Not really Ernie Whitt. But I imagine him often sophistically engaging in informative MLB talk. Especially the Toronto Blue Jays. Follow on twitter @EWhittExchange. *I am not Ernie Whitt.*
Now that it’s been about a day and a half since his demotion, I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole Kawasaki Phenomenon and the impact the quirky infielder had on the Blue Jays. I know that every source of media has been exhausted by stories on this character, but I can’t help but inject my own view into the frenzy as well.
I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you how he’s different. And I suppose this is where you stop me and tell me the answer is obvious. It’s his strange behaviour, it’s the upside down stretching, it’s the absurd amount of bowing going on inside the Jays’ dugout, it’s the instantly-viral nature of his interviews. Well, yes. It is those things. But purely in terms of playing the game of baseball, that’s not it. Remember when you started playing baseball and your coach always harped at your team about cheering each other on, hustling on and off the field, playing your hardest every inning of every game, and to have fun? Watching players at the Major League level, the importance of these basic principles that we all learned when we first stepped on the field seem to have been lost somewhere along the way. Not for Kawasaki. Of course there’s something to be said about a grown man who stands on his head during pre-game on-field warmups, but there are more important things than that when considering the importance of Munenori to the Blue Jays organization. It all comes down to this: his heart, his hustle, his effort, and his innate ability to motivate his teammates are all second to none. To give a sense of how quickly his teammates became enamoured by him, and the people of Toronto for that matter, manager John Gibbons unconventionally called a team meeting in the clubhouse on June 25th after a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays to announce the move that would send Kawasaki to Triple A Buffalo to make room for Jose Reyes on the Jays’ roster. Mark Buehrle said in his 14 years in the Bigs, he’s never seen a team meeting following a player’s demotion, but this is just indicative of what the eccentric shortstop has meant to the team.
Yes, you can use stats as an argument to keep Kawasaki in The Show and work his way into a spot at second base. Compare his batting line (.225 AVE, .337 OBP, 17 RBI, 24 BB) to Emilio Bonifacio (.211 AVE, .236 OBP, 13 RBI, 6 BB) who is taking most of the playing time at the position, there is reason to believe that Kawasaki could be a statistical improvement, at least against right handed pitching. Some may disagree and say that Bonifacio’s speed alone is enough to keep him in the lineup, but in order for that speed to be effective you’ve got to get on base in the first place. If the stats argument isn’t good enough, consider the “Kawasaki Effect” and how he motivates his teammates during the game and gets them cheering each other on, giving it their all, and having fun. Kawasaki’s work habits are incredibly contagious, and when you have the chance to get a whole team rallying around this guy and giving it their all (if nothing else, just to keep up with him), cheering each other on and having fun, you take it.
It’s a pure joy getting to watch Kawasaki play with the Blue Jays for 66 games, and even though he’s back in Triple A, sometimes fate has a way of aligning everything to the way it’s supposed to be. John Gibbons clearly agrees, as after the move he told reporters, “He’ll be back, you can trust me on that one.” He has even gone on record as saying that second base could be a good fit for Munenori. At the very least, he’ll be back in September when rosters expand. The mania will return without missing a beat and the Kawasaki-vibe will return and be as contagious as it was before he left. Just thinking about the guy play baseball and the way he lifts his teammates gives me chills, and I am legitimately sad that he’s gone (for now). But, as Muneori himself said, it’s not as if he’s dead. He’s still a baseball player; the field will just be different for a little while. “Everybody’s fallen in love with the guy” were the words of Buehrle, which could be the understatement of the season thus far. Nothing will beat seeing Edwin Encarnacion standing in the dugout joining the Toronto crowd in the heart-warming, inspiring chants of “Ka-wa-saki, Ka-wa-saki!” His teammates love him, the fans love him, and I think he exceeded everyone’s expectations with the amount he impacted this team throughout his 66 games on the roster in stats and in heart.
And now, I leave you with what Kawasaki left his Blue Jays faithful: “I am now hungry.”
Go Jays Go!