It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, 20 years have gone by since the most famous home run in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Joe Carter stepped to the plate against Mitch Williams in the ninth inning of Game 6, with Toronto down 6-5 and two runners on base. But it was 20 years ago yesterday, October 23, 1993, when Carter launched the fifth pitch he saw over the left field fence to give Toronto the World Series championship. It was 20 years ago yesterday that the Blue Jays became the first team since the ’77/’78 Yankees to repeat as champions. And it was 20 years ago yesterday that Blue Jays fans were on top of the world.
Little did we know that it would all fall apart. Little did we know that we would still be waiting for that feeling to come around again.
I am a Blue Jays lifer. I have been a fan since as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories was watching George Bell sink to his knees after catching the fly ball that clinched Toronto’s first AL East title in 1985. I was six years old.
I, just like thousands of Jays fans, had been put through the ringer by our team, cruelly watching as other teams claimed World Series titles that should have been ours. So many – too many – “close but not close enough” moments. We watched in ’85 as the Jays blew a 3-1 series lead to the Royals, we watched an epic September collapse in ’87, witnessed a demoralizing loss to the Bash Brother A’s in ’89, and saw
a 5-game ALCS loss to an inferior Twins team in ’91.
When Toronto finally won it all in 1992, it was a fantastic feeling, but it felt more like a relief than a celebration, a feeling of vindication that we had finally made it. It wasn’t until Carter crushed his home run that Blue Jays fans truly felt special. I was a 14-year old kid who felt indestructible, just like so many others. After all, we were the champions and we weren’t going anywhere!
Or so it seemed, anyways. Heading into 1994, Toronto looked like a decent bet for a three-peat. WAMCO was returning in full (White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter, Olerud), meaning the offensive core was still 100% intact. Pat Hentgen, Dave Stewart, Todd Stottlemyre, and Juan Guzman – the four starters that faced the Phillies – were also back, along with Al Leiter. On top of that, three promising young players were on the verge – Alex Gonzalez, Shawn Green, and a kid named Carlos Delgado. The future looked bright.
Instead, the Jays slumped to a 55-60 record before a players strike ended the season. They were terrible in 1995, bad in ’96 and ’97, and haven’t been relevant since, finishing higher than third in the East just once, and slipping to dead last four times.
A lot has changed in the past 20 years. The SkyDome is now the Rogers Centre, and is located smack in the middle of a high-rise, condo jungle, instead of an open railway field. The 14-year old version of me, the fan who watched the ’93 series in my parents living room has grown up. I have lived all over the country, in Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto, graduated university, started working full time, bought a house, got married, and am on the verge of becoming a parent myself.
But with all that has changed, the one thing that has stayed the same is the passion I have for my team. I remember the feeling from ’92 and ’93. And, sadly, I have grown all too familiar with the feeling of emptiness that greets me each and every October, as I watch helplessly while somebody else’s team plays for a World Series, and somebody else’s city braces for a celebration.
In the past 20 years we have watched bitter enemies become champions and build dynasties (the Yankees and Red Sox), watched former division rivals turn their fortunes around and taste playoff success (the Tigers and Brewers), and watched formerly inept franchises rise from the ashes (the Pirates, Rays, Orioles, and Nationals). We have seen six different managers take the reins (Tim Johnson, Jim Fregosi, Buck Martinez, Carlos Tosca, John Gibbons, and John Farrell) and even seen Cito come back. We have watched three separate GM’s take a shot at rebuilding, and seen two of them fail. We have seen superstars and potential hall-of-famers (Roger Clemens, Frank Thomas), top-notch homegrown talent (Delgado, Green, Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells), and hundreds of other players come and go.
And yet, as everything changes, everything remains the same.
No playoff baseball. No September excitement.
It’s been a long 20 years.
I’m getting of sick of picking a new team each October.
It’s time to start winning.