Sunday, April 03, 2005

Let's play ball!

I had no idea when I started this blog just a few days ago that my first few posts would be so serious. But the deaths of Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II were simply too enormous to ignore, and those two stories have very much captured the attention of anyone who pays attention to what's going on in the world. In the next few days, I intend to turn to other serious topics, including the continuing cosmic disturbance that is the presidency of George W. Bush, but, for now, let's leave aside the gravitas of life and death and the meaning of the human condition for a most happy occasion: the start of the baseball season.

Which is tonight, in fact, with a truly inspired Sunday-night opener: Yankees-Red Sox. The blood-feud resumes.

It's funny, though. There are so many reasons to dislike baseball (MLB, that is), especially for this (former) Expos fan:
  • Payroll inequality: The Yankees start the year at over US$200 million, while the Blue Jays, now the sole recipient of my unconditional loyalty, have virtually no chance of competing with them (or the Red Sox) in the AL East, even with ownership's -- i.e., Ted Rogers's -- commitment of significantly more money over the next three years. The NHL has faced the same problem, with high-priced free agents more or less limited to a few major-market teams (Rangers, Red Wings, Maple Leafs, etc.), but at least hockey is one of those sports where small-market, low-payroll teams with good chemistry and balanced line-ups can prevail (Flames, Lightning, etc.). This is what truly recommends the NFL (and, to a lesser extent, the NBA). It's not the case that each NFL team enters the season with an equal shot at a Super Bowl, but, owing to a rigid salary cap, the NFL is a league of real competitive balance, which means that teams can re-tool quickly and small-market teams (Packers, Panthers, etc.) are at no significant disadvantage.
  • Franchise relocations: Yes, my beloved Expos are now -- gasp! -- the Washington Nationals. I remember the hey-days of Montreal baseball, when Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Steve Rogers, Tim Wallach, Warren Cromartie, and so many other great players excited huge Big O crowds and made the Expos a perennial contender in the NL East. I remember what it was like to sit in those crowded stands as a boy and root for my home-town team with the unbridled optimism of youth. I remember going to one of the Expos-Phillies playoff games in strike-shortened 1981. I remember the disaster of that same year: Rick Monday's home run off Steve Rogers to send the Dodgers to the World Series against the Yankees. I remember the incredible Expos team of strike-shortened 1994 -- the Expos led the formidable Braves by six games (with less than half the payroll) in the NL East and had the best record in all of baseball before the most pointless strike in the history of strikes ended the season and forever destroyed baseball in Montreal. And now? Now the stands in D.C. will be filled by inside-the-Beltway politicos and wannabes, many with little or no real interest in baseball or its history. It'll be the trendy thing to do in a city that rides the waves of trendiness down the river of popularity. So I bid farewell to my beloved Expos and turn my full attention to the Blue Jays -- even without Carlos Delgado, they'll be an exciting team with a lot of promise this year, and they deserve greater support in this city (alas, also prone to self-important trend-surfing).
  • The steroid scandal: So much for the integrity of baseball. I have little to add on this topic, but it's obvious that baseball needs to clean up its act. And soon. But here's a question: Who the hell is Alex Sanchez -- and why is he taking steroids?

Despite all this, we could be in for a great season, much like last year, with at least most divisions competitive and good wild-card races in both leagues. It's tough to pick against the Yankees in the AL, and I'll go with the Cardinals again in the NL (but challenged by the Braves, who may have their best team in years). As for the Jays, a .500 season would be nice, and I, at least, am looking forward to many warm summer evenings down at Skydome (I just can't bring myself to call it the Rogers Centre yet).

This is a great time of year. Coming out of a long winter filled with the usual discontent, there's nothing in sports that beats the start of the baseball season. (Watch Bull Durham if you want to see why.) As I've said before, it's the truly beautiful game.

Bookmark and Share


  • Alex Sanchez
    Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder suspended for steroids

    Toronto Blue Jays Current Roster based on 2004 stats...

    Hitting leaders based on Batting Average in MLB 2004
    Tied for # 65 Veron Wells TOR Position OF
    134 536 82 146 34 2 23 67 253 51 83 9 2 .337 .472 .272

    Hitting leaders based on batting average for AL 2004 updated Tuesday, February 15, 2005 12:00 AM EST

    Tied for # 68 Eric Hinske TOR
    Position 3B
    155 570 66 140 23 3 15 69 214 54 109 12 8 .312 .375 .246

    Tied for #82 Orlando Hudson TOR
    Position 2B
    135 489 73 132 32 7 12 58 214 51 98 7 3 .341 .438 .270

    Tied for #96 Reed Johnson TOR
    Position OF
    141 537 68 145 25 2 10 61 204 28 98 6 3 .320 .380 .270

    What other members of the Toronto Blue Jays current roster are ones to watch?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:04 PM  

  • I think that Halladay will return to his Cy Young level of two years ago, or at least close it. Wells, too, should rebound after an off year.

    The rest of the starting rotation is iffy, and a lot depends on whether or not Lilly can come back from injury to be a solid #2. The bullpen, a disaster a year ago, depends in part on how Batista, a starter last year, performs in the closer role. The Jays haven't had a solid closer since Koch, after all.

    The rest of the starting line-up is mix of decent veterans (e.g., Koskie, Hillenbrand) and promising youngsters (e.g., Rios). They're a good bunch, but after Wells there isn't much to scare anyone.

    After a step back last year, I'm looking for the Jays to rebound and go .500 -- maybe even a bit better. Unfortunately, even that means no better than third in the AL East behind the Yankees and Red Sox. I'd say they need a #2/3 starter, akin to Lilly, and a power bat at 1B (although we'll see how Hinske does). With those kinds of improvements, the Jays could be an Oakland-like team in the coming years, competing with the giants but never quite rising to their level.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:13 AM  

  • I must disagree. Yes, I like baseball, but there is another fantastic moment in sport which I must share with you - the roar of the crowd at the start of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the first race at the Cheltenham festival. It is an incredible sound. The Festival itself is an experience unlike any other. Four days of the best horses, the best jockeys and a few thousand inebriated Irishmen!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:08 AM  

  • Who cares about MLB??????

    This is Canada for God's sake!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:47 PM  

  • Toronto has a major league baseball team in the AL.

    Does there need
    to be a correlation between Canadian national
    representation and sports in order to be interested?

    I don't think seems a rather limiting
    criteria...indeed under that premise Toronto would
    never have been granted an expansion team as there
    would not have been a fan base to justify bringing a
    baseball or a basketball club

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:00 PM  

  • No, there doesn't need to be a direct correlation. I'm a huge NFL fan (a Steelers fan, to be precise) even without a team in Toronto -- I suppose Buffalo is our local team. And though I've become a Jays fan in recent years, I'm more a fan of baseball than I am of a specific team.

    But I don't agree with your second point. Professional sports leagues do not generally expand into markets with pre-existing interest. Rather, they expand in order to grow their fan bases (and revenues) in new, untapped markets. Toronto deserves both an MLB team and an NBA team because it's one of North America's largest markets and because, beyond that, is the larger Canadian market. The Raptors, for example, are based in Toronto but it's fair to say that they're truly Canada's team. No, there isn't nearly enough support for the Jays in Toronto right now, but I'm not sure our situation is any worse than what many American teams face.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:44 AM  

  • By Blogger BRSMAN, at 3:30 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home