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Price, at what Price (or: Why Are You Hate-Reading the Papers?)

Optional soundtrack to this post: “Do you know what I’m telling you? Is there something you don’t understand?”

A couple of days ago, David Price signed one of the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball history. Like, it’s huge: $217 million over seven years. For comparison, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park cost $216 to build. We’re past talking about regular money here, we’re into the world of gobs of liquid capital.

So, was anyone surprised Toronto didn’t re-sign Price? That they didn’t offer him a contract? That, allegedly, ex-General Manager Alex Anthopoulos would’ve offered him a deal? Apparently, yeah, a lot of people were.

I’m not really here to argue the merits of ignoring or non-signing or whatever you’d like to call what Toronto did; personally, I’d call it smart roster management, but that’s just me. After all, Price is 33 years old and will now be on the books until he’s 40. Toronto is a win-now team, sure, but seven years is a long ass time and who know where they’ll be in three or five, let alone seven, years anyway?

Besides, they’re still good. I guess not as good as they were last August, but remember: Toronto didn’t have Price or Stroman last season until the back-end of the year and they were still pretty damn good going into July. They have Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki. They’ve finally added a lefty starter: JA Happ, who was a fun Jay back a couple of years ago. Let’s not start grinding our molars here.

No, what I’m interested in is the media and the doom and gloom attitude around the Greater Toronto Area around this signing. It’s in the media and it’s on Twitter. It’s probably on the radio, too, but I’ve recently transitioned into a person who listens exclusively to 680 News because there’s less bullshit on a 30 Minute News Wheel. And man, the takes just keep on comin’.

Let’s start with Cathal Kelly. He’s best known for purveying steaming hot takes as a way to establish his brand as the new lead voice for the Globe and Mail (see here, here and here) and really topped his usual fare with his Dec. 1 column! To wit:

If (the Blue Jays) were seriously committed to winning now, they would have. They’d have enjoyed those good early years in the deal, and eaten the rest.

Since the Jays are not committed to winning – not in the dictionary-definition sense of the word – they chose not to bother.

Ah yes, Toronto doesn’t care and they’re not committed to winning. He reminds his ideal reader – someone who can’t handle more than one sentence in a paragraph, I assume – never to mix up winning with turning a profit, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure the Jays turned a profit when they sold out every game in September and October, when their ratings were higher up here than in the United States. But Kelly has the inside scoop, sources telling him exactly why Rogers doesn’t want to spend money. Oh wait, no, he’s actually got a lot of subjective opinions. Almost the same thing.

You remember that feeling you had in September? That queasy, unfamiliar tingle? An all-over nervous tension that came on in waves in the evening?

In all likelihood, you won’t be feeling it again any time soon.

Mmm, yes. That tingly feeling. I get that every time I read a Kelly column, too. I think it’s called “anxiety.”

But wait, there’s more! A story broke today suggesting Anthopoulos would have offered Price a deal. This’ll feed right into the baser elements of the Toronto media market, which liked AA because he talked to them (even if he didn’t really say much) and because it gives them a new spin on things: an American guy kicked out a Canadian and decided to let the best player they had ever walk.

It’s all pretty “ugh” and “oh boy” with little revisionism mixed in. For all the cool moves AA made, he also made a lot of clunkers. Sure, he brought RA Dickey to Toronto and gave the rotation a solid 200-inning guy, but the pieces he sent to the Mets were a big part of a team who made the NLCS. Sure, he brought in Tulowitzki and Donaldson, but the deals that brought in the players whom he traded? That big deal with Florida, for example, doesn’t look so good now.

In sum, AA made some good moves, but he made some bad ones too and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think he really raided the farm system, particularly this year. At the same time, he saw an opportunity to make a World Series run and he exploited what he had. Flags fly forever, as the stock line goes. But he’s gone and nothin’s going to bring him back.

Which is what makes this current media cycle almost unbearable. Both AA and Price are gone and instead of being happy for what they had, the media is getting people mad over what could’ve been, if things worked out perfectly. It misses the point and almost undermines what Kelly might call that October Feeling: instead of remembering how goddamn fun playoff baseball was, the media wants to do is get mad and read the latest hot take. It’s a cycle, feeding off itself and cycling ever downwards. It reminds me a lot of another media-made scandal from about a year ago, when the columnists riled everyone up because the Leafs wouldn’t raise their sticks after games.

I think what I’m trying to say is be happy for the good times and look forward to what could be, not what you can’t have. Rather than getting mad about losing Price, look forward to a full season of Stroman and Donaldson. Instead of hate-reading Kelly, Simmons or the other outrage-purveyors, go read Andrew Stoeten or Stacey May Fowles. Go follow Ruhee or Chill Kessel on Twitter. Ask yourself: why would I spend my days getting all mad about the Jays when they’re literally as good as they’ve been in over two decades.

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Book Review: The Power Broker – Robert A. Caro

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New YorkThe Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

A towering, monumental biography of a huge, powerful civil servant, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker is a hell of a biography. It illuminates all the aspects of Robert Moses, who build up New York in a way nobody else had before and probably never will again.

Here’s a good way to sum up Moses. Right from the earliest points of his career, he led crusades to build parks for the general public, arguing with the robber barons who controlled the land he wanted and had the money to fight him. At the same time, he worked in ways of keeping the urban poor – minorities, generally – from using his parks and wasn’t above lying to people to get them to do what he wanted and dropping them the second they stopped being useful.

Or consider this. At one point, Moses was simultaneously building a huge hydroelectric dam, the world’s longest suspension bridge and planning a world’s fair. When he was in his 70s.

Caro’s book has all this and more. It’s huge and impressively detailed. It goes the gamut of his life, going through Moses days at Oxford and up to his fall from power in the late 1960s. It covers the ups, downs and many, many moves of power that Moses made to crush people in his way. They could’ve been anyone: newspaper reporters, mayors and other elected officials, even entire neighbourhoods. He didn’t care about anything, anyone but himself. Caro captures this arrogant, aloof attitude, which is why this book is so compelling: the average writer might have simply written off Moses as someone who grew old and out of touch; Caro shows him as a ruthless manipulator who was unwilling to bend to anyone, even the President of the United States.

It’s more than just that, though. Caro’s book doubles as a history of New York City through the 20th century, from the days when Tammany Hall controlled the city, up through the troubled mayoralty of John Lindsay. He explains the shifts in population, the way the city’s power shifted between parties and the rise of a more outspoken media. But where he comes through most is the rise of the automobile and it’s relationship to the city.

Which was Moses doing. More than anything – even the parks which made him famous and powerful – Moses was a highway-building man. He built parkways, highways and bridges. Toll-collecting made his Triborough Authority richer than any other authority in the city and Moses extensive ideas and planning for highways gave him a grip of power on the city. He didn’t just have the ideas for how cars should flow through the city, but he was the only guy with both the power and the money to get it done. And he did. His parkways gutted homesteads, slashed through neighbourhood and caused more congestion than they did relieve drivers.

It goes deeper: the specific ways in which Moses built his highways defined how the city would be shaped long after he was gone. He built bridges so low that buses couldn’t use the parkways, limiting them to the middle-class and higher. He evicted scores of people, pushing them into already-packed slums and public housing and destroyed neighborhoods. And his refusal to even consider public transit meant subways and trains wouldn’t have a part, but they never would: by the time he was finished, the land would be too expensive to buy.

Did Moses care? Hardly. As Caro relates, this was a man who laughed at people who were angry with him, scorned those who dared challenge him and refused to talk to anyone who wasn’t there to help him. He was arrogant, yes, but he had built himself so powerful he didn’t need anyone’s help, really.

And, as Caro relates in the book’s final sections, this arrogance undid Moses. He fought with the press, with the city and even people who wanted to put on free plays in the park. It’s a cliche, but I kept thinking of Lord Acton’s old line about power.

At well over 1,000 pages, Caro’s book is pretty weighty (even makes a nice dull thud when you drop it on a desk), is packed with numbers and figures and can occasionally get a tad overwhelming. But it never lets up on the drive and once Moses drive for power and arrogance towards everyone starts getting in his way, the book takes on a new power. Perhaps it’s because Caro was around for those battles, but maybe it’s just because Moses started losing these fights.

But the last quarter of this book is as exciting, as riveting as anything Caro’s written in his Lyndon Johnson biographies – if I had to rank it among those, it’s slightly behind the third volume, which is my favourite of the four, and just ahead of volumes two, four and one (in order). Granted, I would’ve liked to see more maps and maybe a postscript of what’s happened since this was first published, but those are minor gripes. If you’re looking for a political biography, how people carve out a position of power for themselves and keep it, this is your book. Recommended.

Rating: 8/10

Memories of the Dome

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It’s April and the Jays are back, which means things are going pretty swimmingly here. Which is nice: it was a cold winter and the Leafs weren’t really a lot of fun this year.

The Jays home opener is this Monday, which is always something of an event for the team: lots of rowdies and booze and, on one memorable night, a whole boatload of dropped pitches. I’ve never made it down to one, but Andrew Stoeten has a funny guide to surviving a riotous opening night that’s well worth a read.

Anyway, it’s reminded me of some of my more memorable times at the Dome: sitting in the upper bowl in 40 degree heat and feeling like a raisin for a week; a drunk guy trying to start the wave and yelling until security hauled him away; the time two guys sat in our seats and tried to pick a fight with me. Oh, there were some cool baseball moments I saw, too, but that’s for another day.

But I think my favourite came back in my college days, when I convinced a few friends, neither of whom liked baseball (and also my friend Svea), to come down for a $2 Tuesday game. I don’t really remember too much of the game (Baseball-Reference says they lost to Oakland 8-9), but I absolutely remember the boozing happening all around us. And, er, within us, too. I’m sure I planned to hit my seat chin-first.

Things eventually got a little crazy in our section, the drinking devolving into fistfights. Eventually the cops came in and started hauling people away. Fun was had by all, even though I doubt those two people I went with will ever go a game again. After all, it wasn’t as crazy as the 2005 CFL Eastern Final I went to way, way back when. (Hard to believe this blog’s been around that long; harder to believe how hard I copped Hunter Thompson back then).

Written by M.

April 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Breaking Down 100 Good Points

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I don’t know if there’s any writing more disposable than sportswriting. Maybe grocery lists. Certainly posts like this. The best sportswriting is timeless: nobody’s ever going to forget about Pat Jordan, Red Smith or WC Heinz, let alone pieces like Norman Mailer’s report in the Ali/Frazier fight. But mostly, it’s uneventful stuff. “Then the Habs scored two quick ones, bang, bang, and it was 3-2 for the good guys,” that kind of thing. Most sportswriting is on deadline and is dated by the next day. It’s not meant to be read a week later.

That said, what I do is less reporting and more blogging. My title’s Contributor and I almost never get press credentials, although I don’t apply for many to begin with. And I’ve been lucky enough to bang out words on a weekly (and more usually, biweekly) basis for The Good Point, so there’s a little more latitude when it comes to writing. So instead of covering things, I usually write about whatever’s been happening in the world of sports and react to them. On a bad day, I’m not any more interesting than a hack columnist on some small town newspaper, offering uninteresting and instantly dated opinions (see: this column about the NHL coming to Markham). I feel for editor and general behind the scenes wizard Rob Boudreau, who deals with me every two weeks. He’s probably my most regular reader.

But on a good day, I’d like to think I’m able to shine a little light into some of the more offbeat corners of sports. Over the four years I’ve been writing at The Good Point, I’ve covered a huge range of topics, including some I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone else write about; I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of wider interests than the average sports-scribbler or on my complete inability to function as a journalist.

I recently filed my 100th post for The Good Point. I have no idea how I got to this number, I never thought I’d be there for a full year (then again, I always thought I’d be a beat writer of some sort by now). What follows is a few links to some of my favourite posts and a few words on each.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

July 23, 2013 at 10:00 am

Raptors rotations are rotating them out of contention

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Things have pretty much bottomed out for the Toronto Raptors.

After a brief period of looking good in the immediate Rudy Gay era and a five-game winning streak, the Raptors have come back down: they’ve lost five in row, including some to teams they’re supposed to be better than: Washington and Cleveland. And losing to Milwaukee was bad too: it set them back a ways in the postseason race. Over at Club Sport Stats, their playoff chances are at 0.4 per cent. That seems maybe a tad charitable to me.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

March 5, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Just another Friday night in the city: Five scenes from the Grey Cup pre-game

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1. Friday afternoon in Toronto, about 48 hours before the Grey Cup. There’s booths, tents and a giant stage set up at Yonge and Dundas Square. Food people are pitching their wares, yelling into crowds and handing out things. The people at Smokes Poutine handed me a giant sticker when I bought a poutine. A guy from Frank’s Red Hot tried to cajole my buddy Eric into a seven-hot-sauce-extravaganza without much luck. We’re both handed luggage tags from a woman trying to enter us into a draw for a trip to Orlando.

It’s a large, commercial gathering of noises and bright, flashing lights. A band is playing and there’s an array of cheerleaders, each dressed in team colours. One tent has CFL MEDIA written on it and inside there’s a bunch of newspapers, but nobody’s inside. Another tent has a bunch of CFL gear for sale. There’s games all around, too: ones where throw a football through the middle of a giant donut, another where you run a buttonhook route and catch a pass. The CFL is learning from the big leagues: this is a scene not remote from one you’d see at the NBA All-Star game or, I assume, the Super Bowl.

The change from 2007 is stark. The last time Toronto had a Grey Cup, it was hard to notice it. Maybe it’s because the Argos weren’t playing in it, but that seems like an easy out. Five seasons ago, it just seemed like the CFL was still that little Canadian league best celebrated in the prairies. It was something which didn’t translate to big cities. It’s changed this year: the city is embracing the Grey Cup, or at least willing to tolerate it for the weekend. The pregame stuff didn’t feel quaint, maybe for the first time I can remember.

2. Walking around the downtown core all of the afternoon and into the evening. Took the subway out to Honest Eds, then up to Young/Eglinton and finally walked up and down University. All over I saw people in CFL gear: hats, shirts and the occasional jersey. There was more, too.

One of the coolest aspects of the CFL is the way it’s fans dress up for the Grey Cup: I saw people dressed like doctors, in scrubs covered in CFL patches. There was a guy in a Stampeders-themed jumpsuit. My friend Jenn saw a bunch of people dressed as tigers. I suppose this isn’t something limited to just the CFL – God knows the NFL has it’s share of fan crazies – but Canadians are supposed to be reserved, right? There aren’t any people who slather red paint all over, wear a tail and go to Raptors games. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear feathers at a Blue Jay game. The CFL has these passionate people and honestly, I think it’s pretty cool.

But there was an interesting absence: I barely saw anyone wearing Argos gear. For a while I was trying to keep score of who was wearing what, a plan as foolish as it was pointless, but by a wide margin the Argos were the least-represented team. I can count on one hand the number of Argo jerseys I saw. Saying the Argos are a distant fourth in the GTA is hardly an original thought, but I was mildly surprised by how little Toronto gear I saw. But then it was the afternoon. ALl the people who came to Toronto were on vacation; all the people already in Toronto were still at work.

3. A bunch of words have been written about Marty, the Stampeders horse, and his visit to the Royal York hotel. Apparently it’s a tradition for a horse to get ridden into a hotel during the Grey Cup, although I don’t really remember it being a big deal before. And although I think horses are rad animals, I’m having a hard time buying into this.

Marty the horse made the most of his time in the GTA, even if he wasn’t allowed inside the Royal York

In the past few years, TSN has pitched the CFL like the league’s never been pitched before. They go into overdrive, showcasing every game, every week. And it all builds up to the Grey Cup. Which, to be fair, is one of the crown jewels of TSN’s broadcasting. Arguably, only the World Juniors are more important to the network and off the top of my head, I’m not sure which draw more in the ratings. But it’s certainly something in the same mould: the World Juniors weren’t anywhere near as big as they’ve come in the past few years, thanks almost entirely to TSN’s wall-to-wall coverage.

It’s the same thing with the Grey Cup. TSN goes into overdrive this time of year and they’ve outdone themselves. There’s been a documentary series, live remotes from Toronto every day this week and every aspect has been well-covered, even the CFL awards, which don’t even get broadcasted. There’s hardly any angles that escaped their cameras. Enter Marty.

If I understand the backstory, some drunk Calgarians ride a horse into a hotel back in 1948. It’s since become a tradition, like the pancake breakfast. So when the Royal York barred it’s doors to Marty in front of a bunch of cameras, TSN found itself with a great story. And it’s one they rode as hard as they could. Their cameras followed the horse to the financial district, where Marty took a shit, and later to a bar, where he lapped up some beer out of a bowl. Granted, other outlets picked up on the story, but nobody was riding it quite like TSN, where it was all over SportsCentre, their website and even discussed at length on the Jay and Dan podcast.

It is a big deal that a hotel wouldn’t let Marty in? I think it’s much ado over nothing. One could argue the hotel’s turning down free publicity, but I found an old Paul Zimmerman story mentioning the Royal York banning a horse from it’s lobby in 1992. So it’s obviously happened before and the CFL didn’t die. The news cycle about Marty is nothing but bluster. It’s  a good example of how TSN’s expanding coverage of the game isn’t always great.

4. Last year, the Vanier Cup game was apparently the greatest Canadian college football game ever played. Maybe it was, but that’s like saying something is the locally-sourced greatest hummus dip you can buy in Erie, Indiana. It sounds great, but it doesn’t really mean anything. For better or worse, CIS football is a non-entity on Canadian television. There’s a reason it’s still on The Score for most of the year. It can be good football – comparing it to NCAA ball is hardly fair – but it’s both small and only a quarter of a niche sport.

Part of this isn’t really anybody’s fault: it’s not something a lot of schools could afford to do. Football is an expensive sport to put together, especially if you’re not raking in money from TV deals. This alone is why most Canadian schools don’t have football programs: only 26 schools play CIS football, compared to 35 playing men’s ice hockey and 44 playing men’s basketball.

But again, the Vanier Cup is a TSN property. So it must get the hype and attention it deserves. Thusly, on Friday night, TSN showed a documentary on last year’s game, The Best Game Ever. In this game, Laval was down 23-0 at halftime, rallied to tie the game and lost in overtime. I watched this doc in a bar without any sound, so maybe I missed a few details, but it was more of an extended highlight show than a movie and I found it incredibly dull. Maybe something was lost in translation.

Later that night, TSN aired this year’s game, although I didn’t watch any of it. The talk all week about this year’s game was on the attendance: it was supposed to be something like 33,o00, a record. It was supposed to have something to do with last year’s game, but it’s locale – Toronto’s Rogers Centre – certainly didn’t hurt. Most CIS stadiums couldn’t seat that many. But for something with that many people, I didn’t see a single person wearing any CIS gear. Maybe it was anecdotal, but given the amount of CFL fans I kept running across, I was a little surprised. Although I did hear from a friend that Union Station was overwhelmed and she had a hell of a time getting back to Hamilton after a concert, so maybe I was in the wrong neighbourhood.

5. I was in Toronto for a Raptors game: a blog I read was throwing an anniversary celebration at a downtown bar. It was packed, with many more people than I thought would come showing up. And, love them or hate ’em, the Raptors will be the only big game in town after the Grey Cup for some time. The NHL just cancelled more games, the Marlies are still considered minor league (perhaps accurate, but hardly fair: it’s roster has more than a few NHL-level talents this year). But the Raptors are not a good team. Their record is just 3-10 and they’ve dropped three games in a row.

Last night I caught the end of the game on a TV in a mall. A group of people had gathered around, including one guy who kept telling me the Raptors needed to trade Bargnani and feed the ball to Lowry more, because he’s a real baller. And this was after a 34-point night for Bargnani where we all saw him hit a big three late to give the Raptors a three-point lead. But we all groaned at the final possessions: Detroit’s Brandon Knight drove to the basket and hit a layup to give the Pistons a one-point lead with just over seven seconds left, followed by a long Kyle Lowry shot that rimmed out at the buzzer. Not an ideal ending by any means.

Still, it gave me a good feeling about this year. The Raptors are usually the also-rans here in the winter, even when they outperform the Leafs. That so many people crowded a bar for an early-season game against a bad team, or how group of people would all stand and watch the final possessions and actually talk to complete strangers about what’s wrong with the team, these are nice happenings. Even as they flail helplessly at the bottom of the Atlantic division, people in Toronto are still interested in the Raptors. That’s a great feeling.

Written by M.

November 25, 2012 at 7:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

NHL Lockout Classics, Part One: The best series-deciding game nobody remembers

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The last time there was a lockout, the CBC aired movies on Saturday night and TSN aired a bunch of basketball. This was before TSN2’s launch and before ESPN’s 30 for 30 series gave them a bunch of worthwhile hour-long programs to fill the day. There wasn’t a lot they could have used that drew ratings: they also aired a lot of poker and re-broadcasted stuff from the 70s and 80s. While it was cool seeing old stuff (and I ended up taping a bunch of stuff, some of which helped me out in tape-trading circles), I can’t imagine most people were really into them. Especially with a slate of games everyone already knows about, anyway:

A selection of games TSN rebroadcasted during the 2004-05 NHL Lockout:

  • 1978 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, Toronto v. New York Islanders, Game Seven
  • 1990 Smythe Division Semifinals, Edmonton v. Winnipeg, Game Four
  • 1987 Rendez-Vous Series, NHL All-Stars vs Soviet National Team, Game One
  • 1985 Adams Final, Montreal v. Quebec, Game Seven
  • March 24, 1994, Vancouver @ Los Angeles, Wayne Gretzky scores goal 802
  • 1993 Campbell Conference Final, Los Angeles v. Toronto: Game Seven
  • December 31, 1975, Red Army @ Montreal
  • 1979 Conference Final: Boston v. Montreal, Game Seven
  • 1979 Stanley Cup Semifinal, Montreal v. Toronto, Game Four

Look at those: literally every hockey fan has seen Guy Lafleur score against Boston in 79, knows Gretzky scored more goals than anyone else and couldn’t care less about Toronto gagging like dogs at home against the Kings in 1993. And since the Jets returned to Winnipeg, the novelty of a Jets game has gone out the window.

I do not have an extensive tape library, but I know my vintage NHL broadcasts. I’m probably in a pretty good spot to recommend a few things TSN could air that aren’t especially familiar to most fans. And since TSN isn’t going to air much basketball, and one can only watch the 30 for 30 about the Baltimore Colts marching band so many times, I’m game to recommend some stuff I’d like to watch again. I’ll write up one game every week or so, offering links to it on YouTube whenever possible. Today, it’s a win-or-go-home game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues from the 1981 playoffs. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M.

October 5, 2012 at 9:00 am