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Cheer up, Bowie Kuhn. Forget, for a moment, that Charlie Finley is suing you for $3.5 million. Forget about Marvin Miller, the Messersmith decision, Peter Seitz, Ted Turner, Jerry Kapstein, additional agents—free or otherwise—and all those congressional subcommittees that want baseball in the nation's capital. Yes, forget 1976, Commissioner, for as 1977 dawns there is good news for a change: the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, those latest creatures of American League expansion, are already boffo at the box office and chances are good that they will not play like the original Mets when they take to the field this spring.
Toronto has sold about 7,000 season tickets, and the Blue Jays have not begun their high-pressure sales pitch to the local business community. "We may reach 20,000 season tickets," says one optimistic club official. Don't laugh.
Toronto is one of the wealthiest areas in North America, the headquarters city for most Canadian businesses, and Torontonians are well known, and well appreciated, for supporting losing teams, which the Blue Jays will be for at least their first few seasons. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup in almost 10 years, but they have sold out every home game—more than 1,200 in all—for the last 30 seasons. The Toronto Argonauts, the only Canadian Football League team that has never won the Grey Cup, again averaged almost 50,000 paying spectators per game this past season despite another last-place finish in their conference.
The Blue Jays have sold their radio contract and are negotiating a lucrative television deal. And the hottest selling items around snowbound Toronto during the Christmas rush were Blue Jay sweat shirts, T shirts, mugs, glasses and lamps.
"Everyone's talking about the Blue Jays now," says Mike Cannon, a Canadian who recently joined the club's front-office staff after 5� years with the NHL Players' Association. "To most people around Toronto, the big thing is that we've got to beat the record of the Montreal Expos in their first season in the National League. We've got to win at least 53 games this year—one more than the Expos won back in 1969."
Cannon's introduction to baseball has not been without minor embarrassments. Last September he accompanied Pat Gil-lick, Toronto's vice-president of player personnel, to a meeting in Baltimore, and while watching the Orioles take batting practice, he asked Gillick "Say, do teams always hire kids like that to pitch batting practice?"
"Know who that kid is?" Gillick said.
" Jim Palmer."
While even the most optimistic Toronto fans confidently expect that snow will force postponement of the Blue Jays' April 7th home opener against the Chicago White Sox in 35,000-seat Exhibition Stadium, there are no such fears in Seattle, where the Mariners will play their games in the air-conditioned, 60,000-seat Kingdome. Seattle still is smarting from previous experiences with expansion franchises. The city has suffered through one new American League team (the ill-fated Pilots of Ball Four infamy, who skipped to Milwaukee after a single disastrous season), a new NFL club (the low-flying Seahawks, who lost 12 of 14 games in their 1976 debut) and an NBA franchise (the not-so-super SuperSonics, who have made the playoff's only two times in their nine years).