April 20, 2011
Toronto's three kings state their case
By Sports Network
TORONTO -- Looking at Toronto's three major sports franchises - the Blue Jays, Raptors and Maple Leafs - it's easy to draw similarities.
Each is constructed of a relatively young core, each has failed to make the playoffs in the last few years and each is headed by a rather strong personality.
For the men who oversee the three largest sports organizations in the city of Toronto - Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston, Raptors President &�General Manager Bryan Colangelo and Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke - being in charge of a major sports franchise is no easy task. It takes dedication, discipline, patience, and above all else, thick skin.
In a presidential summit on popular radio host Bob McCowan's show on The Fan 590 this week, the three men sat down to speak about their positions - the similarities, the differences and the difficulties that come with the job.
"We got to follow through with what we said we were going to do," said Beeston. "We got to have patience. We got to have courage.
"We got to have an owner who understands and is very supportive."
Of the three, Beeston has seen the most success in his tenure in Toronto. It was behind his watchful eye that the team claimed back-to-back World Series titles in the early 90's and though the success pretty much stops there, it can't be forgotten. It's the only championship this city has seen from one of the big four leagues since way back in 1967.
That title was won by none other than the city's beloved Maple Leafs, and every season since has been a trying one for the Blue & White. With anything less than a Stanley Cup parade cruising down Yonge Street seen as a disappointment, it makes it quite clear which of the three men's job is most demanding.
"I think Brian Burke has the toughest job, because the power of the brand of the Maple Leafs," said Colangelo. "It's clear the pressure coming from different places - pressure on the players, pressure on management, and pressure on ownership - all the time."
It was a notion that Burke himself felt followed him everywhere in the city.
"It means tough days when you're walking up the hill and it's raining on your face. There (are) five million people in the GTA and every one of them thinks they know more about running this team than I do."
Regardless of the heavy heat he has to deal with, luring players to come to Toronto to play for one of the NHL's most historic franchises takes less effort for the Leafs GM than his counterparts have in drawing free agents to Hogtown.
It's a situation Colangelo knows all too well. Just last summer, the Raptors GM could only watch the departure of his franchise's best player, Chris Bosh, who opted for the sunny beaches of Miami, and got next to nothing in return.
"I think the perception is the biggest challenge," said Colangelo. "There (are) challenges that are insurmountable...especially with the demographic of our business and the makeup of our league. You bring a kid out of the South he might not be comfortable in a foreign country and arguably there are some things that are different here."
Similarly, in their infancy the Blue Jays also had trouble luring big names to come to Toronto, but in time as the club's fortunes began to change so did the influx of prospective free agents.
"I think as we got good then there was no problem getting players up here. We had the advantage of having teams that were going for the championship," said Beeston.
Though the nature of business may differ for each president due to the financial constraints placed by their respective leagues-salary caps in the NBA and NHL - their roles remain equally challenging; trying to make a winner in a city so starved for one.
Each organization is guilty of subpar performances in recent years.
Though a change in management to bring in GM Alex Anthopoulos has seen a positive turnaround, the Jays have seen little success since claiming their last title in 1993, with only eight seasons posting a record over .500 in the past 18 years and not a single appearance in October baseball.
When Burke was hired in 2008, it was to right the ship of a franchise squandering in obscurity following the 2004-05 lockout. Still waiting to return to the holy grail of hockey, it's been seven years since the last time the Maple Leafs reached the Stanley Cup playoffs
Following an abysmal start to the post-Vince Carter era, it was Colangelo who resurrected the franchise and returned it to the post-season after a five-year absence. After two straight first round playoff exits, the Raps have failed to play meaningful April basketball in three consecutive seasons.
"It's a tough business that we're in, whatever the sport, whatever the dynamic, there's a lot of pressure," said Colangelo.
That very pressure is something few fans consider when they venomously criticize management.
"This isn't a thing that just starts at seven or eight o'clock in the morning till five o'clock at night, this is 24 hours a day and with the exception of perhaps Christmas, it's 364 days a year," said Colangelo.
In spite of their detractors, what keeps these men motivated are their proud supporters.
With Leafs Nation practically engulfed much of the Golden Horseshoe, each of the three franchises has a fan base that spreads much further than the reach of the city limits so there can be no claims of lack of support to explain their woes.
These three presidents will be judged on their merit and if recent years are the sample the verdict isn't looking favorable.
Until the three kings of Toronto pro sports can revive a winning culture, the peasants will be calling for their head.