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Wednesday, July 08, 2009
The Death of Baseball in TorontoThe Blue Jays have released B.J. Ryan. He probably has about $14-15 million left on that $47 million deal they gave him. That's on top of the $99 million or so they owe Vernon Wells through 2014, the $61 million or so they owe Alex Rios through 2014, and the combined $26.5 million or so they owe Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay through next year. As a result, the Jays have to trade Roy Halladay to save money. Those other dudes will still be hanging around.
As Pete mentioned in the comments yesterday, attendance in Toronto stinks. As he wrote last winter, the future of baseball in Toronto is rather ugly as well.
What a mess. Toronto is something like the fifth largest market in baseball, which probably makes them the second or third largest single-team market. They're certainly the only team that has a whole country to itself in many important respects. They used to outdraw everyone. They used to win all of the time. Yesterday Pete said that he "wouldn’t be surprised if there is no MLB in Toronto in a handful or several years." I don't know if I'm that pessimistic, but it's certainly beyond depressing.
What, or who, killed baseball in Toronto?
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 4:36pm
Jack Marshall said...
You guys talk like the Jays are the Nationals. The Jays have been spectacularly unlucky with injuries the past two years. It happens. If Wells and Rios had not declined, if the young pitchers not come down lame, if all that pitching depth could have been converted into depth elsewhere, I don’t think it’s at all certain that the Jays wouldn’t have a play-off team. And what stopped the Jays from trading for Jason Bay (who was not “bought”)? The Pirates gave him up for some minor leaguers. The Jays have the resources to compete in the East, and so do the Orioles. It just hasn’t worked out. I would not be shocked if the Jays ended up finishing ahead of the Yankees this season. Then what will the argument be?
Yes, of course a team’s attendance swells after a post-season bid. But you’re talking about losing a franchise while a team is generally above 500. I’m saying a winning team’s core support should be sufficient to keep it healthy in years when it doesn’t get to the post-season.
Posted 07/08 at 10:39 PM
Kevin S. said...
I’m sorry, this Yankees/Red Sox whining is quite annoying. This decade, the Yankees and Red Sox have both made the playoffs in four of nine years. In those other five years, they could have beaten out another AL team for a WC berth (in 2006, in fact, they DID finish ahead of the Sox, though not the Tigers), and they failed to.
Rule 76: No excuses, play like a champion.
Posted 07/08 at 10:47 PM
Jason B said...
As a Blue Jays fan in Braves/Cards/Reds country (Tennessee), I can only chime in that yes, it is maddening how little margin for error the team has. Things have broken badly for the Jays over the last couple of years, as Jack rightly points out; while every team deals with injury issues, some are able to bob along and remain in contention in a thoroughly mediocre divison (witness the Mets). Some are able to buy and trade their way out of their injury woes. Injuries pile up in Toronto, and you can barely make out the Yankees and Red Sox zooming past you in the distance. There’s so little room for error, because they’re saddled with a number of monstrous contracts that just didn’t pan out. Season effectively over, 60 games in, thanks for coming out, try again next year. With the Jays, everything has to break right, for a whole season, much as it did for the Rays last year.
The hardcore fans still pay attention, still care, but the casual fan has no interest in watching a team around .500 that’s 20 games out come September. Which is a shame, because even though this team won’t sniff the postseason there are wonderful stories to watch unfold - Halladay, Hill, Lind, the young pitchers developing, etc.
Posted 07/08 at 10:52 PM
Jack Marshall said...
I wonder how much of that feeling is tied to hockey and basketball cultures, in which the regular season is just a warm-up for play-offs. I became a baseball fan in a city where you knew the team had no shot at all, and that the goal would be to finish a place higher than the previous year. 3 games out of 4th in September is what mattered, not the 24 out of first. First? Are you kidding me? But the games were exciting and it was our team. I saw great plays. I saw great players. I saw games I remember 30 years later. I saw a no-hitter, a bunch of close calls, three cycles and lots of other amazing things. The real baseball cities still are like that, aren’t they?
Posted 07/08 at 11:03 PM
@Johnny Tuttle: Amen. I remember reading Jack Todd in the Montreal Gazette shortly after the Expos’ last game (yes, I’m aware Todd is a grouchier, more-Canadian Mike Lupica).
But he argued the point that what happened in Montreal didn’t have to happen. It took a concerted effort by MLB to ignore what was happening rather than do something legitimate to fix the mess. They drew over 3 million fans a season in the late ‘70s - so the interest was definitely there. Once the Expos became wards of MLB, it was over.
So you’re absolutely right. If the fans stayed away from the Expos too long, it was only due to the combination of MLB and Jeffrey Loria (how Loria was ever allowed to buy another baseball team, I’ll never know).
Posted 07/08 at 11:24 PM
Jack Marshall said...
Now, the Expos are another story. It would take quite a fan to keep going to that mint green horror the Expos had to play in. And if my team was finally looking like it was going to make a Series run after 25 years and baseball picked that season to shut down the season and the Series…well, let’s put it this way: if there had been a strike in 1967 just as the Red Sox were in their first pennant race since 1950, I wouldn’t bet that the team would still be in Boston today. Blaming the strike is usually unconvincing, but in the case of the Expos, I believe. Do Toronto fans identify that closely with Montreal? I wouldn’t think so.
Posted 07/08 at 11:34 PM
@Jack: Excellent point.
You can’t truly judge a fan base until a team reaches the playoffs. And judging by the Blue Jays attendance records in the early ‘90s, they showed up. One can argue that the ‘94 baseball strike short-circuited Toronto’s attendance momentum, and maybe derailed any chance at prolonged success by the Jays (even though they were 16 GB when the strike commenced). I’ll listen to that.
But there’s something to be said about all that successful baseball not leading to bigger and better things. Fans are happy to see competitive baseball (I’m a Mets fan - I’d kill for it these days), but they need to eventually be rewarded with further progress or the interest will wane. Look at what happened to the Braves at the end of their run - they couldn’t sell out early round playoff games. No one thinks the Braves were failures, but you couldn’t blame the fans for wanting more.
If the Jays win, they’ll draw. As for the mountain of the Yankees and Sox in front of them…
Posted 07/09 at 12:31 AM
(1) Considering the huge number of successful Canadians in MLB (off the top of my head: Jason Bay, Eric Bedard, Justin Morneau, Russell Martin, Scott Richmond, Matt Stairs….I’m sure there are at least a dozen more) and considering how popular they were in the 90’s (first team to draw 4m) saying that the team can’t draw in Canada is asinine. There are clearly a lot of Canadians playing at a high level and there are clearly a lot of Canadians who’d pay to watch competitive baseball.
(Incidentally, a player on the ‘93 Phillies team said that the Skydome was the loudest stadium he’d ever heard in his life, including rock concerts.)
(2) However legitimate his excuses might be, the fact of the matter is that Riccardi has had nearly a decade to make this team a playoff team and he hasn’t. Furthermore, he’s had a number of PR debacles and he seems to think that it’s cute to spout out at the mouth about stupid crap (including disparaging his own prospects as well as denigrating other team’s players on talk radio).
It’s possible - not likely, but possible - that Riccardi’s a great baseball man and has the crude baseball knowledge to run a team. But he’s the complete opposite of a leader, motivator, or steadying force (and believe me, I use those terms very begrudgingly because I think that 99% of the time they’re used by retarded American businessmen as an excuse to avoid having to actually, ya know, build anything).
It’s time for the Rogers company to thank Riccardi for his efforts, recognize some of his good works, and then send him on his way.
(3) The Nationals are the worst organization in baseball, in my opinion. Nevermind the uniform (“Natinals”) incident, nevermind Elijah Dukes and the back-and-forth about firing Acta, nevermind the barren, taxpayer subsidized stadium that the residents resent. No, this organization’s standing can be summed up in one anecdote: the team’s president phoned Philadelphia sports talk radio and pleaded with the opposing team’s fans to attend games at his team’s stadium.
Posted 07/09 at 03:20 AM
Johnny Tuttle said...
“The real baseball cities still are like that, aren’t they?”
Yes, and that’s true in Toronto. Every team has a good, core base that’s going to stay there through thick and thin, and to suggest that that wasn’t there in Montreal or not there in Toronto now is silly.
The two main points I have are:
1) Loria and MLB murdered baseball in Montreal. It wasn’t the park, apathy on the fans, or the strike (although the strike didn’t help). Loria killed baseball in Montreal.
2) You’re asking Toronto to (along with the Rays and Orioles) uniquely accept something no other fans have to: no chance at the playoffs barring the remarkable. Toronto could likely afford more player contracts now, and they’ve signed more internationally in the 16 year old FA set. They are spending more. The bad contracts really start and end with Wells. It’s different for them than it is for someone signing Igawa or Pavano or Penny or Dice or whatnot, sure. They retained the local hero after letting Delgado go. And Green.
Manny was a FA. Manny traded for Bay. Bay not bought?
Posted 07/09 at 06:20 AM
Kind of some long and winding logic there, JTuttle. Sox didn’t simply go out and spend more than anyone else to get Bay. As stated earlier, Toronto had an opportunity to aquire Bay, but whether through ignorance or apathy, they did not.
Posted 07/09 at 06:59 AM
Brandon Heikoop said...
People recall that some Ramirez guy was a part of the deal acquiring Bay, right? And while LaRoche had struggled in his limited big league playing time prior to the trade, he was still a highly touted youngster, maybe not in the mold of Travis Snider, but certainly not far from the value of Adam Lind.
That said, would the Jays be much better right now if they had replaced Bay with Lind? What about in 2011?
Nevertheless, the negativity shot at JP for not acquiring Bay is a joke.
Posted 07/09 at 07:12 AM
Wooden U. Lykteneau said...
The Nationals are the worst organization in baseball, in my opinion. Nevermind the uniform (“Natinals”) incident, nevermind Elijah Dukes and the back-and-forth about firing Acta, nevermind the barren, taxpayer subsidized stadium that the residents resent. No, this organization’s standing can be summed up in one anecdote: the team’s president phoned Philadelphia sports talk radio and pleaded with the opposing team’s fans to attend games at his team’s stadium.
Yeah, I suppose it’s really, really easy to rebuild an organization after it had been plundered by Loria and raped by Omar Minaya and MLB. But thanks for not mentioning those facts, because after all, an anecdote will adequately explain everything.
Posted 07/09 at 07:57 AM
Johnny Tuttle said...
How did the Sox get Ramirez again?
Are there are differences between how the Pirates and Sox treated or are treating Bay’s pending free agency?
Posted 07/09 at 08:17 AM
Pete Toms said...
Geez, look what happens when you’re away from the internet for 18 or 19 hours! I’m surprised (pleasantly) that there is this much reaction to a post about pro ball in our “home and native land”.
Without looking back on what I wrote this winter and in no particular order, the future of pro ball in Toronto is threatened by;
1. Ownership. Big media companies - Time Warner, FOX, Disney - did a 180 and decided pro sports franchises weren’t a good fit with their business model. I suspect Rogers might reach the same conclusion (the Toronto papers were rife with rumors in the spring that Rogers wants out, no doubt Rogers was the source of the rumors). If Rogers bails, what group or individual will step up? MLSE is always mentioned and that is plausible but outside of them?....And this brings us around to Beeston, why is he involved? Certainly he has better things to do than be the caretaker of a club with a mid (or perhaps looming low)level payroll competing in the AL East. Does Beeston know something the rest of us don’t?
2. The AL East. Yes the Jays more often than not field a competitive team but that don’t cut it in the AL East. I think it is unfair (I’m biased due to fandom) and I think a lot of Toronto sports fans think the same. Note that the 27-14 start this season generated no boost at the gate, an indicator that fans didn’t believe this team was a contender (and they were correct). (Side note, the crappy attendance in Toronto this year also has to be impacted by economic concerns and job losses in Southern Ontario) Since the introduction of the Wild Card, only 4? (IIRC)franchises haven’t made the playoffs, KC, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington (TB and Milwaukee were part of this group prior to last season). Making the playoffs once every 15 years or so would help boost the popularity of pro ball in Toronto but that is a whole lot more difficult when you have to best either Boston or New York.
3. Rogers Centre. Toronto just missed out on the “mallpark” phenomenon. Mallparks are under construction in Minnesota and Miami, which will leave only Oakland, TB and Toronto playing in big multi purpose stadiums (technically I don’t know if the Trop is multi purpose but that isn’t the point). Rogers Centre is ok, it sure is nice to have a roof in Toronto in April but it is not a place to “see and be seen”. Look at the enormous success of FC at BMO Field, no doubt the intimate soccer only facility has to be a major contributor to the poplularity of that product. Again, maybe Beeston know something the rest of us don’t. I think the future of the NFL in Toronto is tied up with the future of baseball. I can’t see the owners of the NFL in Toronto recouping a billion dollar investment playing out of the Rogers Centre, it ain’t up to snuff….so, if it ain’t suitable for the NFL and not so great for baseball…..what gives?
I digress, but I’m sick of the 94 strike being blamed for the demise of baseball in Toronto, it is an excuse not a reason. See the reaction in this country to the NHL lockout for evidence. When the NHL returned TV rating went up significantly and attendance was boffo. The reason? Simple, we missed hockey. We didn’t miss baseball, it was an excuse for the trendy fans to jump off the bandwagon.
Professional baseball is dead and dying in Canada. The Expos died, the Jays are floundering at the gate. AAA has left Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Lower level leagues abandoned London, St. Catherines and Medicine Hat. Indy ball folded in Ottawa and is struggling in Edmonton and Calgary. There just aren’t enough ball fans here….
Posted 07/09 at 09:14 AM
Jack Marshall said...
Oh please. “Bay not bought” is right. Manny’s free agent status—-8 years earlier!!—-doesn’t turn a trade into a purchase. Pittsburgh ended up with three players of various potential—-Moss, Laroche,and Hansen, in trade for Bay. How is that a purchase?
Posted 07/09 at 09:50 AM
Johnny Tuttle said...
Why was Bay available again?
Posted 07/09 at 09:59 AM
Tim Kelly said...
I would defer to Pete Toms as the expert on Toronto baseball so I have nothing to add there. Two other things:
1. It should not be difficult for people to understand the very different financial realities faced by the Yankees/Red Sox vs. the other clubs in their division. Arguing about Bay or Manny or AROD or anyone else is just a distraction. The distinctions are obvious.
2. I think it’s wonderful that Jack grew up in a time where winning didn’t matter, it was just about the love of sport and the purity of it all. That all sounds great but if any team went a # of years without winning or feeling as though they had a chance, you’d certainly start to see some empty seats. Hell, Wrigley is packed every single day and I could not give away (let alone sell) tickets for a Labor Day weekend game in the bleachers in ‘06 because the team was awful. Having a chance to win matters in any city.
Posted 07/09 at 10:20 AM
Jack Marshall said...
Tim: I never said there weren’t empty seats. There are always fans who only care about winning teams, and the presence or absence of those fans affect the bottom line, often critically. These are the people who will jeer at team icons in their waning years. I just find it amazing, coming from an era in which every single team in the American League realized annually that the chances of anyone but the Yankees winning the pennant were slim and none, that people can seriously offer the argument that the strength of Boston and New York depress the enjoyment of genuine baseball fans in watching their home team play baseball.
Posted 07/09 at 10:35 AM
Wooden U. Lykteneau said...
I took Jack’s point to mean that if winning is the end-all, be-all for a fan, then (s)he’s not a true fan of the game, but of the bandwagon. That may sting, but that’s only because the truth hurts.
The knee-jerk reaction that winning is required to attract these “fans” is also correct; it simply downplays, if not ignores, the fair-weather nature thereof.
The fact of the matter is that there are more reasons to go to a baseball game than just to see the hometown team win. Stan Kasten may have been a little over the top in welcoming the Philly fans to DC, but he’s cognizant of the reality that his neighbors to north draw 38,000 per when the Sox and Yankees are playing the O’s, and 19,000 per when they’re not.
That’s not an indictment of the Nationals front office, but of the “fans” themselves. Lost in that story is the economic reality that IT’S HIS JOB to put butts in the seat. If the “fans” don’t like it, all they have to do is show up.
Posted 07/09 at 10:39 AM
Tim Kelly said...
Having a chance to win matters, and it matters for nearly everyone. You don’t need to win, but you need to demonstrate the capacity for winning at a minimum to keep a large % of your fanbase interested, and more importantly, willing to spend their money to support you. The original question was about what killed baseball in Toronto and I stand by my original argument: Fans in Toronto have the deck stacked against them.
No one is arguing about how genuine the fans are in Toronto, or whether they have hard-core fans, or the nature of bandwagons. Go read DJF and you’ll easily see that there are passionate, knowledgeable fans of Toronto baseball and that’s not in question.
The question is: Why is support for the Jays flagging in Toronto? There have been many good reasons given and among them is that the Jays are in a position (the AL East) where the chance at winning is substantially smaller than nearly anywhere else.
As the fans in Philadelphia, or St. Louis, or here in Chicago whether they’d like to switch divisions with the Jays and I guarantee you that you’d have a not-insignificant % of fatalists that would throw their arms up in despair.
Incidentally, you’d also re-invigorate that fan base up in Toronto…
Posted 07/09 at 11:37 AM