The great thing about baseball’s expanded playoffs is the increase in parties that will look like bad ideas in hindsight.
This past week, the Blue Jays celebrated making the postseason for the first time since 2020 like they’d spent those years trapped in space.
I get it. Any excuse to celebrate a job well done with your colleagues is a good enough excuse.
But when you and your cubicle mates clinch the Comtex account, you don’t turn on the office strobe lights, put on goggles and run around in your underwear showering each other with champagne.
The Jays didn’t win the division. They haven’t qualified for any particular spot in the playoffs. They didn’t even have the excuse of a spontaneous outburst of exuberance. Toronto knew it had qualified a full day before it held its bash. And yet still.
Marking the little moments is a great idea. But must all such commemorations be broadcast? What is the upside to celebrating publicly before the job’s done?
Assuming the best-case scenario, do the Jays intend to do this after each playoff round? How many times can you celebrate winning and still manage to lose? In baseball, a lot.
Also, have you ever been hit in the face with champagne? It’s like battery acid. You throw five parties like this and the odds are pretty good that someone will be permanently blinded.
Near the tail end of Party No. 1, the Jays gathered the team in an empty Rogers Centre for some hooting and hollering as the home-run horn went off.
On Blue Jays social-media feeds, the short video was captioned: ‘BLUE JAYS FANS, THIS IS FOR YOU.’
Generally speaking, when you throw a party for someone, they are in attendance. This was the team celebrating itself.
The Los Angeles Dodgers qualified for the playoffs nearly a month ago. They are so far out ahead of the rest of baseball, it feels as if they’re already playing the 2023 season.
You know what the Dodgers didn’t do? Behave as though they’d just escaped from a 24-hour disco prison. Because they are Napa adjacent and have bigger fish to fry, the L.A. players cheered their good fortune with sparkling wine and called it a day.
Baseball now qualifies nearly as many playoff teams as any other league, but the pennant-winner ethos is still strong. Some teams act as though making the cut is a really big deal. It shouldn’t be, because it no longer is.
It’s proof that you’re in the top third at your job. Commendable, but, you know, there’s still room for improvement.
Now that ‘playoff qualifier’ doesn’t have the same oomph, that group is splitting in two – the teams who celebrate in September because they suspect that’s as good as it will get; and the ones who fully believe they will be celebrating in November.
We knew the Jays were probably in the first group. But just in case, they were determined to prove it to us.
When the Jays were doing their Great Gatsby routine on Friday, they were two games up on the Seattle Mariners for the first wild-card spot. This is the difference between playing the best-of-three series at home or on the West Coast.
As of Sunday evening, they are 2 1/2 up. The Jays have three games left; the Mariners have four.
This is another thing about celebrating anything – it should be avoided until the matter at hand is totally settled. Though unlikely, were the Jays to go from home-field advantage to schlepping out to Washington in the space of a week, it’s not going to look great.
That’s what matters in those strange days between deciding the playoffs and playing the playoffs – worrying about how things look, rather than how things are.
Losing home field wouldn’t be that big a disappointment, when you consider that a few weeks ago the Jays were in danger of sliding out of the picture altogether. But if they lose home field now, it’s going to feel like a major disappointment.
It’s going to feel especially disappointing when it’s pointed out over and over again that the last time the Jays were in Seattle, they lost four in a row.
This is how a city that should be headed in one emotional direction can get pulled off in another. If you dangle something, you had better deliver it.
This Debbie Downer scenario is possible despite the fact that, as of right now, the Jays look great. They just swept Boston, including a 6-3 victory in Sunday’s series finale.
In fairness, the Red Sox gave up on their season in July. But the Jays put up some crooked numbers on them – two shutouts and an average of eight runs scored a game. Even against a punching bag such as Boston, that’s impressive. If you believe in momentum, here it is.
Toronto will finish its regular season in Baltimore.
However the next few days turn out, this season is already a qualified success. The Jays were supposed to make the postseason and they have. They have a slugger’s chance against anyone. If they lose at the first hurdle, provided it isn’t an embarrassment, people will pat them on the back and we’ll hear a lot about learning how to win.
Toronto crowds no longer get worked up about playoff qualifications. Win a round first, and then people will jump on board. If the Jays get past whomever they end up against (it could still be Tampa), the city will sign up for baseball mania.
But if the Jays end up sliding backward into this thing and getting roughed up, people will wonder about that party.
It’s these little, often non-sports-specific things that separate big-time organizations from fringe contenders. It’s not just getting through the team-building slog. It’s understanding how to project yourself in the world when things finally start going right.