The second nominee for the Ballard Memorial Award, for the man who did the most to perpetuate Leaf futility, is John Ferguson, Jr. For reasons unknown, after Pat Quinn gave up the GM role, JFJ was brought in to fill that role. It was never clear to me or anyone I’ve spoken with whether it was thought that JFJ was only there to relieve Quinn’s workload, and do the administrative work, while Quinn handled the strategic end. I suspect this was how the move was sold to Pat. But once in place, the true puppetmaster behind JFJ began to pull him away from Quinn, into his own orbit (more in a future post).
JFJ came in with impressive credentials. Son of a legend of the game, and an SOB to play against, he held a law degree, and was a competent scout. But being GM of a big-market team requires a lot more than credentials. It requires years of being around the game, and seasoning in management. You need to have seen the mistakes of others, and learn from them. Continuity within an organization can produce this, but that’s something that the Leafs certainly never had, thanks to Harold himself, and a series of meddlesome owners since him. And JFJ was in over his head. That much was clear to all. He did not inherit a rich farm system. Quinn depleted it in his time, building by acquiring veterans. But he made things even worse. Tuuka Rask was a Leaf, but needed some seasoning, and honestly, so did the rest of the team. Had that been allowed to happen, the suffering might have been short. But they wanted someone who could play immediately, so they could meet the revenue expectations of the Teachers Pension fund. Playoff appearances were essential to achieve that. So JFJ acquired Andrew Raycroft from Boston, in exchange for Rask. Raycroft was a pure butterfly goalie, who ignored anything higher than 2 feet off the ice. That left the top half of the net open. And it was during a time when shooters were learning to reverse the long-standing rule of shooting low. A little insight would have gone a long way. Boston was only too happy to make the trade, because they knew Raycroft’s time was limited.
JFJ probably had no idea of the big picture, and certainly never stood up to management, in support of the right way to develop the team. The approach he had taken was an abject failure, and he was shipped out. Word was at the time that Bowman was on the list of interviewees, but he declined. Knowing Scotty, he wanted to do things the right way, and they wanted to hear none of that. They wanted the quick and dirty way, and I believe Burke promised it to them.
There’s a lot of talk about the Blue Jays nowadays, after losing game 4 in spectacular fashion. The snowbirds are mixed. Some are resigned to the probability, in the face of the quality of KC opposition. Others hold out hope for a miracle, the reverse of 1985. But nobody seems to see that the team was hobbled together, and lacks that organic quality that comes from developing your own stars. The 1992-3 team had a core of old-timers, with additions of Carter and Alomar, who made a difference, and others that did not. Jack Morris, Dave Steward, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, those aged stars were looking for one more run at glory, but mostly ended up being passengers. That’s often what you get when you hobble it together.
Stay on track.