Reading Recap

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


It’s a horrible day in Toronto so here’s something to distract us from the fact that someone was able to casually commit dozens of attempted murders and two successful ones on a busy street that many of us visit several times a week for shopping and eating. It’s going to a brutal week as we hear simple analysis of complex social problems. If you know someone who is dealing with mental health issues involving harm to others, today is a good day to offer to listen. Thank you to first responders for helping contain this tragedy.


The End of An Era


The legacy of the Raptors franchise in their 23 years is equal parts playoff futility and bitter departures. Damon, Tracy, Vince, Chris, and now Demar. The first four cases have some differences we can debate but share the feature of the fanbase having somewhat soured on the superstar, either for performance or personality related reasons by the time it was over. Demar was the superstar who changed all that. He started here. He decided to stay. He put up incredible numbers. And he was still in his prime when he was ushered out of town.


It’s hard to come up with a comparable trade in any Toronto sport in the last 25 years. Seriously, who was the last home-grown Toronto superstar traded at the peak of his value — in terms of both social and athletic capital? There has been a ton written about this in the last 5 days. Here are some notable snippets:


The most cogent analysis comes courtesy of Eric Koreen:


“With the trade, Ujiri makes a case that many Raptors fans have been making for a while — that his roster, led by DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, is simply not good enough to turn championship aspirations into reality. He is not necessarily saying that Leonard changes that calculus, but it gets them closer, and it helps Ujiri avoid the Raptors hanging around in basketball purgatory for longer than necessary if it does not work out.”


This team has been in purgatory for so long and the last two years have shown the vastness of that expanse. There are lots of ways to be very far from the goal of winning a championship. Maybe the pre-trade Raps can get to the Finals now that LeBron is gone, but does anyone think they would have a prayer against the West? No. The one-and-done strategy is a good one for this roster in light of the NBA’s established model for success. If you have decided that a Demar-led team can’t win a championship then every year spent spinning your tires is an exercise in the sunk cost fallacy.


The best analysis of the messy way this trade was executed comes from the underrated Scott Stinson:


“Two days after he turned that reputation on its ear with the biggest trade in franchise history, Ujiri began his explanation of what had happened with an apology, and it didn’t get a whole lot more comfortable from there. There were many questions at the Scotiabank Arena press conference, and Ujiri is not yet providing much in the way of answers. For a guy who always comes across as firmly in control of what he is doing, Ujiri sounded on Friday like the leader of a team that has been unmoored, and one that will require serious paddling to get back on a steady course.”


This sums it up exactly. The Raps have been slick under Ujiri for the most part. The occasional slip up — “Fuck Brooklyn” comes to mind — has been endearing. The omissive press release, the conditional apology, and the social media backlash from the player are all instances of serious mishandling. This may all come out in the wash but it also might point to bad procedure at the top of the org chart.


The last standout article came from Michael Grange:


“For that reason and others it will be the defining moment of Ujiri’s career and marks the end of the Raptors’ innocence – to the extent any remains in pro sports or anywhere else, for that matter. The interior of the Raptors dressing room features a white-tiled montage of the Raptors and their families. The message is clear and well-intentioned, but will ring hollower today. The Raptors and their fans waited generations for an NBA star to embrace them and their city and lift their sorry team to new heights. Now he’s been traded in a high-stakes gambit that makes some sense on paper but could very well end up in an unmitigated disaster, given Leonard reportedly has no interest in playing in Toronto and has the option of bolting in the summer of 2019 as a free agent.”


Grange’s trademark understated writing style softens some cold hard criticisms: this was a harsh decision by an organization that has crafted a very family-friendly image of late. It also highlights the tension fans face when they fall in love with players who profess their love for the city. That’s all well and good as a cherry on top of winning. But it also becomes a crutch when a player’s talent is not quite good enough.


If you are interested in the technical side of the trade, this one by Blake Murphy is also worth your time. I want to take up one point he makes:


“There’s a non-zero chance the Raptors can convince him to stay based on the quality of the team, organization, city, and wings, by the way, but the downside risk here is that Leonard walks.”


“Non-zero” is the best way to approach the probability of him staying, and I’m glad Blake put it that way. Toronto media takes the bait on this point way too often. “Maybe he’ll get a taste of our great city!!!” I read this in several articles and it is a lazy talking point unless you’re prepared to back it up with facts. Who are the superstars who were traded here with a year left who then chose to stay? Compare that list with the ones who left? What possible reason do you have to think Leonard would fall into the former category, especially in light of the evidence to the contrary?


Taking a step back, this one is a strange one. As Toronto fans we are so accustomed to being rejected by people we want to keep or attract. This is a case of dumping someone amazing who wanted to stay, in exchange for someone better who has shown no interest in us. Seems like a recipe for more heartbreak. But what is the alternative? We just went through that last year and it ended in humiliating fashion.


Cathal Kelly had two mediocre articles for the Globe. One of them included the word Shakespearean, but you already knew that. With big changes happening at The Star this would be a good time for the Globe to hire Bruce Arthur and give him the kind of audience best suited to his interests. It would also clear up the columnist logjam at The Star. I would be quite happy with a weekly generalist line-up of Simmons, Stinson, and Arthur.


The Sun is trying to cram homemade video content into their stories and the results are cringeworthy.



Over to you: how did the media handle the Demar trade? How interested are you in local analysis of this story?


The Stro (side) Show Continues


The response to Stroman’s latest public incident has been very interesting to watch. Over the last 2+ years Marcus has beefed with many people and has enjoyed support (both loud and silent, on and off the record) from some in the media. We seem to have turned a corner recently and there are few who will say anything positive about Marcus’ professional conduct. This is obviously made all the more easy in light of his subpar performance after an off-season of hyping bigger and better things on social media.


The details of the incident are mostly public. Arash Madani of Sportsnet had been trying to get a one-on-one with Stroman for a feature in the works but was rejected due to a newish policy of Stroman’s to only be available on gameday as required. When the Jays announced that the medial relations department was going to be morphed into a new fan engagement unit that would provide a bridge between The Dome (and the Jays) with One Mount Pleasant (and Sportsnet) many worried this would give the team too much control over their already pliable media partner. If Stroman was able to serially dodge Madani this adds grist to the mill. Madani waited until the end of the post game press conference in the hopes of getting a money quote for his feature, which led to the now famous “NAT FUCKING BAILEY” riposte.


For a fan perspective on the latest spat with the media, have a glance at this one from a popular Jays blog:


“It’s  frustrating to see some fans and media portraying Stroman as this “me first” player when in reality, he is anything but that. They forget that this is the guy that came back from an ACL tear to pitch in the playoffs in the same year. Stroman didn’t have to risk his career with a quick rehab – he could’ve taken the year off as most players do. Instead, he spent hours upon hours rehabbing his injury that eventually gave the Blue Jays another quality starter to pair with David Price in the playoffs. I’m sorry, but does an egotistical player do that?”


This is in response to a Rich Griffin column, in which he states:


“The bottom line is that Stroman was right about both him and his team being terrible heading into the break, but he needs to mature before he can find true success in the major leagues. He expresses his love for the organization and the city, yet whenever you see him interviewed, when it’s his turn to appear before the cameras, he seems to always make sure he’s wearing something featuring the Stroman brand. It’s never the Jays’ hat or other gear. That sends a message.”


This is a bad talking point in my opinion. It’s the sort of thing you go to when things are going poorly but not otherwise. There’s no real tension between his self-promotion and his commitment to winning or being a good teammate. The thing that hurts Stroman’s brand the most is his poor performance on the field.  In other words, it’s low hanging fruit for Griffin to mention it at this point in time.


The more germane point is this one:


“I have had a Jays teammate look around when I approached to talk to make sure Stroman was not watching. Leaders don’t do that. The organization has permitted this anti-social behaviour and can be part of the solution. Stroman believes he doesn’t get enough respect from media. It’s a two-way street. He may take this as spiteful criticism but it is only meant to be constructive.”


If Stroman is setting a hostile tone for the team in dealing with media that’s a problem. If the team is turning a blind eye to it, that’s also a problem. As a consumer of news and analysis I want the players to be available and open, within reason. Recall that this off-season featured Stroshows re: the loss of Ryan Goins and his own arbitration case. The team knows they are dealing with a volatile personality and seems to have thrown their hands up. This all seems very un-Shapiro, who comes across as controlling and image-conscious.


Simmons add his perspective:


“A year ago I asked a Blue Jays employee a rather basic question: When did Stroman become a jerk? (Note at the time, he was pitching rather well for a last-place Jays team.) The answer came back simply: “You don’t become one.” If he pitches as he did a year ago, with his numbers among the best of American League starting pitchers, then you can become whatever guy you want to be, so long as you perform. But when you stop being an ace, and it becomes all about your inability to find your way, then the clubhouse personality in a clubhouse lacking any kind of leadership stands out for all the wrong reasons.”


I agree with Steve that losing opens the door to all these things. There’s a lesson in there for Stroman.


The odd thing about this story was the fact that Sportsnet chose not to write about it despite it featuring the work of two Rogers employees. There was nothing on the website about it, though I am told it was amply covered on some of the radio shows which still run during the summer. This is interesting because you would think — or hope — that management at Sportsnet would back their own employee (assuming they agree that Madani did nothing wrong). Sweeping this news story under the rug sends the opposite message both to fans and to observers in the media.


This is a buck that ultimately stops at Scott Moore’s desk. He is not having a great year with the Sedin screw up, the current bait and switch in the Jays radio booth, 4 years of ratings disappointment with hockey, and now this.


For some good reads on baseball check out this piece on the shift by Arden Zwelling and this one on the impending return of Osuna.


Over to you: Should Sportsnet have publicly backed Madani? Are the inmates running the asylum in the Jays clubhouse? 



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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