The Next Ballard: Ricciardi or Burke?

It’s tough to be a sports fan in Toronto.

After an explosively successful start to the 2009 season, the Blue Jays collapsed into mediocrity or worse. The principal reason for the swoon is that two very highly paid players Vernon Wells and Alex Rios failed to provide the performance or leadership that fans in Boston and New York have come to expect of their stars.

Wells and Rios were signed to lucrative, long-term contracts by J.P. Ricciardi, Jays’ Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations and General Manager. Ricciardi believed the two together would be the big swingers on a competitive team – he believed the same thing in vain for 3-4 years. This week the Jays pulled the plug on Rios by literally giving him (and his bloated contract) to the Chicago White Sox. No such luck with Wells who is simply the highest paid failure in Major League Baseball.

As if the annual demise of the Jays wasn’t bad enough, we have another Leafs’ season just ahead of us. As August nears its end, the hockey mad Toronto media will drone on and on and on about the prospects for this season’s Toronto Maple Leaf team. The “Leaf Nation” will learn just how much the team has been improved! Don’t count your chickens, Loaf fans!

Brian Burke became President and General Manager of the team promising “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” (does that means he wants a team that fights but also sleeps together?) The fact is that in Burke’s first year, the Leafs were simply terrible.

It is true that Burke has added an impressive number of defensemen this off-season. Sadly, he did so while marginalizing and insulting Tomas Kaberle his one defenseman of all-round talent. Burke has also put the team’s fate not-so-firmly in the hands of Vesa Toskala, a goaltender who has yet to deliver. More fundamentally, the Leaf roster is singularly lacking in goal scorers. So, expect low scoring, violent hockey. It says here that if the Leafs don’t find someone who can score, they will fail to make the playoffs yet again. Only they will be more boring in doing so.

Toronto fans recall the ‘bad old days’ when Harold Ballard ran the Leafs. Ricciardi, certainly, and Burke, potentially, have no reason to feel superior. In fact Loaf fans, Harold was a Maple Leaf executive when the team last won the Stanely Cup in the 1966-7 season. Rest assured that J.P. Ricciardi’s name will never be asociated with a championship baseball team in Toronto. And I would be AMAZED if Burke’s name ever gets etched on the Stanley Cup along with a Maple Leaf team.