to my "Hate" list. The Braves rank first. The Yankees, I respect. I even managed to have a good time the one time I managed to see them play the Mariners in Yankee Stadium (summer of 2000) where I sat next to a father and son in the upper deck. We managed to have a civil discussion comparing A-Rod and Jeter! I realize this was the exception to the rule that Mike set forth. My friends who cheer for the Leafs also exhibit the same annoying qualities.
Pepper Moffatt - Tuesday, February 25 2003 @ 09:43 PM EST (#95584) #
It's funny how your "hate" teams can evolve over time.

Growing up in the early-mid 80's, my hero was Lanny McDonald and I loved the Calgary Flames (unfortunately I still do). Because of this, I *hated* the Oilers. Hated them. Hated Gretzky, hated Messier, hated Kurri, hated Charlie Freaking Huddy. Loved Steve Smith, tho. :)

I can't bring myself to hate the Oilers anymore. I've actually cheered for them on occasion.

As far as baseball teams, I think the only teams I actively dislike is the Yankees, and the Brewers. I find it's generally more fun to dislike players. Like Derek Bell.
_snellville jone - Thursday, February 27 2003 @ 12:14 AM EST (#95585) #
I wonder, what is the main reason for hating the Braves? Being my hometown team, I agree that most of the "fans" are spoiled and don't deserve a team that consistently makes the playoffs. I also don't really like the fact that they usually throw money at problems instead of trying to fix them. That said, they are a professional team that has been consistently competitive and, while not always pretty in the postseason, they almost always give fans hope. I can understand not really rooting for them, but hatred? I mean, they can't be as evil as the Yankees? Right?
Coach - Thursday, February 27 2003 @ 08:40 AM EST (#95586) #
what is the main reason for hating the Braves?

Ted. No wait, Ted & Jane. No, it's the chop, possibly Jane doing the chop. Ah, I've got it -- it's gotta be the damn chant!

Perhaps I'm going about this wrong; why hate the Braves for their fans' antics? That means the real "main reason" is Larry Jones. Unless it's the whole team's boring-yet-arrogant personality as imposed by Bobby Cox, who is a brilliant baseball man, but -- this is not well known -- had the world's first successful charisma bypass surgery when he was in Toronto.

There are likeable people in Georgia (snellville and Michael Stipe come to mind) but they don't ever seem to play for the Braves. The only guy I've really liked there for a long time was Klesko, who was shipped out. My current favourites on their roster -- Paul Byrd and Russ Ortiz -- just arrived, but I'll probably learn to dislike them soon enough.
_snellville jone - Thursday, February 27 2003 @ 11:41 PM EST (#95587) #
Every year I hope the "chop" will go away. It's embarassing. I mostly agree with you about the "boring-yet-arrogant" attitude that surrounds the team - I guess I would say "boring-yet-confident" - and I think this is the main reason for their failures in the postseason. And while "Larry" is not someone I'd hang out with, he is a great ballplayer, and I respect that. Hey, the Braves have given baseball several exciting pennant races, a few classic playoff series, and the '91 World Series. They were whipping boys to a Toronto championship too, so how 'bout a little love! ;)
_Jonny German - Saturday, March 01 2003 @ 01:56 AM EST (#95588) #
My personal hate-transition involved the A's... Their great teams of the 80s corresponded with my early teens, and all I could see was the arrogance of Canseco, Rickey, Eckersley. The notion of respecting how good they were never crossed my mind.

Now of course it's easy for the thinking baseball fan to like the A's. A show of hands for who pays attention when Billy Beane says or does something, anything? I'm wagering all of us.

Funny you should mention Michael Stipe, Coach. I think he's extremely talented and extremely eccentric (these do seem to go together with artists, don't they), but a lot of my respect for him died with the sellout that began with Monster.
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