Anyone who knows anything about hockey and the NHL will tell you that the most loyal fans to a losing team in hockey belongs to none other than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It just doesn’t matter how much they lose, the fans continue to buy tickets, they continue to fill the seats, and the Leafs just keep making money hand over fist as a result. The story, however, is entirely different for the Baseball and Basketball team in town. A recent article by Gregor Chisolm puts this on the front burner and has some interest quotes – and even a shot across the bows of some MLB franchises – from Alex Anthopoulos. The first quote from AA in question is as follows:
“Whenever there has been a buzz, an excitement for baseball in the city, the fans come out,”
That’s a fact. When the team is competitive and in the hunt for the division lead, the fans come out in hoards. However, this isn’t really a Toronto Blue Jays problem so much as it is an MLB salary and playoff structure problem. You see, as much as we can pick on Toronto hockey fans for cheering their beloved Leafs as much as they do, the truth of it is that they’re still within reach of making the playoffs well into the season most years due to the multitude of teams that make the playoffs in hockey.
Meanwhile, the Jays have been less fortunate in that by the end of July, most fans already know their team won’t make the playoffs. Add to that the fact that most big stars wind up in NY, BOS, PHI, and other big budget teams, and it lessens the attraction for fans to come out and cheer on the underdogs of the AL East. The budget differences and the playoff structure are 2/3 of the problem in my opinion, bad management and ownership has been the other.
The Toronto Blue Jays have not grasped the opportunity to be Canada’s team as they should have from the point the Expos left Montreal. They hired some leadership that put all of its stock into buying a few FAs to resolve all of the franchise woes, disregarded the scouting department slightly, and didn’t have a long-term plan to maintain a strong core and competitive team in Toronto. To top it all off, they have one of the wealthiest ownership in all of baseball, within the top 10, and still wind up in the bottom half of expenditures of budgets each season.
The hiring of Alex Anthopolous and bringing back Paul Beeston, however, changed all of that for the better. AA brings with him something the Toronto Blue Jays have lacked since Pat Gillick left: leadership and a plan. I would imagine that these two ingredients are a necessity if you plan on having success in MLB within its current structure.
If AA is successful in the least, there is no doubt in my mind that the Jays will inherit a generation of fans that will follow them for decades. Why? Well, just look at the competition in Toronto! The Toronto Raptors lose a star every time he makes the all star game for a few years and can become a FA and they seem to be rebuilding constantly as a result. The Leafs have been rebuilding since 1967, and the Football season is short and only has so many games within its season to interrupt the fan focus from baseball. So, it’s no surprise that when the Jays do well, the fans come out, because they have nothing else to cheer for in the city!
This is the time for the Jays to become Toronto’s team and to get a hoard of fans following them more intently than they currently do. All they need to do is make the playoffs. That’s it! Once that has been done once, the fans will take the Jays seriously once again and will trust in Alex’s plan. If they don’t make the playoffs within 3-4 years, I can’t see it getting any better in Toronto as most fans will turn on the franchise. And if the Leafs have any success during that time, forget about it, baseball will fall even further back. So, while Alex is right when speaking of the fans coming out, he’s entirely right! But, the clock on performing is ticking, and the quicker the Jays win, the better for his chances of keeping his job. Thankfully for him, the job of getting fans to come out is easier in Toronto than it is in other MLB cities. That brings me to his salvo shot:
“Some of those other markets have proven they can win, and they’ve done it for a few years and they still haven’t drawn in attendance.”
Ummm….Tampa Bay anyone? That was definitely a shot at the TB type franchises who win and don’t draw any better than they did when the lost. Again, he’s entirely right. There are a few franchises in baseball where winning does not breed fan loyalty or attract new fans to stadiums. San Diego, for instance, came within a hair of making the playoffs in 2010 but still had the 18th best attendance numbers in all of baseball. TB won the division and they still had the 22nd ranked attendance. Cincinnati made the playoffs for the first time in quite a while. The result was a 20th ranked attendance. What gives?
Here are the facts folks:
- There are only 7 seasons in all of MLB history where a team drew more than 4 million fans to its stadium.
- 1 of those seasons belongs to the Colorado Rockies – 4,483, 350 fans in 1993
- 1 of those seasons belongs to the New York Mets – 4,042,045 fans in 2008
- 4 of those seasons belong to the New York Yankees – 4,090,696/ 4,248,067/ 4,271,867/ 4,298,655 in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 respectively
- And the other 3 belong to the Toronto Blue Jays – 4,002,527/ 4,028,318/ 4,057,947 in 1991, 1992, ans 1993 respectively with 1991 being the first time it was ever done in MLB history
You can’t debate, deny, or argue this. It’s recorded fact that Toronto will support a winning team at a rate that is equivalent to the Yankees or any other club. The problem is that they won’t support a losing or even good team as well Yankees and other team fans will support their teams. Alex Anthopoulos knows this very well and is therefore building his team up like a brick wall, one brick at a time. Baseball’s a business of patience and thoroughness like no other professional sport. There are so many moving parts that need to click at the same time for everything to wind up as a success that it really becomes a work of art when it happens to work out. That’s why you respect a team that won the World Series so much from the players to all the way up the management chain. It takes a dedication to winning, a real long-term plan, and a big-time willingness to work at it until you get it right.
Alex Anthopoulos has all of those things and has the kahunas to make the deals he sees as making his team better, even if they are sometimes risky moves. He makes these moves because as he states in the last quote of the article:
“It’s a lot easier to go from 75 wins to 85 than it is to go from 85 to 95,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s a much steeper and greater hill to climb. Incrementally improving two or three games is a big deal.”
That is perfectly stated Mr. Anthopoulos. I bring this up tonight because I was listening to a caller from Nova Scotia on MLB Radio, named Ron, who was tearing the Jays and their team up like it was the worst team in MLB. He acted like nothing was getting better, no progression was being made, and that it was essentially hopeless to fight the Goliaths that are the Red Sox and the Yankees. Well, since this is going to remain a family friendly place, I won’t tell Ron what I really think of his opinion, and I will instead sympathize with him for falling into what I call the “JP Ricciardi trap”. It’s the trap that says “unless we buy up some of the bigger named FAs on the market, we’re not getting any better than we were.” It leads to mistakes like Frank Thomas and AJ Burnett, and usually leaves fans more frustrated than they were before the signings took place.
Ron, and others like him, need to think back to all of the deals – or what some of us call robberies – that Alex Anthopoulos has made since he came to the Jays. From signing Alex Gonzalez as a low-key FA and turning him into Yunel Escobar, to getting a #2-3 starter in Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and Johermyn Chavez, Alex has made this franchise a ton better in a very short period of time. He has improved the scouting department, got aggressive in getting picks for Type A and B FAs, got even more aggressive on the international market by spending over $13 million on signing 3 players, and hired what everyone seems to think was an excellent choice as Manager in John Farrell. Instead of falling into the negativity trap and asking the Jays to spend too much money on risky, and for the most part not worthy of their upcoming salary or length of contract free agents, why not cheer for the fact that the Jays keep getting more talented, younger, and cheaper?
The Jays will get to 92-95 wins soon enough. Well, at least I hope they do for Alex Anthopoulos, because he’s pretty much put all of his stock in the fact that the baseball buzz that kind of winning would create will bring back some of those 4,000,000 plus fan attendance numbers. I certainly hope he’s right, for his sake as Jays GM and ours as Jays fans.