A History of "Darth" Ricciardi, and the Toronto Blue Jays

Monty HeldtContributor IAugust 4, 2009

It aint easy being a "Darth."

Darth Vader was not a really nice guy.  But if you look at the behind the scenes type of stuff he had to deal with, he actually was doing a successful job.  He had a large legion of followers, who executed everything he said and feared his repercussive wrath.  He worked well with the evil Emperor, and the dark side was something he was extremely passionate about.  He also had heavy ambition, and seemed willing to do whatever he had to do to make the overtaking of the universe a success.

His downfall came as a result of his inability to change, and adapt to the current situation. He literally rode out his own vision until he was torched inside of it.

He had a tough job if you think about.  I mean, he wasn't in control of the entire universe, and he had as many people fighting against him, as he did with him.  He also would have had to be accountable for every move, despite a chaotic universe, riddled with good and bad people, and people with motives that even the dark side couldn't read.  He had only a plan in place, and a dream about a better life.

Today, I envision JP "Darth" Ricciardi, up in his luxury skydome office, standing at the window, staring down at the field through his Oakley specs.  The "Beantown Fashionplate" is well dressed, tanned slightly as usual, and has a blank expression.  It ain't easy being JP.  It also aint easy looking a lot like Gonzo from the Muppets, or Toucan Sam of Fruit Loop Fame, and trying to convince others of your "vision."

On the field, the team is busy, getting ready for the next game.  Cito "El Camino" (Spanish for "the path") Gaston, also in killer Oakley specs, slowly, quietly walks in front of the team as they stretch.  He is deep in thought.  The Colonel is trying to think of his next move.

Nick "Stantivo" Leyva looks like Jim Brown in the movie "Any Given Sunday."  He wears mirrored, cop-style, a#$hole glasses.  He wears his "hardhat," chews a toothpick, and is more like a construction foreman than a big league coach.  He barks out the occasional order, and looks around, almost daring one of the boys to do something out of line.  He does not smile, he does not joke.  He is all business, and El Camino likes it that way.  His "compadres" follow suit, standing behind him, looking the whole scene over.  This team has been decimated with situation after situation this season, and all is not well.

The players are in a good mood today.  It isn't hard to be, when realistically, you again have little or no chance of making it in to the playoffs.  The pressure from earlier in season, under which they wilted, is officially off.  Its almost time to dust of the clubs...again.  A great start ruined by the fall back to earth, hurt, and lacking confidence. 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, YOUR Toronto Blue Jays!!!"

The coaching staff branches out with a few of the players, and El Camino watches from the bleachers.  Some are young, some are old, some are superstars in the making, some over the mountain.  The Jays have a hybrid roster, in comparison to most teams.  The Jays also have more injuries to their starting rotation—missing four-fifths of it—than any team in the league.

Darth Ricciardi stands at his window, watching, waiting, and wondering.  With the death of "Billionaire Ted" Rogers, he wonders what surprises the board have in store for him from here on in.

It wasnt so long ago that he had been working directly under the tutelage of "the Evil Emperor" Billy Beane.  He was ambitious, and the A's were a raving success, full of a mixture of young talent and veteran players, that found ways to win, despite being overmatched on many nights. They were in the playoffs, and at least had a "shot."  He was writing books, co-relating mathematics to baseball. 

It was then that the biggest phone call of Gonzo's life came in.  The call that changed his life and put us where we are now.

It was billionaire Ted Rogers, looking for an answer to why his beloved Toronto Blue Jays, only seven years removed from being what I feel is one of the best baseball teams ever assembled, couldn't find a way into the playoffs.  After talking with Billionaire Ted, Darth loaded up his "Sabermetrics How to Guide," his Oaks, and a large abacus, and he made the trip to Toronto.  He, of course, stopped in Boston, the town that would never have him as GM, and he walked around looking for a "BAH-gain" in the markets, and bought several pairs of ultra stylish Oakley Specs, Dockers Pants, and Palmer Golf Shirts.  (The Beantown Fashionplate dresses for mediocrity.

Upon his arrival to the waiting room, at the Rogers Communications skyscraper in downtown Toronto, he sees Dave Stewart sitting in a chair, hands folded neatly in his lap.  Dave looks up, and in a voice that sounded nowhere near as tough as he looked, he said:

"You aint got a chance, kid..."

Darth, just about drops the abacus, but luckily, the ultra cool Oakley specs hid the real feeling inside.  He began to wonder, "Is this going to be like my playing career?" and decided that Stewart, a heavyweight in Toronto and Oakland, was not gonna push him around.

Stewart gets called in first, and literally two hours go by.  Billionaire Ted can be heard laughing, and giving Stewart a hard time.  Dave walks out casually, and looks down at the Beantowner, and says "Well...batter up!!" smugly.  He sneers and turns around and walks out.  In Stewart's mind, this is already over.   He is thinking of how to decorate the corner office.

But to his credit, Darth, the eternal optimist, stands up, takes off the oaks, and power walks in to see Ol' Teddy Boy.  For the next three to four hours, he uses pie charts, spread sheets, calculations, and basically gives the best presentation, and job interview ever given in the history of man.  Billionaire Ted, the businessman, doesnt joke, he doesnt laugh.  He sits, looking bored to tears, and fiddling with his BlackBerry.  Somehow, and I am not sure how, Ted falls for the "Sabermetrician" shtick that JP bowls down the lane at him.  JP cites left, right and center, stats from the (cough) "mighty" Oakland A's universe.  He is a disciple of the "Evil Emperor, Billy Beane," and he uses every line in the sabermetrics book.

Ted, overwhelmed mentally by all of this, buys in.  JP is to become the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays.  This was eight years ago.

That is more or less where the wheels fell off.  Ted agrees to throw a few bucks into it, to rejuvenate the once-proud franchise.  Millions, in fact.  They decide that they need a superstar, and they will sign him, to a huge, well-publicised contract.  They will "announce their presence with authority."  Billionaire Ted gives creative licence to the mathematical genius.  Sign who you will.  Use my money.  (Even if it means drawing up the worst contract in baseball for Vernon Wells.)

However, I am convinced that JP was talking out of his a##.  He was no more ready to lead this team than to fly over the moon.  Neither was Stewart, mind you. But that is not the point.

He begins, and he begins to spend money.  He lifts the franchise to something respectable.  Not phenomenal, not crap.  He signs the "superstar deal" the billionaire wanted in Vernon "The Joker" Wells (an ironclad, no-trade, high paid, long-term contract), and he begins to get the feeling he can challenge for a division title.  He hires his former college roommate, John "Gibby" Gibbons.  He feels that he has laid the foundation for a rock solid empire.  Hell, I think he may have mentally likened it to the "Death Star."  (Nobody thought that could be blown up, either!)  He hires veterans and scouts rookies feverishly.  He spends money, signing BJ Ryan, Frank Thomas, and Troy Glaus.  (Money extremely not well spent in hindsight.)

It doesn't work.  Over the first few years, players rebel, fans like me criticize, Ted and the board are unhappy with mediocrity.

JP, head spinning, melts down and tells off Adam Dunn publicly.  That's when the metamorphosis began.

That was the day that Billionaire Ted and the billionaire boardroom realized that his leash needed to be shorter.  Ted calls him in, and says: Gibby goes, or you and Gibby go. (Why not Gary Denbo too...I will never know.)  Darth throws his buddy squarely underneath the bus.

He goes into work, sits at his office chair, and turns to look out the window.  He is shell-shocked, and lost.  The curtains blow open, and a whiff of wind goes through...he looks up, and just like Zorro in the movies from the fifties, there stands the quiet man, El Camino, chewing on an unlit Cuban Cohiba Cigar. (Those are allowed in Canada).

El Camino looks at the broken, and upset man before him.  He says "I am the way...the path to success" and nothing more.  El Camino talks in a light whisper.

(Cito invented Tony Dungy's coaching method of quiet monotone talking to people to make them be quiet and listen.)

JP, not knowing which way to turn, and up to his butt in quicksand, reaches out, and grabs for the rope being thrown to him. (Best decision he has made yet.)

"Trust me , Senor Gonzo, I can get something out of this pile of rubble.  I can make these boys a team!" says the wise one.  A wisp of wind blows up, and the El Camino is gone, leaving only the smell of sweaty socks from his Cohiba.

Over the summer, Billionaire Ted, sadly, passes away.  His boardroom bozos, and family make the decision.  $20 mil or more is coming off of the bottom line.  Darth Ricciardi is freaking.  He goes to the sage one for advice.   He is not equipped to assemble a winner without throwing money around.  (Hell, he can barely assemble one WITH money.)

El Camino replies, " I did it once, señor, and can do it again."  He says nothing else, throws a smoke bomb onto the ground, and again, is gone like the wind...

Which brings us to today.  Jp, a bit of a goof, does have one unique skill.  He has an eye for young talent.  His prospects are all beginning to mature.  He starts to drink Cito's Kool-Aid.  He starts to believe.  He listens for once, instead of following his own mathematical blueprint.  He follows "the path," instead of "the sabermetric dark side."  He, unlike Darth Vader, shows a level of mental flexibility.  Like the layers from an onion, the mathematic formulaic plan falls away, and is never heard from again. (Thank God!)

The players, as always, respond to the quiet, and respectful Cito, by playing hard, and listening.  They actually look like a team out there.  Some, like Hill and Scutaro, play the best ball they have ever played.  Others, like Rios and Wells, continue to lollygag, unafraid, because of high paid, ironclad contracts.

They have needs.  They have weaknesses.  They have players who phone it in from time to time.  They compete in the toughest division in baseball.  This is not going to be easy.

What is to happen in the saga, sadly, I do not know.  My suspicion is that JP will finish out his contract, and will not be renewed.  Another GM, who came in with a big mouth writing cheques that the Jays simply could not cash, falls to the wayside.  A waste of 10 years.

I only know that the wise one once turned guys named White, Alomar, Carter, Olerud, Molitor, Maldonado, Winfield, and Henke from championship calibre players, into a team.

Now, he will work the "quiet magic" on a group named Halladay, Snider, Rios, Wells, Hill, and Scutaro...

I truly believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that an interested El Camino, will lead us back down the path...with or without Darth Ricciardi.

All I can say to you JP...follow "the path!" Or get lost!


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