There’s a saying about sports that you’re just cheering for laundry. The team name on the uniform means more than the person who wears it.
In the wake of the July 31 trade deadline that saw the Toronto Jays move three of the few remaining members of the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams – Stroman, Sanchez and Biagini for arguably baffling returns – vitriol and divisiveness exploded across the fanbase.
And while it’s true that loyalty to ‘your’ team might just come down to geography; in the age of social media, fans have more access to their favourite player than ever before. Suddenly that ‘laundry’ becomes a very real person with whom you form a very real attachment. This is especially true in baseball, which has many development years and a long season that allow these kind of fan/players relationships to grow and thrive.
And therein lies the rub. The furor, uproar and rending of clothes isn’t because players were traded – most understand that the team is rebuilding and change is inevitable.
No, it’s more because core members from the last competitive Jays team, and who came to mean something to so many fans, seemed to be ushered out of town with a ‘see ya’ and not even so much as a thank you for your service.
So it’s understandable why it can feel that the current front office is laser focused on turning over every player who came before them, regardless of whether the return actually helps improve the team now, or in the future.
And the communication from Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Ross Atkins about these trades, and others that have come before them, has been an utter failure.
Talking about ‘years of control’ and making the same claims about ‘tools, upside, and ceiling’ and insisting that they’ve been pursuing (insert player here) after every trade (whither Julian Merryweather, erstwhile ‘Major League ready’ trade piece for 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson).
Their continuing inability to effectively manage PR, talking about improving the ‘fan experience’ by adding more luxury suites, raising ticket prices, and adding dynamic pricing that only goes one way (hint: it’s not lower) – all the while fielding a team that won’t be competitive in the immediate future.
Is it any wonder that fans are left wondering what’s more important – winning or running the most cost-efficient team?
And for every one fan that gets excited by turning legacy players into ’42 years of control’ for players who may never see time in the majors, there are hundreds of casual fans who just want to watch their favourite players win. Their dollars to spend on tickets, merchandise, and jerseys are exactly the same. A good front office appeals to both.
Sports at their core are meant to be entertaining. Baseball is a form of theatre, and whether you loved them or hated them, Donaldson, Bautista, Stroman – they knew how to bring the drama.
Not that there isn’t anything to be excited about. The Jays now have a talented young core that could see more than one true breakout star. Much has been made about the ‘sons’, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and of course Vladimir Guerrero Jr., all of whose fathers are former All-Stars and/or Hall of Famers.
Included in this list too is Lourdes Gurriel Jr., whose father is considered Cuban baseball royalty, yet who often doesn’t get mentioned as one of the ‘sons.’ Whether this is because Senior never played in MLB, it certainly seems like another missed opportunity by the Jays to promote an incredible history within one of its best players.
The Jays front office preaches culture, accountability, and humility. Ironically, it would go a long way with fans if management demonstrated these prized traits themselves. Repeatedly asking fans to ‘trust the process’ without ever saying what it is rings hollow. Paying tribute to players who their fanbase came to love, regardless of when or how they arrived in Toronto is a huge part of culture building.
Sincerity and transparency creates trust, essential to accepting this rebuilding process. It’s not so much that fans’ frustration comes from disliking the front office, but from the feeling that the front office doesn’t like them.
Inevitably, fans vote with their wallets, and in a city with as many pro sports teams as Toronto, there are a lot of choices where to cast that vote.
It’s said that winning solves everything. Hopefully fans won’t be so disillusioned with the team that they aren’t around when the winning starts.