Sunday, April 1, 2012

*Terrible Time to be from Toronto

(photo courtesy of
Torontonians are so deeply jaded by the consistency with which their sports franchises suck, that they've started selling long-sleeve Toronto jerseys so emo fans can cover the cut marks. Okay, so maybe not, but that seems to be the overriding emotional tone in Canada's largest sports market. It's a culture that's been nurtured like a ripe batch of mushrooms; living in darkness and fed shit. There are several levels of peril at play in this city, which extend past the reaches of any one sport. As a result, Toronto has become a desolate wasteland of underachievement.

The flagship franchise of this city is the NHL's Maple Leafs, a team so deeply entrenched in losing that they haven't won a Stanley Cup since there were only 6 teams in the league. They boast the longest Cup drought in league history, and as of this year, the longest playoff drought as well. The modern Leafs' biggest downfall seems to be the loyalty of their fans. This loyalty has created a kind of sports paradox, where consistent failure does not result in waning fan interest, but quite the opposite. Fans come out in droves. The Air Canada Centre is literally sold out years in advance, merchandise revenues are the highest of any team in hockey, and there is no sign of that ever slowing down. 

Winning starts at the top, and this backwards culture of lemming-like fandom creates a lack of ambition from ownership. Why exert all of that extra energy building a contender when a cellar-dweller nets you the same amount of profit? It's pathetic, but it's the reality of the Leafs. They are miles away from being a legitimate NHL team, and stuck in a perpetual state of overestimating their on-ice product. They've been a laughing stock around the NHL for years, and it looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better.

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Toronto FC is perhaps the most misleading of the teams, as home games at BMO field are the loudest and most raucous ticket in the city, and in the entire MLS. Another case of Maple Leaf syndrome. The Reds have never made the playoffs in their short history. In fact, they've never even come close. Their new captain Torsten Frings, possibly the most seasoned footballer to ever wear TFC red, was injured before the season even got under way, along with starting goalie Stefan Frei. The result is a very ugly 0-2 start to the season, with no real signs of optimism going forward. They're a team in constant disarray, and with fans flocking to BMO en masse, ownership really has no incentive to start spending on quality talent.

The Raptors are not much better off, although they seem to have more of a sense of realism about where they're at developmentally. They knew they would suck and they have. The Raptors do boast a great core of young talent, but how comforting can that be to a fan base that has seen every star player they've ever had walk away for greener pastures? 

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Andrea Bargnani could prove to buck that trend, but Andrea Bargnani is also considered to be one of the poorer first overall draft picks in the history of the NBA. He's a seven footer who's afraid to play defence or attack the hoop with any regularity, in a league where defence and a post presence are a necessity for a deep playoff run. We may finally keep a star player, but he's the one who is least likely to take us anywhere. The same can be said for DeMar Derozan, a promising young talent who thrives when attacking the hoop, yet does it so rarely that he's sabotaging his own development. The Raps are one of the least attractive markets for free agents, and with New York beginning to build themselves a strong team, the path back to the playoffs is not getting any easier. 

On to the Argos. "The Ar-who?". Exactly. Moving on.

The bright shining ray of hope for Toronto fans is the Blue Jays. The good news is the Jays are absolutely on fire through spring training, looking unstoppable leading up to the season opener. The bad news is that statistical history tells us that spring training records mean sweet fuck all, and almost never translate into regular season success. The Jays' depth of talent is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and they are absolutely the best off of all the major sports teams in the T-dot. 
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It's that depth that may mislead victory-starved fans into thinking they've got something better than they have. There are still holes on this roster, like the lack of a true first baseman, and some questionable holes in their starting pitching. Their whole rotation has something to prove; Romero and Morrow are fine major League pitchers, but get by a little too easily on their reputations. Both have a lot of respect to earn this year, and unless one or both flirts with 20 wins, they can't really be considered top-of-the-lineup studs. 

The extra play-in game added to the Major League playoff format could be just what the doctor ordered to get this team into their first post-season since 93's World Series title, but they have the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Rays, and 162 games of "what-if" between now and then.

With so much negativity ruling the sports landscape for so long, it's hard not to be as skeptical as a hipster at a Nickelback concert. This is an issue that transcends any one sport, and has become part of this city's international identity. The local media makes a living blowing sunshine up the ass of the average fan, but anywhere south of Burlington sees this town as the punchline to a pathetic joke. Ironically it isn't a sense of unity and togetherness that will pull us out of it, but a righteous sense of apathy. Unless fans stop showing up, and stop caring, they'll never stop feeding the machine that keeps their hopes in check. So let's do this Toronto, let's be winners, let's not give a fuck FOR THE FUTURE.

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