Tuesday night was Opening Night for the Toronto Blue Jays. They had pomp. They had circumstance. There was a lengthy on-field ceremony before the game. I know six things about Canada, and three of them were prominently featured: an enormous Canadian flag, "O' Canada" and Geddy Lee. If members of Kids in the Hall had run onto the field covered in maple syrup, that would have made me nod, like, yeah, there it is.
The excitement was palpable. The stadium was buzzing. And it took a pre-game ovation for Melky Cabrera to make me realize that the crowd was going nuts for players they had never cheered before. This was a celebration of the offseason, one of those rare winters in which a downtrodden team stole the headlines and became relevant again. Look at this amazing interactive preview of R.A. Dickey's start. The Orange County Register probably isn't going to have one for Joe Blanton.
And with all that buzz and glitz and mean, mean strides, the Blue Jays gave up passed balls and runs and passed balls, and they lost. Which means nothing. But it's a reminder that all of the excitement built up over the offseason doesn't shoot all over the place at once like it's a jimmied-with fire hydrant on a hot day. It seems like there should be a momentous event to celebrate all these guys finally getting on the same field, but it's going to be a slow burn over a long season.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the previous iterations of the bad-team-making-a-splash brigade. There's the ugly, the hilarious, the ineffective and the successful, which is also the name of the worst Sergio Leone movie ever produced. Here are those teams:
Ugly - 2012 Marlins
Quite clearly the gold standard, possibly for the next decade or four. There was the cover of Sports Illustrated, a new stadium and all sorts of buzz. They were a popular pick in preseason polls, and for good reason. It's easy to forget just how terrifying they were at the Winter Meetings that year. Marlins comin' for your free agent. Lock yer doors. Board the windows.
I also don't know if we've paid enough attention to the obvious question: If the Marlins were exciting because of their offseason moves, but they ended up being a total bust, shouldn't we temper the excitement a bit when another team acquires 16 percent of the Marlins' roster? It was the good 16 percent, for the most part, but still …
Hilarious - 2000 Rays
Oh, man. Before the 2000 season, the Rays acquired Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla on the same day, and they were going to combine with Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff to hit a billion homers. They went to the middle-of-the-order drive-thru and got a Happy Meal made out of sluggers, slugger bits and reconstituted slugger slurry. People were impressed:
The Devil Rays could also become the first AL team--not even the Murderers' Row team of Ruth and Gehrig did it--to have four players hit 30 or more in a season, joining seven National League teams.
They could have! They also could have set a record for three-pointers made if they played basketball! Alas, they couldn't do either. That didn't stop people from patiently waiting for things to happen:
Rays now the team to watch
This could be a dynamic week in Devil Rays medical history. Hit Show investments Jose Canseco, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla are expected ASAP from the DL.
The Hit Show! Wait, there's a typo. I think that "s" got transp ... hold on, gimme a second ...
"Our chemistry stays every bit as good with added talent," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "You look at the Vinny Castillas and Greg Vaughns of the world. It elevates us abilitywise. Their (personal) makeup is off the charts."
/buys personal-seat license
My favorite part: That article was written on June 27. The Rays were 31-43. But the hopes of a busy offseason aren't an easy thing to kill.
Jogging in place - 2007 Giants
No team committed more money in the offseason following the 2006 season than the Giants did. They signed Barry Zito to a seven-year deal, Dave Roberts to a three-year deal and Bengie Molina to a three-year deal. They were under .500 for the second season in a row -- the first time that had happened since '95/'96 -- and they need to make something happen.
Now, lest you think I'm comparing them to the Blue Jays, it should be pointed out that none of the Giants' players were especially good. Zito was already on an FIP escalator to hell, and the other two didn't have exciting primes to move past. But I needed a jogging-in-place team, and the Giants will do fine. They won 76 games before the big moves. They won 71 games after the big moves.
The successful - 1997 Marlins
Everyone remembers the Marlins as chronic sellers, or they think the 2012 frenzy was an aberration. But in the '96/'97 offseason, the Marlins were busy. They signed Bobby Bonilla to a substantial deal for their first move, signed Alex Fernandez away from the White Sox, signed Moises Alou and traded young players for Cliff Floyd. This came after an offseason with big Kevin Brown and Al Leiter signings, and expectations were high.
They ended up winning the World Series, of course, moving from just under .500 to 92 wins and a Wild Card berth. Here's one thing you might not remember, though: They drew well. In a concrete Jello mold of a football stadium, the Marlins would regularly draw 30,000 to 40,000 for weekend games. Here's an August game against the Pirates that with 40,000 fans in attendance.
And then they built on that momentum in the best way possible. They actually won a World Series. At home. In a Game 7. On a walk-off hit in extra innings. If there were a template on how to build up excitement in a new baseball town, that's it.
I, for one, am never going to Blockbuster again. There's … oh, you're boycotting, too? Wow, and the rest of America? Forever and ever? Gee, we can really make things happen, guys.
The odds are always good that a big offseason is just going to result in a jogging-in-place team. The team was probably bad for a reason before the offseason spree, and there's only so much a team can polish in a single offseason. But I'm still bullish on the Jays, and they're likely closer to the '97 Marlins than the '12 Marlins, even if things didn't work out on Opening Night. But there are a lot of different ways this thing can go, and the first game of the season was a gentle reminder that we're going to have to wait months to figure it all out.