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Keep the Mets or Switch to the Jays: What Say You?

Bisons affiliation agreement up for grabs as season ends

Now that the Buffalo Bisons season is reaching yet another disappointing conclusion, speculation is hot and heavy as to who will be our parent club next season. Will the Bisons ownership and management re-up for another two years with the New York Mets? Or will the team pull the trigger and bring in the Toronto Blue Jays, who right now have their AAA affiliate stationed all the way out in Las Vegas, Nevada?

This week, our baseball mavens Andrew and Peter chime in with some very different takes…

PETER: KEEP THE METS

I won’t sugarcoat this. The Mets’ four seasons with Buffalo as their AAA affiliate haven’t produced the best of times for the Bisons. No postseason appearances in a stretch that now dates back to 2005, and a sagging attendance issue presumably as a result. The rumors are out there that the Mets’ time is up here in Buffalo and Toronto is looking to be the hot favorite to replace them.

That may seem a common sense move concerning geographical location. But given the Jays’ history in AAA baseball, when it comes to on-field performance, the grass is clearly not greener on the other side.

For those expecting an improved product on the field with a Blue Jays affiliation, I present a few facts. The Jays have had an AAA affiliate for 35 seasons, and in that time period their AAA club has finished above the .500 mark only eight times. Only five times have they made the postseason, the last appearance coming in 1998. And they have never won a league championship title. The recent Buffalo Bills’ history isn’t as lame as this franchise’s.

Still think a move to the Jays is a slam dunk? I’m not sure either. Maybe the Mets haven’t done well in their time here, but aren’t they really more a victim of having to follow in the footsteps of the Cleveland Indians? In the 11 seasons from 1995 to 2005, the Bisons went to the postseason nine times, winning a league title in 1997 and 1998, all under the Indians’ affiliation. It was the Bisons’ equivalent to the Bills’ Super Bowl years, except better in that the Bisons actually took home some hardware.

What Major League club could have possibly put teams in Buffalo to continue this run? Very few, and the Mets are simply one of the vast majority that probably couldn’t have replicated the Tribe’s success. And it’s highly likely that Toronto will be no different.

And while I’m at it, I have another thought. Can we be certain that a Jays affiliation will bring in bigger crowds and pump up sagging attendance at Coca-Cola Field? Geographical location may seem to be a positive for that, and Canadians do pile into Buffalo large numbers for Sabres and Bills games. However, minor league baseball has never been a long-term success north of the border. The list of failed pro baseball franchises in Ontario is not a short one: Welland, St. Catharines, Hamilton, and Ottawa all lost minor league teams through the years, and this July London, Ontario had an independent team disappear in its first go-around.

Do we have any reason to believe that baseball fans in Ontario will take the time to cross the border for Bisons baseball any more than they may have in past years just because of an affiliation change, considering minor league baseball’s lack of success on the Canadian side of the border? Forgive me if I don’t recall significant nukbers of Jays fans at the downtown ballpark whenever Syracuse(Toronto affiliate: 1978-2008) came to play the Bisons.

Meanwhile, just down the Thruway in Rochester, the Red Wings have finished their first decade as top affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Ten seasons and only one postseason berth in that time. There were thoughts that they, too, would be looking for a new partner to replace an MLB franchise that arrived with high hopes 10 years ago, just as the Mets did here after the 2008 season, and have given the Flower City little to cheer for on the diamond since. What did the Wings do? They re-upped with the Twins for another two seasons.

If I were the Bisons, I’d do likewise with the Mets.

ANDREW: SWITCH TO THE JAYS

When Syracuse parted with the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2008 season, there was speculation that the Toronto Blue Jays would hook up with the Buffalo Bisons. It didn’t happen; Buffalo made an aggressive play for the Mets and landed them. But linking up with Toronto made sense back then, and it makes sense now.

Buffalo and Toronto are inexorably linked as two hot sports markets: In hockey, the great rivalry between the Sabres and Leafs began when Buffalo landed Punch Imlach as head coach in 1970, and to this day these teams and their fan bases are fierce competitors. When the Leafs come to town, it is always an event at the arena, and that energy spills out into the streets and pubs after every game. The Buffalo Bills count on the Canadian fan base as an integral part of their support, and now play one game a season in Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Last year’s World Juniors hockey tournament showed how Canadians will come to town and bring their passion and colors for events that matter.

The Toronto Blue Jays and the Buffalo Bisons are natural partners and their new association could be a long, profound, and successful one. The marketing synergies that can be established are endless: televised games, athlete appearances, cross-border ticket packaging, team branding in both cities. The new affiliation could be a real shot in the arm for sagging attendance at Coca Cola Field.

There is a distinct Buffalo connection within the Toronto organization: Manager John Farrell was Cleveland’s minor league operations director back in the day, and was the architect of Buffalo’s powerhouse teams that won three league championships and were perennial contenders. Marty Brown, whose image parading with the Governors Cup on the field in Buffalo back in 2004 is seared into our collective memories, now manages their AAA Las Vegas 51s, and would return to manage the Bisons “in a New York minute.” Former Bisons player and manager and Buffalo fan favorite Torey Lovullo is a Jays bench coach. They all know how much Buffalo wants to win and they will make it happen.

Buffalo is ready for the switch. Come 2013, I’m already looking forward to some distinct affiliation enhancements at Coca Cola Field. Make the singing of “Oh, Canada” an every-game staple during the pregame anthems. Next, let’s add a poutinerie to the concession food offerings. If you haven’t tried poutine yet, it is a major Canadian treat. Lastly, get ready for Buffalo’s version of the Jays’ famed add-on song during the seventh inning stretch: “Okay! (Okay!)…Bisons! (Bisons!)…Let’s…play…ball!”

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