In the end, the Toronto Blue Jays’ ill-conceived proposal to play their regular season at home was settled according to local custom.
The Jays asked permission to move themselves and other teams in and out of Toronto for the next couple of months, spreading joy and plague. Three levels of government considered the plan.
Two of those levels – the ones who most directly benefit from the reflected glory of having a local baseball team doing its thing – were for it. So the third level – the feds – did the dirty work of sinking the idea.
He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way.
“Oh yeah, eh, geez, we’re really sorry, but yeah that’s going to be a ‘No’ from us up here in Ottawa. But you take care, alright.” That’s the Canadian way.
The problem with the Jays’ plan was not public health, per se. Plenty of people are still “crossing” the border every day. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport listed more than 30 flights arriving from the United States on Sunday.
The problem was public perception. It is difficult to explain to people how their sacrifices for the general good are necessary, but those kajillionaires over there? Yeah, never mind that. That’s a totally different thing.
Once Jays third baseman Travis Shaw got on the old tweeter and said that two or three months of strict quarantine was “not an option” for him, the deal was DOA.
Shaw should feel some pride here. It’s not often that a single employee disrupts the plans of a multibillion-dollar operation, bends the course of history in a way that inconveniences everyone and still gets paid a great deal of money for his trouble.
Perhaps the most Canadian thing of all about this was Blue Jays’ president Mark Shapiro’s reaction. No hysterics. No public bitterness. In fact, he did a pretty good impersonation of someone delighted at having been made temporarily homeless.
“It is without any hesitation that I tell you we respect the decision,” Shapiro said Saturday.
This is the sports-executive version of reflexively saying “Sorry” when someone slams into you on the sidewalk. Canada. Stay here long enough and it’ll get into your head.
This rejection leaves the Jays wandering the U.S. sports landscape looking for a regular-season barn to sleep in. They’ve got less than two weeks to figure it out.
The obvious choices are Buffalo or Dunedin, Fla. Neither is up to the major-league standard in terms of facilities and/or lighting (which matters to TV). But these sub-par stadiums are available immediately and in move-in condition. This has become a beggars-versus-choosers situation.
Becoming the second tenant in another major-league park is also a possibility. How flexible are the Jays with their accommodation requirements? Are they willing to get dressed in the parking lot and shower using the on-field sprinklers? Because that might hurry negotiations along.
However this ends up, it will be strange. And strange is good right now. Strange reminds us we’re still figuring things out on the fly.
In Canada, we’ve been (gently) arguing for weeks about whether the return of sports is a good thing. Is it safe? Is it fair? Is it necessary? However you feel about the decisions taken over NHL bubbles or the Jays’ season, you can’t argue that no one has done the diligence. These issues were taken seriously by those in charge, as they should be.
Doing things people don’t like isn’t how a government or its institutions lose public confidence. We don’t rule by plebiscite. It’s doing things people don’t like without bothering to listen to their concerns that turns the public off.
Various levels of Canadian government showed their work here – everything from B.C. politely telling the NHL to shove off to Ontario’s Doug Ford government embracing the Jays’ plan before it knew if it would be approved.
The result of transparency is public trust. Not public agreement or public back-slapping. But a widespread understanding that issues are being handled in good faith, and that no one’s doing deals off the loading dock out back of the Parliament building.
That public trust would have been jeopardized if the Jays had been allowed to use Toronto as a launch pad into and out of Tampa and Miami. Protecting that trust is what mattered here.
As such, this has been a good process handled correctly by all involved. The Jays asked. They were told no. They took it like champs.
Even Americans, God love them, seem to get this. All their “don’t tread on me” bravado is bleeding away. No U.S.-based talking head was screaming about the decision on Sunday.
“[Canada’s] missing the economics of not having Americans come, but they don’t miss the fact that we haven’t done a very good job controlling the virus,” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters. “I understand where they’re coming from. We have to do something here soon.”
You can hear the gentle despair in that answer – “We have to do something here soon.”
In Canada, were we in the situation much of the southern and western United States finds itself in now, we’d all be saying, “What are we doing here? How can we help ourselves?” And someone would try to provide a substantive answer.
It might not be the answer everyone likes. It might not in the end turn out to be the right answer. But when the polity calls for emergency assistance in Canada, someone picks up.
Down in the United States, the lines have gone dead. Either no one’s in charge, or everyone is.
The result is apathy and listlessness:
“We should really do something about this.”
End of conversation.
You almost feel bad sending the Jays down there to reckon with a situation that will be more fraught by the time the baseball season ends.
With that in mind, let’s wish them no luck in the campaign to come. Because the sooner it ends, the sooner they can leave.