Toronto has longed for sustained sports success. Unfortunately, Toronto’s major sports franchises are the sort of bubbles we have become accustomed to on Wall Street: predictably irrational, fraught with initial excitement, built like a house of cards. Coincidentally, with the markets at the moment ebbing more than they do flow, the fan bases of our city’s franchises are left wanting to jump off the same buildings as those fair-weather Wall Street types.
Yet the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t even felt the temporary euphoria of a bubble since well before the dot-com boom. The Jays keep aiming for the same oasis, the same mirage of grandeur. What we have witnessed, since the back-to-back World Series, is a repeating cycle:
Step 1: Half-heartedly cultivate prospects.
Step 2: Give up prematurely on said prospects, panic, and sign free agents out-of-step with revenues.
Step 3: Fire GM, blame him for the mess, and repeat.
Toronto is a world-class city that desperately wants to compete with the never-sleeping giants in their division. With fan bases firmly entrenched into the cultural fabric of their cities, the Yankees and Red Sox are simply in a higher financial class. Toronto hasn’t come to grips with its placement in the AL East caste. But this is not to say that they cannot rise above their social standing.
With rumours swirling about the Jays’ impending old boys’ reunion, it seems like the more things change, the more the Jays stay the same. Next season could find Pat Gillick as president, Paul Beeston as CEO, Cito Gaston as manager, and a whiz-kid Doogie Howser type as GM, a contrast to the old farts. I guess the idea is to surround Doogie with seasoned baseball men to remind him there was a time in baseball before Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball.
When J.P. Ricciardi arrived eight years ago, he claimed the minor league cupboard was bare, and set out to replenish a barren development system. Looking over the system today, you might think he took the metaphor literally and replenished it with cups and paper plates. Ricciardi also went out of his way to label Carlos Delgado’s contract an albatross while Delgado was still productive. Ricciardi left town responsible for the development of Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, but he also inherited Gord Ash draftees like Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells (in his prime).
Eight years later, new GM Alex Anthopolous is espousing the same rhetoric, post-Ricciardi. Anthopolous has stated his intention to refocus on scouting and development. Similarly, he also has a problem contract on his hands, with Vernon Wells’ absurdly back-loaded deal. If Delgado’s contract was an albatross, then Wells’ is surely the seventh sign of the apocalypse. The parallels between past and present regimes are numerous, with one exception: it won’t take four years to change course with Anthopolous.
With the likely appointment of Gillick, logic would dictate the Jays won’t be going under a much-needed rebuild. His resume is undeniable. Gillick and Co. will be charged with convincing Rogers to bring back the glory days they once provided for the city. But that would involve a significant payroll increase.
Now that Ted Rogers is deader than the parents on Party of Five, Rogers’ commitment to the Blue Jays is at best by way of their commitment to stockholders. Without the face to put to the name, Rogers won’t undergo the same scrutiny as Ted used to. The fantasy of a payroll developed to compete with the Yankees could be dreamed up in only some post-surgery Vicodin haze.
Realistically, what we have is a faceless ownership not far removed from the teachers’ union that owns the “Toronto Maple Laughs.” This same faceless ownership’s staunchest commitment is to Blackberry-mongering (not unlike the teachers’ union’s pension-padding). At best, Rogers will reinvest the money saved on the Rios and Rolen contract dumps, claiming a renewed financial commitment.
Jays fans won’t buy it—at least not completely. Like a neurotic, unsure kid looking for a little reassurance, Jays fans are as optimistic as a pessimist’s glass is half full. At least every October, hope springs eternal—even if their team is perpetually in an autumn flux. It’s understandable how the ignorance of the common Jays fan can be reinterpreted as adherence to the Blue Jay way. Well intentioned but fleeting, the fans’ commitment is like the success the organization haphazardly plans for.
The problem lies with an ownership whose priorities lie in its product proliferation rather than on field success. This all too familiar set up may seem fresh, but it is not the answer. It is a house built on a bubble, or at best, a deck of cards.
In a desperate attempt to compete with cities to which we feel inferior, we are destined to fail. Repeating the same actions and expecting different results isn’t just the definition of insanity, but the defining characteristic of a city overcompensating for its inferiority complex.
The Blue Jays are only a microcosm of this ongoing problem.