- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Feb 1977, p. 224-232
- Bavasi, Peter, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- History and background, past and present, from 1885, of baseball. The difficulties of the pursuit of a major league baseball team by Toronto: a history of that activity. What the Blue Jays and major league baseball will mean to Toronto, especially financially. How major league baseball has developed and how it operates now. The excitement of the first Blue Jays game.
- Date of Original
- 3 Feb 1977
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- FEBRUARY 3, 1977
Toronto--Major League Baseball for a Major League City
AN ADDRESS BY Peter Bavasi, B.A., EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER, METRO BASEBALL LTD.
CHAIRMAN The President, William M. Karn
Mr. Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, Reverend Sir, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: April 7th, 1977 will usher into our fair city a new era in ornithology. Metro bird watchers in their thousands have already subscribed for advantageous season perches in the enlarged C.N.E. sanctuary, which will hopefully be swept clear of snow by that date, to welcome the Toronto Bluejays as they migrate from sunny Dunedin in Florida, chattering and scolding all the way, to carry Toronto--a major league city--forward into major league baseball.
It is recorded that the original Audubon Society, named after the great naturalist, John James Audubon, was founded in New York City, in February, 1886, for the purpose of protecting American birds from destruction in commercial ventures. At that time, indiscriminate slaughter was threatening many species with extinction. Because of this commendable effort, much "shooting" of birds now is done with camera instead of with gun. And we are confident that hospitable Toronto will shoot miles of film recording the exploits of our Bluejays, as they settle in, flex their wings and begin winning -just one game at a time, as team manager Roy Hartsfield has predicted.
Administering this major undertaking is our guest of honour today. Born in Bronxville, N.Y. 34 years ago, the man selected for this responsibility had the good fortune to choose a father who became manager of the Dodger farm club, the Montreal Royals, when he himself was only five years old. I wonder what story he told his teachers to explain his absence from school on opening days each season?
Just to show Mr. Bavasi where the heart of The Empire Club of Canada lies, we have left open Thursday, April 7th in our schedule of weekly meetings, so that every grandfather, father, son, and grandson may gather with the municipal leaders, a few politicians, and thousands of supporters to launch our team at the C.N.E. Stadium.
Our speaker today, after graduating from St. Francis High School in Pasadena and then St. Mary's College in Moroga, California in 1964 with a B.A. in philosophy, immediately became business manager of the Albuquerque Dodgers in Texas. Three years later he was named their General Manager, after one season away acting as General Manager of their Santa Barbara Club. He was 27 when he joined his father as director of the Padres' National League operations in San Diego. Four years later he moved up to Padre Vice-President and General Manager.
Peter was therefore made to measure for the task of calling the shots in an expansion club, and we are fortunate that he has accepted that challenge to make baseball history in Toronto. Never before have a father and son operated two major league clubs at the same time.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to invite Mr. Peter Bavasi, Executive Vice-President and General Manager, Metro Baseball Ltd., to speak to you on the subject: "Toronto--Major League Baseball for a Major League City".
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for this opportunity to address the Empire Club today. It is indeed an honour for an expansion baseball club to tell its story before such a prestigious gathering.
Major league baseball will be new to Toronto in 1977, but this community has a long history of involvement with professional baseball. In 1885, Toronto entered organized ball as a member of the Eastern League, later to be called the International League. Two years later, the Toronto club won the International League Championship. We would be delighted if history could repeat itself in that respect for the Blue Jays.
In 1890, the Toronto team moved from Sunlight Park to Island Stadium. Ten years later it moved back to the mainland to Diamond Park, near where the C.N. Tower is now situated. In 1910 the club moved to Hanlin Stadium on Centre Island where it played until 1926 when Maple Leaf Stadium was opened. From 1926 until 1967 the Toronto Baseball Maple Leafs prospered in that Front Street ball park where baseball heroes were made and baseball memories established.
The Baseball Leafs had a storied history. They won twelve pennants and the Governor's Cup four times. The game's all-time great stars played in front of Toronto crowds, either with or against the Maple Leafs. Jackie Robinson danced off third base, driving the pitcher wild; Duke Snider leaped high against the center field fence . . . and Babe Ruth, then just a young pitcher for Providence, hit his first professional home run at Hanlin's Stadium.
Toronto has a proud baseball tradition. The old Maple Leafs were the longest continuous members of baseball's oldest minor league--78 years. And in the 50's, Toronto was the hottest property in all of minor league baseball, reaching an attendance peak of 446,000 fans in 1952.
But around that same time the coaxial cable was introduced and television, in its infancy, was seeking a promotional vehicle which would give the new communications medium wider appeal. That vehicle was baseball, and the major leagues embarked on a telecasting format which signaled doom for high attendance of minor league clubs in the United States.
Toronto, however, continued to prosper on the field and at the gate. But, by the middle 60's, a social phenomenon began to take shape in Toronto. The city, undergoing an unprecedented period of economic and industrial development, seemed to simply outgrow its once beloved minor league baseball club -and by 1967 the Toronto Maple Leafs, charter members of the International League, vanished from the baseball scene.
Toronto had become a major league city. As Time Magazine was to report (albeit some years later): "Toronto has become Hustle City, a place of entrepreneurial drive and prodigally displayed wealth, of cosmopolitan liveliness and Anglo Saxon acquisitiveness. Toronto is the true heart of the country."
It is to this environment that Major League baseball is being added, in the form of the Toronto Blue Jays of the American League. But if there is any truth to the old adage that "nothing worthwhile comes easy", it was never more evident than in the pursuit of a major league baseball team by Toronto.
It began in October 1973 when two young and sensitive politicians, Bill Davis and Paul Godfrey, speculated about the prospects of major league baseball in Toronto and agreed on the benefits, need and wisdom of expanding Exhibition Stadium to attract major league baseball.
Late in '73 and early in '74, the necessary steps were taken to commit the provincial and metro governments to a renovated and expanded stadium. Early in '74 groups of businessmen began to organize to develop presentations to attract major league baseball to the new stadium.
In the summer of '74, Labatt interest was aroused and after preliminary discussions with the Commissioner of Baseball and the Presidents of the American and National Leagues, the decision was made by Labatt's to bring major league baseball to Toronto. And the pursuit was on.
For nearly two years, Don McDougall and the Labatt's team stalked meeting rooms, ball parks, and hotel lobbies wherever the major league owners gathered, in pursuit of a franchise for Toronto.
Finally, after a frustrating on-again, off-again commitment from the San Francisco Giants and the National League, and armed with a powerful partnership that included R. Howard Webster and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Labatt's landed an American League expansion franchise. Major league baseball had finally arrived in Toronto.
What will the Blue Jays and major league baseball mean to Toronto? After all, the community has invested nearly $18,000,000 to renovate and expand Exhibition Stadium.
Major league baseball means a new industry for the community; one that does not produce smog nor pollutes the environment (although one newspaper wag has suggested that may not be the case after the Blue Jays have lost ten straight games). Major league baseball means a new form of inexpensive family entertainment, well within the price range of every man and every man's family. And, major league baseball means new jobs. During any Blue Jay game in Toronto, some four hundred persons will be employed by the baseball club. These jobs include fifty full-time staff members and scouts, a hundred major and minor league players, and 250 part-time stadium, concession, security and maintenance personnel. Blue Jay baseball also means a significant economic impact on Toronto and the surrounding area in terms of the multiplier effect on sales and expenditures by major league baseball in our market.
The Blue Jays alone will register gross receipts in excess of $6 million this season, most of which will be returned to the Toronto economy in purchases and wages. Add to this another $2 million spent by visitors who have come to Toronto to see the Blue Jays play and by the thirteen visiting American League clubs. Also include the $1.2 million capital investment of the Exhibition Stadium concessionnaire, V.S. Services of Toronto, for renovation and equipment.
The net expenditure in the Toronto region from the Blue Jays and major league baseball in 1977 should be about $9.2 million.
Recent studies conducted in the area of baseball and its community benefit reveal that those dollars turn over approximately four times. In the case of the Blue Jays and Toronto, this multiplier effect on the city's economy could approach $40 million. And again, without a trace of smog!
A final benefit of major league baseball in Toronto is the publicity and promotional value the sport brings to the city. Newspapers, radio and television broadcasters throughout North America, indeed the world, will carry the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Blue Jays on a daily basis during a baseball season that begins with spring training in late February and ends in October. And the word "Toronto" will most always precede the words "Blue Jays" in these reports.
In Canada alone, a nationwide television audience of over 2 million viewers will watch the Toronto Blue Jays this coming summer. And a twenty-station radio network is being formed to carry Blue Jay games throughout Ontario and the upper northeast States. In addition, via major league baseball's televised game of the week, it is anticipated that the Toronto club will be featured throughout North America on several occasions this season.
So, we will have many ways to tell the Toronto story through the Blue Jays and major league baseball this summer and in the many baseball seasons ahead.
To tell our story, and tell it well, Toronto needs a baseball club on the field, and a good one at that. But expansion teams are not known for their immediate excellence, probably because the owners of the established clubs, while happy to take our expansion fee (of $7 million) for membership in the lodge, cast off to us their lame and their aged, their "has beens" and "used to bes"--with a few "never weres" mixed in. After all, it would no doubt be a grave embarrassment should the fledgling Toronto Blue Jays beat the New York Yankees for the American League pennant in our very first year.
Very well, we will just have to abide by their wishes and act like fine wine--getting better with age. And for our Blue Jays we started with very young grapes.
Our scouting staff devoted nearly 16,000 man-hours accumulating and sorting data on the best young players the twelve established American League Clubs had to offer. Our commitment was to youth and at the expansion draft meeting in New York on November 5, 1976, we selected the contracts of twenty-five young players and five veterans (for stability), who combined are to carry the Toronto banner into baseball battle this season.
After the draft we confided to our assembled scouts, coaches and manager that in going with the inexperience of youth, we would have to "bite the bullet" for a while. Our field manager, Roy Hartsfield, who had suffered through twenty-sig seasons of directing minor league clubs in places like Panama City, Florida and Albuquerque, New Mexico before getting his first opportunity to manage a major league club in Toronto, drawled his Georgia drawl and suggested, "We didn't bite that bullet, we swallowed the whole darn thing."
One of the keys to on-field success for the Blue Jays this first season will be their manager, Roy Hartsfield. A young club needs a man of experience and maturity as its guide and skipper. Hartsfield is that kind of field leader. At 51, he brings 34 years of baseball experience to his first major league challenge. He was an infielder with the Boston Braves and coached for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. He has a superb record as a minor league manager and led his Hawaii club to Pacific Coast League Championships in 1975 and again last season. His forte is teaching the game of baseball to young players and along with his five-man coaching staff, Roy will put that skill to use with the Blue Jays, starting late this month at the Jays' spring training camp in Dunedin, Florida.
It will be there that the Blue Jays assemble for the first time, with their major league futures ahead of them. It will be an exciting spring for all these players as they battle it out to see who comes north with the twenty-five-man opening day roster. For many of the Blue Jays it will be their first taste of life in the big leagues--charter jets to carry them 30,000 miles around North America on a gruelling 162-game schedule; first class hotel accommodations; an entourage of equipment handlers, trainers, doctors and clubhouse men attending to their every need. Heady stuff indeed for a first time major leaguer.
But the seasons will tumble by quickly and players will come and go. And before we know it, just like the Mets of 1969 and the Kansas City Royals of '76, the Toronto Blue Jays will take their place among the major league pennant winners. But, oh those years in between!
It's about to begin, the countdown has started . . . 63 days left before opening day.
Let's set the stage. It's Thursday, April 7, 1977. A cool breeze whips across Lake Ontario. Exhibition Stadium in Toronto is packed with fans; it has been sold out for weeks. The Toronto Blue Jays are locked in a scoreless tie with the Chicago White Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning. Two men out, a 3-2 count on Blue Jay shortstop Bobby Bailor, who's been hitless all day . . .
. . . Wilbur Wood, the veteran White Sox lefthander looks in for his sign . . . the windup, the pitch . . . swung on . . . it's a long fly ball to deep left center field . . . it's going, going, gone! The Blue Jays win it, 1-0.
Major League baseball has finally come to Toronto, Ontario. Bring on those New York Yankees!
The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. Philip J. Ambrose, Sheriff, County of York and Metro Toronto, and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.