For decades, sports teams have been directly tied to a city’s identity. Like it or not, for better or worse, the success and failure of sports teams has a direct and indirect impact on the morale of a city.
Which is why anybody reading this who lives in Toronto undoubtedly understands that this is a difficult time for our city. To put it mildly, our sports franchises aren’t very good. To be more direct – they suck.
To see how bad the city has been recently, I did a little study. I took every city that has a franchise in each of the four major sports, and tallied how many championship titles, league final appearances, and playoff appearances each team in that city has made in the past 20 years.
Though it is a stretch to include Toronto in this study because they don’t have an NFL team, they do have the Argos, which does constitute a professional football franchise.
Other than our fair city, there are 13 other markets that hit each of the four major sports:
– New York: Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, Giants, Jets
– Anaheim / Los Angeles: Angels, Dodgers, Ducks, Kings, Lakers, Clippers, Rams, Raiders
– Boston / New England: Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Patriots
– Chicago: Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, Bears
– Detroit: Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons, Lions
– Philadelphia: Phillies, Flyers, 76ers, Eagles
– Dallas / Arlington: Rangers, Stars, Mavericks, Cowboys
– Atlanta: Braves, Thrashers, Hawks, Falcons
– Denver / Colorado: Rockies, Avalanche, Nuggets, Broncos
– Phoenix / Arizona: Diamondbacks, Coyotes, Suns, Cardinals
– Minnesota: Twins, Wild, North Stars, Timberwolves, Vikings
– Miami / Florida: Marlins, Panthers, Heat, Dolphins
– Washington: Nationals, Capitals, Wizards, Redskins
Note that I have included every team that played in the city during the past 20 years. The Rams and Raiders each played 5 seasons in LA in the early 90’s, and the North Stars didn’t leave for Dallas until the end of the 1993 campaign.
In terms of Championship titles, the most successful cities in the past 20 years are New York and Chicago, each with eight winning teams. New York enjoyed five World Series crowns by the Yankees, a win by the Rangers in 1994, and two Superbowl victories by the Giants. Chicago had the White Sox bring home the World Series in 2005, the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, and six NBA crowns won by the Bulls.
The Los Angeles market was third with seven championships (the Angels in 2002, the Ducks in 2007, and the Lakers in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, and 2010).
In terms of teams making the finals of their respective leagues, the top three remained the same: New York (14 times), LA/Anaheim (12), and Chicago (10). In terms of teams that made the playoffs, again New York leads with 61 appearances, followed by LA/Anaheim (52), and Boston (46).
But those numbers should be obvious. Of course New York, LA, and Chicago should lead each category – they have multiple teams in multiple sports. Minnesota has four franchises, and had a gap without an NHL team. Phoenix didn’t get the Coyotes or the Diamondbacks until the mid-to-late 90’s. Just by sheer numbers, those two markets are at a huge disadvantage.
So how do you compare markets then? I decided to convert each number (Championship titles, final appearances, and playoff spots) into a percentage of total seasons played in that city. For example, in the past 20 years, professional teams in the city of New York have combined to play 136 seasons: 19 each for the Yankees and Mets (one less than 20 due to the 1994 strike), 19 each for the Rangers and Islanders (one less than 20 due to the 2005 lockout), and 20 each for the Jets, Giants, and Knicks.
Likewise, the teams in the Los Angeles/Anaheim market combined for 123 seasons: 20 each for the Lakers and Clippers, 19 each for the Angels, Dodgers, and Kings, 16 for the Ducks, and 5 each for the Rams and Raiders before they relocated to St. Louis and Oakland respectively.
On the lower end of the scale is Washington, with only 65 seasons (Capitals (19), Wizards/Bullets (20), Redskins (20), Nationals (6)).
On a percentage basis, here are how the 14 markets match up over the past 20 years:
In terms of playoff appearances, there is little surprise that Boston is in top spot, not with how well the Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox have performed. Detroit is in second, largely because the Red Wings made the playoffs in all 19 seasons covered by the study. The resurgence of the Flyers and Phillies have Philadelphia in third.
But we don’t care about that. We care about the city of Toronto, our city. Toronto ranks 10th on the list in playoff appearances, making the postseason 42.5% of the time. In terms of championship teams, Toronto has won titles in 8.2% of our competitive seaons over the past 20 years, tied for first with Chicago.
If that seems high, well, it’s because it is. I have included the Argonauts in those totals. Though I love the CFL and think it is an incredibly competitive league, it is impossible to hide the fact that it has only eight teams, compared to the 32 in the NFL. In the past 20 years the Argos have won four Grey Cups and have 13 playoff apperances, but including those in this study is like comparing apples to oranges.
So remove the Argos from Toronto’s totals, and the numbers look grim:
– 53 seasons played (19 for the Jays and Leafs, 15 for the Raptors)
– 2 Championships (Jays in ’92 and ’93)
– 18 playoff appearances
The percentages dip to a weak 3.8% / 3.8% / 34.0% – or dead last in terms of playoff appearances.
That’s right, dead last. The Redskins are dysfunctional, the Capitals were awful for many years, the Nationals are a last place team, and the Wizards are a mess, but the city of Washington has made the playoffs more often than the city of Toronto. Sad. Humiliating.
Even worse is that our city has zero championships since 1993. In the past 10 years our major professional teams have a combined eight playoff appearances, five series victories, and zero trips to a league final. Very, very humbling.
Sadly, the news gets worse. After a home court drubbing last night, the Raptors now sit at 10 – 19 in 11th place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Though they (somehow) are only two games out of a playoff spot, does anybody truly believe they’ll make it? The Leafs are just as hopeless as they’ve been for the past few years, sitting a woeful 28th overall in the NHL standings and getting pelted with waffles on a daily basis.
Which brings me back to my original premise of this post. Will the Blue Jays be the team to pull Toronto out of sporting hell?
In 2011, the answer will likely be no. With only four playoff spots in the American League, and with the bold offseason acquisitions of Boston, Detroit, and Chicago, the Jays appear to be longshots.
But wasn’t that the point all along? AA was always preparing for a run in 2012. If all goes according to plan, the core of the team (Romero, Cecil, Morrow, Drabek, Snider, Lind, Hill) will be seasoned, improved, and ready to rock in two years. Sure the Red Sox will still be superb, but the average age of the Yankees will be somewhere close to a senior discount. They will be vulnerable. Plus, baseball will likely have one additional wild card spot, making it a little bit easier to qualify.
And that sliver of hope might be all the Blue Jays need.
So as bleak as things look right now, as far away as October baseball seems to be, fans in this city should get behind the Jays.
They are closer than the Raptors.
They are closer than the Leafs.
They just might be the team that brings the party back to Yonge Street.