We were never Paul Godfrey fans. We always found him to be unctuous and self-aggrandizing, and we felt as though he milked his role as the Jays' President and CEO for as much public profile as possible.
(Pop Quiz: name five other MLB team presidents. No Googling.)
There were plenty of dubious decisions that we could put in a paper bag, set ablaze and rest at his feet. Singing "God Bless America" at the SkyDome. Those awful focus-grouped black uniforms. Inviting the hordes of Red Sox and Tigers fans to buy tickets before they went on sale to the general public. Getting distracted by the possibility of an NFL team in Toronto. Becoming a supplicant to the MLB head office for a measly $5 million per year. Refusing to pay over slot for draft picks when every other team in the division does.
Yeah, it wasn't all good.
And yet, there are at least a few things that Godfrey oversaw that were undeniably good for the Toronto Blue Jays, and that helped move the franchise in the general direction of respectability. To wit:
The Stadium, Part I: Godfrey helped engineer the purchase of the SkyDome by Rogers, a move which has had a significant impact on the team's bottom line. They are no longer forced to pay rent, and have complete control over the stadium, which leads us to...
The Stadium, Part II: Take a second, close your eyes, and envision the state of the SkyDome in 2000. It was drab, with literally tons of exposed grey concrete fascades, pool table felt on the field, and little of the wow factor that the stadium had when it opened. Seriously, the place was turning into a dump. Since then, they've pumped a bit of life into the place, adding auxilliary scoreboards, a new JaysVision board, painted over the grey concrete, added the level of excellence, put FieldTurf down on the playing surface, improved concessions, created a massive JaysShop...the Dome was well on it's way to becoming the next Olympic Stadium, but Godfrey helped salvage it and gave it a new lease on life. It made the Dome/Centre the sort of place where someone would want to spend a summer afternoon which leads us to...
Attendance: After years of slippage, the Jays' attendance has increased every year since 2002. They're not attracting the four million patrons per year that they did in the salad days, but the team's relevance in the marketplace has grown over the past seven seasons, even as the number of professional and semi-pro sports options in the GTA have increased (Raptors, FC, Bills, Rock, Marlies, the multitude of junior hockey teams). The Jays still put more bums into seats than any other franchise in the city, and interest in the team is growing, even as their on-field performance stagnates, which brings us to...
Media Presence and Ratings: It wasn't so long ago that TSN and CBC had essentially abandoned the Jays, leaving Rogers Sportsnet holding the bag with more games than they could reasonably handle. But television ratings have improved to the point where both have come back on board, and all three channels have put more resources into their broadcasts. They are not always artistic successes, but more people are watching the Jays on TV these days, and in an era of disintermediation when the ratings for virtually all sports have taken a hit, that's no small feat.
We've made some assumptions in the previous paragraphs on Paul Godfrey's involvement in the team's day-to-day business. It could be that he locked himself in his office to watch his beard grow all day, and let his minions (such as the now-departed brother of Kevin Elster) take the lead and get all of these positive things done.
Still, when we look at the state of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 and compare it with where they were in 2000 (or more to the point, where they might have gone), we think it's indisputable that they are better off now. And we're at least willing to give Paul Godfrey a bit of credit for that.