Monday, September 8, 2008

Second City to None

With the Jays starting a "big" series in Chicago against the division-leading White Sox, I thought it would be sporting to have one of Chicago's finest give us his perspective on the Jays, Canada and the world at large. Andrew Reilly of The 35th Street Review has done that and so much more. Mr. Reilly invited me to return the favor on his site, but don't let that foolhardy decision take away from the excellence below. Enjoy.

Eastern Avenue Freeze-Out

Several years and more than a few jobs ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto on a business trip which eventually just degenerated into maxing out my per diem at that bar on Queen Street whose name escapes me. These were the glory days of a non-failing American economy, and I remember very specifically that the lead story on CablePulse 24 was the Canadian dollar trading at seventy cents American. And at the time, that seemed about right. Not economically, but contextually: for all intents and purposes, Toronto felt like seventy percent of Chicago.

This isn't a knock on the great city of Toronto, nor Canada, nor its people, nor its baseball team which I'll get to in a moment, but rather an observation that the good citizens of America's Hat had figured out a way to perfectly replicate roughly seventy percent of the life we know south of the border - but only the good seventy percent.

You have a subway system, but it's quiet, reliable and mostly void of homeless people using the corner seats as a toilet after dark. You have esteemed educational institutions, but they're actually open to those qualified to attend. You have a remarkably sound, relatively stable economy and financial system, but it's based on a currency that sounds like play money. You have guns, but you don't pull them on each other in traffic. You have Aerosmith, but they're actually Rush*.

Growing up as a White Sox fan, there were several teams I would come to hate. The Cubs. Oakland. Supposedly the Orioles should be in that group, but I was too young to grasp the enormity of the failure that was the 1983 American League Championship Series. Of course the next time the Sox made the playoffs, they had the misfortune of running into arguably the least-heralded baseball juggernaut ever assembled.

Everyone remembers Joe Carter and that one great moment whose image graces the right side of this fine website, but people forget the Blue Jays also employed the services of a current Hall of Famer, three future members and four players debatably worthy of enshrinement on the 1992 and 1993 rosters alone. The 1992 staff boasted two of the 15 pitchers to ever throw a perfect game in the modern era**.

Ah yes, 1993. That was a good time to come of age as a Sox fan. Every player on that team was doing exactly what they were brought aboard to do, and they were all doing it well - in some cases as well as they ever would. Staff ace Jack McDowell won the Cy Young while a not-yet-despised-by-fans-media-and-teammates Frank Thomas was the AL's Most Valuable Player. They took the division by eight games but then, well, you know what happened. We'll just say it ended well for you and leave it at that.

So why don't Sox fans hate the Blue Jays? You ruined Bo, repeatedly embarrassed one of the best pitchers in franchise history***, elevated some of the lamest of Sox regulars to the status of playoff hero by default while the stars' bats mostly stayed home, then kicked us in the throat just in time for our owner to engineer the strike in 1994.

(Two of the outfielders from that 1993 Jays squad, by the way, later became our locally mocked general manager and nationally mocked color commentator. So thanks for that as well.)

The answer points back to that seventy percent approach. You briefly had a baseball empire, but without the need for revisionist history or an arrogant fanbase spreading the word. You beat the hell out of everyone for a while, but never left a bruise. You killed the White Sox as a team in the early part of the decade, but fled the scene just in time to let their later organizational moves make it look like a suicide.

Even now, with all the talk of certain other teams and players in the American League East, no one notices the Jays would surely be in the hunt for the West or Central titles and easily atop the National League West. In any normal season (i.e. one where the Rays are terrible) you would be looking at the pennant race, not away from it. The Yankees getting hurt is bigger news than the Jays' bullpen putting the hurt on. Roy Halladay dominating the American League is somehow less of a story than Manny Ramirez fleeing from it. Shaun Marcum is having a great season and might as well not even exist.

Meanwhile, back here in Chicago, the Sox need to win this series, badly, or to at least not lose as much as they seem to enjoy losing these days. Win and loss columns aside, I'll be the first to say the two teams are not so far apart talent-wise but the last to say this won't be a pivotal four days for the team on the South Side.

But if this series turns ugly, well, we probably won't even notice. We'll blame Carlos Quentin's wrist or the Mariners or the Indians or some other AL punching bag the Sox should've hit harder, all the while overlooking that time in September where they lost to a comparably decent team. The standings suggest the Jays are irrelevant, which means we fans here in Chicago will assume the Sox can win without playing and gain ground without trying.

You have a winner, but it's not the kind anyone equates with winning. You have a good team, but not the kind anyone thinks is any good. You have a supposedly inferior franchise whom the White Sox have yet to beat this season. It could all end in total disgrace and we would still attribute it to anything besides actually losing a disproportionate number of games to the Toronto Blue Jays.

This probably sounds like a stupid way of thinking, and maybe it is, but that doesn't take away from you being a terrible sporting neighbor, Canada. You're slowly destroying us and don't even have the decency to let us know about it.

Well played, good sirs. Well played.

(*) Of salesmen!

(**) Wells' was the superior game if only for its reliance on so much big fat guy power.

(***) Not just the shellacking handed to McDowell in the ALCS, but also the on-field beating at the hands of Hard-hittin' Mark Whiten in 1991. Whiten would later thump four home runs in a single game with the Reds in 1993. What a guy.

1 comment:

Send forth the witticisms from on high