Blue Jays: Is baseball’s outlook on the Blue Jays slowly changing?
It hasn’t always been easy to convince players to come to Canada to play baseball in the big leagues, but that perception may be headed in a positive direction.
When the Expos left Montreal in 2004 it no doubt cast a little shadow over the Blue Jays as the only remaining major league club residing north of the border. Even before that, there weren’t a ton of perks to playing with a Canadian team compared to an American club, but this left the Blue Jays a step behind all other 29 organizations when it came to recruiting, and not just 28 of them anymore.
The Blue Jays were one of the more recent expansion teams in the American League at the time and despite winning back-to-back World Series nearly ten years earlier, they hadn’t made a playoff appearance since and finished in the bottom third in the league in attendance four straight seasons.
According to a 2018 article from Forbes, over 73 per cent of MLB players at the time were born in the U.S. and with a league that is dominantly American, player and team wise, it would be difficult to convince one of those players to go through the hassle of working for the only international team in the league.
This rang true in 2004 and still does today.
But in an article this week from The Athletic where hundreds of major league players were polled, Toronto came up as one of the cities players most enjoy visiting on road trips. While they didn’t crack the top four, they were one of 15 teams to receive multiple votes, with one player having this to say…
“Most diverse city in the world, over 200 cultures represented and very friendly.”
While enjoying a three-day pit stop in a city is completely different than living there, among population in MLB cities, Toronto sits behind just New York and Los Angeles. Big names like a big spotlight and the 2015 team led by Jose Bautista’s bone chilling home run, proved Toronto can provide quite the atmosphere.
While some may look at it and point out that half the league also received votes, the poll on where players least enjoy visiting on road trips was also friendly to the Jays. 17 teams received multiple votes and Toronto was not one of them, despite nuances like bringing a passport and the exchange rate coming into effect.
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To go even further, the most difficult thing about recruiting big-ticket free agents to Toronto is the simple fact it is located in Canada. If it were in the U.S., they would be up there with Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Houston as the biggest cities in the country and it would seemingly be easier to convince players to come to Toronto.
Montreal received the second most votes (20 per cent, less than two per cent behind Las Vegas) on which city players would most like to see an expansion team and to my surprise, Vancouver even received multiple votes. A few players were even quoted about their love for Canada.
“It would be sick, bringing baseball back there. Canada is sick.”
“I think adding another Canadian team would be good for baseball. I know when baseball went back to Montreal a few years ago, the reception was very good. I’d think the fan base there would support baseball better this time around and give the Jays a good, natural rival.”
It’s clear the league as a whole doesn’t seem to outcast the Blue Jays as much as they once did, but rather embracing it now and enjoying the feel Canada brings to a league dominated by an American presence. I’m sure a few players who voted they wanted baseball back in Montreal would choose not to come play for the team if presented with the option, but it’s a step in the right direction.
After the 2015 and 2016 postseason runs for the Blue Jays – which saw some of baseballs true superstars at the time walk through the doors including David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson – the baseball world was finally beginning to take the Blue Jays seriously for the first time since the early 1990’s. They may not have chosen to come, joining the team via trade, but none seemed to be upset that it was Toronto where they’d be moving to.
Toronto also isn’t considered a big-time spending club and changing that would potentially make things easier for them from a free agent standpoint, but they will always have the Canadian cast over them. Playing in the same division as baseball’s two powerhouses and biggest spenders, the Yankees and Red Sox, has never helped them either.
When the big names have come though, the Jays have been able to convince them to stay at times like Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Marcus Stroman, a Long Island native, adores the city and country as proven by his words and most recent tattoo detailing the Toronto skyline.
After Price’s first start at the Rogers Centre in 2015 these were his words after pitching in front of just under 46,000 fans… “I’ve pitched in quite a few big games but that atmosphere today, takes the cake. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
While Toronto still has a long ways to go before they become true players in sweepstakes like we saw for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason, they seem further ahead than where they were when the Expos left the country in 2004.
Players want more baseball in Canada and this is a testament to the buzz the Blue Jays created over the past five years or so. With a highly respected baseball executive, Mark Shapiro, at the helm and one the most loaded farm systems in baseball, it will be interesting to re-visit this topic ten years down the road and see if a superstar like Vlad Guerrero Jr. can inspire even more of a movement with baseball in Canada.