Baseball: Big-spending Blue Jays buck baseball's trend: Richard Weekes on the Toronto club whose investment in power players brought Canada a triumphant World Series

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The Independent Online
THE Toronto Blue Jays proved themselves a great team at the weekend because they had to win the World Series twice over. In the ninth inning of game six in Atlanta they needed just one strike-out to end the years of frustration and take the title back to Canada. Then up came Otis Nixon and the prize was ripped from their grasp. At that point, given their history, they might have crumbled.

It happened to Boston six years ago, when the Red Sox's first baseman Bill Buckner let a ball dribble through his legs and the New York Mets came back to win the World Series. It did not happen this time. Dave Winfield saw to that, and in doing so exorcised a personal ghost just as troubling as the collective curse that had haunted the Jays.

Winfield, 41, last reached a World Series in 1981, when he and the New York Yankees were taken apart by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his contribution with the bat went into the record books as a pathetic 1 for 22. That led the Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to say: 'Has anybody seen Reggie Jackson? I need Mr October. All I have is a Mr May, Dave Winfield.'

'I didn't do a lot, but I did it at the right time,' Winfield said of his 11th-inning base hit that gave Toronto a crucial 4-2 lead. 'This is the best team I've ever played for. It's America's game but it's now going to Canada for a while, and they deserve it.'

Toronto's championship - which had them dancing in the streets from Vancouver to Newfoundland - is the reward for a big-spending management who signed star players like Winfield, Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, and then went further by bringing David Cone, the 'hired gun', on board just for the pennant drive.

With sell-out crowds of 50,000 in the SkyDome, and the riches of the Labatt's brewery behind them, the Toronto organisation can afford to splash it around, just as Atlanta can always count on Ted Turner to buy them that pitcher in the window, but in this they are bucking the trend in baseball.

Other teams who went down that road in 1992, such as the Mets with their multi-million deal for Bobby Bonilla, and the Chicago Cubs who made Ryne Sandberg the biggest earner of them all on dollars 7.1m a year, came up empty in October. The Dodgers, another big-salary team, had the worst record in the majors.

The search for economies will dominate baseball this winter. Of the two defeated play-off teams, Oakland will let go perhaps half their 15 free agents this winter and Pittsburgh are resigned to losing Barry Bonds and pitcher Doug Drabek, as both clubs try to balance the books.

A number of other teams put down markers for 1993 this season. Texas, with Jose Canseco's home- run punch and Nolan Ryan's indefatigable arm, may replace the A's as the team of the American League West; Baltimore and Milwaukee have young pitching staffs who will run Toronto hard next year; and Montreal, under the enthusiastic management of Felipe Alou, have developed a fast, aggressive style that could set the pace in the National League East.

Montreal also have something Toronto do not, a Canadian, Larry Walker, who is good for 20 home runs a season. An Expos-Blue Jays Series in '93? That really would turn the world upside down.