The story of an unreasonable man

Welcome to Joshua Eric Towers Remembrance Day. A storybook tale, it starts with a dream. It ends with a retirement that would now seem official. Four years have passed since Joshua last doused a perfectly good Toronto camp fire with gasoline, hell-raised it to a raging inferno, and burned down the village. Join us, as we fly back through Never-Never land and the fantastical career of the quintessential lost Blue Jay, who once said it’s all about:

“understanding when I can have a drink, an alcoholic beverage, and how it affects by body…and staying away from fast food, which is something I really liked.”

From junior college in Oxnard to Toronto, New York and Mexico, among about a dozen other places, the career of Josh Towers required adjustment.

“…..in high school and junior college I still thought I was a position player (shortstop and third base),” he said.

And like a child two inches too short for Space Mountain, Joshua would often miss the mark. But in 1996, the headstrong 19-year old  jumped in line for the majors when the Baltimore Orioles drafted him as a pitcher in the 15th round.

Rare is the breed of ball player, who believes such a draft position will inevitably lead him to the promised land. Reaching the major leagues and sticking there may not only require considerable talent and hard work, but also an unreasonable amount of self-confidence. But as a child of Disneyland, Joshua believed that (when you wish upon a star) it makes no difference who you are.

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, he summarized his dream thusly:

“Ever since I can remember, it’s all I ever said I was going to do. In Little League, junior high school, high school…I’m playing major league baseball.”

This infinite will, to go along with streaky pin-point control, and a California-sized chip on his shoulder, helped him hang on, sometimes by the skin of his fast-food chomping teeth, to a career in professional baseball. After a four-year term in the minors, Joshua joined the Orioles starting rotation May 2, 2001. When dream and reality merged, he nearly freaked out in his first big league game:

“I know my nerves were running. The excitement was there. The adrenaline was flowing. [Tampa Bay’s] Ben Grieve was standing on second base and when I ran by him he looked like he was 10 feet tall…It looked like I came out of TV into reality all of a sudden.”

All questions of ripping through the fabric of space-time aside, Joshua had arrived in prime time. Maryland. Conjuring the spirit of perhaps Charlie Sheen, he waxed incoherent on expectations of the young pitching staff:

“I think we’re doing what we expect, a little less than what we expect; I think we expect more out of ourselves, but more than what anybody else would expect. (Individually), I couldn’t have asked for a better start. It’s something that you just sit and daydream about.”

Powered by tiger blood and his Adonis DNA, Josh produced an 8-10 record (1.3 WAR), 4.49 ERA (4.64 FIP), 1.290 WHIP, over 140.1 IP in his rookie season. Josh was looking up and and star-gazing.

On teammate Cal Ripken, Josh had this to say:

“I watch the way he walks around the clubhouse and watch him talk to people. You can learn so much off the field from that guy just as much as you can on the field. He truly is a role model and someone I look up to. He’s a great guy.”

The great guy retired after the 2001 season, and the following spring, Josh fell down. Having posted an 0-3 record (-0.6 WAR), 7.90 ERA (7.79 FIP), 1.720 WHIP in 27.1 IP for Baltimore, he ended up spending much of the season in AAA Rochester.

Leaving the orange birds for the bluebirds  Josh arrived in Toronto eager to prove the Baltimore meltdown of 2002 had been but a blip on the radar. He introduced himself to Canada in 2003 with an 8-1 record (0.4 WAR) 4.48 ERA (5.27 FIP), 1.150 WHIP over 64.1 IP. He built his nest in the starting rotation with a 9-9 record (1.5 WAR), 5.11 ERA (4.86 FIP), 1.496 WHIP over 116.1 IP the following season.

With Doc Halladay on the disabled list in 2005, Josh took his game to the next level, going 13-12 (4.2 WAR), 3.71 ERA (3.94 FIP), 1.275 WHIP over 208.2 IP. He had reached the summit of his Space Mountain, and GM J.P. Ricciardi rewarded him with a two-year $5.2 million contract.

AND THEN IT HAPPENED…..

…..one of the most horrifying statistical meltdowns in the history of Major League pitching: 2 -10 (-0.3 WAR), 8.42 ERA (6.55 FIP), 1.774 WHIP, 62 IP, 17 HR allowed. The rhetoric of Josh took a left coast turn for the ridicilious when he described his eighth loss of the season, where he gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings:

“I think I was able to put the ball where I wanted to, but I did get a couple of sliders out over the plate. When I located pitches, they couldn’t do anything with it.”

Bluebird Banter compiled a list that’s worth a look of worst springs by ERA for Jays starters through May 5. Some of the names there may surprise, others will not.

His season in the life of a garbage bag, which ranks #3 on the Batter’s Box list of Worst Jays Pitchers Ever, might spell the end for even the most confident of men. But he returned to the minors dutifully. During those dark times, he maintained solidarity with his Blue Jay brethren by texting them after big games. That off-season in Las Vegas, Josh doubled-down on a hard training regimen with his compadre Reed Johnson.

By spring training 2007, he had lightened his rhetoric with humility:

“It’s all about knowing your role. Of course I would like the opportunity to prove myself again in the rotation, but I’m willing to work out of the pen, start in AAA, anything. Heck, if they think I can help the team most by selling hot dogs in the stands to offset my 2.3 million dollar salary, I’m totally willing to do that.”

Josh bounced in and out of the #5 rotation spot that year. Victor Zambrano replaced him after just four starts. The Mockingbird indicated that J.P. Ricciardi may have been compensating for keeping Josh in the rotation for far too long the previous season.

The Tao of Stieb animated his meltdowns in the  language of the “Gas Can”, found here in reverse chronological order, light-heartedly adding to the pantheon of Josh Towers writing,  of which I think the most entertaining piece appeared June 12, wherein Drunk Jays Fans Justin Bergkamp reported Fear and Loathing in a parallel universe.

Tao of Stieb also crafted an amusing letter of recommendation July 24 to promote Josh to other major league teams. The DJF fan guide to choosing your favourite player served up a liberal sprinkling of insight into the super fandom of Josh.

After a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox July 28, in which John Gibbons pulled him out of the game with a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning, Josh assailed coaches and teammates for a lack of effort. He did not consider his words carefully enough, evident in Towers tees off, and if the guys needed to be called out, he probably wasn’t in the best position to say things like this:

“I just don’t think that we consistently put ourselves in position to make plays ahead of time. I don’t think that we’re heads-up. I don’t think that we consistently show up as a coaching staff and as a team every day and I think it shows sometimes.”

Josh could be entertaining, refreshing, off the cuff and dramatic. Indeed, The Josh Towers Story would make a fine movie of the week. But who would play the leading role: Richard Dean Anderson or Johnny Drama? Actually, no. Only Josh Towers could play Josh Towers.

This CBC article gave a damning indictment of Josh and Jays management, claiming it was an affront to paying fans at the Rogers Centre to have ever had him in the ’07 rotation. Few appreciate a soap box and the reporter’s confirmation bias was palpable. Some voices in the comments section, however, suggested the judgement was too harsh.

On August 7, Josh nailed Alex Rodriguez with a fastball and refused to be intimidated as his enraged victim approached the mound. He instead demanded A-Rod take his base, and a bench-clearing ensued. Josh instigated the second half of the dispute moments later when he refused to ignore a “chirping” first base coach Tony Peña and called him a “quitter” for having resigned as manager of the Kansas City Royals after their 8-25 start the previous season.

But perhaps we saw expression of Towers the Good when in avenging A-Rod’s indiscretion of yelling “Mine” as he ran by Howie Clark and caused him to miss a routine pop-up. It was hard, at least for this observer, with A-Rod’s “bush-league” antics still in mind, not to appreciate our 5th starter’s indignation in the face of Yankee hubris. Josh did lose the game, however, and his spot in the rotation.

Mop Up Duty gave voice to the feeling of some Jays fans, especially those still in shock from his protracted meltdown of 2006 and those who believed it was wrong to question a John Gibbons decision or call Tony Peña a quitter, that Josh Towers did suck. The Mockingbird posited that Tower’s post-game comments marked a point of departure from his more appealing role of plucky underdog.

It’s not surprising that the pin striped nation was aggravated by his defiant attitude. Maybe it was that sort of approach which translated his modest skill set into a professional career lasting 16 years. And hey, sometimes the grotesque sense of entitlement of the “Evil Empire” deserves an encouraging: “take your f*ckin’ base.” One need not be an all-star to talk back to A-Rod or exact a little pay back. The Blue Jay Hunter saw the act of plunking A-Rod in the leg as a necessary equalizer, while Rivera Blues put down honest Yankee fan perspective on A-Rod douchebaggery.

That Josh actually got his sh*t together enough to make the rotation in 2007, to me, was a tiny miracle. If he was unwilling to be subdued by a future hall of famer’s condemnation or his manager’s judgement, perhaps that same unwillingness told his 2006 stats and Josh Towers the Bad to f*ck off as well. With 5 -10 (1.0 WAR), 5.38 ERA (4.79 FIP), 1.411 WHIP over 107 IP and 18 HR allowed in 2007, Josh split the difference between his best and worst seasons.

It was not mind numbingly frightful like 2006. At the other extreme, Josh Towers the Good, along with Gustavo Chacin, prevented the Jays rotation from complete and utter suckdom in 2005. The Southpaw gave their performances that season honourable mentions in her best of the decade Blue Jays by position round-up. Their ERAs of 3.71 and 3.72 ranked first and second among all AL East starters, according to PinStripe Alley

Taking the long view, Josh, you did not suck. You had some good moments, but there simply weren’t enough of them to keep you around. Andrew Stoeten gave mild props to Josh for his candor on a season-ending Jays Talk in discussing a possible flaw in John Gibbons’ coaching style. Tao of Stieb posted eloquent in his Requiem for a Gas Can, and the biggest Towers fan at DJF closed the curtain on the Towers era, in equal parts sorrow and humour, December 17.

On January 4, 2008, he signed with the Colorado Rockies, but this chubbier Josh failed to make the club and did not play a single game in the bigs that season. The AAA season could hardly have been rockier: 6 -7, 6.27 ERA (4.19 FIP), 1.59 WHIP, 116.1 IP, 12 HR allowed.

On January 11, 2009, Josh signed with the Washington Nationals and in tribute January 14, an emotional montage at Drunk Jays Fans of Josh Towers moments set to the Beach Boys “We’re together again” was both a fitting Toronto remembrance and welcome back to the Syracuse Sky Chiefs, formerly the AAA affiliate of Toronto and the new Nationals affiliate. Josh lasted just 1.2 IP in the organization before his release May 5.

AND THEN IT HAPPENED…..

Josh signed with, of all teams, the New York Yankees May 10. He earned his stripes in AAA on the strength of a 7-6 record, 2.76 ERA (4.61 FIP), 1.11 WHIP over 101.2 IP. With the woes of Sergio Mitre in the Yankees rotation that year, Josh, an International League player of the week, was considered as a possible replacement in the New York Daily News. Another Josh highlight occurred when he was ejected from a Wilkes-Barre Yankees game for throwing two feet over a batter’s head.

Upon getting the call up to the big club, he pitched 5.1 innings in September games with the eventual World Series champions, including one against the Jays where he managed to hit Randy Ruiz in the face with a pitch. He also became the 1500th player in Yankee history to don the pin stripes. But given the ire he had raised in the Yankee ego two years earlier, it was surprising to learn that Josh received a World Series ring and was voted worthy of an $87,507.50 cut of the loot for his modest 2009 contribution. I don’t know whether Josh made peace with Tony Peña and Alex Rodriguez, among others, but I like to think that he did not.

The Yankees granted Josh free agency November 11, 2009. About one month later, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him. He soon joined the club for the Mother of all away games in spring training. In the first 30 seconds of this video from Taiwan, Josh shows his old finesse in notching a couple strikeouts. If you are capable of understanding Chinese (traditional Han), please step forward. Translations welcome. Back on home soil, the California sun refused to shine. Despite being a California son himself, Los Angeles didn’t want him. Josh was again a lost boy.

But this was a successful and talented athlete, who had one unforgettably bad season at the major league level and didn’t always know when to hold his tongue. Teammates seemed to have genuine affection for him. His wife, the beauty to his beast, would also seem to have an irascible sense of fun, as these photos in Mop Up Duty post Who Knew Josh Towers Was a Party Guy? would suggest. Never a dull moment in Never Never land.

On February 19, 2011, this site reported the presence of one, Josh Towers, in the spring camp of the Diablos Rojos del Mexico. Josh is depicted as a fireballer in this promo (below) for the Mexican Baseball league team. On February 21, 2011, Darren Kritzer of Extra Base Hit confirmed the status of Josh Towers’ passport.

Like a good Californian, Josh celebrated his birthday across the border. Bluebird Banter wished him, and another wild stallion Kelly Gruber, a happy one February 26.

Josh roomed with former Blue Jay and Oriole teammate Howie Clark in Mexico City during the tryout for Diablos Rojos. I like to think the two shared a few cervezas, reminiscing about the A-Rod debacle and their time playing baseball together across the continent. The two old-timers would have crossed paths with 16-year old Mexican pitching prospect Roberto Osuna, who Dustin Parkes at Getting Blanked did well to usher in to our current Blue Jay realm. Clark failed to make the squad, and Josh’s Mexican ride lasted 11 total innings over four games. Strangely these appearances were logged with los Guerreros de Oaxaca, a different team than the one he tried out for, in a politically tumultuous region 500 km south of Mexico City. Towers posted a 7.94 ERA in the AAA equivalent league, according to Fangraphs, before yet another release.

On June 2, 2011, Towers joined the Camden Riversharks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. Listen to Josh dish on his leadership style, how to pitch deep into a ball game and why Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the world (below).

Towers the Good became their staff ace: a 3 -2 record, 3.00 ERA, 2 CG, through his first 36 IP. Towers the Bad finished his season August 7 on the inactive list. From independent league hero to zero in two months, Josh blew up: 5 -6 , 6.15 ERA, 2 CG, 71.2 IP.

The every man talent, the superman ego, and the nothing man of discretion: Josh Towers this was your baseball life.

So you may not have been the most “mature” of ball players, as Jeff Blair and others suggested, and you sometimes lacked self-awareness in gauging your own performance or calling out your teammates and coaches in the media. But if memory serves, you never burned your uniform, spit on an umpire, physically accosted your manager in the tunnel, or wrote “the ship is sinking” on the clubhouse white board. You never engineered a clubhouse revolt, or tell Blue Jays fans that you didn’t “give a fuck” and refuse to sign autographs, or taunt them by sarcastically tipping your hat amid legitimate boos for a brutal performance, or lose all your self-control by screaming over the strike-zone, inadvertently throwing your jersey to the ground and your gentle manager around like a rag doll.

It’s not to say that he was a Blue Jay leader for not having done the aforementioned, but let’s have some perspective about how bad the Josh Towers years really were. He was a .500 pitcher over five seasons for our .500 ball club, a 5th starter that sometimes ran his mouth. In Ghostrunner On First’s DFAja VU, we are reminded of what a #5 starter’s shelf life often is (See: Dana Eveland, Jo Jo Reyes). J.P. Ricciardi considered re-signing him, even after his two worst seasons. What that means is unclear, but it obviously means something, like maybe he wasn’t a douche bag or the worst pitcher ever to wear a Jays uniform that some fans made him out to be. It seemed Josh tried on half the jerseys in professional baseball and he was nothing if not an easy target. He could fail in spectacular fashion. He could infuriate his opposition and frustrate fans beyond belief, especially those pulled into his orbit during the 2005 season.

Josh competed and succeeded. He competed and failed. As Hum and Chuck suggested in “Like a Phoenix, that Sparrow,”  he worked hard, he cared a lot, and it showed. Josh was a lightning rod for the unmet expectations of the J.P. Ricciardi era. But that time is a quantum leap behind us. The 34 year-old Josh Towers has retired to focus on a new dream. He no doubt believes he will achieve it. Just imagine Josh again ripping through the fabric of space-time, out of TV into reality and an AL East ballpark near you. Let’s hope it’s New York. Can you see it?

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible, Walt Disney once said.

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