At the start of this year’s baseball season I was really pessimistic about the chances of the Toronto Blue Jays. I told anyone who would listen that without Roy Halladay, Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, the Jays were going to finish in the American League East’s basement.
I mean, how could they succeed with Alex Gonzalez 2.0 at shortstop and without the best pitcher in the game? How could Toronto win crucial games against division rivals with John Buck – a guy that the Kansas City Royals had put on waivers– behind the plate? I was a perpetual salt-throwing machine.
Well, mea culpa, I was wrong. We’re now in mid-August and the Jays are well above .500.
I know that it’d take an incredible round of good luck for Toronto to see any kind of post-season action, but it’d take an equally massive twist of fate for them to fall below the sad-sack Baltimore Orioles. Toronto is a legitimate team deep into the summer, and I couldn’t be happier.
There are two things that have really impressed me this season.
First is the superior job that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has done re-shaping this team. He hasn’t had any glaring missteps, something that cannot be said of his predecessor J.P. Ricciardi.
MLB.com blogger Jordan Bastian recently pointed to this article on Anthopoulos' personnel moves that shows just how successful the rookie GM has been. As the piece says, only Anthopoulos’ decision to trade prospect Brett Wallace to the Houston Astros for centrefielder Anthony Gose could raise any eyebrows, and even then it’s a pretty reasonable risk.
Most impressive was Anthopoulos’ work at shortstop. He signed Gonzalez to cover the gap, and then moved the journeyman to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline for Yunel Escobar. Although they have similar talents, Escobar is five years younger and has some upside. It was a savvy move, and already Escobar has made some dazzling plays in the field.
Toronto’s also impressed me by holding their own against division rivals. Although they’ve dropped two in a row to the Boston Red Sox this week, they also swept the Tampa Bay Rays last week and won a series against the Yankees in New York.
Struggles against the AL East was supposed to be the Blue Jays’ Achilles’ heel and here we are in mid-August and they’re 25-19 against their division. Granted, Toronto’s been able to pad their stats against the woeful Orioles, but that doesn’t mean the Jays have performed poorly against their rivals.
All in all, it’s been a surprisingly pleasant season at the Rogers Centre, with Jose Bautista’s power-hitting, the emergence of Brendan Morrow as a strikeout artist and the resiliency of the clubhouse making the Toronto Blue Jays into an exciting team to watch.
No one can say that I'm too proud to admit my own mistakes: I was wrong, my bad.
Byron Parker cinched the Toronto Argonauts 24-20 win over the B.C. Lions with a late interception that he returned for a 41-yard touchdown. The victory gives the Boatmen a 3-1 record, tying them with the Montreal Alouettes at the top of the Canadian Football League’s Eastern Division.
This is big news for Toronto’s beleaguered franchise. They’ve been struggling financially since 2003 with past owners barely avoiding bankruptcy and needing bailouts to keep the club afloat. This tumult led to David Braley – also the owner of the Lions – buying the team before the start of the 2010 season.
Getting some wins and rejuvenating the Argonauts’ tattered image is crucial to reviving the most successful team in CFL history.
Here’s the thing – most people in Toronto don’t care.
Once upon a time this city was painted Double Blue every summer, but the Argonauts have long since ceded their hold on the sporting public to upstarts like the Toronto Blue Jays and, more recently, Toronto FC.
Attendance continues to suffer at the Boatmen’s home, the Rogers Centre, while apathy for Canadian football grows unabated in the nation’s largest city. As the Vancouver Sun’s Mike Beamish pointed out on Sunday, Toronto’s two home games this season – both wins – are the lowest announced home attendance figures for the Argos since 2003, when the team was on the verge of folding.
How did a once proud franchise end up like this?
There are many contributing factors including unstable ownership, an increasingly crowded market that has seven other professional sports teams and the cavernous Rogers Centre.
The biggest problem though, has been that the Boatmen have ignored the power of television.
It has been a long-standing Argonauts policy to black out home games on television in an attempt to bolster attendance numbers. This tactic may have worked for the Boatmen in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but it’s cost them since then.
Television has only grown in stature, becoming a staple in practically every household, while ticket prices have risen, making it difficult for the average fan to go to several home games in a season. Because Torontonians are unable to watch the Argonauts on TV, they don't know who is on the team or what to expect from a CFL game. There's no draw for the casual fan.
As a result, an entire generation of Torontonians have grown up unfamiliar with the Canadian Football League. It’s an important cohort too. The so-called Echo generation, the children of the Baby Boomers, are the second largest generation in Canadian history.
Instead of being raised on Argonaut heroes of the 1980s and 1990s, most Torontonians in their 20s and 30s have fond memories of Blue Jays like Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter.
Sure, there were some highlights for the Boatmen like when they were purchased by John Candy and Wayne Gretzky. The Doug Flutie years also saw a brief bump in interest. But in both cases the fame was fleeting, easily overcome in a crowded, Leafs-centric city.
There’s no issue with the product: Canadian football is an exciting variant of the game. The issue is that the Argonauts are operating under the assumption that Toronto is like any other market in the country when it’s not.
If the Double Blue want to improve their market share, they need to recognize the power of television and make a concentrated effort to appeal to fans outside of the Rogers Centre. They need to win over the fans on their couches, not the ones in the stands.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got a season’s pass for the 500 section of the Rogers Centre for all of the Toronto Blue Jays home games.
This is the fifth season that I’ve had the pass and it’s always a good purchase. The last two years have been particularly enjoyable since the Jays have been very good, particularly in the spring.
However, there’s a problem that creeps up every few games which bugs me. It happened at the last two games I attended and, frankly, I am fed up. So this morning I sent the following email to the Blue Jays:
Dear Blue Jays/Rogers Centre Staff,
I've been a Toronto Star Seasons Pass holder for the past five seasons. I enjoy going to the games and cheering on the Blue Jays.
However, I'm frustrated with my experience at the Rogers Centre and the lack of instant replay on close calls.
This was underscored by the games on Sunday, May 16 and Monday, May 17.
On Sunday John Buck hit a long ball that, from my vantage point in the 500s, looked like a grand slam. However, it was called a ground rule double.
To the umpires’ credit, they went into the dugout to review the play.
Unfortunately, due to the Rogers Centre policy of never showing a close call on the JumboTron, I couldn't see whether or not the officials were making the right call. I was robbed of the chance to judge for myself. I only learned that the umpires had made the correct call when I got home and saw the highlights on TV.
Similarly, at Monday's game, a close call was not shown on the JumboTron.
Lyle Overbay bobbled a throw from Jose Bautista, earning an error. He then threw the ball to third, which sailed past Bautista, earning another error.
Again, thanks to the Blue Jays' short-sighted policy of not showing close calls, I never saw that Overbay had mishandled Bautista's throw.
Instead, I had to rely on this morning's SportsCentre to learn that the umpires had, in fact, made the right call.
These are not the only examples of this frustrating policy, they're just the most recent.
It would do a lot to improve your organization's in-stadium product if you would stop protecting your players and the umpires from the occasional round of heckles.
Please start showing replays of all plays - even if they're close or controversial - because it greatly increases the enjoyment of the game for your audience.
I’ve discussed it with some of my friends and co-workers and have learned that the policy is a passive directive from Major League Baseball’s head office.
The Toronto Star’s Richard Griffin summed it up last Wednesday:
“It is in fact a recommendation from Major League Baseball that teams not show a) close ball-strike replays; b) close plays that may incite the crowd against umpires; and c) plays that are under review i.e. home run calls. Now not every team abides by that rule, although all do on balls and strikes, but the Jays are good, responsible corporate citizens and do not show close calls on the replay board. I disagree because why should fans sitting at home know more about the game than those in the ballpark?”
Obviously, I agree with Griffin’s sentiments.
I would add an important note: In both cases this weekend the umpires had made the correct call. It was close, but they were spot on. Therefore, an instant replay wouldn’t incite the crowd against umpires.
Yes, as a Toronto fan I would have booed because I was frustrated with Overbay’s errors, but I would not have felt any anger toward the umpire for making the right call.
Further, Buck’s ground rule double wouldn’t have caused me to boo at all. He still batted in some runs and gave the Jays the lead. Not as good as a grand slam, but ultimately, there’s nothing to boo there.
If the officials are making objective and correct calls, then the commissioner’s office should have enough confidence to include their fans in what’s happening on the field.
No good can come from leaving your fan base ignorant of what’s going on in the course of a game and MLB as well as its franchises should adjust this rule.
In particular, the Rogers Centre has a beautiful JumboTron that should be put to good use. The Blue Jays should be able to trust their sedate Toronto supporters to not freak out over a controversial call.
Although solid on the field, they have had some trouble off of it. In particular, the headlines have focused on their attendance figures dwindling to all-time lows at the Rogers Centre.
I’ve now been to four home games, with last night’s 13-12 loss to the Boston Red Sox being the most-recent, and it’s pretty grim in the former-SkyDome.
The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair reported from the game that: “Adam Lind, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay all had three hits for the Blue Jays in front of a mostly uninterested crowd of 13,847.”
I don’t really agree with Blair’s assessment that the crowd was “uninterested”, but I do think that the numbers at Jays games are a going concern.
After all, that crowd of nearly 14,000 fans was the fifth largest take for the Jays this season, behind only opening night (46,321) and any of the three games against the Los Angeles Angels two weekends ago.
The Rogers Centre is averaging 16,032 fans per game this season, worst in Major League Baseball. Although it is worth noting that the Jays are drawing only one fan less than the Cleveland Indians.
Still, this is a significant drop from 2009’s average of 23,162 per game, 22nd in the league.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to why this might be, including the accusation that Canadians are uninterested in baseball. These theories may or may not be true.
Personally, I think it can be summed up in one name: Roy Halladay.
It’s not just that the ace pitcher gave the Blue Jays a nearly-guaranteed win every time he pitched. It wasn’t all about the hypnotically rhythmic pace Halladay keeps. It’s not just that he was arguably the most popular player on the team - although all that is true.
No, it’s because Halladay’s departure signalled to the Toronto fan base that the Jays’ management just didn’t care anymore. It was as plain as raising a white flag of surrender. The Blue Jays management was going to scrap much of the team and get little in return.
The way J.P. Riccardi botched the contract negotiations with Halladay was particularly galling. When he tried to play the media into scape-goating Halladay, it just added insult to injury.
This, coupled with the departures of solid players like Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, has deflated interest in the Blue Jays and alienated their customers.
Winning can cure all attendance woes, but the Blue Jays need to reassure their fans that the franchise is putting its best foot forward and trying to stay competitive. The loss of Halladay, Scutaro and Barajas ruined that image and it will take general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the suits at the Rogers Centre a long time to recover from this past off-season.
Yesterday I tried to be sunny and say three nice things about Major League Baseball. It took less than 24 hours for Alex Rodriguez to bring me back down with his bush league play.
In case you missed it, Yahoo Sports’ Big League Stew summed it up well:
“In the sixth inning of the A's 4-2 victory, Rodriguez went from first to third on a foul ball by Robinson Cano. His trip back to first took him right over the pitcher's mound, an unspoken no-no that ticked [starting pitcher Dallas] Braden off right away.
After a double play ended the inning, the 26-year-old pitcher immediately started yelling at A-Rod — watch it here — who claimed he didn't know he had done anything wrong.”
This isn’t the first time that ARod has broken one of baseball’s unwritten codes. We’ll ignore his admitted steroid use and focus on his transgressions against the game’s etiquette.
My first exposure to Rodriguez’s classless brand of play was during the infamous 2004 American League Championship Series with his New York Yankees leading the series against the Boston Red Sox 3-0. On a routine groundout to the pitcher ARod decided to chop the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s hand. After some deliberation the umpires ruled him out.
It became a turning point in the series with the Red Sox rallying to an improbable seven-game series victory.
Three seasons later, Rodriguez got into the same kind of shenanigans at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. During an infield fly Rodriguez, circling rounding third, yelled right behind the rookie infielder who had called for the ball. Believing that he was being called off by another Blue Jay, the fielder let the ball fall harmlessly to the ground, allowing the Yankees to score.
Asked about the incident, ARod claimed that he had only yelled in celebration.
My problem with ARod isn’t so much what he does, but how he handles the ensuing criticism. He refuses to accept responsibility.
I don’t mind there being a heel in baseball. In fact, I think it’s one of the best things about Barry Bonds’ entire career. I didn’t like the former Giants slugger, but I could at least admire his willingness to be the villain.
Instead, of Bonds’ unique sense of personal responsibility, we get Rodriguez saying this in reaction to Braden’s blow-up: “He just told me to get off his mound. I was a little surprised. I'd never quite heard that. Especially from a guy that has a handful of wins in his career ... I thought it was pretty funny actually.”
I see ARod’s flaunting of baseball’s social conventions as something akin to taking a run at a goaltender in hockey or flagrantly fouling a star player in basketball. You can do it, but don’t act surprised when they’re upset.
Don’t dismiss their complaints because you have a higher batting average or get more lucrative endorsement deals. Appreciate that if you lack respect for your opponents they’re going to disrespect you. Expect some sort of retribution and take your lumps.
Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be on the verge of another frustrating season. So I’m focusing on fantasy baseball.
Sure, I still have a seasons pass to all the Jays’ games, but it’s more satisfying to root for teams that I have some measure of control over, teams that won’t have to shed salary or ever let go of Roy Halladay.
Come late August some of my teams should be vying for a playoff spot. I can’t say the same for Toronto.
And I’ve got a lot of opportunities for championships as well – I’m now the commissioner of three leagues, with teams in another three pools.
The breadth and depth of my 2010 fantasy baseball experience will be pretty wide too. I’m in rotisserie leagues, a keeper league, an auction-style draft, an auto-draft as well as some good old fashioned head-to-head scoring.
For anyone who has never participated in fantasy baseball, I highly recommend Sam Walker’s Fantasyland. It’s an excellent introduction to the history and characters of the non-sport.
Walker is the senior special writer and sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He decided to give fantasy baseball a try after getting burnt out by the constant allegations of steroid use and exponential growth of salaries in the real-life game.
Taking a sabbatical from his day job, Walker put together a small front office comprised of a NASA statician, a head scout and an astrologer, all in an attempt to best the cream of the fantasy crop in the Tout Wars – a league for the experts who write the websites, magazines and books that the average fan consults.
Spending thousands of dollars on his staff, flights to the Grapefruit League and consulting with the actual players on his team, Walker guides the reader through the world of fantasy baseball.
It’s a really humorous and informative read as Walker takes an unorthodox approach to rekindling his love for America’s pastime.
I’m not as wary of baseball as Walker was, and I’ll never put that much into my fantasy teams. However, I am frustrated with some aspects of baseball, particularly the struggles of my local squad.
Fantasy baseball gives me a forum to follow other corners of Major League Baseball and channel some of my fandom into more fruitful avenues.
For the next two days I’ll be going over fantasy baseball kits and magazines and running mock drafts to try and get a feel for which players I should be taking and when. I’ll be putting together crib sheets and analyzing my opponent’s tendencies.
Opening Day is all about a renewed sense of hope, as all teams start on an equal footing. This year, however, I’ve got seven teams to follow, not just one.