Photo by Keith Allison.
Thanks a lot, Vernon.
Those fans who have delighted in slagging you—for your astronomical salary, your limitations as a player, and your perceived lack of leadership—have long had their say, and you have encountered your fair share of cynics among this city’s sports media over the many years, but we say sincerely, as you make your way to Los Angeles, without so much as a hint of facetiousness: thanks.
Thanks, first of all, for the good times. For tracking down and taking away all of those would-have-been doubles and triples in the gap from opposing line-ups en route to your three Gold Gloves. For your 789 runs scored, your 223 home runs, and your 813 RBI, career numbers which rank second in the Blue Jays’ record books behind only Carlos Delgado, the most fearsome slugger to have ever played baseball in Toronto. For every last one of your 1,529 hits, also good enough for the second-most spot in franchise history.
Thanks for your kindness and your generosity. The list of your charitable works is long enough that practicality keeps us from recreating it here. But you seemed to really care about our children, and wherever the Jays Care Foundation—a charity whose mandate is to empower underprivileged youth through physical activity and education—was doing good work, you were never far away. In 2010 you brought home the Branch Rickey Award, which recognizes exceptional community service by MLB ballplayers, and you have been nominated multiple times for the similar Roberto Clemente Award.
Thanks for signing the seven-year, $126 million contract that would ultimately never be anything but an albatross around your neck. After all, you had other suitors and didn’t have to choose us. Contrary to what many Jays fans seem to believe today, there was intense public pressure on then-GM J.P. Ricciardi to sign you to a long-term contract extension in 2006. We were trying to flex our muscles in the free-agent market in order to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox, you were entering your prime at twenty-eight and had clearly emerged as the team’s best player in the post-Delgado era, and you were thinking out loud about the attractiveness of playing in Texas, where the ballpark in Arlington was practically down the street from your house. Any person who looks back at that deal now, with the clarity of hindsight, and claims to have known it was bad from day one is lying.
But most of all, thanks for your graciousness and your humility. Sometimes, we booed you, and whether or not it was warranted has ceased to be relevant. Instead of responding with bitterness or feigned indifference, as others this city jeered before you have done, you put your head down when you heard the boos and kept working. We understood that you were frustrated, we saw that you were just as mystified by your drop-off in production as we were.
And yet, ultimately, you were never going to be a part of new GM Alex Anthopoulos’s long-term plan for the franchise. As the Jays continued to focus on trying out a variety of young talent, picked from a deep pool of prospects with big upsides, your everyday presence in centre field and in the heart of the batting order would have become as limiting to manager John Farrell’s line-up options as your contract was financially burdensome to ownership.
So here we are.
We can say with certainty that public opinion of you will forever be split, Vernon. But many in this city, including those who saw in you something very human as you contended with the challenges and frustrations of living up to one’s potential under the pressure of great expectations, may well be rooting for the Angels come playoff time next year.