Don’t worry, don’t worry. I have no intention of writing too much here about last night’s big story — Derek Jeter’s storybook walk-off single to win his final game at Yankee Stadium, and the subsequent Twittergasm from a baseball universe replete with a particularly virulent strain of Stockholm Syndrome. It was a cool way for a great career to end, and hard as it is to resist my better instincts (almost), nobody who got a warm fuzzy from it needs me wagging my finger about the absurdities of how we got to that point.
Instead, I’d like to write about a pair of articles that take the long view on Jays’ troubles, one of which, at least in one way, completely misses the mark, and another that speaks a little to those absurdities, but is mostly just bizarre for its existence.
We’ll start with the second one first, and take a look at Michael Grange’s latest from Sportsnet, where he attempts to answer the question, “Why can’t the Blue Jays have a Derek Jeter of their own?”
My answer — and, essentially, Grange’s? In short, they just can’t. Jeter is Jeter because of New York.
On one hand there is the media spotlight, which undeniably shines bigger and brighter there, especially where the city’s marquee franchises are concerned. His outsized myth has surely been perpetuated by of it — and because of his tremendously savvy negotiating of those tricky waters. But on the other there’s the fact that he landed with a franchise that’s not only deep into the myth-making business, but one that’s capable of keeping any player it wants for as long as it wants. A franchise that’s capable of surrounding him with great teammates, year in, year out.
Capable and willing.
People talk about Jeter’s championships and his having played every season on a team with a winning record a little too much as though those things were a function of him and not of the massive advantages of resources possessed by the organization that he happened to play for. He was undoubtedly a greatly contributing factor, but to become what he has become required the good fortune of landing where he did.
In New York, Carlos Delgado doesn’t stand head and shoulders for years above sub-par teammates on bad teams, only to find himself lowballed out the door by a front office tasked with cutting costs for a billionaire telecom giant owner cynically operating the club to squeeze out dollars and cheap content and equity to its shareholders’ greatest benefit.
In New York, Roy Halladay doesn’t grow tired of losing year after year as the fairly-paid face of a perpetually bereft franchise, forcing the hand — by making clear his intention not to extend his contract — of a front office living constantly on the margins and dying for an influx of minor league talent to a system bankrupted by years of trying in vain to succeed on the cheap long after their secrets had left the barn.
We’re still paying for the short-sighted choices that led to those mistakes, and we’re still seeing a franchise operated — albeit with different methods — in a grotesquely cynical way. We need only look to this season’s payroll quandary to see how unresponsive, tone deaf, and counterproductive ownership’s slavish pursuit of the quickest route to the best-looking short-term bottom line is, and to know how little has changed from the days of Rogers’ deepest “we make as much with a $70-million payroll as we would $120-million, so why risk investing?” cost-cutting.
The amazing thing is, Grange sees this and he says it. Though maybe not in so many words.
Twitterer Emily Dawn sums it up best: “Why the Blue Jays can’t have anything good,” by The Company That Owns The Blue Jays and Won’t Give Them Any Money to Pay Good Players.
Pretty much. And while some will surely be quick to point to the fact that the Jays’ payroll is among the top ten in baseball (albeit not among the top two in their own division), that alone really isn’t enough to give them a pass on sitting on their hands this season with a team that was so close.
That isn’t, however, to give Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston a free pass, either. By the end, J.P. Ricciardi would have eaten his own babies (while at his home in Boston, of course) to have a top ten payroll, and here Anthopoulos has it and we get this??!?
It’s understandable that in the abstract some fans can look past ownership and point the finger at management, but the thing is, having a payroll that high for a brief one- or two-year bump isn’t really the same as being a high payroll team. The margins for error are much thinner.
Ricciardi was undone in many ways by the failures of his big ticket players, as Anthopoulos may inevitably be as well. That’s because the way Rogers does it leaves its GMs no room to paper over their inevitable missteps. Ask Derek Jeter how many horrifically bad contracts have been on his team’s books during the years he’s been there — how many mistakes that would be far more egregious than anything Ricciardi and Anthopoulos have done put together, were it not for the fact that in New York poorly allocated money isn’t reason for ownership to fold their arms and pout while secretly hoping for a new excuse to drastically scale back payroll. It’s reason to fix it by whatever means necessary.
That’s not the reality of our situation here — and that leads us precisely into the second article I wanted to look at, which comes from Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun.
Predictably, he’s much more overt than Grange in hammering away at the corporate facade. But in my view he goes too far.
“It’s been pretty convenient during all these years of missed playoff action for the Jays’ fan base to lay the blame on the organization’s failures on the feet of the manager and GM,” he writes. “And you have to figure that Rogers loves the fact that when things go south with their ball team, everyone automatically blames John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos. Nobody at Rogers is ever held accountable. And frankly, who do you even blame at Rogers? When it comes to the Jays, it’s a faceless entity. Who speaks for Rogers when it comes to the Jays? I guess it’s Paul Beeston, who keeps telling us that Rogers will kick in whatever money’s needed when the time is right.”
Interesting points, undoubtedly. Important ones. But ones that too badly miss some of the complexities of being a Blue Jays fan in a way that’s easier to make plain by looking at another, earlier paragraph, where he’s really got things hopelessly wrong.
Rogers continues to play the game that Toronto is some sort of small or medium market and therefore can’t spend the money that the Yanks and Red Sox — two teams that are constantly in the post-season — always do. And the amazing thing about that big con job is, Rogers has actually succeeded in brainwashing a large portion of the Jays fan base, who believe it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes. If this was New York or Boston, fans would be howling if those teams didn’t go for at least one of Lester, Scherzer or Shields … and in a serious way, not just paying lip-service.
Fans aren’t “brainwashed” into believing “it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes.” Fans understand that Rogers is going to act small market whether we like it or not, and as such, the team needs to be mindful of dollars. That’s the prism through which the moves are assessed by the armchair GMs out here — we all know that it’s ridiculous they operate this way, but a great many sports fans are smarter and more curious in 2014 than to limit the thought they put into how the teams they love operate to HURR DURR THEY SHOULDA SPEND MORE. That just scratches the surface of the problem, and repeatedly bleating that futile whine gets old real quick — except maybe for Toronto Sun readers.
And in what way would us fans be serious about our howling, and not just paying lip service? Would it be by not showing up? Not buying tickets at all? Not watching? Because plenty of fans and would-be interested parties do exactly that, and Rogers doesn’t really care — not as long as the equation balances when it comes to what they put in and what they get out of the club. Every once in a while they give payroll a bump, whip up some excitement, sign some advertising contracts, and then wait for equilibrium, letting yearly payrolls rise and fall as a function of how much they feel needs to be given in order to maintain it.
Yes, fans signed off on A.A.’s asset-accumulation phase, and many of us understood and defended the club’s refusals to get involved in the markets for big ticket free agents. But it was never about the idea that Rogers would be sunk by too many rich baseball players — which is, of course, preposterous — but that the Blue Jays would be sunk when ownership decided to turn off the financial taps (as essentially was the case in 2014). And that was understood because we’d seen them do it before, and because so many of us know from our dealings with Rogers as a cable company, a phone company, and an internet service provider that, when it comes right down to it, they do not give a fuck what we think.
That’s why we can’t have nice things.