Free Agent Drought and Ode To Willie Upshaw

I was at the Jays game last night. Amazing night for a baseball game. Roof was open and but for an off night by the home team I had a great time. With respect to attendance, they reported just over 34,000 as the attendance number, I say again, I would be stunned if there were more then 25,000 in the house. It was more glass half empty as opposed to half full if you know what I mean…but I digress.

On my up the 400 to Barrie I was able to catch the J.P Ricciardi Show. The usual dumb questions (ummm, my friends and I want to know why we can’t get a refund when we aren’t happy with our purchase like we can at a normal store?) were the rule and not the exception and as much as I don’t care for J.P. I have to give him credit for taking the calls.

Having said that I caller asked a very good question of the GM. The caller asked whether the Jays would be able to pursue an upcoming free agent stud in this soon to be off season. J.P.’s answer is one that I have heard on numerous occasions from him but never given much thought to before. J.P said, after a very awkward pause, that “Players just don’t want to come to Toronto”. In fairness to J.P. he did say he didn’t understand it, that he thinks its an amazing city, great fans, yadda yadda yadda.

I was left wondering, how did this happen? The Jays used to be THE TEAM players wanted to play for. It wasn’t so long ago that we were able to lure the top guns that we wanted. J.P. was even able to sign AJ and BJ. So what has happened in the baseball and world landscape that has made Toronto less desirable?

So, back in 1992, 1993 and 1994 the Jays payroll were 49,427,166, 51,935,034 and 42,265,168 respectively. These payrolls were 1st, 1st and 3rd overall. This year (2008) the Jays rank 12th at $98,641,957. The Yankees are #1 at $209,081,579!! in 2007, the Jays were 16th at 81,942,800. The Yankees were #1 at $ 189,639,045. In 2006, the Jays were # 16 at $ 71,915,000. The Yanks were number one at $ 194,663,079. And so it goes.

So, one admitted difference is that while in the past the Jays were able to spend in the upper echelon of the teams in the league. Don’t get me wrong, this is a big difference. However, the Yankees aren’t getting all the FA’s, and the money being spent on a per player basis, with the exception of Arod isn’t totally out of whack with what the Jays are spending. Money, quiet simply isn’t the only factor these days.

So, what has happened? I am not the type to long for yesteryear, however one has to think that the way the Jays were run, compared to how they are run is a HUGE factor. Players wanted to play for the Jays. They were known as one of the best run team in sports. Beeston and Gillick were known as the best executives. Everything was done first class and the reputation they had allowed them to go get the Winfield’s, Morris’s, Clemens, Molitor’s and more….It was these intangibles that allowed the Jays to get the players they wanted. I don’t think I ever recall hearing that Toronto was a problem.

From an economic standpoint, it is more attractive to play in Toronto now. The dollar is up, the tax disadvantages are are more myth then reality. The city is more vibrant (David Miller notwithstanding). True this is not a basbeall city first, but it never was. True the TED isn’t filled to 50k a night like it was then, but if you build it they will come….

I don’t remember the guys from yesterday defaming players from other teams on the radio, or being involved in “episodes” like JP gets in occasionally…

Lets hope that if J.P. does get released that the organization is able to return to the days where Toronto is an asset and not a liability.

We should all be thinking of Willie Upshaw today, as his cousin Gene has passed away at 63 years young. Gene, an ex nfl player is better known as the head of the NFL Players Association. He has been a lightning rod of contention as having too cozy a relationship with the owners. Gene was at the helm when the NFLPA went on strike and the union was busted by the owners in 1987. Under Gene the players have seen monumentus salary increases, so much so that the league is now on the verge of re-opening the current agreement. He was criticized for being to close to the league and not supporting the older and retired union members.

His sudden death will certainly lead to an era of uncertainty in the NFL. For a league as strong as it is, that can’t be a good thing.

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