Being 15½ games out on July 3 isn't cause for panic? "Maybe we need to get a little more emotional," says Sprague, who privately has pitched a few fits over his own slump. "Other teams see it—we seem dead."
Toronto is so far out of it that the local media have backed off. Even the sports talk-show callers who begged for Gaston's head with each loss last summer have left him alone this year. And Gillick, who will retire from the front office in October, has been subjected to very little second-guessing.
His late-season deals, in which prospects were traded for valuable veterans, helped clinch two pennants. In 1992 he gave centerfielder Ryan Thompson and second baseman Jeff Kent to the Mets for pitcher David Cone; Thompson and Kent weren't going to beat out Devon White and Alomar, respectively, anyway. Last year Gillick sent pitcher Steve Karsay and outfielder Jose Herrera to Oakland for Henderson. Even though Henderson didn't play well for Toronto, Alomar says, "his presence helped us win." Karsay's presence in Toronto might have helped the Blue Jays this year.
Gillick does regret losing pitcher Jimmy Key to free agency after the '92 season, but the New York Yankees offered Key a four-year, $17 million contract, while the Blue Jays wouldn't budge from their offer of three years, $12 million. Through Sunday, Key was 12-2 with a 3.36 ERA for the first-place Yankees. Gillick also wanted to keep Cone after the '92 season, but he wasn't prepared to match the $9 million signing bonus the Royals dangled in front of Cone, who at week's end was 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA for Kansas City. Gillick also wanted to re-sign Fernandez last winter, but the shortstop wanted a three-year, $12 million contract—twice what Gillick was willing to pay. At week's end Fernandez was hitting .296 for the Reds.
So it appears that Gillick's final acts as general manager will be to trade veterans—Stewart? Borders?—to contenders down the stretch. What a switch, eh? "I've been here since the club started in 1976, and I'm sort of satisfied with what we've done," says Gillick. "I will not leave frustrated."
He will leave without a three-peat, and the 1972-73-74 Athletics will remain the last team to have won three consecutive World Series. Blue Jay coach Gene Tenace played on those Oakland teams. "In our third championship year, we lost our eighth game in a row, in Milwaukee," says Tenace. "So [Oakland owner] Charlie Finley brought Bear Bryant in to talk to us. Bear didn't know anything about baseball, but he knew about complacency, and that winning is winning in any sport. We went out and won that night. Charlie looked like a genius."
Gillick smiled and said, "Maybe we'll bring the Bear back."
Too late now.