How Toronto Blue Jays Victories Hurt the Toronto Argonauts and the CFL

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIFebruary 23, 2010

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 29:  Adam Lind #26 of the Toronto Blue Jays watches his solo home run in the seventh inning as Victor Martinez #41 of the Boston Red Sox defends on September 29, 2009 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. It was Lind's third home run of the game.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The CFL has always been hurt by comparisons to the NFL, particularly in Southern Ontario, but one of the more lasting wounds was inadvertently delivered by the Toronto Blue Jays.

More specifically, the wounds were inflicted by the combination of the Blue Jays' World Series victories in 1992 and 1993 and that drug that Canadian sports fans can't do without—American TV recognition and glory.

The Blue Jays had been consistent American League contenders since 1983 but always seemed doomed to being not quite good enough. 

They consistently teased their fans with the thought that they might taste ultimate glory but either were defeated in the American League playoffs or choked on their way to a division title.

Off the field, the team seldom made a wrong move. Once the team became legitimate contenders in 1983, the team, the new kid on the Toronto sports scene, being only around since 1977, became the second hottest sports ticket in Toronto behind the Maple Leafs. 

In 1991, the team became the first MLB team to surpass the four million mark in attendance. It was difficult to believe that unlike the Maple Leafs and Argonauts, the team had only been around for nearly a decade and a half.

The next two years put the team over the top with back-to-back World Series triumphs, climaxing with an all-time MLB legendary moment, the Joe Carter home run.

None of this should have hurt the CFL. The Argonaut ownership at the time was fronted by two legendary Canadian icons, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy, who did much to increase the popularity of the team by personal appearances.

The money for the team came from Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, then a major influence in the NHL, until his shady business dealings led to a jail sentence and the breakup of the winning ownership combination.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays' World Series triumphs had an intoxicating effect on Toronto's sports fans that would prove dangerous to the existence of the Argonauts, if not to the CFL itself.

Canadians have always had a drug-like craving for American TV recognition and money that continues to this day.

American TV is the big time. To be a star on American television meant that you were a true star. Lorne Greene, Dan Aykroyd, and Candy himself among many others went from obscurity to recognition once they became a hit on the American scene.

Except for hockey, and a few other actors and athletes, Canada has seldom awarded the adulation for its native sons and daughters until the Americans have done it first.

Currently there is a Canadian stamp series called "Canadians in Hollywood." You don't see stamps for actors/actresses who became famous only in Canada.

It has never stopped. Canada apes shows like American Idol, and there probably were uncountable Canadians who forsook the CTV broadcast of the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics in order to hear a blessing of Canada by NBC.

The CFL itself has not been immune to seeking American approval. One year, the guest speaker at the CFL banquet was Howard Cosell, then the hottest American sportscaster.

When the Blue Jays became contenders, American TV had to air more of their games and come to Toronto frequently. Now Torontonians could get a taste of American TV glory firsthand. Toronto became the place to be in baseball.

American TV interest peaked during the World Series years. Poor Bob Costas, who made a mild remark criticizing the Blue Jays, found himself plastered all over the local newspapers because he did not mindlessly love the team enough. Woe to the American announcer who did not follow the expected script!

So how did the Toronto Argonauts and the CFL become hurt by all of this?

After the World Series triumphs, with American TV glory all over North America and their city being the center of the baseball universe, Toronto sports fans wanted to capture the biggest American sports prize, the Super Bowl.

The thinking became, "Now that we won the big one in baseball, let's win the biggest one in football too."

Toronto's sports fans had been able to follow the NFL on TV since the 1950s. As the NFL became bigger in the United States, surpassing baseball in popularity, interest in the league by Toronto's sports fans grew in parallel proportion.

When there was talk of building a new stadium for the Blue Jays in the late 1980s, it was hoped that a new facility would lead to an NFL franchise.

One of the reasons why a team has not come was due to the blunder of building the SkyDome or Rogers Center with a too-small seating capacity.

But the World Series victories, coupled with American TV adulation, convinced a huge proportion of Toronto fans to shed franchises that were perceived as "minor league" and to demand a product worthy of their new status.

Attendance dropped off at Argonaut games. It became fashionable to disparage them and the CFL. The league was seen as "being in the way" of getting an NFL team.

Sometimes the team had to resort to gimmicks to sell tickets. One memorable one was to have Muhammad Ali appear at halftime.

A group that still hasn't disbanded was formed to seek an NFL team for Toronto. Every year they make a pilgrimage to whoever is the NFL commissioner.

Attendance nor the CFL's image still really hasn't recovered.

It's the reason a horrible Buffalo Bills team can play exhibition and regular season games at monopolistic prices. There is an element that will put up with anything to get an NFL team and more American TV glory.

Almost 30,000 of the fans in Orchard Park are Canadians. No wonder Ralph Wilson looked north of the border when unemployment and underemployment eroded much of the fanbase in Buffalo.

The story of the Grey Cup tells the sad truth. Before the Blue Jays won the World Series, it seemed that Toronto was hosting the Grey Cup every other year.

After the Blue Jays victories, the Grey Cup was run out of town, only daring to show its face (successfully) in Toronto three years ago.

Some Bleacher CFL fans believe that the GTA with its five million population could support two CFL teams. On paper, they are right.

But the reality of the Toronto sports scene is something else. The CFL is only too aware of the thirst for American TV glory and becoming "big league."

Toronto has wanted to host the Olympics and a World's Fair like Vancouver. It has to be satisfied with the 2015 Pan Am Games.

So in Toronto and other parts of southern Ontario, the CFL stands on brittle ground. 

Few realize that the NFL only wants to exploit the Toronto market by playing one regular season and exhibition game at monopolistic prices, peddle NFL merchandise, and spread pro-NFL propaganda.

They don't want to grant "equality" to a foreign franchise that would have a bad effect on American TV ratings if they became contenders and be an unpopular draw in American cities because they are "foreign."

But Torontonians better think twice before they wish for the end of the Argonauts, because once they are gone, nothing might come back to take their place.


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