November 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
There is a disturbing trend in Toronto sports for the franchises of the self-proclaimed ‘Centre of the Universe’ to brand themselves as the ultimate Canadian franchise. Of course, this should not be surprising, since Toronto hasn’t realized there is a huge country out there, and that, in reality, it only makes up around 16% of the population of the nation. But don’t tell Toronto that.
The Toronto media has a long history of denigrating the rest of the country. I stopped reading the Globe and Mail about 10 years ago when I realized that about the only time there was news about Vancouver, Calgary, or Montréal was when it was bad news or something to mock the cities about (this, of course, coming from a city that once called out the military to deal with a bit of snow and had Rob Ford as mayor).
But to suggest the Toronto sporting franchises as the Canadian teams is, well, ridiculous and insulting. The NBA Raptors a few years ago used the slogan #WeTheNorth as part of its marketing campaign. This, though, feels the least insulting to me in that the Raptors are the only Canadian NBA team, and the only other Canadian NBA team, the Vancouver Grizzlies died an ignominious death in 2001.
And, to be fair, the CFL Argonauts and MLS TFC haven’t seemed to get the memo, but that’s probably because no one cares about either one anyway.
But it’s the MLB Blue Jays and the NHL Maple Leafs who take the cake. The Blue Jays have created a cap that features nothing but the Canadian maple leaf on it. The message here is that any good Canadian must cheer for the Blue Jays. But the thing is, it’s not this simple. Until 2004, Montréal had its Expos. The Expos were killed off by MLB and moved to Washington, DC., so this remains somewhat of a sore spot. But Down East, Canadians are just as likely, if not more so, to cheer for the Boston Red Sox than the Jays. And out West, the Seattle Mariners and the Bay Area teams are also popular. And in Montréal, the Red Sox are the most popular team.
Then there’s the Maple Leafs. Sure, their name and their logo. But those go back nearly 90 years. So they get a pass on that (as an aside, the Canadiens de Montréal are so-known because the peasants of French-era Québec were called Canadiens, or Habitants, thus, the Habs). But EA Sports, Adidas (which makes NHL uniforms) and all of the so-called Original Six teams created interesting new jerseys for EA Sports’ NHL ’19.
They almost all suck and are pointless, but you just know that they will eventually be the third jerseys of the teams, though the Chicago Blackhawks jersey looks like their third jersey already. The Maple Leafs’ however, is a blatant rip off of the legendary Team Canada jersey, made famous by the victorious Canadians in the 1972 Summit Series.
The difference, of course, is that the Maple Leafs’ version is blue instead of red:
So, yeah, this is for a video game and it’s not realty. Yet. And sure you’re thinking I’m getting worked up about something that isn’t important. The thing is, it is. Jerseys, caps, hoodies, etc., these are all part of the marketing campaigns of the franchises and the leagues they play in.
And when Toronto clubs monopolize and capitalize on Canadian images and icons for their marketing campaigns, they are doing several things. First, they are cheapening our national symbols and icons (as an aside, remember when the RCMP licensed its images to Disney for marketing purposes and the outcry it created?). Second, they are changing the national discourse about what it means to be Canadian, just as Molson attempted to in the 90s with the Joe Canada commercials, which suggested to drink Molson Canadian was to make oneself Canadian. That’s what the Raptors, Jays, and Leafs are doing here: to cheer for them is to be Canadian.
In the case of baseball, again, we have divided loyalties. We do for basketball, too. All my friends in Montréal cheer for the Boston Celtics, and out in Vancouver, it’s the LA Lakers, Chicago Bulls or Golden State Warriors. But hockey is something else. There are seven NHL franchises in Canada. Three of them have variations on Canada and our nationality in their names (Canucks, Maple Leafs, Canadiens). One shamelessly ripped of the Royal Canadian Air Force in its marketing and logo (Winnipeg Jets). But none of this reaches the ridiculousness of the EA Sports Maple Leafs’ jersey.
And so we’re back to the idea that to be in Toronto is to be Canadian and to hell with the rest of the nation, you know, the 84% of us who don’t live in Toronto.
March 30, 2018 § 1 Comment
Rusty Staub died yesterday. ‘Le Grand Orange’ was the first franchise icon for the Montreal Expos. The Expos, in hindsight, were a star-crossed franchise from the getgo. Staub arrived in Montreal in the winter of 1969, just before the Expos inaugural season. He was dealt away in 1972, to the New York Mets. Social media today in the United States remembers Staub as a long-time Met. In Canada, he is an Expo.
Staub was before my time, he was traded away before I was born. But I grew up knowing the story of Le Grand Orange, the greatest player in franchise history when I was a kid. He did return to the ‘Spos, as we called them, in 1979, though he left again in 1980 for Texas. His #10 was the first number retired by the Expos.
His death got me to thinking about the sad history of my first baseball team. The Expos lasted from 1969-2004, before moving to Washington. They weren’t a great team, to be honest. They had their ups, but had more downs, and they left town with an historic losing record. They won the NL East once, during the 1981 strike season, but then they lost a playoff to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rick Monday hit the homer that crushed my childhood dreams of a World Series for the ‘Spos. That day is still called Blue Monday in Montreal.
The Expos were a decent team in the early 1980s. But they peaked in the mid-90s. In 1992 and 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series. In 1994, the Montreal Expos were the best team in baseball, with a 74-40 record on 12 August 1994, when the players went on strike, and were well ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The Expos were the favourites for the 1994 World Series. Alas, it was not to be. The 1994 players’ strike was disastrous for Nos Amours, as the Expos were called in French. And over the next 10 years, they died a slow and painful death due to a horrible stadium, worse ownership and MLB.
In thinking about Staub yesterday and today, I realized that the Expos do not even own their own franchise icons. All of the icons of the Montreal Expos are famous for, or even more famous for, their play in other cities. Like Staub, Gary ‘The Kid’ Carter went to the Mets, where he also won a World Series. André ‘The Hawk’ Dawson (my childhood favourite player) went onto Chicago, which had a grass field, easier on the Hawk’s knees. Tim Raines went on to play for a handful of teams, winning two World Series with the Yankees. Pedro Martinez, perhaps the Expos’ greatest pitcher, is more famous for his exploits in ending the Boston Red Sox’ long World Series drought. Larry Walker, Canada’s first superstar, became a batting champion in Denver. And the Expos’ last great player, Vladimir Guerrero, is more famous for playing for the California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels.
It’s a depressing tale. Of these greats, all but Walker and Staub are in the Hall of Fame. The only consolation is that Carter, Raines, and Dawson went in wearing their Expos caps.
November 4, 2016 § 2 Comments
I grew up as a fan of the Montreal Expos, or ‘Nos Amours,’ as they were known. I went to my first game with my dad in 1978, not long before my sister was born, when I was 5 years old. I was transfixed by the experience at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was still new, it had not yet become the albatross hanging around the neck of the franchise. It was glorious. So were the hot dogs, consistently ranked amongst the best in Major League Baseball. I don’t remember who the ‘Spos played that day, I don’t remember the score. But I remember the centrefielder, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson. He quickly became my favourite player. Others loved Gary Carter, the charismatic catcher. Or Tim Raines, the left fielder. And eventually, ‘Le Gros Chat,’ first baseman Andres Gallarraga.
In 1987, Dawson left the Expos. His knees were bad and the notoriously horrible artificial turf at Olympic Stadium made them worse. He signed with the Chicago Cubs. For a brief moment, I shifted my allegiances. It made sense to me, I was a kid. Plus, I was a Chicago Bears’ fan, and had been since I first discovered the beauty that was Sweetness, the Bears running back, Walter Payton, 4-5 years earlier. So I got a Cubs cap. And I was a Cubs’ fan. But old allegiances die hard, and in my heart, I remained an Expos fan. Imagine my disappointment in 1994.
But, underneath, I remained a Cubs partisan, and experienced heartbreak after heartbreak. But then Major League Baseball colluded and Nos Amours were stolen from Montreal in a skeezy deal that saw them move, eventually, to Washington and the horrible owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria, get the Miami franchise, while the owner of the Miami franchise, John Henry, moved up to Boston to take over the Red Sox. I was angry and devastated. I swore off baseball. Even today, I refuse to recognize the validity of the Washington team.
And then, in 2012, we relocated from Montreal to Boston. And I needed to cheer for at least one Boston team. See, the problem is this: I hate the fucking Boston Bruins. Hate them. The only thing on God’s Green Earth I hate is that team. Cheaters. Liars. Dirty SOBs. Hate them. And that deep, abiding hatred for the Bs seeped out to the other Boston teams, especially the Patriots. But, when I was a kid, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox tended to be the two teams that rivaled each other for the AL East title. And I always cheer against the Jays, so, by default, I kinda cheered for the Sox. So, I took up a fandom for the Boston Red Sox. The fact that they play in Fenway Park helped. I love that stadium. And, they also won the World Series in 2013, which I appreciated, it being my first full year in Boston and all.
But I always kept an eye on the Cubs. In 2015 I tuned into a baseball game and watched it start-to-finish, without doing something else, but actually watched it, for the first time in forever. On 30 August 2015, the Cubs, beat the LA Dodgers 2-0. And pitcher Jake Arrieta got a no hitter. The last time I watched a complete baseball game was on 28 July 1991, when those very same Dodgers were victim to another no hitter, this time a perfect game, against the Expos and the brilliant pitcher, Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez. So I felt I had come full circle. I was still a Red Sox fan, but my affection for the Cubbies remained.
I enjoyed the 2016 baseball season. Both the Red Sox and Cubs were contenders, both won their division. Both made the post-season, though the Sox crashed out in the ALDS to Cleveland (I will not use that team’s nickname, as it is racist). The Cubs, on the other hand, made it to the World Series, against Cleveland.
On Wednesday night, the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time in 116 years. The last time they won was 1908. The last time they even made the World Series was 1945. In my lifetime, since Dawson signed there, they had met heartbreak after heartbreak. In 1989, they won the NL Central, but were easily defeated in the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants. They made the playoffs a handful of times between 1989 and 2015, and each time came up short. And let’s not get into that Bartman incident.
I was at a concert in Nashville Wednesday night, but kept checking my phone for the score. I was really caught up in it. I thought they had it in the bag when it was 6-3 in the 6th. But then, all of the sudden, it was 6-6, after Aroldis Chapman gave up a homerun. And it went to extra innings. And then there was a rain delay. All of this meant that by the time we got back to the car for the drive home, the game was still going on. We found it on the radio, and caught the final out and the victory. And it happened. The Cubs won the World Series.
I was down in Atlanta yesterday running errands. Wearing my Cubbies hat. And had all of these conversations with people. Everyone kept asking how it felt. I felt a little bad, not being a die-hard Cubs fan, but, I still found myself saying that it didn’t feel real. It doesn’t. It doesn’t feel real. I can only imagine what a real Cubs fan feels.