One day after the Toronto Blue Jays formally filed paperwork confirming they were not exercising Jose Bautista’s option, the new king of Toronto sports petulance chased himself out of Toronto FC’s next playoff match.
OK, that’s too easy. Besides, my guess is if some of the outer boroughs reported in there would be support for Marcus Stroman to fill the role, which I’m not buying but, well, I’ll rise to Stroman’s defence against the local media pack some other day. Still, it was TFC’s Sebastian Giovinco who ensured that he will not take part in the Reds first match of their aggregate Eastern Conference final against the Columbus Crew by gesturing wildly as he chased down the referee in the 80th minute of Sunday’s loss to New York Red Bulls, claiming he’d been pushed (he hadn’t) and drawing his second yellow card of the series and joining Jozy Altidore on the sidelines for the first game against Columbus.
That means that head coach Greg Vanney will be without his two most influential offensive players when the teams meet on Nov. 21. Tosaint Ricketts will likely draw in while Victor Vazquez will be asked to assume more offensive responsibilities. More and more it looks as if Vazquez’s acquisition might be the most significant in franchise history outside of the Giovinco/Michael Bradley/Altidore axis, and he and Bradley will play a key role these next two weeks in helping TFC reset after their chaotic loss to the Red Bulls. TFC had just one shot on target Sunday … and the best team in MLS history found itself advancing on away goals. Woo-hoo!
When the Blue Jays returned to the playoffs in 2015, they did so as an unfancied group due in no small part of Bautista’s tendency to complain about balls and strikes or get into it with opposing teams such as the Baltimore Orioles. There was a brashness to the Jays and their crowds, including the unforgivable littering the field display at the Rogers Centre in the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers that preceded Bautista’s bat-flip home run. The Americans didn’t much like us … at least that was our story and we stuck to it. (I think then I wrote we ought to “embrace the hate.” Which, you know, we did.)
And TFC’s very much cut from the same cloth. Altidore and Bradley heard it in New York as a result of the U.S. national teams embarrassing collapse in World Cup qualifying; they’ll get the same treatment no doubt in Columbus (word travels) and as if that wasn’t enough, here come the Crew: Toronto’s original MLS rival whose owners have said they are exploring a move to Austin, Texas. “Franchise in limbo looks to advance to title,” is one helluva story and headline, so the guess here is not many folks will be carrying a flame for TFC. Toss in the fact that ESPN’s telecast Sunday made frequent use of the word “petulant” in describing TFC’s demeanour – colour commentator Alejandro Moreno described Altidore’s tumble when he was pushed by the Red Bulls Sacha Kjelstan as “embarrassing” – and, well, you can pretty much figure out the narrative, right?
Perhaps that’s why Bradley, TFC’s captain, held court for almost 20 minutes following Sunday’s match, defending his teams right to advance through the playoffs ugly – soccer, oddly, is the one sport that seems to demand elan with its success – and noting that after losing the MLS Cup on the empty meal that is penalty kicks, well, it’s a good idea to not be picky. He lauded his teams “balls” in keeping body and soul together against a club whose coach, Jesse Marsch, promised “chaos” when he spoke to ESPN on Saturday. “Even taking the playoffs out of it … this is Red Bull,” Bradley said, shrugging. “You don’t get to choose how games go this time of year. Mental strength; sheer determination to withstand everything was what tonight was about. The next game might be different, but that’s what tonight was all about.”
The sense here is the ugliness has just started. Red Bulls may not have shed any tactical light on how to beat Toronto FC – even with their change in formation from 3-3-3-1 to 4-2-3-1 – but they did remind Columbus that the way to the Eastern Conference title goes through the back of the legs of Sebastian Giovinco.
Well, that was a pretty crappy Sunday for fans pining for the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal – leaving aside the fact that Stephen Bronfman, who was widely anticipated to be a key financial player in any relocation or expansion to the city, this morning finds his family’s complex off-shore holdings the subject of scrutiny after the publication in various media outlets of The Paradise Papers, another one of those treasure troves of leaked documents that detail the legal shuffling around of money to mitigate as much as possible against paying tax.
That’s just rich folks, stuff, to be honest. (They really aren’t like the rest of us, are they?) And while Major League Baseball likes its owners to keep their finances away from the nosey parkers of the world – it’s why publicly-traded companies will not likely ever succeed in buying a baseball franchise any more – I doubt it would preclude Bronfman becoming part of the club.
The bigger setback came in the city’s mayoralty election, where incumbent Denis Coderre lost to Valerie Plante. Now, let me say this: Coderre was a bit of a wind-bag, and there was more than enough of a mess in Montreal City Hall to warrant his defeat. Hell, had I lived there I wouldn’t have voted for him, either.
But Coderre was silly infatuated with the idea of bringing MLB back to the city, never missing a chance to fly the flag. While there were real questions about his ability to deliver financially on any public money for the new ballpark that is a necessity for a team, having a political champion who just happened to be a former federal Liberal cabinet minister at a time when that party is in power provincially and federally was a necessity. Lack of the same, in fact, is one of the major reasons the Expos were so easily spirited out of town by Jeffrey Loria.
Plante is properly skeptical of all this stuff, which while making her a good steward of the public purse could also make her an impediment to the raising of any public share of the more than US$1 billion it will take to buy or move a franchise and build a ballpark.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• One of the underrated strengths of the 1992-93 World Series-champion Toronto Blue Jays was their mastery of sign-stealing and detecting pitch-tipping. Indeed, Blue Jays special assistant Pat Hentgen, who won a Cy Young Award, credits an outfield conversation during batting practice with then-teammate Roberto Alomar for correcting a tendency to tip one of his pitches. Manager Cito Gaston was one of the best practitioners of the art and, according to former major-leaguer Cliff Floyd, there was a little bit of Blue Jays DNA involved in how the Houston Astros were able to pick up some tipping of pitches by Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yu Darvish in Game 7.
Carlos Beltran of the Astros was a teammate of both Floyd, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green on the New York Mets and Floyd remembers Green giving master classes in pitch-tipping — lessons he and Delgado learned while with the Blue Jays. Gaston has claimed Delgado was one of his prized pupils.
• The Vegas Golden Knights had three goaltenders record their first career wins this season, the latest being Maxime Legace who beat the Ottawa Senators 5-4 on Saturday, joining Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk. The last NHL expansion team to have that happen was the 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers, who had Eddie Mio, Jim Corsi (yes, that Corsi) and Don Cutts record their first career wins. The last team on which three goalies earned their first career wins was the 2010-11 New York Islanders (Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Nathan Lawson).
• Love the three-way trade between the Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche from the Preds’ point of view. I’m a big believer that it’s a good thing for a team that has gone to a championship – even if it hasn’t won it – to create some kind of positive player turnover to freshen things up. The Preds lost some key characters from their run to the Stanley Cup Final in James Neal and Mike Fisher and adding a versatile player such as Turris gives them depth up front to match the depth on their blue line. This is one of the things common to any club in any sport that wants to maintain a run of excellence; bringing in a new personality. A new face. A new skill set. It’s one of the things that New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman used to say he’d learned from the man whose fingerprints were all over those great teams of the ’90s, Gene Michael.
Turns out that U.S. President Donald Trump has picked a fight with the NFL over more than simply the national anthem. When lawmakers in Washington, D.C., sit down Monday to continue to hammer out the new Republican tax plan, it’s anticipated that tax-exempt municipal bonds that have been used to finance the funding of stadiums could be cut. According to Yahoo! Sports Jay Busbee, citing a Brookings Institute Study, 36 of 45 stadiums built between 2000 and 2016 took advantage of these bonds. Geezus, if only the NFL had allowed Trump to buy the Buffalo Bills, think of all the hassle we all could have been spared.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m. to noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan