Toronto fans aren't choked up ... yet

Ken Rosenthal

October 14, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

TORONTO -- Last night, Al Gore tried to get Dan Quayle to say, "I support a woman's right to choose." Duly inspired, I raced into the streets of Toronto, trying to get a baseball fan to say, "I believe the Blue Jays are going to choke."

Let's not pull a Bill Clinton: If the Blue Jays get swept in the final two games of the American League Championship Series, the Curse of the Bambino will be joined in baseball lore by an equally terminal condition, the Curse of the Bum Cito.

"Not the same players," the fans repeated like zombies. "Whole different ballclub." Who are they kidding? If Toronto loses today against Oakland, SkyDome will turn into the world's largest haunted house for Game 7, with ghosts lurking at every McDonald's.

Deep down, the good citizens of Toronto know this, so last night they went into hiding. It was the day after the Canadian Thanksgiving, and the day before the Jays would try to bring the first World Series to Canada. Time to rest up -- and pray.

Call it a national gag order.

Two sports bars near SkyDome -- Don Cherry's and The Draft Pick -- were practically empty. The bartenders and waiters were friendly enough, but who's to say they weren't spin doctors planted by the Canadian government to manipulate the U.S. media?

Before I could even begin my gleeful account of the Blue Jays' sorry history -- with special emphasis, of course, on the three games-to-one lead they blew in the 1985 ALCS -- Don Cherry's bartender Doug Platt flashed a knowing smile.

"I haven't heard any [negative talk], and that's the truth," said Platt, a Ross Perot with a Canadian accent. "I was here all day today. Most of the people coming in and out were very positive about wrapping it up."

Just one big confident city, eh, Doug?

Don't bet your Canadian dollar.

In search of legitimate angst, I approached a waiter named Pat Pelow. Platt kept smiling. "He just wants to hear you say, 'Choke, choke, choke.' "

"I don't think so," Pelow replied, thoughtfully. "Cito's a boob, though."

With that, Pelow launched into a venomous critique of Toronto manager Cito Gaston's decision to use a three-man rotation in the ALCS.

I couldn't resist egging him on.

Chhh . . . Chhh . . .

"There'll be a lot of panic if they lose tomorrow," Pelow conceded. "Tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow is THE day. We'll be confident for this game. But Game 7, that's when the sweat rolls down."

Chhh . . . Chhh . . .

"You're talking to us about choking?" Pelow said, laughing. "You should go back to Baltimore and ask them."

Nodding in agreement, I bolted out of Don Cherry's before you could say "Cal Ripken." The Draft Pick, though, was nearly as deserted, except for a woman shooting pool and two guys at the bar who said they were systems analysts.

Nerds.

Nerd 1, Rob Fleming, revealed that this LCS would turn out different because the Blue Jays had the home-field advantage, something they lacked in 1985, '87 and '89.

Nerd 2, Reid Eddy, said the Jays were "in the formative stages of a dynasty" and proclaimed Gaston "the most brilliant manager since Tommy Lasorda."

Say what?

"He's one of the worst managers I've ever seen," interrupted the bartender, Philip Notley. "Reid, please, the man is a joke."

Fleming went further. "The man is an imbecile," he said.

In another part of the bar, there was now this huge guy sitting and talking to a waitress. Before him was a spiral notebook filled with diagrams of football plays.

"Robert Weir," he said.

The Grateful Dead guitarist?

Nah, the Toronto Argonaut.

Weir, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive tackle from SMU, spoke with a British accent. He said he was from Birmingham, England, and proudly added that he competed in the 1984 Olympics in the discus and hammer.

Finally, a credible source.

"It's really amazing," Weir said of the Blue Jays' phenomenon. "It's all noise when they win. It's all silence when they lose.

"Some people go like this," he said, pretending to take deep breaths. "Some people say, 'I told you, they can't win the big one.'

"But here they are. The odds are for the Jays. It's as simple as that."

Well, not quite Robert.

Beware the Curse of the Bum Cito.

Chhh . . . Chhh . . .

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