By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Sep. 23) – No person – least of all, Brian Burke – requires ESPN The Magazine to determine that our city is the absolute worst in major professional sports right now. It is there for all to see – in every league; in every season. Given the money, energy and emotion fans in this region pour into the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays, Toronto FC and (to a lesser extent) Argonauts, the perpetual losing is a travesty.
Managerial ineptitude is one thing – and a common thread in this era. But, for teams to grow discouraged and wave the white-flag the way the Leafs and Blue Jays have in the past six months is inexcusable. The Leafs’ story is well-documented: a Biblical collapse from playoff contention that cost Ron Wilson his job and yielded seven victories in their final 28 games. The Blue Jays have wimped out, completely. Think of the money Rogers Communications would save if the ball-club simply offered concession before chartering a jet hither-and-yon. Since July 29, the Jays are 15-35; they’ve lost five consecutively, and were blasted in St. Petersburg, Fla. over the weekend by a combined score of 26-6 – a trio of debacles against Tampa Bay.
And, ball fans, please spare me the excuse of injuries. Yes, the Blue Jays have been wracked this year but the New York Yankees – perennial contender the way Toronto is a door-mat – withstood a large portion of the season without Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira: three of the most dominant players in the game. How many more years can the Blue Jays cry wolf to a receptive audience? The last breath of playoff air for the franchise was that walk-off homer by Joe Carter that won the World Series against Philadelphia on Oct. 23, 1993. The club – only 17 years old at the time – captured its second consecutive title. In the ensuing 19 years? Zilch.
BLUE JAYS WERE EMBARRASSED BY TAMPA BAY THIS WEEKEND. GETTY IMAGES
I don’t follow basketball closely enough to determine why the Raptors are such a calamity but it must have something to do with drafting and player development, given the club’s perpetual rank in the overall standings. In fact, a malaise lingers at the Air Canada Centre, considering Leafs have had the identical problem – just four times as long. I’m not certain when Toronto FC won its last soccer game, but I bet the sun was setting close to 9 p.m. in these parts.
For those that care about the Canadian Football League, as I do, it is blatantly obvious the Argonauts are a Tier 2 outfit this season. And, that’s unfortunate with our city hosting the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup in November. Though they’ve provided more moments of legitimacy than all other Toronto teams, the Argos were handily subdued in consecutive weeks by the two best clubs in the CFL – B.C. and Montreal – getting destroyed, 31-10, on Sunday in a “first place” showdown with the Alouettes. Somebody must have spooked the Argos by uttering that foreign term.
Worst of all, folks, there is no end in sight.
The Leafs haven’t done nearly enough with a team that may have been the NHL’s most incompetent at season’s end. Among many issues, there are major concerns about goaltending and character – neither of which have been addressed in the off-season by Burke. All you need to know is the number of devoted hockey fans in this city that are relieved to be in the midst of a lockout.
The Raptors, guided by under-achieving manager Bryan Colangelo, selected University of Washington small-forward Terrance Ross eighth overall in the 2012 NBA draft. But, should any basketball fan in this city get excited after all of the blundering in the post-Vince Carter era? A hint of advancement under Colangelo is way overdue.
Toronto FC spits out coaches the way Burke eliminates chewing-tabacco: frequently and with ease. For the passionate minions that flock to BMO Field – sadly, in decreasing numbers – I’m hoping Paul Mariner is part of a solution.
As for the Blue Jays, nothing they tell us between October and April can be taken at face-value. After two decades of playoff absence – and while going through the motions at the end of a disastrous season – it is “show-me” time at Rogers Centre.
Fans in this city have been patient and generous to a fault.
They are deserving of considerably more.
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