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(This is the final installment of our conversation with the Jays reporter at Part One appeared Monday, Part Two yesterday.)

Spencer Fordin's assignment is to cover the Blue Jays, but he looks at baseball in a broader context.

"I follow the American League extremely closely, including minor-league prospects and suspects. I follow the National League too, but not quite as intently. Sometimes during the season, I do tend to get myopic; I know the standings and the leader-board and I can see the scores, but my focus and concentration is on that specific night, wherever I may be."

With other local writers tossing out terms like “reverence” and “Ricciardi-mania,” what does Fordin think about the Toronto GM?

"I think J.P. is, above all else, an outstanding judge of talent. And not just on the field—he surrounds himself with brilliant people who can help him achieve the team's goals."

Spencer cites the old adage, "You're only as good as the company you keep. No matter how good you are at your job, you can't do everything by yourself. If you have the most brilliant plan on the planet and nobody can help you execute it, it's irrelevant. Or worse, it's a waste."

In the final analysis, he thinks Ricciardi scouts more than just ballplayers.

"J.P. just seems to have a knack for finding people that are bright, industrious and internally motivated—and if he didn't find them, he recognized those traits quickly and valued them highly."

Asked if the GM had any weaknesses, Fordin hedged.

"I don't know that I'd classify this as a weakness, but J.P. is loyal to a fault. That may have led him into some moves that he wanted to see work out, as opposed to being in his team's best interests. Still, a lot of that is caused by an organizational weakness—the budget forced him to move some players he may have wanted to keep, it's kept him from pursuing players he may have wanted more."

The overall report card is favourable.

"All things considered, he seems to be an excellent executive, thus far. He's cut payroll significantly, as was his mandate, and he's simultaneously cultivated a winning environment. They have a lot of talent on-hand and a farm system on the verge of providing more."

Fordin stops short of predicting that Ricciardi can lead the Jays to the promised land of the postseason.

"Will they be able to break out of third place anytime soon? I'm more comfortable analyzing things as they happen—it keeps me from looking like a dime-store Nostradamus."

While reluctant to project a move up in the standings, Spencer is cautiously optimistic about the club’s offseason moves.

"I'd say they did a relatively good job within their budget. On paper, their pitching staff certainly looks better than it did last year at this time. I think it's fairly safe to say this crop of offseason additions will reap a better harvest than the group that departed."

That’s not terribly high praise, but he points out that any team bringing in seven new pitchers has no guarantees that the staff will jell.

"Specifically, I think Lilly was a good addition, but he and Hentgen represent significant injury risks."

Fordin made that comment before arriving in Florida, where sure enough, Lilly is nursing a tender wrist, though both the player and the club are downplaying its significance.

"If they're healthy," he continued, "I think it's reasonable to expect them to pitch relatively well—better than the efforts Toronto got out of the third and fourth slot last year, at least. Batista was also a good, economical pick-up—he's hungry and he’s shown that Yankee Stadium doesn't intimidate him."

So the rotation looks a bit better. Perhaps more importantly, have the Jays finally figured out how to spell 'relief'? Fordin isn't sure.

"The bullpen situation is a little more perplexing," he says. "Speier, Adams and Ligtenberg have all had some success, but none of them are lights-out, shut-the-door type relievers. It will be interesting to see how the bullpen comes together."

On the subject of Carlos Tosca’s notorious bullpen management, Spencer is empathetic.

"He didn't have the best relief staff to work with. Maybe he'll be different with some more dependable relievers. If you're talking about multiple pitching switches per inning, I don't agree with his bullpen management, nor do I have his experience at running a team. Carlos Tosca has been a manager for 19 seasons, so he's earned the right to employ whatever methodology he thinks is best-suited for his team."

Ultimately, he’s as impatient as anyone else.

"That doesn't mean I have to like sitting through three pitching changes in one inning."

At the time of our conversation, Fordin hadn't met new bench coach Joe Breeden yet, but expects him to be a good sounding board for Tosca.

"They were at a lot of the same stops, background wise, so they probably have a similar philosophical bent. I think the only way it changes things is if Tosca gets ejected—then Breeden takes over instead of John Gibbons."

He believes the accolades the coaches have received are well deserved.

"The current coaching staff is a big reason for the team's turnaround. All of them are excellent at what they do and pretty quotable, too."

Spencer calls Brian Butterfield, "a tremendous teacher and a tremendous person—just full of enthusiasm and energy," a contrast in style with one of his colleagues.

"Mike Barnett doesn't have the same effervescent personality, but he's still effective at what he does. He can talk hitting all day. He can break it down so even the most obtuse sportswriter can understand and explain it to someone else. He can point things out that even the most stubborn hitters have no problem accepting."

Do writers have favourite players? There’s no cheering in the press box, but reporters are only human.

"I think it's natural to get along with some players more than others," admits Fordin, "but I also think it's a blatant violation of objectivity to root for—or against—anyone or anything. That being said, I suppose it's true that when a player is up-front and honest, when he makes time for you and doesn't make talking seem like a chore, he definitely earns some extra good will. A benefit of the doubt, more or less."

That doesn't mean anyone gets off easy because of his personality.

"If they mess up, you write it, and they're usually the first ones to say it. More importantly, players like that understand why you have to write it; they don't take it as a personal affront."

Fordin makes it clear that he has absolutely nothing at stake in the outcome of any particular game, with the possible exception of when his beloved New York Jets play the Miami Dolphins, which he calls, "two weeks of unadulterated hate."

"I just want to see a good game, preferably a fast one with some interesting angles I can report back to my audience. It doesn't matter who wins or who does well."

Still reluctant to make predictions, Spencer expects Eric Hinske will return to his Rookie of the Year form, at least with the bat.

"I think Hinske is primed for a big bounce-back, assuming he can stay healthy for the entire season. He's got a great mental approach and work ethic, so it would almost be a surprise if he doesn't repeat his 2002 success."

However, he isn’t as optimistic about Hinske’s glove work, cautioning that the second half of his rookie season may have been the high-water mark of Eric’s abilities.

"He just rarely looks comfortable coming in on the ball or throwing it across the diamond, and it's not for lack of effort. Hinske works just as hard on defence as he does on his hitting—one is just much more of a natural strength than the other."

Fordin did want to clear up some misconceptions, which he may have read on Batter's Box, about the nature of the third baseman’s hamate bone injury last spring.

"Hinske never hid the pain he was experiencing—he tried to play through it, but the coaches and trainers were well aware of what he was going through. They tried a few different medical remedies before they realized that it was too bad, that he needed another diagnosis."

In other words, Hinske shouldn’t be equated with some of the pitchers who may have actually deceived the training staff. Spencer thinks there's a changing perception of what was once considered toughness.

"Athletes, in just about every sport, regularly play with some degree of pain—sometimes, for whatever reason, they can't distinguish between routine pain and something more. Not so long ago, there was a time when playing hurt was regarded as 'taking one for the team'—now it seems to be seen as patently selfish behavior. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes."

Almost every Jays fan knows that 2004 could be Carlos Delgado's swan song in Toronto. Fordin says that's safe to assume, then reminds us, "you know what they say about assumptions."

There really isn’t a pre-determined outcome, he believes. It will play out over the next several months, and much depends on the team's success.

"He really does love this city, so he may go out of his way to try to get a deal done. If Toronto is a contender all the way to the last week of the season—and if Delgado has a typically huge year—it would probably be pretty hard for the Jays to watch him walk. Still, once they shed his salary, they gain quite a bit of wiggle room, and that flexibility may be too much for J.P. to ignore."

He has an interesting take on Delgado’s four-homer barrage last September.

"Obviously, nights like that are special from a baseball perspective, but they're hell on a writer."

Aware that increased numbers of casual fans will read his articles after a noteworthy night at the park, Spencer looks for something interesting to pull them in.

"The rest of the stadium might be an electric atmosphere, but my seat is a one-man insane asylum. I struggle to find the best perspective, furiously killing several approaches as the game's final moments play out in front of me."

He suggests that many writers don't really appreciate those nights until they finish their work.

"I think the whole press box is competitive in their ledes on those type of nights. It brings the best out in most writers, and it's a pleasure to compare and contrast things the next day."

Fordin has some strong opinions on the big spenders atop the AL East.

"I think the Yankees and Red Sox are in a damaging arms race that's great for the game. There's no question their spending has brought a lot of interest this offseason—but they're backing each other into a dangerous corner."

His criticism is directed more toward the Yankees, who have really pushed the envelope.

"By tying up all this money, and hope, into aging and somewhat injury-prone superstars, they're getting away from what made them great. Their titles were built on the back of their farm system, which is all but bereft of talent now. They still have a potentially great team, and they have to be the odds-on favorite to win the division. Still, it's one thing to patch a hole with a high-priced veteran—it's another thing to have more patches than homemade material."

Even though Team Steinbrenner’s latest blockbuster move has rocked the baseball world, Spencer isn’t sure it’s changed the balance of power. He sees it more like postponing the inevitable.

"The A-Rod trade was yet another steal for the Yankees, but I don't see it as a slam-dunk Series clincher. They're certainly doing all they can to cheat their eventual collapse—but how long can they hold out? With A-Rod, I believe the answer is significantly longer than it was without him."

Obviously, the rest of the division simply can’t match the Yankees and Red Sox dollar-for-dollar. Fordin likens the AL East to a virtual treadmill.

"The Devil Rays made a lot of moves to get better—let's face it, they couldn't get much worse—but there's still a tremendous pitching gap between the Rays and the rest of the league. The Orioles were extremely active, and they made themselves exciting but still suspect. Their bats will keep them in games; their arms will lose them."

However, he warns that the efforts of the divisional bottom-dwellers may be just as significant in the standings as the battle at the top.

"Toronto's pitching staff is better than it was, but the offence may subside a little. There isn't just pressure to catch the Big Two now, there's some pressure from behind as well. The Blue Jays could conceivably be a better team and still win 86 games—or less."

Asked if he believes Rogers is doing enough to field a competitive team, Fordin says the team's fiscal shape is what it is, an unfortunate reality.

"SkyDome is half-empty, revenues are in the rising loonie, expenses are in American dollars. It's not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination. I wouldn't say they're content to finish third, I'd say they see the handwriting on the wall. They're not going to throw bad money after good to get a few extra wins—nor should they, or any other team. It's important to have a reasoned approach, to stay within your budget and waste as few resources as possible, even if you're a juggernaut."

He says this restraint shouldn't apply just to baseball, it's important for any industry.

"The bottom-line results are important for one year, but you have to look further down the line. When this team is positioned to win—if this team is positioned to win—I think there will be more money to make it happen."

Recently, Fordin interviewed Paul Godfrey, whose desire to change baseball’s playoff structure is well known. Obviously, some Jays fans would love to increase the team's chances of playing in the postseason, but Spencer isn’t certain it’s a great idea.

"Expanded playoffs make sense for all the reasons Mr. Godfrey endorses them," he begins. "And yes, I think the way the Yankees spend makes it an inevitability instead of an attractive alternative. However, at heart I'm a purist, and the exclusivity of baseball's playoffs is a major part of what makes the game great."

Though Internet reporters still don’t get a Hall of Fame vote, we asked who Spencer would have chosen this year.

"I think both inductees were extremely deserving—they both would have been on my ballot. I probably would have found a write-in vote for Mr. Rose, but his recent graceless admission taints that. I definitely think Bert Blyleven and Goose Gossage are Hall-of-Famers, but my jury is still out on Bruce Sutter."

He admits that he doesn’t put the time or the energy into crafting a case for anyone, but mostly because he’s more than a decade away from casting a ballot.

"I'll research more when it's actually relevant for me."

We wrapped up with another hypothetical question. What, if anything, would Commissioner Fordin change about the game?

"If this is immediate, the first step is obvious: Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame, off the headlines, far away from any dugouts. Then I'd get rid of Interleague—immediately if not sooner. And forget contraction. I see more room for expansion, and plenty of talent to fill the rosters. I'd like to see 32 teams, 16 in each league, one wild card each. A team in Brooklyn or Jersey (sorry, Mets). Further down the line, I see 36 teams—three divisions in each league, six teams in each division."

He wouldn’t change much about the game on the field, other than to make sure the rules in the book are vigorously enforced.

"That means a high strike is still a strike, protests notwithstanding. That means when Carl Everett blurs the batter's box, the umpire calls time and re-draws it. That means that all the modern stalling tactics—adjusting the batting gloves, taking eight practice cuts, whatever—are unacceptable. I'd also eliminate mandatory warnings and resulting ejections, putting those things back in the home-plate ump's discretionary arsenal. Just play the game the way it should be played and Commish Fordin won't fine anyone."

It may be a while before Spencer is in charge of the Pastime, but he is young enough, and talented enough, to have a few career moves ahead of him. Until then, Blue Jays fans look forward to his next report.
An Interview with Spencer Fordin (Part Three) | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
_Cristian - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 01:29 PM EST (#77587) #
This series has been an entertaining read. Thanks to Spencer for giving us some of his time in what is probably his most busy time of year and I hope he knows he'll always be welcome in the Batter's Box.

One thing that really made an impression on me is that Spencer obviously has strong opinions on certain parts of the game. However, he doesn't unfairly criticize that with which he doesn't agree. A good reporter, I think, should strive to present objectively and allow his audience to make the final decision on an issue. It's a good lesson for other writers who confuse bile and derision for intelligent analysis.

Thanks for another great series Coach.
Pistol - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 01:38 PM EST (#77588) #
Nice job on all 3 parts.

J.P. is loyal to a fault. That may have led him into some moves that he wanted to see work out, as opposed to being in his team's best interests

Anyone care to spectulate on what examples he might be referring to?
_Matthew E - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 01:47 PM EST (#77589) #
Anyone care to spectulate on what examples he might be referring to?

Possibly Sturtze or Tam. Wilson or Bordick, too, but those moves actually did work out.
_A - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 01:59 PM EST (#77590) #
blatant violation of objectivity
I'm surprised that he sees himself as objective (or that there is such thing as objective). Objectivity, IMHO, is impossible to achieve -- Though there certainly is such thing as an evenly weighted article.
Pepper Moffatt - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 02:07 PM EST (#77591) #
Though there certainly is such thing as an evenly weighted article.

That's impossible to know, as there's no for anyone to objectively determine that. =P


Pepper Moffatt - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 02:12 PM EST (#77592) #
That should say "there's no way for anyone". Or maybe it already does say that? How do you know? :)

[Okay, I've already run this into the ground]


_Matthew E - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 02:36 PM EST (#77593) #
[Okay, I've already run this into the ground]

Or maybe you haven't! You don't know!
_S.K. - Wednesday, February 25 2004 @ 03:32 PM EST (#77594) #
I agree that Fordin's biggest strength is his ability to thoughtfully evaluate ideas that he may personally disagree with. Of course there's no such thing as ABSOLUTE objectivity, but from a practical standpoint, he comes close enough.

Interesting thoughts on Hinske's injury woes - I had been under the exact perception he wishes to combat, that Hinske had been hiding his situation. I'm glad to hear this, as it makes me feel better about supporting Eric (and also better about despising Cory Lidle, heh heh).
_Rob - Thursday, February 26 2004 @ 05:39 PM EST (#77595) #
I'd like to see 32 teams, 16 in each league, one wild card each....Further down the line, I see 36 teams

Just for fun: Assuming one team in Brooklyn, as Mr. Fordin says, where would the other three expansion teams go? Washington? Mexico? Portland?
An Interview with Spencer Fordin (Part Three) | 9 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.