TORONTO (Oct. 24) — Parting is such sweet sorrow, particularly if you’ve gone steady for three months — as have people in this city with the Toronto Blue Jays. In the blink of an eye, an every–day relationship ends, only to blossom again when love springs eternal. Win or lose, it is the endless cycle of a baseball fan.
Rousing groggily this morning, you may have found yourself wondering about the time of today’s game. Until it hit you — seconds later and like a wave. There is no game today. As a rabid fan of the Blue Jays in the 1980’s, I remember well the sudden emptiness; the bitter disappointment. More than two decades of reporting on Toronto teams for a radio station eliminated the partisanship. It was impossible to credibly execute my role with a pom–pom. Today, as a rabid observer of the Blue Jays, I can empathize. My 18–year–old son, Shane, called from Guelph last night with death in his voice. It was over. And, the finality hit hard.
The Blue Jays can honestly take a bow. There was nothing bogus about the incredible run they embarked on from the end of July til the fourth week of October. A team can get hot over a brief span, but no team illegitimately puts together a 42–14 record (as did the Jays between July 29 and Sep. 30). This was a serious championship contender for three months — until it yielded to an even–more serious contender. There is no shame in losing to the Kansas City Royals, a club I’ve chosen to defeat the New York Mets in six games in the World Series, which begins Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have proven it no fluke that a base–runner was 90 feet from home plate in Game 7 of last year’s World Series. That’s how narrow a victory the San Francisco Giants pulled off — as narrow as the Royals win over the Blue Jays last night.
It isn’t unusual for a good team to lose gut–wrenchingly before it learns how to win. Heaven knows the Blue Jays were poster boys for such disappointment in the 80’s and early 90’s. You think last night’s defeat was hard to swallow? Imagine how we Toronto fans agonized over the 1985 American League Championship Series, when the Blue Jays took a 3–1 lead against the Royals; dropped Game 5 at Kansas City, and then came home with consecutive opportunities at old Exhibition Stadium to grab the pennant in their first playoff appearance. Had George Brett never been born, the Blue Jays probably would have won the World Series that autumn. With Brett — the greatest hitter I’ve seen to this point in my life — the Royals overcame their ALCS deficit with a fair amount of ease. But, I can tell you the chagrin was palpable.
How about 1987? You’ve likely read about one of the most astonishing collapses in baseball history. I covered the damned thing. Toronto held a 4½–game lead over second–place Detroit in the American League East with seven games to play. Seven Blue Jay losses later and the Tigers were on their way to the ALCS. In 1989, the Jays made the playoffs and were toyed with by Rickey Henderson and the Oakland A’s. Jack Morris, Kirby Puckett and the Minnesota Twins embarrassed Toronto in the 1991 ALCS. If ever a team had to lose before learning how to win, it was our local baseball heroes, who finally got it right in 1992 and 1993.
But, the journey had been endless.
Professional teams in this city have a penchant for becoming satisfied with comparatively meager accomplishment. It happened to the Maple Leafs after a near–miss against Boston in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. And, to the Raptors after a remarkably even skirmish with Brooklyn in the 2014 National Basketball Association playoffs that came down to a missed Toronto shot in the final seconds. The Raptors made the playoffs again last season, but didn’t have the same competitive fire and were humiliated by Washington in a four–game sweep. So, making it to the post–season one year guarantees nothing about the future.
As such, the Blue Jays — from top to bottom — have to double–down; to use this season of progress as a springboard. It begins with club–owner Rogers Communications, which finally went all in at the trade deadline, providing general manager Alex Anthopoulos carte–blanche to augment his roster. The additions of Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, LaTroy Hawkins, Ben Revere and Mark Lowe cost a bundle and put the Jays over the top. The pennant–chase and playoff run generated unprecedented income for Rogers, but the baseball wing of the cable/wireless behemoth provides a small fraction of revenue. Having traditionally held the line with the Blue Jays budget, will ownership be fully committed again this off–season?
It may appear so initially, as a much–deserved contract extensions for Anthopoulos could be announced within a few weeks. The GM will be entrusted with re–building the farm system he yielded primarily in trades for R.A. Dickey, Tulowitzki and Price. Double–A will need to incorporate some change to the current roster; an infusion of new blood is essential for a contending team in any sport. Clearly, the Blue Jays have enough hitting and defense. The pitching staff may be largely re–structured with the anticipated departures of Price, Hawkins and Mark Buehrle. Though the Jays will attempt to re–sign Price, I can more clearly envision Kansas City and the Chicago Cubs competing with $20–plus million to lure the veteran yet still–young (30) hurler. It will necessitate the acquisition of another staff “ace” as I contend it’s too soon to apply such a tag to Marcus Stroman, who hasn’t yet pitched a full season in the Majors. He has the mechanics, velocity and emotional composition of a great hurler… but in time.
The MLB Network posted a graph of up–coming free agents:
Pitchers on the market will have taken note of Toronto in the playoffs this year… and of the bountiful run–support provided by the most potent attack in the Major Leagues. So, Anthopoulos should have a number of options — providing his 2016 budget allows for it.
With respect to positional talent, the Blue Jays should return fairly intact and it’s these players who must be fully invigorated to contend, once again, for the American League East title. You would think such a challenge might be automatic but it rarely is. Subliminal fulfillment often sets in after a first wave of success and such key figures as Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Chris Colabello, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins cannot rest on their 2015 laurels. Donaldson will be named MVP of the American League but is likely to have a sour taste after a middling playoff and a calamitous 0–for–5 at Kansas City on Friday. For whatever reason, the Blue Jays stopped hitting with runners in scoring position. The incumbent players have to remember what it felt like to watch the Royals dance around the Kauffman Stadium pitch after securing the pennant.
The Blue Jays provided joy and wonderment to a city long–riddled with losing teams and will therefore be lauded accordingly. It must be remembered, however, that ownership got serious only at the last minute; that the Jays — even with their booming bats — were a mediocre 50–51 the day Anthopoulos acquired Tulowitzki. Rogers has to stay serious about its baseball team in order for the Jays to have any chance of repeating — and eclipsing — their 2015 power–move. If any form of satisfaction or contentment prevails, a backward step will be unavoidable.