A couple of random Blue Jays items for today. First, let me just say I’m glad they’re back in Toronto and wearing normal uniforms, apparently having given Flo from Progressive her clothes back from this past weekend. Did anyone at all think those “players weekend” jerseys and hats were a winner? Anyone at all?
Badfinger20 made a very valid but sometimes forgotten point in a recent comment here. He suggested Toronto needn’t be penny-pinchers since they’re Toronto after all, not Tampa. It’s very true. I majored in geography, so I have a sense of these things, but I realize not everyone did. So let’s explain it. Toronto is a big city, and a big baseball market.
Bud Selig pointed it out in his book I reviewed week. He mentioned how in the late-’80s he was jealous of the (then) Skydome and Toronto, and wanted something like it for his Milwaukee but knew they couldn’t afford that. He details how then Jays boss Paul Beeston linked up with the owners of other “large market” teams (who he described as the two New York teams, San Francisco, the Dodgers, Philly, Boston and curiously, the rather small city of St. Louis; with Atlanta, Texas and the two Chicago teams joining them later in what Bud saw as a selfish attempt to keep small teams like his own down.)
Toronto is a huge city. I know, I’ve grown up and spent most of my life in its environs. I’ve driven in from Buffalo (like so many prospects do now from the Bisons farm club) and seen it across the lake, and before you know it, you’re in its exurbs while still seeing the skyline glimmer across the lake. But don’t let me persuade you… let the numbers.
As of 2017, the population of the city of Toronto was 2, 930, 000. Granted that’s smaller than L.A. (3, 970 ,000) and downright wee next to New York City at 8, 625, 000. But on the other hand, it’s more than Chicago (2, 715 ,000 and dropping) let alone cities like Pittsburgh (302 000) and St. Petersburg, home of the Rays at just 263, 000. Now of course, city populations can be misleading since some cities cover lots of terrain and others are small and subdivided, and fans will travel across townlines to attend a game. So metro populations are a better measure of a city size. But again, Toronto looks big.
Canada’s census bureau puts “greater Toronto” at 6.42 million now. But that doesn’t include the Hamilton or Oshawa areas, at the western and eastern ends of the ‘burbs. The Go Trains run straight to the stadium from those cites and we know many, many fans trek in from them every game. That puts the population of the Toronto area at about 7.2 million. Small next to the Big Apple, which is now a “huge apple” at 20.3 million and extends into western Connecticut and northeastern-most Pennsylvania; or LA/Orange County with 13.1 million. But of course, both those areas have to split the market between two teams, Not so Blue Jays land.
Metro Toronto compares similarly to Atlanta and Boston, is a wee bit smaller than Chicago (which again divides its loyalties between two teams) but is a bit bigger than the San Francisco Bay area (about 4.7 million.) Pity poor St. Louis at 2.8 million or Pittsburgh at 2.3 mil. Not so many fans to show up or watch local broadcasts there.
And then, looking at the big picture, one can try to judge a team’s market. For example, the Red Sox are the team of choice for pretty much all of New England, save for perhaps the western half of Connecticut. That gives them about 11 million people prone to being their fans and buy their hats and jerseys, even if they all don’t go out to Fenway. Atlanta has a fanbase ranging across the South from NC to Mississippi . A lot of acres and about 30 million potential fans.
Toronto though- well, Toronto is Canada’s Team. They have fans from sea to shining sea, 36 million strong. Granted people in say, Saskatchewan aren’t likely to show up at the Rogers Centre to watch many games 2000 miles from home, but they are likely to watch the games on TV. And look at Seattle when Toronto plays. Numerous Jays players have pointed out it feels like a home crowd, so heavily draped in blue are the stands with all the Toronto fans out of nearby Vancouver.
So what do all those numbers mean? Simply this – Toronto is big enough, and has a big enough market to be able to play with the “big boys.” Yet according to Sportrac, at latest tally, the Jays are just 22nd in payroll (between Arizona and San Diego) at about $110 million this year. The league average – $136.2 million, while the Boston Red Sox are doing the best drunken sailor impersonation, leading the way with a $227M bill. The Yanks, Cubs and Dodgers also top $200 million.
Now, we are seeing that freewheeling spending doesn’t guarantee championships. More and more, young players at low salaries (think Bo Bichette, Vladimir Jr., Juan Soto…) provide a whole lot of bang for the buck. And the “moneyball” theory still has merit – look at Oakland charging for the playoffs yet again with a “no name” roster and what Gio Urshela has done in obscurity for the Yanks. So I’m not arguing that Toronto should go out and double their spending just to show off. That would accomplish nothing.
What I am saying though is this. Toronto needs to add pitching next year to compete, and perhaps could benefit from a steady reliable, 100 RBI veteran less prone to streakiness than 20 or 21 year olds. Don’t believe Ross Atkins if this winter comes and he tells you Toronto can’t afford a Gerritt Cole or a Marcell Ozuna. Let alone ink Justin Smoak to a contract extension or go after pitchers like Alex Wood. They can, and if they value their huge market, they will.
For the Good of The Game – BUD SELIG with Phil Rogers
Harper-Collins Publishing (c) 2019
Love him, hate him or anything in between, if you’re a baseball fan there’s no denying that Bud Selig was an important and influential figure in the game for the past four decades or more. From the being the owner of the upstart Milwaukee Brewers to the commissioner of MLB during its most tumultuous decade (the ’90s, decade of ‘the strike’ and steroids) , Selig had his imprint upon the game in a way unrivaled of late. So if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll want to read his memoir, For the Good of the Game.
The book outlines his youth in Milwaukee and how his mother shaped his love of the game, his rather half-hearted following in his father’s footsteps into a car dealership which turned very fortuitous for young Bud. There he met Hank Aaron, a customer, and got to be an insider with the then-Braves ballclub. And a heartbroken fan when the Braves shipped out to Atlanta, leading Selig to spearhead a group determined to bring back baseball to Beer City, USA. Of course he succeeded and most of the book deals with an insider’s view, first of the league through the eyes of a small-market owner, then as the boss of the whole kit and caboodle. As such, it’s eminently entertaining and interesting, whether or not you agree with Bud’s takes on happenings and the changes he brought about.
The book’s greatest strength is that Selig is Selig in it. He was known for being blunt and headstrong and his book is nothing less. He never pulls his punches, and for that we’re all the richer. I mean, the book begins with him detailing how much he dislikes Barry Bonds and how having to watch Bonds take the home run record away from Aaron was one of the low points of his professional career. For Selig it was a mix of professional and personal. Professionally, he felt sure Bonds was cheating through PEDs and was bad for baseball. Personally, he found Bonds unlikable and Aaron one of the best men he’d met in the sport – and a Milwaukee hero to boot!
We find that Selig was always concerned with drugs in the game and frustrated by other owners lack of concern in the ’80s as player careers and in some cases, health, were being compromised by a blizzard of cocaine in clubhouses and even more so when the extent of steroid use became clear in the ’90s. He pushed hard for stiff penalties and met constant resistance which he details. While he has a particular disdain for Bonds, his opinion of the likes of Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco and Roger Clemens isn’t much higher, though he correctly assesses that Alex Rodriguez may have fallen further than his cohorts but has since done a far better job of restoring his name and reputation than the others.
We read his take on Pete Rose and his Cooperstown status and who should or should not be Hall of Famers. He tells us how free agency impacted the game from the perspective of a small market team… no coincidence he’s more complimentary to Robin Yount (a lifetime Brewer) than to Paul Molitor (a Brewers superstar who left for a bigger-money, more winning Toronto team in ’93). We read about why the 1994 strike ended the season and how he butted heads with a number of other owners. And as the commish, he met presidents.
Selig clearly did not like Bill Clinton, and felt let down by “Bubba” when he got involved in the strike but couldn’t get it resolved. On the other hand, he liked George W. Bush a great deal; and why not? Bush was, first and foremost, a fellow owner and baseball-guy. Some of his stories about George the baseball man and the touching comraderie the two shared after 9/11 are intriguing looks back at American history that extend beyond the realm of just sporting interest.
What Bud doesn’t touch on is how he feels about the changes Rob Manfred has been instituting since taking over the job… one might speculate that he wouldn’t be thrilled with ideas like pitch clocks or having phantom men on base in extra innings, but then again, Selig demonstrates he’s nothing if not pragmatic. From expansion to changing the All Star game to adding wild cards, he’s generally been displeased by change but welcoming to it as a necessity “for the good of the game.” Manfred is mentioned in the book, of course, and it may be worth noting that he came from a background of law, not baseball itself, unlike Selig.
If there’s a weakness to the book, it’s that Bud can’t stop being Bud. It’s very clear that when it came to any dispute in the game, he was always on the side of the owners and always felt the players union was an enemy both to him and to the sport itself. One can imagine that if Gene Orza or Tony Clark were writing the book, things like the end of the 1994 season and write-off of the World Series would read differently. But that’s OK. We see the pressure Selig was dealing with and how he saw the situation, and with that his actions seem far less questionable than they did back in the day.
In short, my opinion of Selig was that he grew into the role of commissioner as he went along and in time would be viewed as one who did more good than bad for MLB in his tenure, mistakes not withstanding. Reading this book only reinforces that idea, and may, I hope press Rob Manfred to be able to say the same at some point in the future.
In short – a great read for any baseball fan, especially for ones who wonder why the league has evolved the way it has and where it may go from here.
♦♦♦♦ out of 5.