One of former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston's favourite media games was call-and-response.
You'd ask him a question that both of you already knew his answer to, and he'd give you the reply you expected in a way that drove people nuts over and over again. One of his favourites was on the topic of baseball's American League East.
For most of two decades, fans of the Toronto ball club hated their division in a philosophical way – that the sum was worse than any of the parts. Even the Boston Red Sox. Which is really saying something.
From the local perspective, Toronto's baseball mediocrity was not a function of being mediocre. Rather, it was a matter of perspective. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, Toronto was actually quite good when it was bad. Excellent, even. The problem was that everyone else was better.
(This has been the entire city's civic mission statement for several decades now.)
This hallucinogenic state of affairs allowed management to repeatedly screw things up through lack of ambition and/or skill and then blame it on the Yankees payroll.
It was a sweet deal for Rogers Communications Inc.: "It's not that we don't want to win. It's that we can't win. It's a fact. Like gravity."
Beeston was the ownership gadfly in this nexus – agreeing with the point, if not the basic principle.
Unlike his immediate predecessor, Beeston loved being in the AL East. The key rationales never changed: competition, excitement, best of the best and so forth. But he was always sure to frame it partly in business terms – think of all those Rogers Centre sellouts when the overflow from bigger, better baseball marketplaces was forced up onto our barren competitive frontier.
It was the sort of argument that forces each side of the Toronto baseball relationship to begin swallowing its own tail. The fans promised to come if the team was good; the team promised to be good if the fans came. In between, there was the fact of the AL East and the related fact that Toronto was not allowed to win it.
Somehow, using a cunning ruse called "getting Josh Donaldson for nothing," the Jays finally solved that problem. Hooray for all involved! It's one of those unlikely victories for the little guy (the multibillion-dollar corporation) and the many needy people (wealthy shareholders) he represents that gives you back your faith.
We've moved past fighting amongst ourselves to a new sort of fighting amongst ourselves (usually resulting in frenzied mass calls for players A, B or C to be summarily cut/canonized based on one at-bat, bad outing or heads-up running play).
Over the Labour Day weekend, the Blue Jays progressed from "steady as she goes" to the "multiple icebergs ahead" portion of the season. That sensation will only increase.
But before we move on to the truly hysterical phase, let's pause for to say a few words over an idea that died here over the past few months: the AL East excuse.
One thing we could be fairly sure of when Toronto was bad was that it would be good again. The financials were positive. Even at its lowest ebb, the fan base was engaged. The people in charge were as smart as anyone else. Most important, everyone gets lucky.
For far too long, it suited the people in charge that that inevitability be presented like some sort of parting-of-the-seas-level miracle.
The self-serving bottom line: Don't expect anything, but if something does happen, be goddamned grateful.
People were. Once things turned, the stadium was predictably filled. The TV numbers are off the charts. The Jays are the closest thing the country has to a national team.
While that was happening, the AL East didn't get any easier. By record, it remains the top regional grouping in baseball. As of Monday, the shared run differential of all five teams is +224.
The next best in that regard? The NL Central at +104.
Everyone else is cumulatively negative.
When people moan about losing two of three to the "last-place" Tampa Bay Rays, this is the counterargument.
Boston and New York may not be what they once were, but if they can manage to spend and trade their way up to that level again, Toronto's ownership has no right to begin complaining. They're as well equipped, supported and funded as any team in the game. More so than most.
Using those advantages, they are arguably the best team in what is still inarguably the best division in baseball. The circumstances didn't change in the interim. Rather, the Jays did.
Toronto lost to the Yankees 5-3 on Monday. The only good news out of the game was that losing starter R.A. Dickey's next outing is once again a ways off.
Despite various small troubles, there remains no looming sense of a collapse.
Of course, one can't know how this will end. There is the strong impression that, unlike last year, it will be a near thing. The final October road trip into Boston is sitting there in the approaching distance, like a reckoning.
A season that currently seems so roundly positive could seem markedly less so in a few weeks if it all comes apart.
At the very least, we get what we always said we wanted – a decent chance in September. This city is never so alight as it is when baseball matters. There's something about the day-to-day-ness of it.
Once that ends, we move on to the next stage – celebrating or complaining.
But let us not forget that, for more than a calendar year, through a great deal of change and upheaval, the Toronto Blue Jays were as good as anyone else.
When that happened, fans kept up their side of the bargain. Going forward, it will be on ownership to ensure they maintain theirs.