For those of us who enjoy numerical symmetry, 9/9/09 seemed like such an auspicious date. But yesterday, the fates of the Jays and their manager seem to have taken a significant turn for the worse.
The point that's going to be reported and discussed everywhere today is the fact that they Jays drew the smallest crowd in the history of the SkyDome/Rogers Centre last night. With lovely weather and Roy Halladay on the mound, the Jays eeked out 11,159 paying spectators last night.
Certainly, there will be people pointing to some of the mitigating factors for the number being so low. Under Paul Godfrey's regime, the attendance numbers were said to be somewhat disingenuous, so it is possible that there have been nights over the past few years where the team has had fewer warm bodies in the stands.
But even with that said, the year over year comparison is a little too stark to write off as merely bookkeeping chicanery. For the first Thursday in September last year, the Jays reported attendance of 25,128 for a game against the same Minnesota Twins. Even factoring in the new manner of eliminating discounts and giveaways, it's hard to conceive of that making up the entirety of the 14,000 tickets not sold.
The attendance for a single game like last night is going to end up being significant talking point from now clear through to next season, and that supposes that there won't be one or two or a dozen nights that end up worse. For those who wish to heap scorn or project the worst for the Blue Jays' fate in Toronto, the perception that will be created out of these record-breaking sparse crowds is going to be something that will stick. It's going to be the enduring image that is left of the Blue Jays in the off-season, and it's going to create the appearance that this is a loser franchise going nowhere.
Rogers has only itself to blame for this. If the notion was that they could mail in a season and look to next year to compete and everything would be rosy, they fundamentally misread the tenuous grasp that they have on the sports fan in Toronto. And while a little bit of effort of a relatively small cash infusion might have been enough to keep hopes on life support through the winter, the neglect shown by Rogers and the front office means that this franchise is going to have to work twice as hard for twice as long to even begin to bring the attendance figures and TV ratings back to where they were midway through this season.
If, as it has been noted elsewhere, Paul Beeston advised against putting money into the payroll this season, then we can only conclude that he has fallen out of touch just like manager Cito Gaston. The Jays are no longer a marquee franchise in the city, and tickets to Jays games are not coveted all around the GTA. The Jays are no longer the focus of a single all-sports network across Canada, and they are no longer the only Canadian franchise in an otherwise American sports league.
Our grandmother always use to say that "a stitch in time saves nine." After the 9/9/09 debacle, the Jays are going to be sewing furiously to keep things from falling apart for years to come.
Other tipping points
With last night's loss to the Twins, Cito Gaston's record in his return to the Jays' manager position slipped a game below .500, to 103-104. And it bears mentioning, a game worse than John Gibbons in his tenure with the Jays.
If there's anyone out there who still sees the ghost of a magician when they look at Cito, we're hoping that this moment sets them straight.