Under The Bleachers: The Problem With A ‘Championship Or Bust’ Mindset

Above: Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made headlines this week after signing Troy Tulowitzki and David Price

With the Toronto having stolen the show at the Major League Baseball trade deadline, bringing Troy Tulowitzki and David Price in a pair of major surprise moves, the general consensus is that it’s “Championship or Bust” for the Blue Jays this season. It’s understandable that people look at things that way, but it’s also a flawed approach to take with professional sports.

“If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Will Ferrell’s NASCAR alter ego from Talladega Nights might have very well believed that, but the reality is that there is a world of difference between winning the silver medal and missing the podium entirely. While the larger “you should always want to win” element the line holds true, more and more sports media and sports fans seem to be holding their teams to that unrealistic standard when it comes to judging performance.

Toronto can fail to win the World Series this year and still have a successful season. Even if they miss the playoffs, there are still positives that can be extracted from the 2015 season. Some will want to view that as putting a happy spin on things, but the reality is that only one team gets to be the champion and just because it’s not your team doesn’t mean they were colossal failures.

The moves they made this week certainly ups the ante for the Blue Jays. Although general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined to say the team was all-in, he’s at least given them the best shot possible at making the final table to keep the poker analogy going. These aren’t kind of deals you swing if you’re not focused on taking a run at things right here, right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to view things through a “Championship or Bust” filter for Toronto.

The fact that Anthopoulos made these moves is a positive and a dramatic shift from last season. Exactly one year ago today, all-star Jose Bautista and veteran reliever Casey Janssen voiced their frustrations when the team didn’t make any moves at the deadline, believing they had a chance to make a run at things in the American League East. One year later, Toronto has put themselves in a position with 60 games left in the season to compete for a division title.

Making the playoffs should be enough to make this season a success, given that the club hasn’t been to the postseason since Joe Carter went deep off Mitch Williams. Just because the team has upgraded in the last seven days doesn’t make reaching the playoffs any less of an accomplishment. It increases their chances and ratchets up the pressure, but it doesn’t make ending the longest playoff drought in the majors something to classify as not good enough.

This same conversation came up when LeBron James led an injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers team to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. People that only want to criticize James and find ways to fault him will point to his inability to bring a title back home and his 2-4 record in the Finals as indications that he’s not that good.

People that aren’t crazy see that this team wouldn’t have come close to making the Finals if not for “King James” and that there was only really one time he got to the Finals where failing to win a championship should be viewed as a letdown.

Sorry Dallas, but the Miami Heat should have won that series.

But sports isn’t just about counting rings and measuring a team’s success can’t be reduced to “Well did they win the title or not?” There are varying degrees of success and small milestones that can’t be ignored; that’s what people have to keep in mind as Toronto preps for the stretch drive. Get excited just don’t go all crazy and call this team “a bunch of failures” if things don’t shake out in their favour and another World Series banner doesn’t end up in the rafters inside Rogers Centre at the start of next season.

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