On April 7th, 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays played their first ever game. It was a snowy Thursday afternoon that would launch the franchise and its fans into an unknown MLB future where great moments soon awaited. The day was an exercise in fine Canadian couture. Anne Murray sang the national anthem. The snow-covered field had to be squeegeed clear, Zamboni-style. And the fans wore parkas, toques, and scarves. The only thing missing, thanks to government regulation, was the beer. But beer would soon find its way into the ballpark, arriving in July of ’82 at a cost of $1.75 per drink, which was considered expensive at the time. Fans weren’t too happy at the cost they would have to pay for their barley and hops, and we still aren’t today.
The Blue Jays, of course, weren’t Canada’s team just yet, as that title had belonged to the Montreal Expos since 1969. However, on that picturesque Canadian day in April of 1977, a new franchise was born in Canada, and the good birds of summer would soon catch the ‘drive of ‘85’, and the rest is all history.
Peter Bavasi was the first GM in Blue Jays history, responsible for putting that expansion team together, and then the duties were passed on to the great Pat Gillick, whose tenure from 1977 to 1994 shaped rosters that would compete year-after-year from 1985 to 1993. Gord Ash took over for Gillick in 1994 and was followed by the much-maligned J.P. Ricciardi. In 2009, Alex Anthopoulos (still lionized by many fans) took the reins, leading the team through a series of bold trades and pickups back to the promised land of the playoffs in 2015.
Anthopoulos created a roster in late July of 2015 that reignited a love for the Toronto Blue Jays across our great nation. That season undoubtedly gave rise to a whole new generation of fans — many of whom seemed to quickly forget all the acrimony between fans and front office that came before it.
When Ross Atkins took over from interim GM Tony LaCava to become the 7th General Manager in Blue Jays history, fans across the nation were quick to react, often criticizing Mark Shapiro for hiring one of his “Cleveland cronies.”
In the beginning, many refused to welcome the new front office that was taking shape in Toronto. Those who did their due diligence, and read what they were writing in Cleveland about Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins at the time, they may have come to realize that these two executives are highly respected throughout the industry and had key roles in turning the Cleveland franchise into the perennial contender that it is today.
Ross Atkins took over a position that was held by the first GM to bring playoff baseball back to Canada since 1993, and I’m sure that when deciding to take the job, he knew that it would take time to gain the trust of Blue Jays fans. That seemed to have been the case, even after Shapiro and Atkins added significant pieces that would help bring playoff baseball back to Toronto for the second consecutive year in 2016.
The truth is that if things didn’t go as sideways as they did last year, the team very well could’ve been back in that Wild Card game, or at least gotten a whole lot closer to it.
Ross Atkins was a player before becoming an executive, spending 5-seasons in Cleveland’s minor league system as a pitcher. I don’t think that Atkins could have ever known where baseball would lead him today, but it has brought him here to Toronto, and he is now playing a vital part in guiding this franchise into the future with the hope of one day bringing a World Series championship back to Toronto.
I recently had the cool opportunity to interview Ross Atkins, who was kind enough to do this with me, so I decided to break the interview into three sections: The Past, The Present, and The Future.
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