Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays have embarrassed themselves for the second straight postseason. Is the team partially to blame? A perspective provided from the St. Louis Cardinals’ best fans in baseball.
I love a hostile crowd. My favorite playoff memory of the last decade (that doesn’t involve the St. Louis Cardinals) is from 2013—when a Pittsburgh crowd took full advantage of their first playoff appearance in two decades. There’s nothing like a raucous home crowd, but I do have a bone to pick with the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans.
The last three postseasons have featured multiple teams and fan bases who don’t usually find themselves playing in October. Fans in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Toronto, and the folks in Queens were all treated to rare and unexpected playoff runs.
Collectively, these starved fan bases have brought an energy to the last three postseasons that frankly isn’t quite there when the playoffs are filled with the usual suspects. I love it. I love the energy, the hostility, and the excitement. But the folks up north need to be set straight.
Let’s jump back to last October, in the 7th inning of game 5 in the ALDS, played in Toronto. For 7 innings the Canadian fans brought an energy so intense that Johnny Cueto—despite not playing in the game—probably dropped a baseball again somewhere. I was digging it. The players were feeding off of the crowd, and the crowd was feeding off of the players.
The Blue Jays had played the 2015 season with an energy and composure that better fit a college team in Omaha than it did a Major League ball club. Fist pumps, chest thumping, and visceral vocal reactions had become the identity of this team. They played like kids, not grown men, and it was fun. It was refreshing—until all of a sudden it wasn’t anymore.
With two outs in the seventh inning, Shin-Soo Choo stood at the plate, down 1-2 in the count. Rougned Odor took his lead off of third base, anxious to score the go-ahead run in a clinching game. The pitch was taken high for a ball and Martin tossed the ball back to his pitcher. You probably remember what happened next.
The ball struck Choo’s bat and bounced towards the third base dugout. Odor broke for home immediately, but before he crossed the plate it appeared that home plate umpire Dale Scott raised his arms and called for time. The umps met to confer and decided that the ball was indeed live, and given Odor’s large head start, the run should count. The Rangers took the lead. The Blue Jays fans were having none of it.
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Fans booed and trash rained down onto the field. It was an ugly scene. Sure, no fan base wants to see their team exit the playoff race in that fashion (e.g. the Nationals fall to the St. Louis Cardinals on an infield fly rule called when Pete Kozma basically camped in the outfield). But few would have reacted in such a disgraceful way. They threw everything they could get their hands on. A child in the first row was actually struck by a beer can.
Of course, the Blue Jays didn’t actually lose that game. The Rangers collapsed in an impressively unimpressive fashion, culminating in Jose Bautista‘s bone chilling, hair raising, absolutely MAMMOTH go-ahead-three-run shot. Jose admired his work before flipping his bat with such force and style, that he put even the South Korean’s to shame.
Here’s the thing. I’m all for making baseball fun again. I love a good bat-flip, I really do. Honestly, I don’t mind when players throw at each other, when mangers throw tantrums, or when players exchange words—even punches.
But ever since Jose’s bat flip the Blue Jays have taken on a strange identity. They seemed to brace themselves for a league-wide backlash and criticism to such an extent, that they’ve become a defensive and ultimately problematic ball club.
They’ve decided to own it. They decided that they would be the group that would bring the energy back to baseball, that would make it fun again, that wasn’t afraid to fight you.
The Rangers brawl was a long-time coming, and clearly Texas wasn’t pleased with the bat flip or the new found spunk of Toronto. But it isn’t just the Rangers. Over the last year and half the Blue Jays have had beef—if not dugout-clearing incidents—with Texas, Kansas City, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons seems to take everything personally. When his players are hit by pitches, he’s quick to retaliate. Of course, should one of his pitchers lose control and hit a batter, well, then it was simply an accident—worthy of no such retaliation. This team painted a target on their own backs, and then tried to fight the world for singling them out.
“We have some big personalities, some of the better players in the league,” John Gibbons said in an ESPN article written back in May. “I think they irritate people. I think there is some envy on the other side, too. We have some guys who wear their emotions on their sleeves. I’m trying to be politically correct.”
That’s one way of putting it, John. The bottom line is this: Toronto’s style of play, fun as it may be, has contributed to a hostility and arrogance that has been brewing slowly for a year and a half now. As I said earlier, these players feed off of their fans, and the fans feed off of the players. But this dynamic has shifted from an inspiring and awesome one to a vicious cycle.
We saw this dynamic rear it’s ugly head once again last night in Toronto’s latest playoff appearance. Would you believe me if I told you that once again the game would come to a halt in the seventh inning? That it would involve an Asian player with the name Soo, and a fan throwing another beer can? You should, because that’s exactly what happened.
With two outs in the seventh, Melvin Upton hit a fly ball deep to left field. Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim settled underneath it, just shy of the warning track. That’s when a fan decided to chuck a full beer can at Kim, in an apparent attempt to distract him.
This is obviously a disgrace. For the second consecutive postseason, the fans of Toronto have embarrassed themselves. Would we be as shocked if this happened in a St. Louis Cardinals game? Would we be disappointed in the “best fans in baseball?”
It’s worth noting that the Blue Jays do not and have never condoned such behavior. I’m sure that the players in Toronto only ever mean to pump up themselves and each other. They want to pump positive energy into their crowd, so the two parties can feed off of each other. Nonetheless, they seem to have given birth to an us vs. the world mentality that puts Boston’s inferiority complex to shame.
Enough is enough. There’s nothing positive about this dynamic anymore. It’s negatively affecting the optics for Major League Baseball and it’s product—if not putting opposing player’s safety at risk. I’m all for making baseball fun again. But let’s just remember it is still baseball, not hockey. No more, Toronto.