World Series tag becomes more fitting with inclusion of Canadian champion

John Steadman

October 26, 1992|By John Steadman

An Open Letter to Canada:

Everything that's good about baseball and the passion it provokes was exemplified in the World Series. For the first time, the prideful winner is a team from Canada and not the United States. Do we Americans take umbrage? Of course not. The new champion more than paid the price.

And is there a better way, or more democratic, than to highlight again the exemplary relationship that exists between our two countries than to share success in something as basic as baseball? The United States may have conceived what it calls its national pastime but Canada, emphatically, demonstrated its right to hoist the triumphant banner.

So, minus wine and song, here's a literal toast to Canada, as humble as this sports writing source might be. Congratulations to the dominion. It doesn't, of course, make you a better nation because the baseball championship of the world is in your trophy case but the script carried a historic finish . . . the first time a team from outside the United States prevailed in the World Series. And the Toronto Blue Jays, to their everlasting credit, won in grand style.

Imagine the Atlanta Braves, down to their last out in the 11th inning, the tying run only 90 feet away, and Otis Nixon trying to bunt for a base hit? In that situation, unless the infielders had their backs against the outfield fence, the hitter has to be swinging.

But let's dare not get immersed in dealing with blundering strategical matters. For Toronto, and all of Canada, there's reason to be immensely proud, even if it had to use imports from "foreign lands," the United States, South America and islands of the Caribbean. But, Canada, O Canada, the joy of victory belongs to you.

You're a country that has had professional baseball for more than a century and you welcomed the black men from the states to play in your leagues when they were ineligible here. That even preceded 1946, when Jackie Robinson officially broke the color line with the Montreal Royals.

The record book for time immemorial will now include a team other than one from the United States as the regal ruler of baseball in 1992. This World Series eradicated another barrier, even if it was only ceremonial in concept. And that's good. Numerous Americans applaud. Baseball has been raised to a higher level of acceptability.

Maybe now, the lords of the game will allow its World Series to be literally that. In fact, one of its former commissioners, Bowie Kuhn, advocated such a global format. Why not teams from Japan, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and, yes, Cuba being a part of this marvelous tapestry that is baseball? Let it evolve into a postseason tournament.

Toronto, the best team money can buy, with a player payroll at an all-time high of $44 million, gave its public what it coveted -- the World Series. And, in turn, the response at the box office was unlike anything that has ever happened. An unprecedented 4 million paid their way through the turnstiles to create a din of applause that was close to intimidating.

And when the climactic game was being played in Atlanta, the management of the Blue Jays, with its truly revolutionary SkyDome, opened the doors in Toronto, free of charge, on a first-come, first-seated basis for the spectators. They could watch it together on a giant picture screen in a ballpark setting. Admission was gratis but the 45,000-plus fans, if they wanted, could make a donation to charity, specifically the United Way.

What a tremendous testimonial to baseball that while the Blue Jays were in Atlanta, the partisans, at home in Toronto, with a cover over their heads, were in a ballpark viewing this giant television presentation. It tells the world again how much Canada loves baseball.

And the SkyDome? It's a monument to engineering ingenuity. It cost more than $500 million to build, which means it didn't try to borrow from the status quo by putting up a facility that was a composite from other places, which is what Baltimore and other cities have done. No, Toronto created an identity all its own. It has a retractable roof, which is like putting on a cover when it's cold or raining and removing it when the weather is more comfortable.

The Blue Jays weren't afraid to spend and make trades and the architect is Pat Gillick, who knows a ballplayer when he sees one and is given an almost-open checkbook by club ownership. But Gillick also has built a productive farm system, knows how to measure free agents and what to invest. Then, at propitious times, when the pennant race is in the homestretch and it's all "up for grabs," he is able to assess what's needed and has a penchant for making exceptional deals.

What has happened in Toronto is momentous. By its actions, on and off the field, baseball has been elevated to a different strata. The World Series, from this point in history, will not be a misnomer. Thanks, Canada.

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