Our Teams Lack Identity

It has occurred to me, while I recover my knee procedure, that despite winless seasons across the board, all major Toronto sports teams lack a player identity. On each of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays, the team’s face is that of management. Fans are more interested in the coaches and GMs compared to individual players.

As I reflect on my years as a Toronto sports fan, I don’t ever remember it being like this. Growing up, the Leafs had guys like Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald; the Jays had fan favourites like Cliff Johnson, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Damo Garcia, Alfredo Griffin; the Argos had guys like Holloway, Joe Barnes, Cedric Minter and so on. Our teams may not have been very good, but we knew “the guys” and we cheered for them. Even in the dark era of the Leafs we had guys we loved. Bill, Blinky Derlago, Mike Palmateer, Borje Salming.

The players weren’t superstars, but they provided the fans with an identity. No one cared about Floyd Smith, Bobby Cox, Tom Watt or Doug Carpenter. Gerry McNamara wasn’t on the cover of press guides, the players were the stories. All of our teams had a face, or in a lot of cases, faces.

Even the Raptors from inception had an identity. Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, Charles Oakley to name a few. Yes Isiah was there, but the guys on the court were the team.

Do you remember guys like Brad Smith? Jim Korn? Kelly Gruber? Buck Martinez and Ernie Whitt? Lloyd Moseby, Dave Collins? Again, none really superstars, none on the greatest teams, but players that gave our teams identities.

Who do we have today?

No one.

There really isn’t one player on any of our teams right now that has a bigger presence then their GM or coaches.

That’s really sad.

Jose Bautista could be the guy. It’s too soon to tell.

Luke Schenn could become the guy, but he’s too young. When I think of first round draft picks who became the guy, I think of Wendel Clark. Or gulp, Chris Bosh when he first arrived. I don’t think Schenn has that character, at least not yet.

Grabovski? No. He certainly isn’t there yet. Borchevsky and Berezin were above him in “popularity” at their peak.

Let me ask you an honest question. If someone were to say to you, money is no issue and you can have an official game jersey of any current Toronto player. Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays, Argos or TFC – which player(s) do you want?

Not an easy question is it? I asked someone today and they said Kyle Drabek! The kid isn’t even here yet. Anyone who says Kessel or Phaneuf isn’t being honest, at least not in my opinion. DeRozan? I don’t think so.

Who would be your choice? I can honestly say I don’t have a choice. There isn’t a single player on any of our teams whose jersey I would want, or wear, right now.

Second question for you. If you could set your flux capacitor ahead to a time when any of our teams are actually competitive, what year would you be selecting for what team? In other words, just how far away from being serious contender are any of our teams? How soon can you see the Leafs advancing through a round of the playoffs? When do the Raptors get there? When will the Jays make a post season appearance again?

Enjoy the snow!



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February 2, 2011 9:02 am

You are right about the Leafs and Raptors. Unfortunately the Jays deserve a lot more credit than your are giving and the are actually only a year away from being serious contenders. They now have THE BEST(top 3 for sure) GM in the MLB. If you don’t believe that last statement than research a little. They have a TON of upside players that any team in the MLB would love to have and one of the youngest yet very highly respected rotations throughout the MLB. Romero,Morrow,Cecil & Drabek all have high upside and project to be 1-3 starters. Bautista , Snider & Hill any team would take. Also you forgot to mention that the Jays farm system just got rated top 3 in baseball and that they have a ton of highly touted prospects. O YA and they just got rid of Wells contract and have a ton of unlimited payroll!!!! Seriously you couldn’t be more wrong about the Jays SORRY

February 2, 2011 9:04 am

I wouldn’t buy a sweater/jersey witha name on it. Free agancy has made purchasing one a folly. My local pub for years had a Roger Clemons Jays Jersey framed on the wall. It just looked dumb. My daughter bought a Brian McCabe jerrsey (…I bought it)….before the silly contract he signed. If we were lucky and he left as a UFA, what a waste of $200. Remeber all the Felix Potvin Jerseys? You still see them at the ACC.
Jim Korn!? He made Mike Komisarek look like Bobby Orr.

We don’t really identify with players any more because of free agency (and in Toronto, terrible ownership and management of all three franchises – Jays have changed that with AA and Beeston.
I honestly think the Leafs are not that far away, given the thin talent in the league. But in the NBA, you make a good trade and get a solid player and draft a star, you can be a contender with two good players and role players…Jays are a ways off, but the Wells trade may help…

Peter Dearman
Peter Dearman
February 2, 2011 9:28 am

It’s funny I noticed this blog title today because just yesterday I was feeling really annoyed when I was updating my Facebook profile (finally), choosing the teams I liked. While most teams had their logo as the small square icon, the Jays had the ugly mug of the new GM, whoever he is. Eeew. I don’t want some dork’s face – I want the logo, even if it is some modern one I can hardly relate to at all.

Your point is totally sound. The sad truth is that Toronto sports franchises (and perhaps most of Toronto itself) are run by dorks and nerds who drank the money kool-aid of the tacky eighties and never got over it. So, you keep getting new logos, new players, new crap – the best flash that money can buy – only it is just that, flash. Until this culture changes, there will be no champions in TO.

Wendel Clarke was the last solid sports face that a bread-and-butter kind of guy could relate to.

February 2, 2011 10:01 am

Who would I have for a jersey? You’re right that I had to think long and hard about it, and that there really isn’t one Leaf or Raptor jersey I’d care that much to have, and I cheer for those two teams. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I settled on Travis Snider. And then I realized how sad that is (no disrespect to Mr. Snider).

As for being competitive again:

Jays- 2013
Raptors- 2017
Leafs- 2016

February 2, 2011 10:12 am

Answer for the Jays 7 years +. The Leafs maybe less mostly because of so many weak teams making the playoffs and three or four that will probably go bankrupt during the next 6 or 7years.

February 2, 2011 10:24 am

Not sure there would be any player in Toronto either, I guess if one had to pick I’d say in no order, the Jays (B.Morrow) the Raptors (yuk, A.Bargnani) the Leafs (The Monster). These would be based on popularity as none would be based on achievement obviously. I think with the lack of talent being what it is in the NBA and the amount of teams that make the playoffs it would be easier than either MLB or NHL, 1 top pick eg Blake Griffin could swing your team from 30 wins to 45 in one season.

February 2, 2011 10:31 am

Whose jersey? That’s an easy one. I’d take John McDonald’s any day.

Too bad he’s a bench player.

February 2, 2011 12:07 pm

Well odds look good that the MLB playoffs will be expanded in 2012. So I think the Jays should be poised to at least make a good run then. They have a good young team, and now next to no payroll commitments.

I think the Leafs should rebuild with picks the next two seasons, then aim for a playoffs in 2013 – 14.

Maybe the Raptors could aim a year earlier than the Leafs, since they’re probably going to get a top pick after this season.

February 2, 2011 12:42 pm

Wasn’t this a topic on Brady’s show yesterday afternoon?

Drive-By Posting
Drive-By Posting
February 2, 2011 1:43 pm

To the knucklehead first poster who somehow managed to completely bypass the obvious:

He didn’t say the Jays weren’t on the verge of good things. He said the team, as it currently sits, *lacks an identity*. It isn’t about winning, per se— if it were, he probably wouldn’t have name-dropped the likes of Borje Salming, would he? The point he was making was that fans in this city, by and large deprived of genuine superstars (and those who do pass through generally do so on the downward slope of their careers), have always established a connection with top players on even mediocre teams…the teams had a “face”, for lack of a better way of putting it. In some ways, this was done by marketing-savvy management as a means of deflecting attention away from the fact that they were consistently fielding B and C list options in lieu of genuine stars. Through the magic of spin, good players became near-greats, and near-greats became unassailable greats. We *liked* them. We valued them as much as other, more fortunate markets valued their legitimate superstars. We even allowed our perception of them as our best players to morph into belief that they were among the league’s best players, full stop; with rare exceptions, this tended not to be the case.

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that Canadians tend to have something of an inferiority complex, and as such tend to appreciate someone, ANYONE, who seemingly doesn’t mind playing in Toronto, regardless of that players actual merits or skill. In large part, this is because most professional athletes *don’t* want to play in Canada at all; that Toronto is one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in North America does nothing to change the perception of playing in a backwater market, in a foreign country, no less (note, however, that this isn’t true of hockey, for obvious reasons. No, the reasons that people don’t want to play hockey in Toronto are another story altogether…). And because Toronto franchises have difficulty enticing top-tier talent (among those that actually do give a damn enough to pursue that talent, of course—the Maple Leafs have shown absolutely no inclination towards doing so), we tend to, as Stephen Stills once opined, love the ones we’re with. At this moment, however, there doesn’t seem to be anything approaching affection, much less love, for the players currently in Toronto, and the feeling would seem to be more or less mutual. They are here because it’s a business consideration. We likewise tend to see them as temporary business partners more so than active, important members of the local community.

Every team, and every town, more or less get the players that they deserve. And if fans are willing to consistently pay top level prices for endless mediocrity, providing absolutely no incentive for teams to spend more to improve their lot, then I suppose it’s fair to say that Toronto has the players it deserves.

Chris F.
Chris F.
February 2, 2011 5:36 pm

I think the Blue Jays have an identity but no central figure. The identity of the Blue Jays is that of a young team with plenty of pitching depth. If Ricky Romero continues to improve he’ll be the face of the pitching staff IMO. On the offensive side of the ledger I think that if Bautista continues to play well and gets a long term contract he’ll be a huge fan favorite and face of the overall team.

So that’s two players whose jerseys I would buy 🙂

February 3, 2011 6:45 am

Anyone recall the Blue Jays ads with Paul Godfrey front and center? WTF? I’d say the teams (and media) to a point are the ones that make management the focal point. Ego doesn’t help either.

We might add the fact that the players today are so bland and faceless (no wonder McCown never has them on) that it’s not worth showcasing them.

February 3, 2011 8:33 am

It is true that there is no one “Popular” or Bonafide Star on the current rosters of Toronto’s pro teams. Which is a direct reflection of how all these franchises have languished in their respective leagues these past years.

However, the Jays appear to have a semblance of a plan going forward which hopefully will start to pay dividends thus making Bautista, Hill, Romero the faces of the franchise.

Raptors/Leafs, these are two teams which seem to have to draw up new plans to sell the fans every 2-3 years. It has become a bigger story to watch these organizations change their GM’s, Coaches etc… than to watch the teams. Until either franchise produces a plan that works, the doors will revolve and we all will keep watching the GM’s faces. Sad reality for Toronto fans.

February 3, 2011 10:07 am

Bob I think you wrote that backwards….you mean that the Leafs won’t win for 7+ years right?

Because the Jays are in roughly 100x as good a position as the Leafs. They are a young team with loads of upside that is already close to contending, along with having a lot of blue-chip prospects with the team and in AAA.

The Leafs on the other hand are…a complete mess. Im guessing 3-5 years before winning a playoff round. They are in a terrible hole talent, asset, prospect, and everything-wise except revenue.

Raps I am pleasantly surprised by this year, although of course they obviously have a ways to go. Not like I can watch them too much, but glad they salvaged some sort of year and hopeful they score big in the draft.

Jays have most identity as a team I believe, and although none of the 3 teams have a central media figure really (other than management), I think the Jays are the closest. Bautista, Lind, Romero, Morrow, Snider, Hill – I could see any of these guys becoming a ‘face’ of the franchise.

The Raps really only have Bargnani as a possible Face, but for some reason regardless of his stats and such he isn’t the most likeable guy, and doesn’t seem like a leader at all.

Leafs have no one and I had this very debate with my buddies a couple weeks ago. Is there anyone worth buying a jersey of? Kessel?? Maybe in 2 years when he has a center and is playing great – even then he is the most shy NHLer around. Phanuef? Maybe if in the next couple years he gets his game back to near where it was…Schenn? No personality….list goes on.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x