(Note: This is a guest column from one of our regulars.)
For the first 22 years of their existence, the Toronto Blue Jays were an attendance powerhouse. In 18 of those years, attendance at Exhibition Stadium and then SkyDome exceeded the American League average. The other four seasons came early on and after 1982 they never looked back, the high point being 4 million plus in 1991-1993. (The Yankees would not break 4 million until 2005!) During the ten years from 1984 through 1993, the Jays finished 1st five times, 2nd three times, appeared in the American League Championship Series five times and went on to win the World Series back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.
But since then, it has been a different story. Playing in the rich and powerful American League East, the Jays have finished as high as second only once in the 19 years since 1993, and have not appeared in the post-season. In 2012, they finished 22 games behind the Yankees and 20 games out of the second wild card spot. Attendance has been in steady decline. 16 straight years of attendance above the American League average ended in 1999 and it has remained below that average for the last 14 seasons. It has been below two million most years, including the last four.
One of the more difficult things to accomplish in baseball must be to compete in the AL East if you aren’t the Yankees or the Red Sox. After the big trade with the Marlins this week, LVHSuperbook had the Jays’ odds of winning the 2013 World Series at 15/1, from the 50/1 it had been. Consider that the Cardinals are around 15/1 and the Royals and Mets around 50/1. Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle will give the Jays a reasonable rotation. With the addition of Reyes and the others, the Jays should contend in 2013, at least for a wild card spot. With two such spots under the new system, they should at least be contenders most of the season. History has shown that attendance in Toronto can be very strong indeed when the team contends, and that is exactly what is needed in Toronto.
So one might surmise that Bud Selig allowed the deal between the Jays and the Marlins to happen, at least in part, because it created one contending team out of two non-contenders and did the near impossible by creating another contender in the AL East. In so doing, baseball in Toronto should enjoy a rebound. Great job, Bud!
Meanwhile, the Marlins odds of winning it all went from 100/1 to 200/1. In other words, they weren’t going anywhere, anyway. And with so much payroll on the books, the chance of doing anything about it may not have been very good. Perhaps their current front office doesn’t have the talent necessary to pull off the “buy a title” quick fix strategy that has worked for Miami in the past. 2012 would argue for that proposition. So is it a great loss that a failed strategy has been abandoned?
Following the Astros’ example of starting over and building from the ground up might not be such a bad idea. It’s true that Miami does not have the MLB tradition that Houston does. And it may well be that the root of the problem for MLB in Miami is that the team doesn’t have fans, it has customers. And customers are only interested in getting value for their ticket dollar now. They want to be entertained for the next three hours.
So, will these customers be interested in a baseball team going through a multi-year rebuild with no chance of contending for years to come? Not in the least. But that may not be bad in the long run. An extinction event may be what is necessary for real fans to emerge, thrive and multiply in the instant gratification culture of Miami.
The stadium issue overlays the whole situation and seems responsible for much of the outrage aimed at Selig and Jeff Loria as expressed by baseball media types like Jeff Passan. (link) But the stadium money is spent, the taxpayers are on the hook for a very long time and the high dollar free agents that were brought in to win now didn’t.
Once everybody stops hyperventilating and spewing indignation, it may occur to some of them that not only did the “buy a winner” strategy fail to produce a winner in 2012, but it has failed to produce a fan base for Major League Baseball in Miami even when it has produced a winner twice in the past.
That strategy, like the ridiculous new stadium, is aimed at attracting customers looking for instant gratification, not building a fan base and a tradition. It hasn’t worked three times now and there is no reason to think that persisting with that failed strategy would have produced anything meaningful or lasting, and certainly wouldn’t have created the fan base that will be needed to pay for the stadium long into the future.
Do the Marlins have the management talent, and the patience, to use the haul of prospects and the near total payroll flexibility to put together a legit system which will yield results in the future? Perhaps not, frankly, but maybe Loria will cash out now and leave somebody else with a clean slate.
Will it work? We don’t know. But we know what doesn’t work when it comes to establishing a base of real fans to support Major League Baseball in Miami. If Bud had blocked the trade, the Marlins would not have at least had a chance to start over and do it right, but now they do. Nice going, Bud!