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A Rare Opportunity

A question for Toronto sports fans:

When is the last time this city had a superstar? Not an all-star – a superstar. For argument’s sake let’s define a superstar as so:

“A top 5 player in their sport who generates league-wide admiration not only among the hardcores, but among the casual fans as well. They also have a strong marketing brand that has a global reach.”

Let’s also use an example to draw the line between an all-star and very good player and a superstar.

Lebron James vs Chris Bosh  One is a superstar with a successful brand who also owns part of a storied soccer club and the other is a very good seven-time all-star who is still more well-known for a youtube clip made 4 years ago.

I think you get the idea. Sorry Chris.

So when was the last time this city had a true superstar? Let’s take a look at some candidates.

  • Roy Halladay – The best case could probably be made for Roy who talent-wise was one of the best pitchers in the MLB when he was with the Blue Jays. But, he wasn’t a superstar – something that is difficult for pitchers to be when operating outside one of the traditional baseball markets let alone one that is considered “foreign”. Now that he is in Philadelphia a case could be made to renew his status.
  • Mats Sundin – He was adored in Toronto and often single-handedly carried the offensive load, but for several reasons was never close to superstar status. It was difficult to even put him in the top 10 (mainly because of the lack of talent surrounding him) at any point in his career. A Toronto legend, but a superstar he was not.
  • Vince Carter – This was the first name that came to mind, wasn’t it? This is it. You can’t think of any others. Vince took a Canadian expansion franchise to heights still unknown to it (past the first round) and for a few years was leading the league in all-star voting – an accomplishment that cannot be understated in a global league the likes of the NBA. His dunk over France’s 7’2 Frederic Weis is still perhaps the greatest dunk of all-time and it was done on a stage where the whole world was watching. The excuse that Toronto is foreign and thus cannot get the attention it needs (cough, cough Bosh) was put to rest with Vince Carter’s time in Toronto.

Name another superstar. Really dig deep and try to find one. You’ll probably come up with names like Roberto Alomar (a case could certainly be made for him), Joe Carter, Doug Gilmour, Darryl Sittler (we’re going back more than 30 years for Leafs fans), Carlos Delgado, Curtis Joseph, and I’ll even throw in Roger Clemens because he was pretty spectacular in his short time in Toronto – steroids or not.

It was a big deal when Roger came to Toronto, but his time here will mainly be glossed over. Roberto Alomar is my favourite athlete of all-time and even I’m having a hard time defining him as a superstar. I guess the problem lies in the criteria and the way marketing has become synonymous with the branding of a true superstar in 2011. Baseball players largely get overlooked if they’re not from Boston or New York, and there aren’t enough people that care about hockey to really have more than a couple of superstars.

So, in the past 30 years in Toronto sports history I would argue that this city has seen one true superstar – and he’s mostly despised still. Now, think about Jose Bautista who is arguably the best player in baseball, and who is doing his utmost to connect with fans and show his personality. The problem? He plays for the Jays in the city of Toronto where only winning will garner attention outside of hockey.

We may look back in 5 years and put Bautista in the category of Roy Halladay – the best in the game but will never have a chance to prove it on a critical stage. Perhaps Jose is already defying odds by leading the league in all-star voting, but this city should really wake up and watch Jose and the Jays because having a true superstar is a rare opportunity.

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