Paul Beeston President, Toronto Blue Jays
SPORTS IS A BUSINESS
Chairman: Sarah Band, President
Honoured Guests, Head Table guests, members of The Empire Club, ladies and gentlemen.
Baseball, for whatever reason, has seemed always to have more than its share of contradictions. It has teams rehiring managers as many as seven times. And that means firing them almost as often. Can anyone imagine that on Bay Street? It has its miracles of speech, or levitation, ". . . He flied out to center field:" And its compendium of logic "It ain t over'til it's over," or,--if you wish to be more graphic, ". . . until the fat lady sings."
It's a sport where some men called, ". . the boys of summer", are paid more than a million dollars a year to play a game invented in Canada, called "the great American pastime".
The question arises, Mr. Beeston, what is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants doing in a place like this? What is a native of Welland doing as a member of the American Baseball League Expansion Committee? How does an economics and political science graduate of the University of Western Ontario become the first-ever employee of a major league baseball club?
Without chiding you further I'll repeat your quotation about baseball, . . . at one time being more sport than business; but now, being more business than sport." But I retain the right to remember the more colourful quotations.
Few teams in baseball have had a more inauspicious start than the Toronto Blue Jays. A blinding snow storm, and a home run by a Canadian for starters. The good news is that all players came in from the storm safely, and the Blue Jays won. Today the team is a respected contender for the divisional title, and people, even Americans, don't snicker when they hear the expression, "A Canadian World Series:'
The Blue Jays deserve all the plaudits, cheers and rewards they get. But no more than the management which has made the team and brought Canada west of Montreal, out of its collective chairs cheering for a team from Toronto. As President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Beeston, accept our congratulations and our welcome to The Empire Club of Canada.
Thank you very much for the invitation to address your luncheon this afternoon. Your President, Sarah Band, advises me that it was 13 years ago when Peter Bavasi, the first President of the Blue Jays, addressed the Empire Club. Back in 1977 when Peter spoke to you:
We were a team with a lot of heart, little talent and mediocre results.
We were a team playing in Exhibition Stadium, perhaps the worst facility in baseball--if not in sports.
We were a team trying to create a niche in the Toronto sports scene against two well-established institutions--The Toronto Argonauts and The Toronto Maple Leafs. We were a team with salaries of $830,000 for the entire 25 man roster, or an average of $33,200 per player.
Well, I think it is fair to say that over the past 13 years we made some dramatic moves to improve our position and fulfil some of our early goals.
Through the efforts of Pat Gillick and the player development side of our organization, we have provided to the City of Toronto one of the best teams in major league baseball--in fact the only team that has played over .500 baseball in each of the last seven seasons.
Through the combined efforts and leadership of people such as former Premier Davis, Premier Peterson, Martin Connell, Trevor Eyton, Chuck Magwood, Richard Peddie and a host of others we have constructed the finest multipurpose sports facility in the world--a stadium which we are very proud to call home.
Through the support manifested by an average of 48,000 fans attending the games at the Skydome last year, I believe we confirmed our position along with the Argonauts and Maple Leafs on the Toronto sports scene. And through good agents, good television contracts, good attendance, great performances and a tremendous growth in the popularity of baseball, we now have 10 players individually making in excess of our total 1977 salaries of $830,000--with no end in sight.
It has been an exciting 13 years.
We thought 1985 was to be our year when we fought the Yankees in a great pennant race and then lost to Kansas City in seven games in the American League playoffs. We thought 1987 was to be our year when we battled the Tigers before losing on the final day of the season in what many called at the time the best pennant race of the past 10 years--(seven one-run games against the Tigers over the last 10 days of the season.)
We thought 1989 was to be our year when we climbed uphill all year to nose out the Orioles on the second last day of the season and then lost to Oakland in 5 games. In spite of these apparent successes, I can assure you that there is no one in our entire organization that will be satisfied until we reach the ultimate goal--of not only reaching the World Series--but in fact winning it.
Hopefully 1990 will be that year--although I do note that we seem to enjoy more success in the odd numbered years than we do in the even numbered years.
In assessing what I might speak of today there were many things that come to mind. For example -
Do we talk strictly baseball -i.e. who will DH; what will the starting pitching staff be; who is the fourth outfielder--what trades are in the works--essentially, playing related matters?
Do we address the recent lockout? or
Do we address the recent television contracts that have been signed--not only in baseball--but in all sports. or
Do we address the recent player contracts that have been negotiated, signed--and well publicized.
Do we discuss the effect of Meech Lake Accord on the future of-baseball.
Well, after consideration, I thought I would like to take , another approach. Specifically to attempt to bring a sense of i reason to what has lately been seen as a greedy army of,' players fighting with a greedy group of owners over who cant get the largest piece of a perceived ever-expanding bottom' line.
Sport is a business. Make no mistake about that. At one time _ I believed it was more of a sport than a business but I believe now, because of the magnitude of dollars involved, that it is more business than it is sport. Having said that, however, I can tell you that I love my job, every day is a Saturday as far as I am concerned, and that the excitement attached to being involved in professional sports is rarely found in other vocations. So while it is a business, nevertheless baseball and professional sports retains enough of the attributes that allows each of us involved to play out or be associated with our fantasies.
I want to tell you a story that provided me with a clear illustration of the change from sport to business. One of the first people .that I met when I entered professional baseball back in 1976 was Tommy Lasorda. I saw Tommy at the World Series in Minnesota in 1986. I must tell you that Tommy Lasorda is a never-ending fountain of baseball tales, but this time he told the story of the time he had lunch with President Reagan. After lunch Tommy was taken to the press gallery. The first question asked of Lasorda was what he and the President had discussed at lunch. Tommy, never short of wit, replied they discussed economics. When questioned further as to what Lasorda knew about economics, he told them the story of the gentleman who had gone into the Chairman's office of the Chase Manhattan Bank and asked to borrow $1,500. He was summarily dismissed, and told that, as Chairman, he was not in the habit of making $1,500 loans and that he should go down to the first floor and ask for a loan officer.
The gentleman went to the first floor, asked for a loan officer, was promptly shown into an office, asked for $1,500 for a week and was told he could have it if he had sufficient security. The man said he had a Mercedes out front, gave the officer the ownership and the keys and was given $1,500. Now, one week later he returned and gave the loan officer the $1,500 back. The loan officer said that he had done a credit check of this individual and that he had come up as one of the five richest men in New York City. His only question was why he wanted to borrow the money. The gentleman asked how much he owed. In being advised that it was $1,500 plus $6.00 interest, the gentleman turned to the loan officer and said--"Where else can you park your car in New York for a week for $6.00".
Now I realize this has nothing to do with baseball, but when you cannot trust Tommy Lasorda for a baseball story--you know the game is changed.
I suppose the most recent example of sports slipping into a -business mode was the closing of the Spring Training camps on February 15 of this year for a period of 32 days. I do not intend to get into the relevant merits of each side's position, but I will say that 1 do not believe there was either a winner or loser when the final agreement was struck. When all was said and done the result was a fair agreement that ended the dispute and returned the game to the fans--the life-blood of baseball.
From my observation the lockout achieved what it set out to do. Specifically, it was designed to produce an agreement prior to the start of the season--and thereby avoid the player strikes that we endured in 1981 and 1985. So from that point of view, it was successful.
However, the lockout did not come without creating a certain amount of ill-will and consternation. The fans did not really know who to point the finger at as the bad guys in this scenario--the players or the owners. All they wanted was for both sides to come together, forget their differences and play ball. If anything, it appeared to me that the public saw it as two evils fighting each other at the expense of the fan.
Our club strongly supported the player relations committee, the negotiating arm of Major League owners. This was done in no way to harm the fans, or to redress the players, but was a position taken after considerable thought, because we believed that it was imperative to obtain an agreement before the commencement of the season. Simply put, the logic behind the lockout position made good business sense.
Let me give you a small history of our organization. The Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club is a partnership composed of Mr. R. Howard Webster, Labatt Brewing Company Limited and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. When they came together to form the Toronto Blue Jays, it was their stated position to bring a competitive team to the City of Toronto on an on-going basis. It was not their goal to look upon the Club as a profit centre--but quite correctly--nor did they look upon it to lose money. While we played at Exhibition Stadium we struggled financially. But never once did the owners of this Club deny management the resources to put together the personnel necessary to put a competitive team on the field, or to treat its players fairly. Nor did they deny management the resources necessary to scout the best players, sign them and develop them to major league calibre ball players.
While we haven't won the big one, that day is not far away and it is a credit to Pat Gillick, Gord Ash and their scouting and development staff. But it is also a credit to the owners of this ball club, who not only bought Pat's philosophy back in 1977, but pushed him and provided him with the resources that were necessary to put together a system that would ensure the competitive balance of this Club for the foreseeable future.
But why do I say this and of what significance is this to the recent lockout? I believe that, as the owners were not the force of evil in the recent negotiations, neither were the players. I suppose it sounds trite to say the negotiations were simply a discussion to resolve some honest differences of opinions.
Our Club certainly did not look upon the players as the enemy. As a result 1 do not believe that within our organization there has been any residue of resentment by the players from the lockout. That is because, from the time a player enters our organization as the result of a draft, trade, or purchase, we have been mandated by ownership to treat them fairly and with the integrity that embodies the corporate philosophies of each of our owners. We attempt to instill in the players a pride in being a Blue Jay. We attempt to develop a "we" mindset as opposed to an "us against them" mindset. We want them to know that, while we win together, we also lose together.
And how do you do that? By treating them fairly and honestly. At first honesty can be disarming and result in suspicion. But I believe that if you keep pounding away at maintaining your integrity, you will reap the reward that I believe this Club enjoys at the present time. I do not see any resentment lasting from the lockout. A cynic of course would say "why should there be any resentment--these guys are all making over $1 million?" I do not know how one gets close to a ball player. But any one who knows a player--knows they are genuinely decent human beings. The left fielder--his name presently escapes me--the one who told the fans they could kiss his purple something--signs 10,000 autographs a year, finances together with Alfredo Griffin an orphanage in the Dominion Republic; plays hurt and plays hard, but is criticized for not signing someones autograph book.
Dave Stieb was the founding Chairman of the 65 Roses Club--an organization that raises considerable funds on an annual basis for cystic fibrosis.
The entire relief pitching staff not only began raising money for a rarely known disease four years ago but went on air and brought focus to the problems of Ileitis and Colitis.
Even the player's wives get involved by raising tons and tons of food for the Toronto Daily Food Bank on an annual basis.
These are but a few examples. But what am I trying to say--these guys, these players and their families are good people. They are hopefully like everyone in this room. They are not afraid to get involved and not afraid to give back something to a community that has been good to them. They appreciate your support and hopefully you will appreciate their contribution to the community. They are much more than greedy money-grubbers.
I suppose it would be negligent on my part if I did not mention our new playing facility--what I believe has now become the world famous Toronto Skydome. It would be fair to state that, no matter where we travel in baseball, everyone wants to know about the Skydome. Of course without question, the roof is the focus of attention. Does it work? How quiet is it? How quickly does it open?
After only being in the stadium for 57 games, it is already easy to take it for granted. But when you reflect on the complexity of the stadium with all its enhancing features, we, the Toronto Blue Jays, are truly fortunate to play in a one-of-akind creation. And notwithstanding comments from our old pal Lloyd Moseby, I have yet to hear another player knock the Skydome. I suggest if Lloyd was coming from Detroit to Toronto he might have called the great old baseball stadium, Tiger Stadium, an antique and expound how he could finally play in the 20th century. And I have not heard anyone say it is not a fair ball park--328 down the lines, 375 in the power alleys, 400 dead away centre, a good test for a hitter, a fair park for a pitcher. But the true magnificence of this stadium is its multi-purpose use. There are always critics that will find fault with anything. Perhaps the acoustics are not Carnegie Hall but on the other hand the Rolling Stones don't play Carnegie Hall.
Wrestling! Religious services! Les Miserables! Football! Ice Skating! Boat Shows! Cricket! The list goes on and on and on. It is a place for people and a facility for our time. Toronto is the envy of much of the world and we, the Toronto Blue Jays, would like nothing better than to reward those thousands of people who laboured through all kinds of weather to provide us with this outstanding playing facility, by bringing a championship to Toronto in this our first full year in the stadium.
The 1990 season commences next Monday evening in Texas. On Tuesday, in front of Prime Minister Mulroney and President George Bush, we have our home opener. Our entire organization is looking forward in 1990 with much anticipation. We believe we have the talent to win the American League East. Clearly the American League West will be difficult once we get to the playoffs. But with good pitching and a break here and there this could be our year.
Cito Gaston Monday night begins his first full season as a manager. It is unfortunate that he did not have a full spring training to get the team ready. He has the players, he has the pitching, he has everybody happy and playing for him. He is in control. In fact if there was ever any question, he established that control once and for all in late June when we were playing in Texas. We had gone through a terrible hot spell and were not playing all that well. The players were complaining it was too hot and they couldn't perform properly, that they were in fact drained by the heat. We went into Kansas City where the temperature was 100 degrees on the Saturday, probably hotter on the field. After the game, which we lost, there was the usual complaining about the heat and Gaston sat there and listened. Sunday morning he called the team together and told them he did not want to hear another word about how hot it was. He told them it was hot for the Royals, hot for the umpires and hot for the fans, and the first person who mentioned the heat would be fined $1000. Cito was out on the bench about a half hour later when George Bell walked into the dugout from the clubhouse. His first words were "boy it is hot" at which time Cito jumped up to tell George those words cost him $1,000 and George turned to see Cito was there and added "and it's just the way I like it".
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by John Campion, Partner, Fasken Campbell Godfrey and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.