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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tragic Tale of Troy Tulowitzki

Knowing what I do now, I would still make that trade again in a heartbeat.

I can remember it so vividly. The words BREAKING: Tulo traded to #BlueJays shot across Canada on a late July night like a shooting star. The fact that Ken Rosenthal only had to say “Tulo” and not his full name suggests the magnitude that this player had in the baseball world.

The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Troy Tulowitzki along with LaTroy Hawkins from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Jose Reyes, top prospect Jeff Hoffman, short-time closer Miguel Castro, and low-level prospect Jesus Tinoco.

It didn’t matter who was involved. The Blue Jays had just acquired Troy fucking Tulowitzki.

***

It was a Rosenbomb nobody expected. Not me, not you, not Tulo himself. It was a frenzy.

I was eating with friends at a pub after playing a slow pitch game. The Jays had the day off after getting dropped in Seattle in a series-deciding walk-off loss to the Mariners. It was an extremely on-brand-frustrating-early-2015-Jays-game that featured an early lead blown by the bullpen. The team sat at 50-50, six-and-a-half games back of the division. This group was way too good to miss the playoffs, but it appeared inevitable they would disappoint.

A friend I was with was talking about how the Jays had a difficult sequence coming up that would likely sewer their season. They had a couple easy games against the Phillies, a really tough series against Kansas City, another tough one against the wild-card-bound Twins, and then a series on the road in New York. As he was going on about how they could make the wild card if they added a couple mid-level starters, I opened up Twitter and there it was.

I looked up and said “the Jays got Tulo.”

My friend, totally lost, just said “what?”

I repeated, unable to find words “the Jays got Tulo.”

“No they didn’t.”

“The jays got fucking Troy Tulowitzki.”

“How?”

“In a fucking trade. I don’t know. Holy fuck. The Jays got Tulo. Rosenbomb!”

Let’s back things up for a second. Troy Tulowitzki was, at that time, an MVP candidate.

With the Rockies that season, Tulo was slashing a very solid .300/.348/.471 line with 12 bombs and 53 RBIs. The season prior, he put up an MVP-calibre 1.035 OPS over 91 games before having his season ended in July due to any injury.

This was a guy who was en route to the Hall of Fame. He was a big, gritty shortstop who could hit for power and hit for average, and he had a damn solid glove to boot.

I fell in love with Tulo as a player during the ROCKTOBER World Series run in 2007. He came up as a rookie that season as a 22-year-old and mashed 24 bombs and 99 RBIs with an .838 OPS from short. The dude was a complete bad ass. His stance, his style, his swing, everything.

When I played MLB The Show, I would do Be a GM mode with the Blue Jays and the first order of business was forcing a trade for Troy Tulowitzki. I didn’t just edit the rosters on the game’s main page. Nah, it was much more satisfying to deal Alex Gonzalez and Mike McCoy to Colorado for Tulo in the middle of the season.

***

It was absolutely mind-blowing. The Jays, in real life, just acquired the five-time All-Star and MVP-candidate, the one I cheated to get in video games, and they were going to add him to a lineup that already featured Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Russell Martin. The Jays sure as hell couldn’t pitch, but good lord, they were going to do whatever they could to outscore everybody.

The Jays would drop their next game 3-2 to the Phillies. But, after that, Tulo made his much-anticipated debut. Things were about to change. You could feel it.

He was the leadoff hitter. He struck out. But, in his next at bat, Tulo crushed a two-run bomb in front of an ecstatic crowd at The Dome. “Welcome to Toronto, Troy Tulowitzki!” Buck Martinez yelled.

Soon after, Alex Anthopolous would add to it by acquiring David Price from the Tigers as a rental. He would also add Ben Revere and Mark Lowe to flesh out the roster. The Jays would go on to win 14 of their next 15 games after acquiring Tulo. They took two of three from the Royals in a series that very effectively foreshadowed what was going to happen in October, they hosted the Twins, who honestly looked terrified to be in Toronto, and pounded them for four straight, then they rolled into New York and swept the goddamn Yankees to come within striking distance of the American League East.

The team was just different. Adding David Price to the rotation and taking the pressure off of the other starters was important, but I think having Tulo’s presence at short really calmed things down. So frequently earlier in that season did Jose Reyes boot a ball or look like he was staring off into space as the pitcher was winding up. Tulo’s glove up the middle was lethal. He took control of the infield, made plays himself, and seemed to command everybody else to be better. There was suddenly a focus on the field we hadn’t seen before.

***

In March 2017 I had the privilege of travelling down to Florida to attend Spring Training as a member of the media. I told Stoeten I was going down with my family to watch games and he immediately offered to help me get a press pass. The Jays happily obliged, and then there I was, standing in the locker room pretending to know what I was doing.

One of the things I remember the most was Tulo’s presence. Every single time I saw him, he was talking to somebody.

The players were out taking batting practice one morning. It was hot as fuck, muggy, and terrible. It was depth guys, mid-level prospects, and a few regulars out there taking swings before a game. I watched as Tulo, with this intense look in his eyes, just went around and talked to guys. He would stand in a stance, move his arms around, tell them to adjust this and and that, and just get into detail about swinging the bat.

Whenever he walked up to somebody to talk to them, they listened. Sometimes guys just walked up to him to ask him something, and he explained it.

***

The rest is history. The Jays would take the lead in the division in late August and then they would go into New York in September to sweep a double header. After that, it was over. The Jays clinched the American League East, their first banner since 1993, in Baltimore in late September. They pulled off the insane comeback against the Rangers, Jose Bautista flipped the bat, and then they lost the heartbreaker to the Royals. It was a hell of a ride.

But, throughout the whole thing, Tulo wasn’t really the same. He had to be dealing with adjusting to a new city, right? And American League pitching? It’s all good. Right?

Tulo slashed a .239/.317/.380 line for the remainder of the 2015 season after the trade. He came through with some big moments, like a three-run bomb in a pivotal Game 3 in Texas with the team down 2-0 in the series, but he wasn’t the dominant, MVP-calibre slugger we expected.

It was more of the same the following season. Tulo was an effective, above-replacement-level player, but his .254/.318/.443 slash line was underwhelming. He just wasn’t the same force everyone was expecting. Seldom did we see Tulo square up and crush a ball on a rope into the outfield. Instead, we saw him whiff on breaking pitches or roll over and ground balls to short.

The 2017 season was a struggle. Tulo got injured in late April running the bases. He went on the disabled list for a month, came back, played for a couple of months, and then had his season ended as he rolled his ankle running into first base. It really was a freak injury.

He hasn’t returned since.

And here we are now. On Tuesday, it was reported that Tulo doesn’t have a timeline for his return to the Blue Jays. He’s down in Florida rehabbing, but it isn’t even certain he’s going to make it back this season. He says he will, but I just don’t want to get my hopes up.

It’s certainly a massive change of events from the original reports prior to spring training back in February. It was originally reported that Tulo had a bone spur in his heel removed and he wasn’t going to miss any time. Then it was said he might have a delayed start to camp. Then it was said Gift Ngoepe could make the team if Tulo landed on the disabled list. Then it was reported that he wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. Then it was reported he might be back before the end of April. Then he was placed on the 60-day disabled list.

I’ve referred to it as the Blue Jays tragedy in four acts. If I come across flippant about this whole thing it’s because I’m genuinely heartbroken about what’s gone down and I’m easing the disappointment. It’s heartbreaking not just for fans as we never really got the MVP-calibre slugger we gushed over back in July 2015, but for Troy Tulowitzki himself as he has to sit there, completely powerless, as he tries to make his way back to doing the thing he loves.

“I love this game, man. I’ll do anything for it,” Tulowitzki said. “And I miss it — there’s no doubt about that. I miss them. It’s crazy. When you’re at the facility, you’re not around these guys, you’re just texting them. It’s like family, it really is. I’ve gotten close to some of these guys. It’s special just to see them.”

Tulo has dealt with an absurd amount of injuries over his career. He’s suffered a broken wrist, dealt with a chronic groin injury, endured broken ribs, underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, cracked his left shoulder blade, strained a hamstring, and now is dealing with pain in his feet that won’t allow him to run.

It’s not just one thing. It’s one thing after the other.

This is a player who was on course for a Hall of Fame career. He was up there with Cal Ripken Jr., A-Rod, and Derek Jeter. A big, gritty shortstop who could hit for power and hit for average, and he had a damn solid glove to boot.

It’s a damn tragedy watching a player so passionate, so hard-working, and so fucking good deal with what Tulo has had to deal with. I would love to see him come back and get out there on the field and do the thing that he loves. I don’t even care that he isn’t the superstar we expected in Toronto and that he never will be, it’s just heartbreaking to watch this be taken away from him.