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Paul Beeston, seen shaking hands with former Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey, has agreed to remain with the baseball club as its president and CEO. (FRANK GUNN/CP)
Paul Beeston, seen shaking hands with former Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey, has agreed to remain with the baseball club as its president and CEO. (FRANK GUNN/CP)

Stephen Brunt

Happy illusions weren't real Add to ...

It can't help but skew your perspective, having been around for the good old days.

Nostalgia tints reality, fond memories and strong relationships influence thinking far down the road.

In these, arguably the most disquieting times in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, it's important to at least acknowledge that, to put those old-guy cards on the table.

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Not that J.P Ricciardi's time wasn't up in any case, from any point of view.

Perhaps he didn't really arrive in town proclaiming himself the second coming of Billy Beane, but that's certainly how Paul Godfrey sold him to the brass at Rogers, and in turn to the Jays' fan base.

Ricciardi would work bargain miracles, outsmart teams that couldn't be outspent, and remake the Toronto organization in his own image. Bringing him aboard, repudiating Godfrey's original vision - which was a return to the good old days with familiar faces Gord Ash and Buck Martinez at the helm - was also a symbolic cutting of the cord.

It was over now, it was time to stop pining for Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick, for Peter Hardy and Labatt's and WAMCO and move into the present.

On the field, it didn't pan out, even as the player payroll waxed and waned, and off the field, it was always going to be tough for those who remembered-when to welcome Ricciardi into the fold. He had that smartest-kid-in-the-class way about him, he may not have been appropriately deferential to what had gone before, he seemed anxious to give the old order the bum's rush (changing the culture, from his point of view, would have made absolute sense), so it was way too easy to pine for his failure. Fail he did, though who might have succeeded under similar circumstances remains an open question.

But what has failed, also - and this is the part that's harder for us in the glory-days brigade to stomach - is the second back-to-the-future movement, with Beeston returned to the helm and with Cito Gaston returned to the dugout. What happened after Gaston was rehired last season and during the first couple of months of this one seems now to have been one of those happy illusions, like the occasional nights when the calendar says you're pressing well into middle age but you feel in your heart like a kid.

There is no turning back the clock, not because Beeston has lost anything off his fastball, not because Gaston is a different manager than he once was, but because you just can't put all of the pieces back together - ownership, roster, state-of-the-sport, state-of-the-city, state-of-the-universe - as they were once upon a time.

As much as you wanted to believe Beeston, as much as you wanted to get caught up in his optimism when he said working for Rogers now was just like working for Labatt's then, it just couldn't be true.

And as much as you wanted to think that Gaston, someone who as a man offers much to be admired, was again the right guy in the right place, the terrible final months of the season were instead a reminder of the depressing last days of his first tenure, when it was clearly time for him to go.

Make what you will of the clubhouse revolt - Ricciardi seems likely to have leaked the story as a parting gift, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't true - it's hard to imagine how the team goes forward with this skipper, and it's not at all hard to see Gaston's second time around resembling the second comings of Leo Cahill and Punch Imlach to franchises similarly desperate to recapture past magic, which similarly learned it wasn't so simple.

New general manager Alex Anthopoulos is going to have a huge rooting section drawn from both sides of the fence, because he's a young, fresh face, because he's Canadian, because he is a product of the organization (and of the Montreal Expos). And whoever is installed as the new president in the next few weeks appears likely to be a solid baseball type, who will provide an added guiding hand.

Plus, Beeston isn't going too far, and it appears Gaston isn't going anywhere, and somewhere from memory, from the heart, comes a message that this could be great, this could be the winning formula, this could be just what the doctor ordered.

Ignore that comforting impulse, though, and you can see clearly what's missing, where the sentimentality ends.

It's telling that the one member of the old gang who has kept right on winning is Pat Gillick, and that since abandoning his brief retirement, he has relentlessly moved forward and moved on, never once looking back.

If he was to turn up in Toronto again, it might be time to revisit the joys of nostalgia. Barring that, it might be worth considering how he got it right.



 

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