In the fall of 1992, the city of Toronto was abuzz with Blue Jays fever as the club prepared for Game 1 of the American League Championship series against the Oakland A’s.
On Oct. 6, the Toronto Maple Leafs had played host to the Washington Capitals in their season opener at Maple Leaf Gardens. It was the second year of the Cliff Fletcher era and the first year of the Pat Burns era for the seemingly improving Leafs.
As the great tradition of the 48th Highlanders took to the ice at the Gardens, a novel version of fireworks/pyrotechnics exploded from the Gardens scoreboard. Though the fireworks display was modest in terms of today’s standards, it did add some spark to the opening ceremonies, though a pall of smoke did hang above the ice surface for a long period of time after.
The Leafs’ employee responsible for arranging the display was feeling good about things until summoned by Cliff Fletcher to the Director’s Room at Maple Leaf Gardens during the first intermission.
An irate Fletcher accosted the employee saying, “Your pyrotechnics display has damaged Joe Carter’s eye.”
Sitting in one of the comfortable Director’s Room couches was Blue Jays’ star outfielder Joe Carter, who was attending the game with a few other Jays players on the eve of their opening playoff game. Carter had looked up at the display and an errant piece of ash had caught him flush in the eye. Carter tried flushing it out with water, but it still didn’t seem right.
It was agreed that everyone would meet back in the Director’s Room during the second intermission and that Maple Leafs eye specialist Dr. Michael Easterbrook would be present. The Leaf employee dearly hoped that Carter’s eye would improve.
That proved not to be the case.
Though Carter remained good natured, he was clearly concerned about the condition of his eye. Dr. Easterbrook agreed to take Carter the short distance to Wellesley Hospital, where he opened up the hospital eye clinic to tend to Carter.
They were driven there by the Leaf employee, who now feared further wrath from his boss and how the events might effect the chances of a Jays team looking for their first ever World Series appearance.
The Leafs lost the season opener 6-5 to Washington, but the few who knew of Carter’s ordeal were more concerned about the city’s baseball team. Though Carter was on the field the next day for Game 1 of the ALCS, his offence was un-Carter like in their six game series win over Oakland. Carter hit just .192 and only one of his five hits was for extra bases.
Fortunately, the Jays won the Oakland series and then went on to beat Atlanta in six games for their first World Series championship.
By the time the World Series victory parade came around, the only traces of ash remaining was in the form of then Blue Jays assistant general manager Gord Ash.
As for the Leafs front office employee responsible for the fireworks show, life went back to normal. The Leafs of course, would bounce back from that opening day loss, and in the spring of 1993 would go on to have their greatest playoff run since their last Stanley Cup in 1967.