Marketing firms are licking their chops at the possibilities that lay ahead for Toronto Maple Leaf, rookie sensation Auston Matthews, and the sports card industry is no exception. Comments from dealers speaking about the impact Matthews is expected to have, projecting that his rookie card should settle around $150. The card featuring him wearing the North American, World Cup sweater was the highlight card but I recently saw one with a Leaf uniform.
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The ancestor of the trading card is that in the late 1800’s they were inserted into cigarette packs to protect the product from bending. Kids would wait out the front of stores asking customers for the cards found inside the cigarette packages. They contained information or advertising about the tobacco company and around the turn of the century contained a variety of topics from nature to sports. By 1900 there were thousands of tobacco sets manufactured by 300 individual companies.

Cards in the past were made of paperboard or thick paper while today they come in every form including digital.

Here’s why there is such a difference in collecting. The kids in schoolyards played with the cards; they were placed in bike spokes, stuffed in pockets, wrapped in elastic bands or stored in shoeboxes. The old story of mom clearing out the closets or basements usually meant most of the cards ended up in the garbage. But it was a result of this that tightened the market for cards with less in circulation.

However, with the popularity of cards increasing dramatically in the 1980’s, the demand for product exploded. The card manufacturers flooded the markets with regular card sets but always looking for an edge (greed) added subsets, special cards, signed cards, gold, platinum labeled cards and one group cut up a Babe Ruth Bat to insert pieces in the packs. Some moron did the same here in Canada with George Vezina’s pads. Really? How do you prove they aren’t a $10 pair bought at Play Again Sports? Regardless all these promo type collectables are for the most part worthless.
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At the height of the craze in 1990, Upper Deck became the card of choice because they started manufacturing cards made of a plastic like, non-bendable material in sealed packs that were laser cut, so never an issue with condition and centering. Previously the cardboard images were hand cut off sheets of players and placed in wax packages with a stick of gum. The wax packs could be tampered with and the gum could stain the cards. Unscrupulous dealers or collectors could open wax packs searching out the key cards and replacing them with lesser-valued cards, then reseal the wax pack with a drop of glue. Upper Deck’s revolutionary product ended all that, but also ruined the innocence of the hobby because collectors could make a few sets with a box of packs (usually 36 per) and have trader’s left over. Great but where was the excitement of building a set?

From the beginning of the 1995 baseball season through the 1995-96 NBA season, seven trading-card manufacturers issued 105 different sets of sports cards. Fleer alone printed nearly 2 billion cards a year during the boom times.

With the new age way to collect also came a price and no longer could packs be priced at 25 cents or less, because the cost to produce the new product wasn’t just cut off a cardboard pressed sheet anymore. As a result the collector must protect the new treasure and instead of placing a card between a couple of bike spokes or tossed against a wall, the new found treasure was handled like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and placed strategically in a plastic card holder. If it is a real hot card the enclosure case was impenetrable enough to with stand a rifle shot.

I’ll give you a good example of card collecting and its market affect. Jaromir Jagr with over 700 goals, 1,000 assists, is a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players of all time. His 1990 rookie card (Upper Deck draft) was one of the hottest in the hobby and traded in the range of $25 to $40 at the peak. He had seven rookie cards that year. Today those cards can be purchased for less than a dollar and the top card maybe a couple bucks. Sergei Fedorov was the same year as Jagr, became a star with the Detroit Red Wings and his rookie card value shot through the roof. Today most of his cards can be had for pennies and the top card maybe a couple bucks. Remember, he scored 483 goals, 696 assists, won 3 Cups, a Hart Trophy, Selke Award and six-time all-star to mention a few of his accomplishments. Mario Lemieux one of the top 10 players in the history of the game; his rookie card can be purchased for a few hundred dollars depending on condition but even then well below a thousand dollars. How about you Jay’s fans? Remember Roberto Alomar’s rookie card turning Toronto collectors upside down? That $100 card of the Blue Jay Hall of Famer can be owned for well less than $20 and the Donruss version, a buck. Juan Guzman was the flame-throwing star of the 1992-93 Jays with an 11-0 start. His Rookie card topped at $35-$40 and today can purchased for less than the cost of a gummy twist at a variety store.
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The point of this exercise is to caution collectors to not become investors when purchasing cards of today’s up and coming stars. Hopeful stars like Mcdavid, Eichel, Matthews and Marner may have Hall of Fame careers (we certainly hope two of those four examples do) but all the card companies are betting they will as well and will flood the market with product centered on these kids. There is a term in the investment business after news is released and a stock doesn’t move. The news was “priced into the stock” as the saying goes, meaning the market anticipated good news and bought the stock in front of it. That’s what we have with the card industry since the greed of manufacturers in the late 1980’s. Remember the cost of that pack of cards you purchase today is also factoring in you may pull a “hot” card from the pack,’ thus the price of the pack is inflated and “priced in” before you’ve opened it.

Still not convinced? Having spent forty years of my life in the investment business I liken the card craze to the affection for diamonds years ago. While diamonds make wonderful gifts, the chance of your diamond purchase increasing in value is very slim. Diamonds may be lost but they are never destroyed, therefore every diamond produced may still exist. Now they may end up in estate sales, pawnshops or auctions but with a new setting, a cleaning, they’re good as new. Since the card explosion of the 1980’s any collector protected all the cards of significance. It’s the old supply and demand scenario and in this case all those cards I’ve mentioned are extremely plentiful. Even the greatest player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, his card is still very affordable and very easily accessible.

Before you start shelling out hundreds of dollars for rookie cards of Auston Matthews and company, remember they are printing plenty of them. Never believe this “limited” nonsense because they are limited to as many as can be sold, besides has anyone ever counted them all? Of course not.

I’m contacted weekly from collectors asking the value of the cards they’ve meticulously protected all these years only to break their hearts informing them they are probably out money in most instances. I suggest they sit their family members down and talk about the great players in the collection and recount stories about why they were the favoured players. That’s what they were originally intended for; to enjoy.

A group doing a documentary on the trading card industry contacted me recently claiming that in the height of the craze 25 years ago; some of the card companies were releasing older cards into the hobby to keep the excitement high.

In 1933 Goudey released a 240-card set but only 239 were made available with card number 106 held back as a marketing ploy to keep kids buying packs of cards. The card number 106 featuring the retired Napoleon Lajoie was issued the following year and today like the Honus Wagner, is a very desirable card.

No one knows how many cards are printed every run including the Honus Wagner card. How do these dealers know someone doesn’t have cards that have never come out of a shoebox or trunk in Grandpas closet?

The other piece of information to check is the hobby price guides. Now I have always frowned on these self-serving publications but look at the size of the cards priced pre 1980 vs. after. The cards priced in the early years could be printed in the size of a small comic book whereas the list of available cards after is the size of an encyclopedia. That should be enough of a cautionary note alone that the cards are not rare.

Finally I’ll leave you with this thought. If you are collecting Auston Matthews’s cards because you are a fan, then purchase packs and keep your fingers crossed. If you are of the mindset that there is money to be made, then buy boxes of the cards and be an immediate seller. Believe me when I tell you the most money made on Bay St and Wall St is by being a good seller. It is certainly no different in this case.


Upcoming Event

Hockey Card Collecting
with Mike Wilson, the Ultimate Leafs Fan
L&A County Museum & Archives, 97 Thomas Street East, Napanee
December 3rd, 10 am
Admission: FREE
It’s all in the cards! On December 3rd, learn about hockey card collecting with the ultimate Leafs fan, Mike Wilson…


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Now Available

INSIDE THE ROOM WITH THE ULTIMATE LEAFS FAN

Mike Wilson with Lance Hornby & Paul Patskou

Buy from…
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https://www.amazon.ca/Inside-Room-Ultimate-Leafs-Centennial/dp/1550824406/

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banner-cupAbout a year ago I received an email from Wayne Parsons who went on to say how much he admired our collection and the blogs. He also commented that he was quite a fan himself and had some items we might have some interested in. This has become a regular occurrence from other Leaf fans or collectors so at first I didn’t give it much thought except to thank him for his kind words. Wayne explained that his father was a longtime Gardens employee who acquired a number of items over the years and that there were some he knew we wouldn’t have. He went on to describe a number of items and then mentioned he had an original Stanley Cup Banner. Well as folklore goes, they had been used as paint tarps during summer cleanups at the Gardens and had been sadly all destroyed. (Cliff Fletcher had hung replicas to relive Leaf history during his tenure as COO, President and GM of the club. ) My immediate thought was, this was one of those and wasn’t that historic. Was I in for a surprise.

Norm Parsons (Wayne’s father) worked at Maple Leaf Gardens for 41 years as the upholsterer who happened to get along with Harold Ballard quite well. Norm arrived at work one summer morning during the summer clean up that included painting throughout the Gardens when he discovered the banners were missing from his 3rd floor shop. To his dismay he noticed that they were strewn over the seats used as tarps to protect paint from splashing. Furious, he then headed back to the shop and discovered one of the banners had been left behind were at that moment, Norm wrapped it up, stuffing it into a cupboard before it too was ruined. When Norm later informed Ballard what happened, not surprising, Harold couldn’t have cared less. Parsons mentioned he saved one of the banners and wondered what to do with it. Ballard said to throw it out because it wasn’t of any use and as he has done over the years with other items being thrown out Norm, asked if he might have the banner for himself. True to form Ballard blurted out an obscenity filled response okaying the request. Norm wrapped the banner up, took it home and presented it to Wayne who has held on to it ever since.

Wayne has made it clear he wanted the banner in a place it would be appreciated and preserved. We are not just collectors but rather consider our collection and purpose as preservers of Maple Leaf historic artifacts, so you can imagine my excitement when Wayne offered the banner to me. It’s all about the story and this 1962 banner is filled with all kinds of intrigue.

Process is a set of interrelated activities that interact to achieve a result. Process philosophy which regards change as the cornerstone of reality or praxis by which a theory or skill is enacted or realized, certainly seem straightforward enough and clearly fit the mandate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Upon further examination of the process the Leafs have under way, change has taken place with a number of financially burdening contacts dealt with or eliminated. The Praxis or theory has been laid out; first by Brendan Shanahan gaining the confidence of ownership, transitioning into Mike Babcock’s (with the help of Lou Lamoriello) playbook, that hopefuls with aspirations to wear the Leaf crest must strictly adhere too or they will be moved elsewhere. This thesis is irrevocable and it’s about the name on the front of the sweater not the nameplate across the shoulders.

Friday May 24th the Leafs took a step closer in the process with the selection of blue chip prospect Auston Matthews as the overall number one pick in the 2016 NHL draft. The previous year the Maple Leafs chose skill over brawn that consisted of a smaller group of players. This year Leaf management offset those selections with much bigger players with the mindset to surround the skilled group with some size.

The emergence and development of theses smaller skilled players was evident during the later stages of the NHL season. A number of them auditioned with the parent club, leaving management, coaches and fans beaming with delight. Thus the Leafs went off the grid with eight of their last selections focusing on players with a more aggressive and effective game.

The Chicago Blackhawks have a blueprint most franchises envy built through the draft, setting a foundation of youth, experience and depth that will ensure them a competitive team for a number of years. Sounds like the perfect model? Did you know that cornerstone defenseman Duncan Keith was a second round pick in 2002? Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford in 2003? Jonathan Toews 2006? Patrick Kane 2007? They won in 2010.

It takes time and that is the crucial component for not only the Leafs but for any success in the world of sports we have come to understand today. So why is that? Well the players are bigger, stronger, faster and better conditioned which all sounds great but what if a player can’t compete at the highest level? Anyone believe Phil Kessel is in great condition or any stronger than the next guy? If you didn’t know him, sitting in his underwear in a dressing room, would you differentiate him from Joe Beer-hack, playing for Buds Esso in the Art Thompson men’s league in Pickering Ontario?

Anomalies and the intangibles are left in the hands of the hockey gods better known as luck. You really think Detroit knew what they were getting in Datsyuk taken 171st in 1998 or Zetterberg 210th, the following year?

Maple Leaf management did not succumb to the “white noise” or frustrations that broke previous regimes when things became bleak. Instead, stayed with the plan laid out very clearly to fans that a winning 2015-16 season and maybe a few more to follow would be non-existent. It was part of the painful process we all must endear to enjoy the fruits of long-term success. The foundation to build a championship franchise can only be accomplished through the draft. Period!

Any Championship team is strong in goal, has an all-star defenseman and center. You may get lucky on a goalie through trade but the other two players are just not available unless acquired through the draft, simply because every team covets them.

The toughest parts for everyone from management to the fans is to stay grounded during the process, ignoring any short-term successes that may come as a result of the change. The easiest thing to do is to say yes. Just look recently how the media and fans started buzzing because Mathews wasn’t signed at the time? Did any smart hockey person really think the Leafs wouldn’t sign him? What people didn’t understand about the entry-level contract was it is incentive laden with goals that should be reached by a player of Mathews stature. Connor McDavid in a shortened season reached his easily and collected almost $4 million as a result. The process consists of the players understanding that personal goals are secondary; the only thing that matters is the name on the front of the sweater.

Think of Mathews being given six to seven digit codes to unlock the Leaf vault. How does he get to the seventh digit? Deliver! He is ranked a snick below McDavid and just slightly ahead of Eichel so it’s all up to him.

The Blue Jays are always a good example for comparison with the Leafs and they face a dilemma themselves this off-season with Encarnacion and Bautista both free agents. As I have stated in the past, the easy thing to do is to say yes and just sign them. That keeps everyone happy but does it work? Remember when both those players arrived about six years ago? They weren’t very good and looked like guys just filling spots on the roster and as a matter of fact they almost released Edwin. Who’s to say Saunders and Smoak aren’t the new Edwin and Jose? Offer both players what you think is fair but on your terms. That’s how you win long term and I hope the Leafs are paying attention, I think they are.

Steven Stamkos the most coveted free agent in many years opted to stay with Tampa for less money. Recall how GM Steve Yzerman balked at paying him after his entry-level contract expired and the owner had to step in and adjust the figures. Yzerman stuck to his guns this time around and Stamkos is still a Lightening. Tampa has kept its core players and is a favourite to compete for the Cup.

Nothing in the world comes without a price and not a bigger price to pay than in sports. The Leafs appear on track to building a team the proper way and piecing a team together can bring short-term happiness but won’t result in longevity or championships. The Leafs have built up a war chest of prospects but at this point in time that’s all they are. The 15 or 20 they have stockpiled including this years selections will be considered a huge success if four work out. That’s roughly 20-25% of your picks you hope give you a chance; those are casino like odds, thus why you cant move away from the plan and continue to develop to the point of overdevelopment at the minor levels for sustained success with the big team.

To be a Champion today, remember it takes strong non-interfering management, respected coaching; a lot of luck and this is were we the fans come in; as Axl Rose sings, “Just A Little Patience.”

Those of you, who know Deb and I, are aware we work with CAN fund (Canadian Athletes Now Fund) in support of our Canadian Olympic Athletes. We have hosted four events and through the generosity of our friends and supporters, raised enough money to help close to 40 athletes, who use the money to live, eat and train. Every person who attends one of our events knows the recipient of monetary assistance from CAN fund. There’s nothing more exhilarating than watching an athlete you and friends have helped; win a medal for Canada. It’s truly inspiring and motivational. And even better, everyone feels a part of it in their own small way.

The lack of funding is altogether another issue I will expound about at later date. The blog today is a celebration or a “feel-good” moment for all who have supported our athletes and us.

Rosie Maclennan was elected to be the flag bearer for the Rio Olympics and will lead our 313 athletes into the opening ceremonies in a few weeks. Rosie has a special place in our hearts because she was the reason we got involved with CANfund in the first place. Her father (John) was a friend of mine and over a celebration drink after Rosie’s 2012 Gold Medal victory in London, I learned of the hardships and lack of funding our athletes endure. I went home that night and said to Deb, we have to raise some money to help Rosie defend her title in Rio.

We decided to host an event at our place with CAN fund and during the initial meeting as we walked around with Rosie strategizing a plan for the event in her honour, she turned to Deb and I, “Deb, Mike you have no idea how much I appreciate what you are planning to do for me, but I know of fellow athletes going to Sochi (2014) and they really need help, would you mind if I shared the money with some of them?”

Deb and I looked at each other in utter amazement at the selfless gesture of this at the time 23-year- old elite athlete. The more familiar we became with the athletes, that refreshing attitude was prevalent in all of them. But it was Rosie who set the bar, always willing to lend a hand or support for anything we have done since the first event and so has every athlete we have come in contact with as well.

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I have always said that we are given far too much credit for what we do, because without the wonderful support we receive, there would be no funding for our athletes. We are just the hosts.

Jane Roos and her ex-Olympian husband Conrad Leinemann who started CAN fund are the real heroes, having raised $22 million over the last 10 years. Their endless energy and “never quit” attitude exemplifies that Canadian mantra to a “T” and after yesterdays announcement they must be just glowing with happiness for Rosie whom they have helped over the years. Take a bow Jane and Conrad you deserve it.

Let’s of course not forget our marvelous Canadian Athletes who represent us on the world stage with such class, dignity and honour. They just want to make us proud.

I must admit selfishly welling up with emotion at our very small role, watching the ceremony yesterday announcing Rosie as the flag-bearer. Deb and I looked at each other and didn’t have to say a word because we were both feeling that same sense of Canadians should be extremely proud of this young lady leading our athletes into the games because not only is she an elite athlete but also more importantly represents everything right about sports. And what could be more Canadian than that.

Go Canada!

On April 10, 1953, Toronto Maple Leaf defenseman Tim Horton, addressed a letter to Mrs. McDonald the assistant (secretary in those days) to Conn Smythe owner of the hockey club. The letter was a reply regarding an appointment Horton was trying to arrange with Smythe asking if he could assist him and his wife Lori with the purchase of their first home in Toronto. Horton had just completed his first season with the Leafs after a few years in Pittsburgh, the home of Toronto’s minor league affiliate. The Horton’s resided in Pittsburgh but would be moving to Toronto full-time now that Tim had established himself with the big club. They planned to drive in from Pittsburgh on Monday April 20 to proceed with the purchase and wanted to coordinate a meeting with Mr. Smythe around that day. Mrs. McDonald informed them she couldn’t give an exact time at that moment but they should make plans to stay over because the meeting would more than likely take place on the Tuesday morning April 21.timhorton
An internal pencil scribbled letter from Conn Smythe noted that on Monday April 20 at 5.30pm, he’d been informed Tim Horton had called to finalize a meeting the next morning. Smythe went on to suggest Mrs. McDonald arrange the Horton’s meet with Stafford Smythe (Conn’s son) on Friday April 24. The Horton’s had only planned to be in the city a day as per Mrs. McDonald’s suggestion a few weeks prior and now advised Smythe is pushing the meeting out an additional 3-days, maybe.

Disappointed, they drove back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday April 21, their future home still in limbo.

May 29, 1953
An internal note says Lori Horton called stating they are in the city again and would like to sit down to discuss the details of their new home with Mr. Smythe. The home cost $14,500 and they have $1,000 as a down payment but would require an additional $3500-$4,000 on next years salary to complete this transaction. The note goes on to explain, Mr. Smythe had been called at the pit (Smythe Ltd., sand and gravel yards) but was in a meeting so the conversation didn’t go any further. Mr. Smythe’s secretary Mrs. McDonald was informed her number had been passed along to the Horton’s and that after finally reaching Conn later that day he said, “No that request would not be possible, so no need for a meeting”connsmythe
October 16, 1946
Hall of Fame defenseman Harry Watson who had been traded to the Leafs from Detroit, signed his contract for the 1946-47 season. The salary was $5900 with a bonus of $1,000 for selection to the 2nd All-Star team and $2000 if it was the 1st. That seemed pretty reasonable for the time but I often wonder how many players ever read the fine print in the contracts they signed?

I’m curious whether players knew the team could at any time during the contract change the rules for the government, conduct and conditioning of the players and failure to do so could mean termination of the contract or a fine determined by the club?

Another stipulation states the player irrevocably grants the Club the exclusive right to permit or authorize any person, firm or corporation to make use of his photograph or of any reproduction of his likeness or signature for advertising or publicity. Under no circumstances is the player allowed to do a radio broadcast without the Clubs permission. Players weren’t allowed to play any other sport without permission from the club.

An obvious clause says the player must practice and play exhibition games when asked or will be fined a maximum of $500 and the not so obvious, the Club may at any time give the player 30-days written notice to terminate the contract; the player was entitled to funds up to the 30th day of notice and if on the road, entitled to travel expense money to get home.

Is it any wonder a players union was formed in the 1950’s?

If the examples above aren’t enough to convince you, then browse through a full contract from the era and I’m sure you will understand why the players needed help not only negotiating salaries but basic employment rights.

Imagine Steven Stamkos signs as a free agent with the Leafs July 1 and December 1 the same year receives written notice his contract will be terminated in 30-days. No explanation given or needed except his services where no longer required. Even working stiffs like all of us receive some kind of explanation and severance when the company we work for terminates us.

The shifting of control between the players and management has gone full circle over the years and lays somewhere between whacky and absurd. Remember folks, there was a time players played for the love of the game so much so, they regularly had second jobs in the off-season to support their families.

Masahiro Tanaka a decorated and heavily coveted free-agent Japanese pitcher signed a $155 million, 7-year guaranteed contract with the New York Yankees in 2014, outbidding numerous other teams after his services. Oh yeah they paid a $20 million dollar fee just to negotiate with his agent and the best part of the deal (beside the fact he’s a dud, helping our Jays) is this clown received a $35,000 moving expense fee!tanaka
Remember Jays free agent signing, A.J. Burnett in 2006? This over achiever who inked a 5-year guaranteed $55 million contract, managed to make all his starts in only one year of his deal; guess which one? If your answer was the last year of his contract and up for free agency, take a bow. However what’s startling about this guys wasted time in Toronto wasn’t how much of a floater he was, but rather one of the perks in his contract. That additive included each season he was with the Jays he was allowed to have a limo bring his family from their home in Monkton, Maryland to Toronto and back, eight times a year. That little jaunt adds up to an eight-and-half hour trip one way, covering 445 miles. How much was the driver’s tip for that fare?

Troy Glaus a 2006 Jays acquisition was another beaut in the department of contract-negotiated perks. Now in fairness to the Jays, this perk was inherited from Troy’s previous employer the Arizona Diamondbacks that included $250,000 annually for “personal business expenses” namely the cost of his wife’s equestrian training and equipment. I’m guessing she felt Troy’s job ($45 mil guaranteed over 4 years) hampered her advancement in the grueling and competitive world of horse jumping!! Thus the need for specialized training.

Now I do “get it” that no one is holding a gun to the owners head to agree to these terms but it does make you sit up and take notice how far we really have come in the world of the pampered athletes (notice no hockey players in the examples) and greedy owners. It’s about how far or willing one side will go to gain an edge or feel like they “won” the negotiation.

Now I guess we can be thankful we don’t have to deal with the massive egos in the world of entertainment such as rock group Van Halen who’s 1982 contract demanded M+M’s as a perk with the stipulation the brown ones be removed.

They trashed a hallway in New Mexico once when that request wasn’t fulfilled.

Long gone are days when Gordie Howe just wanted a team jacket to prove to the guys at home that he really made it to the NHL.

I would be remiss if after the Blue Jays wonderful run last fall I didn’t comment on the current state of the team with the much anticipated season about to begin. Of particular interest at this point is the progress in negotiations between star sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion if there are any or it’s mostly white noise?

It’s fascinating how much different times have become regarding player contracts and the sabre rattling conjured up by whichever side senses they are in control. In the case of these two it’s still up in the air who holds the ace card in negotiations. Bautista joined the Jays late in 2008 from the Pittsburgh Pirates posting a .241 average, 43 home runs and 159 rbi’s over a 5-year period with the club. In 21 games with Toronto he managed a .214 average with 3 home runs and 10 rbi’s. His first full year with the Jays wasn’t much better, .235, 13, 40 (and 8 of those dingers came in the month of September). Now 2010 offensively, was a season for the ages, .261, 54, 124 and stellar defensive play at 3rd and right field was icing on the cake.

Suddenly the Jays faced a dilemma with Jose a free agent entering the 2011 season; is he for real, late bloomer, fluke or can anyone say Brady Anderson, the Baltimore leadoff hitter with a career sub .250 average and after 8 years in the Majors hit a total of 72 home runs. In 1996, Anderson balloons to a .297, 50, 110 season, from the leadoff position. Similar to Jose he was accused of steroid use and although nothing was ever proven, his production dropped sharply every year after and never came close to a season like 1996 again.

The Jays offered a $65 million 5-year guaranteed deal, that drew a lot of criticism, but to his credit, Jose delivered, outplaying the contract. That does not happen very often. The point is, Toronto took a big shot on him after one good year and it worked out for everyone. Jose now claims the Jays got a bargain for 5-years? Funny I didn’t hear any mention of bargains in 2011 when his contract was up, looking back on his numbers from the Pittsburgh years. This is not to slam Jose in the least. Love the guy.

Bautista has never played a full season and there is a growing concern his violent swing puts extraordinary strain on his back that will only get worse as he ages. At 35 he’s susceptible to more of the nagging injuries we have seen the last few years and his body has started to break down.

We can all sit back and play GM, which is half the fun of following sports, but realistically, emotions cannot take precedent over what’s best for the ball club.

Too many a team has over rewarded a player for past performance, based on the fact he is widely loved and respected by teammates or a fan favourite.

In 1992 there wasn’t a man who exemplified the model player described above more than Dave Winfield was with the Jays. He carried himself with class, both on and off the field with the defining moment coming in the top of the 11th inning in game 6 of the World Series. With two on, he delivered a two-run double to preserve a Toronto 4-3 victory and World Series Championship.

Chosen as the one of the players to raise the World Series Banner during the victory celebration a few days later at the Skydome, Winfield was summoned to GM Pat Gillicks office a few hours before the festivities were about to begin.
Pat informed Winfield that with free agency opening a few days later, the Jays weren’t going to resign or even protect him. Cruel? Heartless? Insulting? He was the hero of the clinching game! Maybe.

Edwin Encarnacion’s resume is a mirror of Bautista’s. After 4.5 years with Cincinnati, his best year was 2008, .251, 26, 68 but after 43 games the following season he was batting an anemic .209, 5,16. He finished the remaining 42 games of the 2009 campaign with Toronto totaling .240, 8, 23; marginal player numbers. To his credit, in the off-season he lost 40 pounds (at the urging of his father) worked on his game and slowly improved. The key for Double E’s was that the Jays stuck with him and he delivered. Should he be rewarded? Of course, but lets not forget he hasn’t been playing for nothing and while he will get paid by someone, similar to a good stock trade, take the emotion out of the equation and trade the number. In other words, management must decide what fits the pay scale, depth and term, based on the player’s value and durability. Simple enough? Edwin at last check has taken minimal swings in spring training, hampered by nagging injuries particularly the same finger that hurt his production in the post season last October. Anyone remember another finger problem during the World Series runs in the early 1990’s? Al Leiter ring a bell? A blister (yes hockey fans, a blister on his middle finger) kept him shelved for 2 years plus. This guy didn’t win a game for 4-years and when he finally righted himself, he paid the Jays back by jumping to the Florida Marlins.

Look I’m not here to judge Jose and Edwin for trying to leverage as much as they can for themselves, but it’s a two-way street. I’d love to see the day players are paid annually based on performance, durability and team successes. Do any of us have 5-year guaranteed contracts regardless of how we perform our jobs on a day-to-day basis (if any of you do please send me your agents name).

Would you tell the CEO on a day your company is making a presentation that will make or break their future, you might be late because you have to attend your college graduation ceremony in another city? Take a bow Vince Carter, ya stiff.

Obviously there is risk on both sides when contracts are signed and finding a happy medium eases the burden equally, to a degree. It’s rare an established star out plays his contract and this is the quandary that hampers most teams in sports. That happens simply because teams stretch their budgets and end up overpaying for the asset. Reward the player and keep the fans happy? Well that maybe fine and dandy, but now the rest of the locker room is either motivated to perform or jealously festers and all of a sudden a cohesive unit is fractured. And also keep in mind the GM offering out these contracts reports to an owner who isn’t in the business to give his money away or to continually make bad choices, reflecting not only through his pocketbook but the standings.

I want to be very clear as a season ticket holder that I want nothing more than to see 19 and double E’s finish their careers as Blue Jays. But having said that how do we know that Chris Colabello and Michael Saunders aren’t the new Jose and Edwin? How many “sure finds” become “sure outs?”

The key thing for us as fans is we have to separate emotion from what’s right for the team.
The best direction the Jays can take is to wait and negotiate at the end of the season if the demands are beyond the clubs budget. The two players will have to put up big numbers to strengthen their position and that can only help the ball club. It may hurt us short term but nothing strangles a franchise more than non-performing contracts. It just does not work. Weak organizations make safe decisions; consistent winning franchises make tough ones no matter who’s feelings maybe hurt.

And finally, after cutting Dave Winfield post his 1992 World Series heroics, Pat Gillick replaced him with Paul Molitor, who not only finished second in hitting in 1993, but was also named World Series MVP leading the Jays to back-to-back Championships.

ChrisHadfield
One of the more enjoyable tasks as The Ultimate Leafs Fan entails responding to the many questions, requests or sharing of stories amongst fellow Leaf followers or collectors. Not a day goes by without receiving an email offering me a treasured Leafs artifact either seeking some information about the item or offered for sale or to donate to the collection. With the anniversary year fast approaching, inquiries about the early years promises to accelerate and frankly I can’t wait.

A few months ago Deb received an email directly from Col. Chris Hadfield (right to our ULF email from the site), saying that his great grandfather he believed received a job with the Leafs, after serving in the military with Conn Smythe . He wanted to know if we may have some photos from the 1930’s that he could come see. First we didn’t believe he was contacting us directly, but after some brief research, it was true, that there was a connection.

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian icon, the first to walk in space, spent 166 days in orbit and working with NASA his access to information would be second to none, yet he was seeking our help to trace the lineage of a family member with the Toronto Maple Leafs? This man dropped a puck from space and he was stumped on his family’s history?

I immediately contacted fellow Leaf Historian Paul Patskou who also happens to have the most extensive film library pertaining to hockey in existence. Always up for a challenge we informed the Hadfield family that if Austin Hadfield worked with the Leafs we would track it down. The plan was to see what we could find and present it to the family at a private showing inside the “Room”. Chris had heard of my collection, browsed through the website but like a true Leaf fan wanted to experience it in person. We arranged a day to visit and we would present information on Sergeant-Major Austin Hadfield we uncovered, if in fact there was any. Chris mentioned he thought he was a trainer with the Leafs but it was Tim Daly, so that couldn’t be it, but the military affiliation would certainly tie him to Conn Smythe a staunch military man himself, so that was a start. hadfield1

The Leafs trained in the town of Preston Ontario (now Cambridge) and skated at the Galt Arena (still in existence). Conn Smythe the innovative thinker that he was, continued to search for ways to get the edge on the competition. Stationed in Galt with the Highland light Infantry Regiment was Sgt. Major Austin Hadfield, who had a reputation for tough physical training and producing exceptional results with the young men training under his regiment. The Infantry received awards for superior conditioning and these stellar results would surely have resonated with Conn Smythe.

Dry land training was unheard of in the 1930’s thus for the Leafs to employ a tough military man, leading off ice exercises, it was groundbreaking conditioning in the world of hockey. Sgt. Major Hadfield whipped the Leafs into shape starting in 1936 and gained the admiration of the players by joining in on the exercises with kids half his age. Well the little Col. Conn Smythe would have none of that and he too participated in the exercises, including carrying a man on his back running.

The training camp routine entailed the Leafs rising at 7am, breakfast at 7.30, on the field with Hadfield from 815 until 930, 9-holes of golf, lunch, short break and finally 3 hours on the ice.

We were able to uncover some other facts about Sgt. Major Hadfield and the family was thrilled to now have proof of the tie to the beloved Maple Leafs. Chris fondly reminisced the times he would watch the Leafs with his dad as a small boy in Sarnia, and Dave Keon became his favorite player (mine too) leading to a life long love of the hockey club. The admiration of the Leafs had no boundaries and Chris had taped broadcasts of all the Leaf games sent to the shuttle that he watched religiously, including Coaches Corner.

Chris recalled that upon re-entry to earth, unable to watch the end of Game 7 against Boston and after speaking on Satellite telephone with his wife, Hadfield’s first question was, “How did the Leafs do?”

ChrisHadfield2The afternoon with the Hadfield’s flew by and clearly one of the highlights for Deb and myself hosting events “Inside the Room”. Chris, his mom, dad and sister all had great questions, informative antidotes and left smiling with newfound knowledge we were able to discover, including a picture of Sgt.-Major Hadfield leading a drill. I have always expounded about the tentacles that have no end when discussing historical periods in time and in this case the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Earlier, Mrs. Hadfield had politely listened while I gave a quick opening overview once inside the “Room, “and during pause handed me a beehive photo of Sly Apps with a red boarder, “Mike do you know who this is?”

“I sure do that’s a beehive photo and as a matter of fact I have that exact piece”

“Well he is a distant relative of ours, my grandmother and his grandmother were sisters,” Mrs. Hadfield proudly proclaimed.

“Then you will love the story I have for you; did you know that in 1936 Apps was a rookie at Leaf camp in Preston and guess who trained him? Sgt. Major Hadfield who was in his first year as the Physical Trainer of the Leafs, so you could say they were both rookies with the Leafs at the same time.”

She had a big smile on her face, as did I, because we both learnt something new as a result of sharing a story and making a connection. That’s what the beauty of a true collector represents, the unquenchable thirst to discover more. Now we have additional reasons to explore the Hadfield story further, hopefully uncovering pieces of little known history along the way. We are very excited to continue the search and will keep you posted.

Later that evening Deb and I were relaxing, preparing our schedules for the next event we’d be hosting (it never stops, ha). Recounting a few of the highlights from earlier we suddenly paused, looked at each other and without saying a word, smiled, knowing something real special had taken place that day.

See below for the Full Hour interaction Presentation with the Hadfield family

anighttoremember
There are events in life that stay with us forever, eliciting a “Where were you when…” moment. The Kennedy or Lennon assassination, immediately come to mind for our generation and from a sporting specific, the Henderson goal, the Joe Carter home run or even Crosby’s over-time gold medal winner in 2010. What makes historic memories so special is quite simply, they never start out to be that, in fact it’s the element of surprise that resonates with us and freezes that moment in time.

I was a student at Seneca College in 1976 and waking up that Saturday morning on February 7 it was like any other weekend. After a quick breakfast my pal Andy Tocchet would pick me up and we’d head to our part time jobs working at Sportsworld in Scarborough. The plan after work that night was to spend the evening watching the Leaf game with the girl I was dating. This was a rarity for me because my team played most Saturday nights. Arriving at my date’s residence that evening I was greeted at the door by the woman who owned the house. She wasn’t much older than us and we started a friendly conversation, “Mike I hear you are thinking of leaving school next year and just playing hockey in the States or Europe?

After acknowledging this was true she continued how I should really start working, to have something to fallback on if hockey didn’t work out and since she was a placement agent could direct me to some entry level jobs. It’s funny because I’d never had such a direct conversation about my future with anyone before, but she continued on that the brokerage business maybe a good start and had some good spots to send me for interviews. I then changed the subject asking why she was so dressed up, “Oh I’m going to the bloody hockey game and I don’t even like hockey, but just met this guy so I said yes. Maybe I should stay home with the girls and you go in my place Mike?

I think I even agreed to a wear a dress if that would allow me to go to the game but too no avail.

With the sound down and game on, I had an eye on the TV and one on the girl (you blame me) noticing Sittler was having a good night. I recall Ballard was chirping off as usual through the press and giving Darryl a rough time because the Leafs weren’t scoring and in a bit of a slump. He I figured still wouldn’t get over the fact he had to pay Sittler more for not jumping to the WHA a few years earlier.

It seemed that every time I looked at the TV screen they were showing Sittler celebrating a goal and during that time the score was not permanently displayed so I assumed they kept showing the first couple he was involved in.

sittler

The next morning at practice its all that anyone wanted to talk about and wasn’t until I got home, realized what really had taken place the night before. I remember thinking before the game started that the Leafs weren’t playing very well, Boston was on a roll, so my expectations weren’t extremely high for much of a game; needless to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level.

The feat itself is remarkable and unmatched forty years later; there is no question about that. But unlike the Bucky Dent moment, Larry Mize miracle chip or the David Tyree Super Bowl catch, those were one shot deals and quite frankly the last we ever heard from those players.

What I remember going forward was how the crowd erupted every time Sittler touched the puck, except the following evening, with hundreds of empty seats at the Gardens, he managed one assist but the Leafs won. Only in Toronto!

My takeaway from that historic game outside of the obvious result, was the ability Sittler exhibited to overcome the immense pressure he must have felt from the media, fans and management to continue to produce at that level. It takes a special kind of not only athlete but also person to over come such challenges and many an athlete has succumbed to the expectations that followed and failed miserably.

Sittler once told me he was baby-sitting Paul Henderson’s children during the 1972 Summit Series, then a young player trying to make his mark as a second year pro with the Leafs. Little did he know watching Paul’s heroics, that four-years later his career would change forever, including scoring the winning goal in the inaugural Canada Cup (I was in a hotel room in Vancouver attending a minor-league camp, when he potted that one). Darryl has said that’s the accomplishment of the most significance that year that also included being named captain of the Leafs and scoring five goals in a playoff game against Philadelphia.

I’d like to offer my heartfelt congratulations on an accomplishment that has stood the test of time the last 40 years. But more importantly aside from becoming one of the most popular Leafs of all time, Hall of Fame induction in 1989, Legends row last year, it is how Sittler has carried himself not only proudly as captain of the Leafs but as a person.

The words dignity, class and pride are adjectives not often associated with the athlete of today, but they sure describe Sittler too a “T” as not only a Toronto Maple Leaf but as a person and that folks is a record no one will ever break.

Ps…I just completed my fortieth year in the brokerage business.