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I was originally intending to save this book for later.

Title: Jays! A Fan’s Diary
: McClelland and Stewart, 1985

# pages
: 203

: Out of print, and unlikely to come back into print unless the 1984 season happens again. All is not lost, though; Amazon or or ought to be able to set you up with a used copy. Also, your local library should either have it on the shelf or be able to track it down for you through interlibrary loan. You have options.

Author: Jon Caulfield
Who Is
: Caulfield has been writing and teaching on the subject of Toronto for some time now. His other books include The Tiny Perfect Mayor: David Crombie and Toronto’s Reform Aldermen and City Form and Everyday Life: Toronto’s Gentrification and Critical Social Practice. Caulfield is currently a professor in York University’s* Geography department.

I had no idea about this until just recently, when I was checking around prior to writing this article, and unexpectedly tracked the man himself down. Dr. Caulfield was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions. It’s been quite a while since this book came out, but, he says, “I am still much a Jays fan and follow their story day by day. My notion about how the team might change its fitful fortunes is to hire Cito Gaston as manager (and maybe Alfredo Griffin as bench coach).” At the time he wrote Jays!, he “was only a part-time academic, and the roots of it were that I was a baseball fan, liked to write about baseball and had the time to do a book.”

What It's About: It’s a chronicle of the 1984 Toronto Blue Jays. Specifically, it’s about what happened in the hundred and sixty-two games the Jays played that year, and just how they were won and lost. Caulfield keeps our interest by focusing deeply on the details of what happened. Since this is a fan’s diary, we don’t get to know the players as people. We don’t get the atmospheric details that an Alison Gordon might write about. We don’t get any inside stories. What we get is unalloyed baseball, arranged for our reading pleasure, and with the connections between events drawn for our enlightenment.

Caulfield “thought that 1984 was maybe when the Jays might win something. But I missed by a year.” It’s understandable that he’d rather have chronicled the championship year, but I don’t mind having 1984 instead. After all, there aren’t any other books out there about the ’84 Jays. And 1984 was replete with points of interest: the start of the legends of Tony Fernandez and Jimmy Key, the end (forever, as far as I can tell) of the Orioles’ domination of the Jays, the continuing struggles of the Toronto bullpen, the Tigers’ great season...

Secret Hero: I’m not sure. My first thought was Earl Weaver again, but no, probably not. Maybe Hoyt Wilhelm or Doyle Alexander or Alfredo Griffin or Jimmy Key.

How's the Writing? Well, let me put it this way. I consider myself something of a writer myself, in my one-buttocked way. As such there are any number of writers whose work I enjoy or admire for any of many reasons. But there are a few writers, such as William Goldman or Roy Blount Jr., to whom my reaction is more, “I want to write like that!” Jon Caulfield, because of this book, is another such.

Caulfield’s style here is both casual and formal. Casual to engage and amuse the reader, and formal in a way that signifies mastery rather than stiffness—the kind of formality that allows the writer to play with the language. There has been much muck shoveled over the years about the poetry of baseball, all that pastoral Field-of-Dreams okeydoke, but it’s little more than wind from a monkey’s backside. Caulfield shows us in this book how simple, elegant writing that intelligently explores what happens in the game allows baseball to reveal its own poetry.

(Caulfield says that he had no particular book in mind as an influence when he wrote Jays!, “but I have always regarded Roger Angell, Tom Boswell, Bill James and Roger Kahn as the best among baseball writers. (The best baseball books, though, may be the oral histories like Lawrence Ritter's Glory Of Their Times and Anthony Connor's Voices From Cooperstown.)”.

I’m not just kissing up because the author is likely to read this, but Jays! A Fan’s Diary has been one of my favourite books—not just one of my favourite baseball books—for a long time now. It comes with my very highest recommendation.

Sabremetric Corner: Caulfield displays familiarity with Bill James’s work (see above, after all) and occasionally pulls in a brief table of this stat or that, but the stats aren’t there for deep analysis so much as to more efficiently get at what happened on the field. And Caulfield does point out something that I didn’t really register until about a decade and a half later: that the Jays in the Cito Gaston era (1982-1997) didn’t draw hardly any walks. (On the other hand, Caulfield resorts at one point to the ‘Run Production’ stat that’s not being used anymore for a variety of excellent reasons, most of which were or should have been understood just as well in 1984 as now.)

Anecdote: One of my favourite parts of this book is the section of Chapter Five that details the famous game in 1983 in which the bullpen collapsed and Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays in the tenth inning. Caulfield spends three pages dissecting the last inning-and-a-half of that game, and that may seem like a lot, but here’s the thing: there’s no part of his analysis that can be cut. So Caulfield has done several things right: he’s explained the events of the game in thorough detail, he’s done so clearly, he hasn’t said either too much or too little about it, and, most importantly, he’s recognized that the game was crucial enough to require such attention in the first place. (For a while it’s been my contention that the Blow Jays era, the period during which the Jays (fairly or unfairly) had the reputation of not being able to win the big games, was bookended by two famous events—Tippy Martinez’s pickoffs on one end, and Roberto Alomar’s home run off Dennis Eckersley on the other.) Most of us have heard of the three-pickoff inning, but thanks to this book we can understand not just that it happened, but how and why, and what it meant in baseball terms at the time.

* Tentanda Via!

Special Edition of Blue Jays Library in a Box: Jays! A Fan's Diary | 8 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Dewey - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 07:30 PM EDT (#185869) #
An excellent review, Matthew.  You fulfil the reviewer's highest function:  you make me want to read/re-read the book.  Very nice, indeed.
Matthew E - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 09:25 PM EDT (#185870) #

I would, however, like to point out that the thought of Cito returning as manager is actually something that features in many of my nightmares.

Mike Green - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 09:43 PM EDT (#185872) #
It occurs to me that a significant number of Bauxites (more than half?) are too young to have seen the Tippy Martinez game.  To a fan, it was pure torture. To the outsider, it was definitely farce.  I won't ever forget it.

I will have to check this one out.  Thank you, Matthew.

Magpie - Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 09:54 PM EDT (#185873) #
To a fan, it was pure torture.

It was just so weird, though. The emotion I remember most strongly was utter disbelief.

The Larry Herndon game (or the Frank Tanana game, if you prefer) - now that was torture. It was 1-0, and it stayed 1-0. And stayed 1-0. And stayed 1-0. And then it was all over.
Dewey - Sunday, May 25 2008 @ 11:20 AM EDT (#185885) #
Yeah, the Herndon game.  I *still* think George could have caught that ball if he'd jumped more than a bit.  Almost any of those last few games with Detroit rank right up there in the torture sweepstakes.

Matthew E - Sunday, May 25 2008 @ 11:39 AM EDT (#185886) #
I think that there was too high an arc on Herndon's hit for Bell to have had a chance at it. I think the ball was well past the wall before it had come down low enough for Bell to catch it.
John Northey - Sunday, May 25 2008 @ 09:35 PM EDT (#185908) #
Ah, that final '87 game.  I remember how each of those final series with Detroit had it be that the team that scored first lost until that one.  Seeing Ernie Whitt on the bench with a bat in  hand hoping that Williams would let him have a magic moment.  The horrid site of Garth Iorg getting to have his final ML AB end the worst collapse in Jays history.  Just checked Baseball-Reference for the boxscore to double check that I haven't gone senile.  The Jays only hope was the mighty Cecil Fielder, who lead off that 9th inning then Manny Lee (636 OPS), Garth Iorg (546) and Charlie Moore (661) were due up followed by leadoff hitter Nelson Liriano (652).  Geez, Williams really was a big time idiot with this team wasn't he?   Juan Beniquez (697 OPS) hitting cleanup ahead of Barfield (789) and Fielder (905)?  Iorg with a 44 OPS+ playing every day over Gruber (77 but at least some hope there). Willie Upshaw at first (87 OPS+) while McGriff (130) and Fielder (133) DH'ed.  Two guys (Iorg & Moore) played their final games that day.


The book mentioned here though was fantastic.  Back in '85 I moved from casual to die hard fan, and this book was a part of it.  Reading it drew me into it.  Haven't re-read it in over a decade but now just might do so, or at least a few key chapters.

Mike Green - Sunday, May 25 2008 @ 10:04 PM EDT (#185910) #
Geez, Williams really was a big time idiot with this team wasn't he?

That is putting it kindly. Whenever a manager gets on my nerves, I harken back to Jimy Williams '87 to put it all in perspective.  Not that the '88 or '89 vintages were any less foul...
Special Edition of Blue Jays Library in a Box: Jays! A Fan's Diary | 8 comments | Create New Account
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