When the city of Toronto completed work on the Luminous Veil that hems the Bloor Viaduct and held the event’s official lighting, the 2015 PanAm Games were finally ready to begin. In fact, it worked as a sort of unofficial opening ceremonies. Toronto’s mayor, John Tory – the one that came after the crack-smoking one – was, of course, in attendance. He ended up giving a speech that took a backhanded yet relatively unnoteworthy jab at Torontonians’ propensity to complain. “Toronto, on a regular basis,” Tory said only days later “would be qualifying for a gold medal in (moaning and groaning).” Somewhat anecdotally – or perhaps more to the point – the Toronto Blue Jays were in fourth place at the time, and three games back of the first-place New York Yankees.
Whether or not you agree with Mr. Tory, this, above all else, is what sets us apart as a baseball city. As you know, the 29 other teams are located in a different country. Canadians – the collective ‘we’ – like to think of ourselves as different. We’ve only got one team, and the entire country rallied behind it for two fantastic months at the end of last summer. We like to think what makes us different is our apologetic behaviour, which has seemingly become reflexive, or that we put an extra ‘u’ in some words because we didn’t overthrow our ties to the commonwealth. Maybe it’s our spelling of ‘defence.’
But it isn’t. What makes Canadians different is our ability to look on the other side of the fence and see that the grass on our side has been turf all along. It’s the Canadian condition. What we self-identify as humility actually comes off as an aversion to nationalism. We’re proud of a nation that takes as little pride in itself as possible. Now, none of this is to paint all Canadians with the same pessimistic brush. In fact, I believe many of us to be very optimistic. But our ability to complain while still staying positive is what sets us apart.
It surfaces in the most sublime ways. Take, for instance, the fact that a fan called in to Blue Jays Talk hosted by Mike Wilner on the day the Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth – their first after a two decade drought– to express his displeasure that Melky Cabrera wasn’t on the team anymore. The caller wasn’t upset; they just expressed empathy that Cabrera wouldn’t get to enjoy this.
If you need further proof, consider the fact that we joke about how much we hate the turf here, but then also defend it when other teams threaten to protest. We dislike ourselves, our city, our team insofar as nobody else agrees. If anyone else dislikes us, then we unite in our disdain for them.
But nothing epitomizes this better than the fallout of this past offseason. For the uninitiated, the abridged version: Rogers, the corporation that owns the Blue Jays, had tried for a couple of seasons to replace team president, Paul Beeston. It’s worth noting that, when this process began nearly two years prior, Rogers contacted Kenny Williams about potentially taking over as Beeston’s replacement. That news went up to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who just so happened to be Beeston’s best friend in all of baseball. As a result, Beeston – the Blue Jays’ first employee – found out for the first time that his bosses were trying to replace him from somebody outside the organization.
Last August 31, it was made official that Mark Shapiro would be taking over the role of team president. By this time, the Blue Jays had rocketed to first place. Somewhat hilariously, David Price was actually dinged with the ‘L’ that evening against Shapiro’s old team, the Cleveland Indians. After the move was announced, there was a lot of speculation about what may have happened behind closed doors after the move. There was one report that Shapiro scolded Alex Anthopoulos for trading so many top prospects. Regardless of the ‘how’ it happened, it all culminated in Anthopoulos deciding to turn down a contract extension to stay on as general manager. To be clear, that’s all we know. Shapiro got hired; Anthopoulos left. Maybe if Shapiro didn’t get hired, the Blue Jays would still have Anthopoulos. Maybe he would be in Los Angeles regardless. Whichever parts of the story seem to piece together for you are, predominantly, irrelevant.
All we have are optics. And we have a specifically strange lens through which to look. The day Anthopoulos announced he was stepping away from the Blue Jays, was the same day The Sporting News announced that he had been named MLB’s Executive of the Year. Obviously, that was less than desirable. ‘We’ had our ‘guy’ and he turned out to be the best in the league for one year and now he’s gone because some other guy may or may not have been able to work with him amicably.
Conversely however, our ‘guy’ did trade away a lot of top prospects. And while it brought the Blue Jays a division title – the goal of all executives – if Shapiro did in fact bring that up in a meeting, it wouldn’t have been fallacious. And don’t forget, Anthopoulos also traded away Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud – the New York Mets battery for game 3 of the World Series.
The fact is, some Canadians will choose not to like Shapiro. Even further, some may choose to actively dislike Shapiro – to request his dismissal. And they need to know how weird that is, and how distinctly Canadian it is; to dislike a man because he isn’t named ‘Anthopoulos.’ If you Google search ‘fire’ with any other MLB executive’s name – even the seemingly bad ones – you won’t find a petition for their dismissal.
Nobody outside of team ownership really knows what makes an above average MLB executive, just as they don’t know what truly happened that caused Anthopoulos’ to depart. Now that the dust has settled, I’d be willing to bet it has more to do with upward mobility than anything else. There is nothing that makes Shapiro measurably worse than Beeston. There is nothing any fan can point out that makes Ross Atkins more or less qualified than Anthopoulos.
Even when things are going well in Toronto, we will find ways to gripe. So don’t pretend that Anthopoulos should be sainted. And don’t pretend that Shapiro and Atkins are Satan and Mephistopheles. It defies logic to look at the Blue Jays roster – which is still excellent – and grumble about the team’s upper management.
My only solace is that, the next time anyone located beneath the 49th parallel takes issue with our infield – which is dirt now – or our MVP or our ability to catch foul balls, I know that we’ll unite in our ire against those foes. Similarly, if this team goes on to win for the next few years, Shapiro and Atkins will have helped that happen. There is, then, a conceivable way that both Shapiro and Atkins become very well-liked executives in this city; this country. So maybe we should appreciate what we have. Maybe we should embrace what makes us different; some of us just need better ways to express it.
Lead Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports