Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs: they have succeeded in beating the delusion out of their fan base.
Truth is, one of the most remarkable discoveries I’ve made doing my call-in show is that the delusional Leafs fan — the one who plans the Stanley Cup parade after back-to-back wins — is largely a creation of the media or an assumption on the part of fans of other teams. If anything, the average Leafs fan is more of a cynic than you’d imagine.
I also know this: Leafs Nation certainly doesn’t go out of its way to get its boys into the NHL All-Star Game. I mean, the point here isn’t to rage or even analyze fan balloting. It’s a fun and harmless exercise leading up to a meaningless game. I think it’s a hoot that Latvia managed to get Zemgus Girgensons voted in; if you’ve ever drunk with Latvians at the Olympics or on the World Cup bobsleigh circuit, it’s no surprise. They are pretty much the best.
But when you consider there was a 52 percent increase in votes over 2012 — the last time the league held an all-star game — and that through Week 6 Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was 29th among defenceman (the NHL only lists 30) and sniper Phil Kessel was 30th among all forwards … well, that would seem to suggest something.
Either it’s rampant apathy -- it can’t be a Toronto thing as Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista is regularly among the top vote-getters for the MLB All-Star Game -- or there isn’t really a culture developed when it comes to all-star voting (although Montreal is a cultured hockey city, and they vote for their players).
My fear is that along with being unsuccessful, the Leafs have become something else: unlikeable. Look, I know that president Brendan Shanahan and his management group have bigger issues. I also know that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s revenue just keeps growing and growing. But I wonder whether it isn’t time to ask: why do people find these Leafs so hard to like, and so difficult to rally around? This is, after all, a consumer product, no?
THE FAME GAME
The people who spend time compiling publicly-revealed Hall of Fame ballots believe that the Baseball Writers Association of American will elect as many as five players when the results are announced Tuesday, it’s largest class since 1936.
Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza (who should have been a first-ballot inductee; he’s the best offensive catcher in my lifetime) are all in line, according to Baseball Think Factory, to receive more than the required 75 percent. All five of them were on my ballot, as for the first time since I’ve been voting, I used the full allotment of 10 after trying to limit myself to three per ballot, a personal choice based on the fact I think a Hall of Fame ought to be exclusive as opposed to inclusive.
I suspect like many voters, I arrived at the point where taking a stand on principle -- that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve induction, because you’d have to be naïve to think there aren’t others on the ballot who got away with using performance enhancing substances -- meant in effect not voting for players I considered worthy. Rounding out my ballot were: Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell … and Carlos Delgado.
WHAT I LEARNED
The things you learn in a week hosting a sports talk show:
"If you play fast and got ball movement … we tell our guys all the time that the ball will find energy, and if you’re an energy guy, in some kind of way the ball seems to find you. Our guys have to begin to cut harder, set better screens and throw better passes."
-- Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry discusses the evolution of the NBA’s most potent offensive team, which has managed to increase its offensive tempo while also locking down teams on defence.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
(*) Look, the Toronto Raptors have had a game like Sunday night’s 125-109 stinker against the Phoenix Suns in them for some time, coming as it did at the end of six-game road trip and in what is expected to be their final game without DeMar DeRozan. It’s the first time the Raptors have lost three consecutive games since they dumped Rudy Gay on the Sacramento Kings last season. I still feel good about this team because defence has been the biggest issue recently and it’s precisely that with which Dwane Casey has made his name.
I’ve always believed that, schematically, it’s easier to coach defence than offence. The head coach now has his players attention and practice flexibility for six consecutive games at home. Casey gets DeRozan back to return some stability to the rotation … and he has a general manager who must surely realize by now that he needs to add a defensive big man to the mix. Questions must be asked of Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson, but it’s all fixable, folks. It’s all fixable.
(*) What appears to be unfixable is New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s reputation. Christie has been an unapologetic Dallas Cowboys fan forever, but that embrace with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is going to provide political opponents with ammunition whether or not he decides on a presidential run. Twitter lit up after the incident, but the sharpest jibe came from Harvey Araton -- a New York Times reporter who is also an adjunct professor at Montclair (New Jersey) State: "Maybe Gov Christie can drop in on NJ sometime and hug the folks who are still waiting on Sandy funds," Araton tweeted, referring to on-going issues with the dispensation of compensatory payments resulting from Hurricane Sandy.
(*) Lionel Messi. Japanese game show. 18-metre crane. Ball. Here’s what it all means.
THE END GAME
Good on the IIHF’s Rene Fasel for firing a broadside at Hockey Canada over its pricing of tickets for the world junior tournament. Fasel has not so subtly once again reminded those of us who care about these things that it’s unconscionable how much money is made in this country off what is the free labour of teenage hockey players.