TORONTO (Oct. 12) — I’m starting to think the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs have a blood pact: See no evil; speak no evil; extol the virtues of a good regular season; paper over concerns about repeatedly choking in the playoffs.
There are too many similarities. It cannot be a coincidence.
Substitute the smooth–talking Mark Shapiro with the forever–evasive Brendan Shanahan — each of whom makes, perhaps, two public appearances a year — and it is eerily identical. Ross Atkins and the recently departed Kyle Dubas? Though a toddler could speak with more clarity than the Blue Jays general manager, he and his ex–Leafs counterpart perfected the art of babbling in excess while saying nothing. The contrast is that Dubas inappreciably broke ranks in his end–of–season gabfest. He was no longer perfectly aligned with Shanahan. Three days later, ol’ Brendan went human on us and forlornly explained why he had to cut ties with his hand–picked GM. This will never happen with the Blue Jays. Shapiro and Atkins came over from Cleveland as Siamese baseball twins. One would have to be surgically detached from the other before change could occur. Kind of like Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk at the end of their National Hockey League careers. Remember how they departed the Maple Leafs in 2005 as free agents and co–signed with Florida? Same with the Lake Erie duo at Rogers Centre.
Shapiro, in his rare presence before cameras and notepads, comes across as engaging, friendly and rather decent. Which he probably is. He speaks well, smiles, chuckles and doesn’t engage in conflict with inquiring reporters. But, neither did Mark say anything of consequence, today, during his end–of–season media gathering. He presented himself much more genuinely than Atkins — to the point where Sportsnet baseball gurus Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker suggested that all would be well in Blue Jays land if Shapiro had preceded his GM to the media podium. Of course, a person suffering lockjaw would compare favorably to Atkins. So, it’s kind of irrelevant. Still, Shapiro merely ballyhooed the company line that no one but John Schneider had even a smidgen of knowledge as to why starter Yusei Kikuchi was warming up in the third inning of Game 2, last week, at Target Field. We are still to believe that everyone except Schneider was thoroughly flummoxed when the manager went to the mound and removed the effective José Berrios. That under no circumstance was it part of a larger plan, even if Shapiro conceded the Blue Jays approached that scenario no differently than during the 162–game regular season.
C’mon, Mark, give us a break.
Forget the silly excuse that the Blue Jays should have prevailed while yielding only two runs to the Twins. None of the big stars could cash in with teammates in scoring position. That, if nothing else, was consistent with the six–month playoff warm–up. Again, our baseball wizards completely overlooked that professional athletes are emotional beings. Of which there is no chapter in the Analytics/Advanced Metrics handbook. Watching José Berrios trudge to the dugout, as confused as the rest of us, ripped the heart and soul out of the 2023 Blue Jays. Period. End of story. As a faction of players strongly intimated afterward in the funerial visitors’ clubhouse. It ranked close to the top among boneheaded decisions in franchise history. And, it directly cost the team a chance to force a decisive third wild card match the following day. It was a colossal screw–up… for the entire baseball world to see.
And, for Atkins and Shapiro to try and cover up, without a lot of success.
It’s intriguing as to why the other Toronto teams under the Rogers/Bell domain — the Raptors and F.C. — refuse to follow along. Even if both clubs also disappoint (with recent championships to dine on), management responds more urgently to lack of playoff achievement. GMs and coaches are replaced for that reason only, rather than being retained because they presented fans an attractive regular season. With the Blue Jays and Leafs, nothing else matters. “Hey, we won 89 games,” extolled Shapiro. To which reporters in the media conference today were likely dying to respond “big, fu**ing deal!” It’s what doesn’t happen after the regular season that should dictate the future of management and coaches. Particularly when failure occurs over the bulk of an entire decade, ala the “win nothing” Leafs and Blue Jays. Still, everything is status quo. The authors of each successive playoff calamity retain their positions… and their crippling strategies. Why? Perhaps because there is no impetus to sell tickets. Both clubs routinely pack ’em in. The Leafs have been doing it since electricity was invented; the Blue Jays during much of the post–Alex Anthopoulos era… which seems about as long. Winning matters only from October to April in hockey; from April to September in baseball. Just witness the gushing reaction to Auston Matthews recording a hattrick in the season opener, last night, against Montreal. Which is three more goals than he threatened to score in five opportunities against Florida last spring. And, which overlooked that the defensively inadequate Leafs were life–and–death to scratch out two points against a team that will finish in the bottom–four of the NHL standings.
It is all about the comparatively meaningless regular season. For both clubs.
Shanahan and Shapiro continue to make the big, important decisions.
With nothing added to their Toronto résumés.