The Toronto Blue Jays call Buffalo home this year, which leads to an interesting off day thought exercise
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For MLB Players – and especially the barnstorming version of the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays – an unscheduled off-day must seem like a Second Christmas. For your typical Blue Jays fan, however, it can seem like a school detention. Too much time to think…too many opportunities to taint memories of a Nate Pearson debut or exciting, in-game heroics. No one really wants the time to think about ‘what ifs” and “oh, nos”. They just want to watch baseball.
So I got to thinking about the current state of Blue Jays baseball. Emphasis on “state”, as in New York, which is where the team will try to establish a temporary home. Provincial and Federal applied logic has sent them into exile, to a city where wings are kings and a stadium will try to prove it is major league ready. The more I thought of it, playing in Buffalo isn’t too bad, considering Plan 2.0 would have had them playing 6 hours further down the interstates in Pittsburgh, whose political leaders have forgotten that hosting professional sports teams actually creates jobs and civic pride. Hell, Buffalo who was a Federal League charter member, was frequently mentioned as an expansion candidate in the 60’s, and came within 8 days of having the struggling Montreal expansion franchise being forfeited to Buffalo.
A sudden sense of panic and paranoia swept over my though process, like the frequent breeze being created by the alarming number of strikeouts Toronto batters are posting thus far in 2020. “OMG. What if Buffalo replaced Montreal in the 1969 expansion class? Would there have ever been a major league team in Toronto? Rushing to find solace in Fangraphs and baseball reference books, I shuddered further as I read about the scenario.
Toronto, along with Buffalo and other cities, were mentioned as charter franchises in the mystical Continental League, which ultimately forced MLB to expand by 4 cities in 1961-62. Luckily greed is as admirable a trait in major league ownership groups as cash on hand, so the AL and NL immediately began secret negotiations to further carve up baseball real estate and hinted at a new round of expansion no later than 1971.
When Charlie Finley left Kansas City for Oakland in 1968, powerful Missouri senator Stuart Symington, visualizing a chance to get a real major league team in Kansas City, dropped the dreaded anti-trust exemption hints in a Kansas City Star article. MLB lawyer Bowie Kuhn convinced owners to expand before a man landed on the moon, and the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Seattle Pilots, and surprise entity Montreal were announced as new teams to begin play in 1969.
Fresh off the successes of Expo 67, Montreal seemed like a trendy and exciting choice-for 1971. That is when the proposed domed stadium in Montreal would be completed. With no real stadium to use before then, since the Montreal Alouettes were playing hardball in lease negotiations for the Autostade, MLB began to get nervous. Especially since as late as July of 1968, their was no actual ownership group finalized. No owners, no initial $1.2 million franchise fee due to be posted by August 15th. The feature story in the Chicago Tribune sports section proclaimed that MLB was going to forfeit the expansion franchise offer to Montreal and award the NL expansion franchise to Buffalo, who would share antiquated War Memorial Stadium with the NFL Bills.
A visit by Kuhn, NL President Warren Giles, and John McHale to Jarry Park eased their concerns about a viable Montreal franchise in 1969 (as did the $1.2 million dollar check and additional letters of credit. Expanding Jarry Park to 30,000 capacity seemed feasible, until extended labor disputes and the coldest and snowiest winter in recent memory once again had the NL making contingency plans to play in Buffalo.
Closing the books and finding only Korean Baseball as a baseball fix to distract me from catastrophic thinking, I pondered further the Buffalo Bisons replacing the Expos in 1969. Congressional threats forced MLB to move up its expansion timeline in 1969, and escalating legal actions by the City of Seattle was making it clear Seattle would get a second chance at hosting major league baseball in 1977. Surely the Machiavellian Kuhn would have given a “wink-wink, don’t worry” assurance to the Montreal interests that they, too, would be assured a spot in the next round of expansion.
So where would that have left Toronto. The Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants of the early to mid 80’s spent more time finding potential new hometowns than they did trying to win ballgames, so perhaps Toronto baseball fans may have eventually secured a team to call their own. But would they truly be their own? They would not be the Blue Jays of Bob Bailor, Jesse Barfield, Dave Stieb et al. They would be a band of mercenaries who thought like former Blue Jays misanthrope Mark Lemongello, who famously asked reporters “Do they even speak American there?”
Terror slowly turned to fitful sleep, and I awoke to the comfort of the knowledge that the Blue Jays would be playing a traditional doubleheader, as the home team, in Philadelphia…until the games were called off because the Phillies have Covid issues. All was once again well in Blue Jays fandom and the focus could return to Toronto baseball in 2020. Blue Jays fans take note: when the urge to curse Buffalo as the unworthy recipients of our Blue Jays homestands in August and September, you should refer back to this article and imagine the distinct possibility that Toronto baseball as we have known it might never have actually ever occurred.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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