John Farrell’s departure is a reminder of the hopelessness of Toronto sports franchises

Nov 5, 2012 by

John Farrell’s departure is a reminder of the hopelessness of Toronto sports franchises

The defection of John Farrell to the Boston Red Sox represents the culmination of what has been one of the strangest seasons in Toronto Blue Jays’ history. The 2012 season was defined by a rash of debilitating injuries, poor leadership on and off the field, and inane actions such as Yunuel Escobar’s wearing homophobic slurs on his face for a game, all of which combined make this past season one to forget. Farrell’s departure is just another dagger to the Blue Jays organization this year and his disingenuous loyalty is part of the systemic entitlement that has sadly become the norm in the professional sports world. But more importantly, Farrell’s leaving to a divisional rival, is an indictment on the entire Toronto professional sports scene. His is yet another example of a member of the sports fraternity who uses Toronto as a training ground before moving on to greener pastures; that is, if they choose to come here at all.

Teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs are no different. Nearly every great Raptor, such as Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady has either left as soon as he was given an opportunity or forced the organization to move him. The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have this particular problem because they have not developed any star athletes of such a high calibre; instead they have difficulty luring top-flight free agents at all. Whether it’s Brad Richards, the Sedin twins or Rick Nash, all have spurned the Maple Leafs in recent years in favour of another team. As free agents they all had an opportunity to play in Toronto and simply chose not to. The Maple Leafs have the resources to sign the upper echelon free agents, but these players would prefer to go to cities like New York, Vancouver and even Columbus over the “Big Smoke”. Instead the Leafs are left overpaying for average talent, drafting average players and composing a team full of middling athletes and dressing them up as game breakers and solid citizens. Further insulting to its fan base are their exorbitant and unjustifiable ticket prices and the overall cost of experiencing a game at the Air Canada Centre (ACC); but there is a line the length of Yonge Street that is willing to wait to buy $12 hot dogs and $15 beers. The Maple Leafs are an anomaly in professional sports and it’s hard to blame an organization for feeding its fans what they want; and it appears Toronto sports fans really enjoy eating day old humble pie. I hear next season the Maple Leafs are going to have security slap people in the face as they walk in just to see how far they can go with their clientele.

The truth is the city of Toronto isn’t a desired destination anymore for the great players in professional sports; it’s a place of last resort. The reasons are plentiful with the most obvious one being the intense scrutiny of the daily media coverage. But it’s more complex than that and requires further treatment on its own. Toronto is simply not appealing to today’s great athletes, especially those who are American born; instead to them, it is one of the backwaters of the North American professional sports scene. Unsurprisingly, there has not been a championship calibre team in this city for twenty years and there is little hope that that will change any time soon. The Blue Jays are now looking more like the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington: a young somewhat competitive organization always building a team with the bottom line in mind. The Raptors are in a constant rebuilding phase, because every few years a great talent goes to another team and leaves behind a woeful mess. And then there are the Maple Leafs (sadly my favourite team) who have been an embarrassment to this city for their play on the ice for close to a decade and are years away from being relevant. But all these organizations talk a good game and do an admirable job of sugar-coating their mediocrity by trying to sell fans on the bigger picture year in and year out. The reality is that not one team in Toronto represents hope to this city. None! What makes matters worse is that there are no players here to rally behind. Who are we to cheer for? The enigmatic and socially awkward Phil Kessel? The passive, non-rebounding, seven-foot jump shooter Andrea Bargnani? Perhaps the Canadian-born immature, uber-muscular and tattoo-laden Brett Lawrie who “just wants to have fun” at all costs, even if it’s at the expense of winning? They are all talented athletes for sure, but these aren’t the type of stars that lead franchises to championships, let alone the playoffs.

For a time early in the 2012 season the Blue Jays showed some promise, but it’s a young team that has a lot of growing up to do with players like Lawrie who need to reduce their Red-Bull intake and focus more on the fundamentals of the game. The Jays also need to add depth to their pitching rotation and take the pressure off their young arms to succeed by adding a couple of veteran starters who can pitch 200 innings and a power hitter to protect an aging Jose Bautista; but there is no indication that upper management will take the steps that are needed to address this teams’ weaknesses. The Blue Jays simply will not spend the money on free agents or make the kind of trades that bring in the high-priced talent that is needed in order for them to take the next step and become a real threat to win. But there’s no gumption here; it’s all about fiscal accountability and having controllable young players and other corporate double speak. And guess what you have at the end of the day? That’s right – and a lavatory full of it.

Based on the way the Jays are currently constructed it’s hard to tell if Farrell would have been a good manager or not; but it’s clear he had difficulty reigning in the overenthusiastic Lawrie and he failed to notice Escobar with a homophobic slur painted on his face before entering a game–a puzzling and inexcusable lapse. Other rumblings have come out questioning Farrell’s decision-making from players like future Hall-of-Famer Omar Vizquel who has openly criticized the leadership of the Blue Jays’ former manager. Farrell’s ability to lead is already in question for not having control of his clubhouse and for that alone the Blue Jays may be lucky that Farrell landed his “dream job” in Boston. But hearing that this process was initiated over a year ago is insulting and should infuriate Blue Jay’s fans even further; having management surrender an asset to a divisional rival for a bag of pucks and a face full of cream pie only adds to the frustration. They also should be criticized for retaining the services of a manager who didn’t want to be here. Farrell’s loyalties have been with the Red Sox all along, that much has been proven. Much like a girl who strings a boy along until she finds someone better, Farrell used the Blue Jays and embarrassed the organization and the city along the way, until Boston came calling. Farrell’s just not that into you Toronto. He is not the first or the last member of the professional sports world to make a farce out of one of a Toronto’s sports team. Like the weak sisters of the north that we are, teams like the Blue Jays just take the abuse with a smile and expect its fans to do the same. Not only that, but the Blue Jays worsen it by making up excuse after excuse why they don’t succeed. Maybe if the Blue Jays stood up for themselves and started dictating the terms of engagement with its players and management they would be given more respect. They should have either fired Farrell upon learning that his allegiance was elsewhere a year ago and moved on or not allowed Farrell to be traded to Boston this year and then fire him after the Red Sox replaced their manager. It would be nice to see a Toronto sports team show some guts around here. Instead they allow themselves to be kicked around, play the role of the victim and then left for someone else–all the while ensuring the traitor is treated with utmost respect even at the expense of the organizations. And in the end Toronto sports teams openly wonder why no one of significance wants to come or stay in Toronto.



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