Gregor Chisholm took over the role of Blue Jays beat reporter for MLB.com after Jordan Bastian departed for the browner pastures of Cleveland this past offseason. Not much is known about Gregor… until now.
Mop-Up Duty: You have a Master’s degree in Journalism from St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia yes? How did the evolution go from graduation in Antigonish to working for MLB.com?
Gregor Chisholm: I actually got my journalism degree from Ryerson University. I went to StFX after high school for my undergrad in Kinesiology, assuming all along that I would eventually get my post grad at Ryerson. I was an avid reader of Bob Elliott when I was in high school and he was nice enough to respond to a couple of my emails seeking career advice on how to eventually get into sports journalism. I tried to follow as much of his advice as I could which included a recommendation on schools and also to write as often as possible.
So, I ended up at StFX where I spent a couple of years as the sports editor of the Xaverian Weekly. I also tried to freelance anywhere possible and the highlight was when I received media accreditation for the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax. If I had any doubts about what I eventually wanted to do for a living they went away during that two-week span when I was able to watch some of our country’s best journalists go about their daily work.
After graduating from StFX, I went to Ryerson and took as many internships as I could. I actually started off a gossip magazine writing TV columns because that was the first offer I received. I eventually spent a year working with Rogers Media and then another year working as a script writer for SportsCentre.
I eventually spent one summer interning for MLB.com and then moved to SunMedia where I worked for a few years. I started off on the sports desk and transitioned into a management role before getting an offer to go back to MLB. I jumped at the opportunity because covering baseball was why I originally moved to this city back in 2005.
MUD: Share some highlights from your first Spring Training covering the Jays. Favourite thing to do in Dunedin/Clearwater?
GC: I actually didn’t get to check out Dunedin as much as I would have liked. I’d often go to the ballpark first thing in the morning and not leave until dinner time so I usually just went home afterwards.
I stayed in Clearwater for all six weeks and really became fond of the area. Clearwater Beach is a great spot with a lot of nice seafood restaurants and bars just off the water. Really nice spot to get away from baseball for a little bit.
My highlights of the Spring really surrounded the entire experience. I had always wanted to go to Spring Training but never had the opportunity to before this year. The players are more relaxed and usually provide better interviews than during the year. The weather was great — really no complaints at all about how things went.
MUD: You’ve seen a lot of the young Jays prospects first hand at spring training. Who are the Jays prospects to watch?
GC: Brett Lawrie is obviously the first guy that comes to mind. I was really surprised at how easily he handled the transition to third base during Spring Training. There were still some obvious holes in his game but they appeared to be the type of things that could be easily fixed with a lot of repetition. In the time I saw him, Lawrie appeared to have a very accurate arm and showed good range in the field. His biggest weakness was charging slow grounders and making the off-balance throw.
Lawrie’s potential at the plate speaks for itself. He was having strong at-bats and never appeared to be overmatched. I still wonder about what his home run potential will be in the Major Leagues but he definitely has the skill set which could turn him into a star.
The other two that immediately stick out are Anthony Gose and Henderson Alvarez. Gose has all the necessary tools — it’s just a matter of whether he will be able to put everything together. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he has Rickey Henderson type potential on the basepaths and in the field he has both plus range and a plus arm. The biggest question mark will be whether he can become a consistent hitter. He has shown flashes in the Minor Leagues but he’s also very streaky and will need to be able to work counts a little better if he’s eventually going to become a leadoff man in the big leagues.
I think Alvarez has the best arm in the Blue Jays Minor League system and that’s saying a lot because of the current depth of young hurlers the organization has. If Alvarez can develop a reliable curveball to accompany his fastball and changeup then he could become a force at the front end of the rotation in coming years.
MUD: Who and what do you read on a regular basis in the sports world?
GC: I read all of the usual suspects in Toronto sports media. I read everyone else’s work on the Blue Jays beat and I always make time to read the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star sports sections. I usuaully find the other columnists I like from the other local newspapers online.
I also try to read a lot of the Blue Jays blogs out there. Tao of Stieb, Drunk Jays Fans, Ghostrunner on First, Getting Blanked and of course Mop-Up Duty. There’s a lot of good content out there that I think provides an interesting alternative to the news that comes out from the guys on the beat.
In the United States, I’m a big fan of Baseball America and Keith Law’s work for ESPN. Those two are great resources to find information about players I don’t get to see with my own eyes. Ken Rosenthal is probably the best in the business at breaking news while I also enjoy Jeff Passan’s work for Yahoo Sports.
MUD: If you were Commissioner, the one thing you would change is:
GC: The biggest thing I’d want to add is a salary cap but that’s clearly not happening any time soon. Maybe there will be a time when the economics of the game will change but right now it’s just not a realistic scenario.
So with that in mind, my main priority for the economics of the game would be to add a signing bonus cap for players selected in the First-Year Player Draft. The bonuses should be officially slotted and there should be no room for negotiation. That’s not something Blue Jays fans will want to hear because they have taken advantage of the current system for the past couple of years. But it’s not fair for the teams without a lot of resources to lose out on players who demand high bonuses and have those requests met by large market clubs later in the draft.
I would also make a couple of changes to the way the league is currently run. Baseball needs to go back to a balanced schedule because it puts teams in strong divisions at too much of a disadvantage. Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay, in theory, are competing for the same Wild Card as the likes of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, etc but have to face the Red Sox and Yankees more often.
The final thing I would do is expand the playoffs. I know a lot of traditionalists out there don’t like that idea but I think the benefits outweigh the cons. I also think this is something you will definitely see when the new CBA gets announced later this year.
MUD: When I wake up in the morning the first website I go to is?
GC: Of course it’s MLB.com but you really didn’t expect another answer from me did you? haha. Once I get caught up on what’s going on around the league, then I make my way over to thestar.com to see what’s happening in the city. Then I work my way through all of the Blue Jays clippings from the night before and check out a few of the blogs.
MUD: What is your overall impression of the way the Jays have handled Kyle Drabek, Travis Snider?
GC: My opinion about the Snider situation has actually changed in the past couple of months. At the time of his demotion, I thought it was the wrong move. I thought Snider had proven all he could at the Minor League level and it was time for him to make those adjustments in the Majors.
It’s still early but it appears as though the time in Las Vegas did Snider a lot of good. I know he has a very positive working relationship with Vegas hitting coach Chad Mottola and it looks like the two were able to make some fundamental changes to Snider’s approach that — at least for now — are paying big dividends. If things continue in that direction it would be pretty hard to fault Toronto’s line of thinking behind the move.
The Drabek move was easier to make. He earned a spot on the starting rotation in Spring Training and had to break camp with the team — especially after the injury to Morrow. Early in the season, Drabek struggled with his control but was still effective and always seemed to find ways to get out of jams.
Eventually the high WHIP caught up to him, though, and his struggles drastically increased. I might have sent him down a couple of starts before Toronto did but other than that I would have done the same thing they did. Drabek had to be sent down but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think that’s necessarily a big negative. I expect him to be able to work things out and be effective when he is ready to come back.
MUD: Thoughts on other roster moves? Batting order, bullpen management, Rivera, Nix et al.
GC: Rivera needed to go — I think that much was clear. Rivera was the cost of doing business with the Angels and unloading Wells’ contract. There was an outside chance he was going to be able to come in and generate some trade value but that obviously never happened.
Eric Thames and Travis Snider need to be in the starting lineup on a daily basis. With those two on the team there just wasn’t enough room for Rivera anymore so the DFA was the right call.
Nix came exactly as advertised — no more, no less. This was a guy that couldn’t crack the Indians 25-man roster at the end of Spring Training and was basically given away for free to Toronto. He provided some depth around the infield and was basically a placeholder until someone more capable was ready to take over third. His offensive abilities clearly weren’t up to par, though, so once Lawrie went down with a fractured hand I think the right decision was made. Johnny Mac and Mike McCoy are much better options off the bench because they have more versatility.
As for the batting order, I think it really improved by replacing Corey Patterson with Eric Thames as the club’s No. 2 hitter. The real test for Thames will come when teams start making adjustments to the way they pitch him but as of right now he looks very comfortable at the plate. Bringing Snider back up was also a step in the right direction because for the first time all year Toronto has some balance throughout its entire batting order.
MUD: How great an importance do you place on sabermetric statistics?
GC: I think there’s a lot of the value in them. Often times they can be the true indicator of a player’s real value on the field instead of what his otherwise perceived value might be. There are a lot of great websites out there and a lot of great Blue Jays blogs that break down these numbers and provide some really interesting analysis.
I do think it’s important for beat writers to find the right balance between using stats and the actual storytelling of games and events surrounding the team. I have to keep in mind that I’m writing not only for the hardcore fans out there but also for the casual fan who wants to know what happened in last night’s game.
If you use too many complicated stats you’re going to lose the interest of those casual readers. That’s why I think some of the external websites and blogs provide a really great service because they can break things down for the most passionate fans.
MUD: What’s your favorite place to eat in Toronto? On the road?
GC: My favorite restaurant in Toronto would probably be the The Keg Mansion. Good food and a really cool place to have a restaurant. On the road, it really depends on what city we’re in. I try to get out at least one night and try the local favourites.
MUD: Your role as Jays beat writer for MLB.com has afforded you the opportunity to travel with the team on the road. What’s your favourite road ballpark you’ve been to thus far?
GC: I should probably clarify that I don’t actually travel with the team. A lot of people think beat reporters travel on the team charters and stay at the same hotel but that’s no longer the case. It used to be that way but I think it changed in the ’90s. But I do go to almost all of the ballparks. I think by the time the year is over the only opposing ballpark I won’t have gone to — out of the ones Toronto traveled to — is St. Louis.
My favorite ballpark will probably always be Fenway. It’s the park I went to a lot as a kid and I’ve grown to appreciate the history, the atmosphere and all of its quirks. My second pick would be Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Television just can’t do that ballpark justice. Everybody gets to see the center field area but the grandstands are also set up in a really cool way and it’s just a really impressive facility overall.
MUD: Who are the Jays players that you would pay to see play? Who has been the most enjoyable to watch day-in, day-out?
GC: I don’t think there’s anyone in baseball I’d rather watch on a daily basis than Jose Bautista. The numbers obviously speak for themselves and everything in the press box stops when he’s at-bat because you don’t want to miss a pitch.
If I had to pick someone not on the Blue Jays then the Canadian in me says Joey Votto. He’s had a remarkable run during the past couple of years and people in this country should be proud to have one of baseball’s best players to call their own.
MUD: What does your Jays starting rotation 1-5 look like?
GC: Right now? 1- Romero, 2- Morrow… after that you can place the remaining three in any order but I’ll go with 3-Cecil, 4-Villanueva, 5- Reyes.
Next year? 1- Romero, 2- Morrow, 3- Cecil, 4- Drabek, 5- Stewart.
Born: Saint John, New Brunswick
Resides: Toronto, Ontario
Hometown: Saint John, New Brunswick
Major-League Comparison to Little League Career: Tough question. Maybe Juan Guzman? Started off guns a blazin’ but fizzled out as I got older. hahaha. I wanted to think I was like Pat Hentgen, though.
Why you had to retire from your baseball career: I wasn’t able to develop a reliable breaking ball. My curveball was too inconsistent.
Favourite Team: I don’t have one anymore. I try to remain as impartial as I can. I grew up a Blue Jays fan, though.
Favourite Player (current): Same answer as above. My favorites would be based around guys that are a pleasure to deal with. That doesn’t really have anything to do with their on-field performance.
Favourite Player (past): My favorite player when I was a really little kid was Ernie Whitt. As I got a little older it became Roberto Alomar.
Best Game Attended In Person: Rogers Clemens’ return to Fenway Park with the Blue Jays when he struck out 16 batters and had the infamous staredown with Dan Duquette. I’ll never forget how much energy was in the ballpark that day.
Baseball Book: Mel Martin Baseball Stories. It’s a six-book set that was written by John R. Cooper in the 1950s. My dad owned the series when he was a kid and he passed them along to me when I first started getting into novels.
Baseball Movie: Field of Dreams
Favourite Play in Baseball: Insert Johnny Mac webgem here. He has been a pleasure to watch in the field during his tenure in Toronto.
Most treasured baseball related possesion: Ken Burns’ Baseball — The Complete Series. That or a Pat Hentgen autographed baseball hat I got in one of my trips to Boston or a signed John Olerud card he sent me as a kid after I wrote him a letter haha.
Player(s) I never saw play I wish I had seen: Hard to pick just one but I think Dizzy Dean would have been great to watch. Bob Gibson, Ty Cobb and Yogi Berra are up there as well.
Game I never saw I wish I had seen: The first Blue Jays game at Exhibition Stadium in 1977. There are lots of playoff games across MLB that probably should take precedence here but I think it would have been something to be a part of history.
First MLB game: Blue Jays vs Twins at SkyDome in 1995 on a trip to Toronto with my parents. The Blue Jays won and Joe Carter hit a home run.
Pictures courtesy of Daylife (AP/Reuters). Pictures of Gregor courtesy of my creeping.