Move out of way, A's: The Series is coming to Canada

October 06, 1992|By Bob Verdi | Bob Verdi,Chicago Tribune

TORONTO -- There is fear and trembling in this great city, but not because the Maple Leafs are about to begin another hockey season.

Baseball fever, eh? Exactly. To such an extent that the Maple Leafs, who were supposed to play the first of their 84 meaningless games here tomorrow night, have advanced the opening faceoff 24 hours, all the better to avoid a conflict with baseball.

Imagine that. Canada's heirloom sport bows to America's national pastime.

The Blue Jays have caused this situation, of course, by performing America's national pastime better than most franchises throughout baseball's native land. Born to expansion in 1977, the Blue Jays have crafted a superior organization, built on continuity, creativity and cash. Before the team learned to win, its logo was marketed tirelessly. Then the Blue Jays' scouts hit the road, scoured the globe and created an estimable talent pool. Then came the SkyDome, where 4,028,318 spectators paid their way through a tepid economy to watch in 1992.

Simply put, my fellow Americans, the Blue Jays and their fans have taught us a thing or three about this game we call our own. Not since 1982, their sixth year, have the Blue Jays posted a losing record, and they don't leave much room for argument. The Blue Jays have not finished fewer than 10 games above .500 in that span, and the American League East title they clinched Saturday was their fourth in eight seasons, an incomparable feat for a franchise still in its teens.

Which brings us to the fright factor. The Blue Jays have not yet brought a World Series north of the border. Always, they fade fast into a Canadian sunset. They led the Kansas City Royals three games to one in 1985 and blew the playoff. They lost to Oakland in five games four years later. They lost to Minnesota in five games last year.

Even when the Blue Jays confine heartache to the regular schedule, they do it with panache. They led Detroit by 3 1/2 games entering the final week of 1987 and dropped seven straight to wind up in second place.

So why should it be any different tomorrow night when the grizzled A's of Oakland come to SkyDome for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series? The Blue Jays have enough pitchers, neatly stacked and waiting, to survive a best-of-17 series instead of a best-of-seven. Manager Cito Gaston will go with Jack Morris, a horse who won the tournament for the Twins last October, then follow with David Cone, the rented right-hander from the New York Mets, who couldn't strong-arm their way through the summer and held a fire sale. Juan Guzman (16-5) can be saved for Game 3 Saturday in Oakland.

fTC An embarrassment of riches, to be sure, but that's the reason for all the sweaty palms in Toronto, where the temperatures are a brisk single-digit Celsius already. The Blue Jays have been embarrassed before, and by teams just like the A's. Teams that survived six months of wounds and warts to claim half a pennant on resourcefulness. Make no mistake about it. Oakland won the West with bandages and brains. The A's were disabled and discombobulated, but they found a way. Their free agents-to-be melded with replacement parts from the farm, and manager Tony La Russa staged a clinic.

The defending champion Twins won 90 games and were lapped. That's how efficient the A's were. There is no coincidence that La Russa is hailed when Gaston isn't, just as Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland hears praise while Atlanta's Bobby Cox receives points only for not botching a can't-miss situation.

It might not be fair, but the purists invariably will toast an Oakland-Pittsburgh showdown as confirmation that this sport where the defense has the ball really doesn't belong to the stars. La Russa uses 142 different lineups because some of his best players are in the whirlpool. Leyland wins 96 games though some of his best players are in New York and Minnesota.

Ah, but here's where future shock is overstated in Toronto. Morris, the itinerant laborer, is new to the equation. So is Dave Winfield, who sees no skeletons, only one last chance perhaps at the big show.

In other words, the Blue Jays in six games over Oakland. A World Series for Canada. The puck stops here.

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