Sport is passion. Sport is about competition, about winning, about (on a professional level), a means of escape for ordinary people who feel tied into something bigger than them. Something that binds us together in a community.
So here we are only days away from the opening of a new baseball season, six months of highs and lows , unexpected new stars, memorable plays and maybe, just maybe, a playoff run to cheer for, and cheer us through, the fall. I’m excited. Ricky Romero and Kyle Drabek are only two of several Blue Jays to tell the local media they’re “excited.” One would hope that most local fans would be excited as well, and perhaps they are, but there doesn’t seem to be much buzz in the streets yet about the jays. Perhaps because there’s not much buzz from the front office of the team. Therein lies a problem.
Young Alex Anthopolous isn’t excited. He told the Toronto Sun’sMike Rutsey that last week. “I don’t think you’ll ever hear me say ‘I’m incredibly excited.’ … until you get to the point where you’re in the playoffs or you win the World Series , you should never be excited from my standpoint.”
He also went on the defensive , when asked by Rutsey how long the team could continue to “sell hope and promise” rather than success to fans, that he didn’t know but he didn’t like the idea of “selling” the team, because that suggested manipulating. He also, rather ironically perhaps, went on to say he wanted to be as transparent as possible. More on that bit in a second.
This is unfortunate for the organization, and for us fans. Clearly, young Alex (at 33 younger than some of the elder statesmen in the clubhouse until he started trading them off) has done some things right. Whether or not the Marcum trade was a good one, he at least got a promising and coveted young infielder in the deal. He buffed up the bullpen at little pain or expense in the off-season. He’s added to the neglected scouting staff which was once a pride of the organization. Clearly as well, he has a passion for the game, as anyone watching him interviewed by former Jay buck Martinez on local sports TV last week can tell. Anthopolous volunteered to do grunt work in the Expos clubhouse as a kid and paid his own way to Florida to help out at their spring training just to get his foot in the door. What he seems dangerously lacking in , however, is an understanding of the fans or of the entertainment part of the business. There are many ways to spend one’s disposable income in canada’s largest city, many choices of things to watch if you choose to stay in on a summer evening. The Jays need to sell themselves to the fans, to get butts in the seats at the increasingly obsolete looking Rogers Centre and on the couches at home , watchingRogers Sportsnet instead of say, 7 year old reruns of 1 and a Half men and a crazy *** freak who apparently isn’t acting. They need to sell a quality product, not just a vague hope of ‘steady the course and someday- not this year, probably not next, but some year before many of you die, this team will be solidly competitive again.” The fanbase has had 17 years of that and is frankly ready to change channels when they hear that too familiar refrain. At a time when even lowly clubs like Seattle and Cleveland are promising brighter days, (hope springs eternal as they say), all we get from the Toronto front office is an admission of not being excited and to be patient… “maybe 2015.”
Anthopolous needs to deliver excitement , and to do that he needs to be excited. And perhaps to be , to use his words, “transparent” with the fans. Something he’s failing on this spring since putting fireballer Brandon Morrow on the DL, despite the pitcher’s protests and declaration that he’s good to go. “It sucks” says the now disgusted young buck who by now is no doubt ruing the day the Mariners traded him east. Morrow says his arm feels fine, and that he thought he was doing the right thing by admitting that his elbow felt a tiny bit sore on one day in mid-march, but that he regrets it now since he won’t open the season with the team.
Two things are clear from this. First, that in doing so, anthopolous has set a precedent and will end up causing many more injuries to his players since they will now be reluctant to report any minor aches or pains and will pitch themselves into more season-ending surgeries lacking trust in their bosses. And second, that the fans can’t trust what he says, no matter how much he sounds like a veteran politician espousing “transparency”. Or perhaps because he , in fact, sounds like a politician. Either way, the fans see a pitcher whom they grew to like telling them he’s fine and an office bureaucrat saying he isn’t, and the end result is we don’t see an excitng young pitcher open the season. All the more suspect since anthopolous backed Cito gaston’s ridiculous move of shutting down Morrow last Labour Day just when he was hitting his stride, and vowed to limit his innings again this year. A pitcher so valuable, in the brass’ minds, that they have to pay him not to pitch just in case he should injure himself. One has to wonder if the DL stint isn’t more a way of limiting the pitcher the team says is their best future star to a mere 150 innings again, and at the same time a way of avoiding deciding which of Jesse Litsch, Kyle Drabek or Jo Jo Reyes to send down to the minors. Clearly a way of conning the public (or attempting to) into accepting a less than optimal team and not be so excited about a new year dawning. But then , again I remind you, the General Manager says it’s not good to be excited.
Anthopolous has good baseball “smarts.” But right now he totally lacks marketing intelligence, and if he doesn’t correct that – fast- he’s going to end up being one of the worst disasters to ever hit Canadian baseball.