* The end for J.P. Arencibia, former No. 1 Blue Jays pick came when the Jays signed free-agent Dioner Navarro and then non tendering Arencibia, a very popular player amongst fans. .... 2014 Canadian draft list 2015 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
On July 24 the headline on the Sun sports cover showed a picture of J.P. Arencibia with a three words:
That afternoon in the Blue Jays clubhouse Mark DeRosa told me Arencibia wanted to talk after reading Steve Buffery’s column about the catcher quitting twitter.
“Why do newspapers do things like that?” Arencibia asked calmly.
“Well, it’s because it’s what newspapers do some days,” I explained. “Like in 2009, the Philadelphia Phillies came to New York to start the World Series against the Yankees and the New York Post ran a made-up picture of Phillies’ Pedro Martinez in a dress.”
Said Arencibia: “well, I’m not Pedro Martinez.”
In our 20 minute talk Arencibia covered a lot of ground: how much he had done in the community, how he had never once said no to the front-office call to make a tour on a winter caravan or his visits to hospitals.
That’s what is what was so polarizing about the catcher.
He was a good human being.
If the 639 players to ever wear the Blue Jays uniform lined up to get into heaven we guess he’d be amongst the first 10%, but we’ve only been around the team since 1985.
People he visited in hospital, fans who had pre-game visits for and autograph and chats or people who met him at a personal appearances suffered as he struggled this year.
Many, many more paying customers watched and wanted to see him block a ball in the dirt, make contact with a man on third with less than two out rather than striking out, went a month between walks and were upset as he swung at a pitch out of the strike zone.
That day in July we told Arencibia, who had knocked Jays analysts Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst that he could not win a fight with the media so why even try. Like Brian Burke when he ran the Maple Leafs. Like Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford who got into a twitter battle with fans after a blown save.
“I have more twitter followers than Axford,” said Arencibia.
The day Arencibia was drafted in 2007 in the first round (21st over-all in North America) we asked an opposing scout his opinion of the University of Tennessee Vols catcher.
“Great hitter, he’ll get to the big leagues and he’ll hit home runs in the big leagues,” said the evaluator. “But his defence is bad, he won’t throw anyone out. He has small hands.”
“When you rush to get the ball out of your mitt with a guy stealing, big hands help.”
How prophetic the scout was in Arencibia’s debut. When John Buck was placed on the 15-day disabled list in 2010, Arencibia was promoted from triple-A Las Vegas.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays Arencibia went 4-for-5 with a double and a homer off James Shields and another homer off reliever Dale Thayer. And B.J. Upton stole third uncontested when Arencibia could not get the ball out of his glove.
Then manager Cito Gaston said Arencibia would get the bulk of the work. In all Buck missed 12 games with Jose Jose Molina starting seven and Arencibia five. The four-hit debut with three RBIs led to comparisons of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey’s debut.
Now the numbers crunchers at baseball-reference compare the non-tendered Arencibia to Sal Fasano, Chris Snyder, Billy Bryan, Chris Iannetta, Miguel Olivo and Tim Laudner.
Maybe Arencbia suffered from the franchise curse of being the Catcher of the Future, which at 1 Blue Jays Way is akin to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
Curtis Thigpen, Robinzon Diaz, Brian Jeroloman, Guillermo Quiroz and Kevin Cash all shared the title.
Before that it was Josh Phelps, Carlos Delgado (a wonderful hitter, but he couldn’t get out of spring training wearing the gear), Randy Knorr, Carlos Diaz, Matt Stark, Jeff DeWillis, Jeff Hearron, Brian Milner and Greg David.
Now it A.J. Jimenez, who spent eight games at triple-A Buffalo this summer, is the Catcher of the Future.
The July conversation at Arencibia’s locker ended just before time for the team stretch. The catcher explained why he knocked Zaun and Hayhurst.
“Those guys played in the majors, they know how hard it is,” Arencibia told me. “I’d would never rip someone like Shi (Davidi, Sportsnet) or you.”
As I was considering how to answer, Arencibia added “you guys never played, you guys don’t know the game.”
That required an answer.
“Well, I saw Johnny Bench play against Montreal at the end of his career with the Reds, saw Mike Scioscia in his prime with the Dodgers, covered Gary Carter on a daily basis and saw Pat Borders catch a staff which threw 50% of its pitches in the dirt some nights.”
I’ve watched some Hall of Fame catchers and have met some good guys.
Arencibia was a good guy, who caught.