Darcy Tucker. I can think of no greater poster boy for the Toronto sports media and Toronto fan base that sums up the disconnect from reality that sweeps over Canada’s most populous city when it comes to overhyping players. To non-Toronto sports fans, this is emblematic of the unbearable “centre of the universe mentality” that the average fan in the Six embodies.
We all grew up with someone who thought Darcy Tucker was amazing and was their favourite player. Tucker was part of the “heart and soul” of the Blue and White. Problem is, Tucker sucked. But before you think I’m turning this into a Leaf bashing article or an anti-Toronto rant, what this article really intends to do is to have fans of Toronto sports teams re-engage with reality and hopefully aim higher.
When the City of Boston thinks about superstar athletes, names like Orr, Brady, Bird, Williams, Ortiz, Russell, and Neely come to mind to name a few. Now don’t get me wrong, the Boston fan base loves its blue collar, rough and tumble players, especially the Bruins fans. Guys like Terry O’Reilly or Ken “the Rat” Linesman were iconic in many ways in Boston. O’Reilly racked up over 2,000 penalty minutes in his career, while Linesman picked up over 1,700, both helping the team live up to the moniker “The Big Bad Bruins”. But being tough alone only wins you a foot in the door in Beantown, you also have to be good.
So back to Darcy Tucker. An agitator for the Leafs who racked up over 1,400 penalty minutes in his career. Not quite as many penalty minutes as O’Reilly or Linesman, but hold on, Tucker was a pretty good player right? He could legitimately put up points right? Some Leafs fans might even consider him a superstar… Well let’s compare him to O’Reilly and Linesman:
Tucker 947 GP 215 Goals 261 Assists 476 Points 0.523 Points/Game
O’Reilly 891 GP 201 Goals 402 Assists 603 Points 0.677 Points/Game
Linesman 860 GP 256 Goals 551 Assists 807 Points 0.938 Points/Game
So we can establish that Darcy Tucker was clearly not even in the same league as Terry O’Reilly and Ken Linesman in terms of physicality or offence. So I tried to find another comparable Bruin with similar numbers. The best I could come up with was Keith Crowder. Now, unless you are a Bruins fan like myself or maybe on the receiving end of a Crowder fist in the 80’s (see Habs players), chances are you have never heard of Keith Crowder. I don’t blame you either. In addition to his 1,344 PIM, let’s look at his stats:
Crowder 662 GP 223 Goals 271 Assists 494 Points 0.746 Points/Game
I tried not to focus too much on points/game because Crowder did play in the more offensive 80’s, but you get the point. Darcy Tucker was not as good as Keith Crowder, yet almost every Leaf fan I know put Tucker on a pedestal and legitimately thought he was one of the better players in the league (and then bought his jersey). At the very least, they thought he was the best player on the team after Sundin and insert whichever goalie was saving their bacon at the time. Tucker was garbage.
But Toronto has this knack for building up players to be more than they actually are and it isn’t just Leafs fans. As Josh has pointed out on this blog before, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have two of the lowest shooting percentages in playoff history. Granted, they are good players (at least in the regular season), but are nowhere near the NBA superstar class of guys like James, Westbrook, Harden, Antetokounmpo, Durant, Curry…etc. Yet Raptors fans and the Toronto media have made the case at various times for both being MVP candidates during their careers.
The Blue Jays escape the mentality to a certain degree, but are not immune to it. Sure we can chalk up guys like Kawasaki to being fan favourites, but I want to believe most fans never truly believed he was a superstar. But Jays fans and the media have overhyped guys like Russell Martin (probably Canadian factor), Jose Cruz Jr., and Vernon Wells over the years to the point that you would think they were elite level ballplayers.
Why? Well, I think in the case of the Blue Jays, expectations are a bit more realistic because there is a benchmark to winning teams and truly elite players. So the media and the fan base have witnessed players like George Bell, Roberto Alomar, Roy Halladay, and now perhaps Josh Donaldson. Maybe it’s that many Leafs and Raptors fans have not witnessed a winning team in their lifetime so they have no benchmark. I think that’s part of it. I mean Mats Sundin and Vince Carter are both great players that I would classify as superstars, but maybe those guys have been so far and few between that fans are clinging to what they see as the next best thing?
I’ll give casual Toronto sports fans writ large a pass. You have generally been devoid of true superstars in this market and you may not be a “hardcore” fan. The people who bear responsibility for the Darcy Tucker phenomenon are sitting in the media.
I don’t expect fans to be the experts of every sport. I consume lots of sports and politics, but even I can’t tell you the rules of cricket or the senior Cabinet of the Italian parliament. That’s where I rely on media consumption. This is where the Toronto sports media fails.
See, while you and I can’t afford to go to every Leafs game (or maybe even one Leafs game), it’s actually the job of sportswriters in Toronto to watch every game and write the articles that inform you and I. If you got most of your sports knowledge through these writers, you might legitimately think DeRozan and Lowry are MVP worthy players or that Darcy Tucker was a great player in the early 2000s. But the media should know better. Because they are watching every game, they also have a good handle on what players on other teams are bringing to the game and they are doing you a disservice.
I don’t know if this is a general “homer” bias? Unintelligent media? One could even point to the fact that the sports media you read is largely owned by the same people that own your Toronto sports franchises, but even that can’t account for the pre-2000s. Is it the centre-of-the-universe mentality that everything is better in Toronto and nothing outside of the GTA matters? I really don’t have a good answer for you other than to read Josh’s blog.
I mean it. Read his blog. But then after you are done that, go consume sports media from various sources outside of the GTA. Read Sports Illustrated or ESPN for that matter and see how much print DeRozan and Lowry get. You can claim all the bias you want, but I will tell you, the Blue Jays got a lot of print the last few years so objectively, I don’t buy the anti-Canadian bias.
All I know is the real problem with the media building up these Toronto “Superstars” is that it leaves the Toronto fanbase heartbroken every single time. Think back to the Tucker era. The Leafs weren’t the best team in the East. They didn’t get upset by the Flyers or the Canes, they were never as good as those teams. But you thought they were because that’s what the Toronto media wanted you to believe. And then your soul got crushed.
So many of you will be devastated if the Raptors lose round one this year against the Bucks. But, you should have read Josh’s blog. Really. Yes, he’s a Bucks fan. I’m cheering for the Raptors but I read his blog and knew he was right. Even if the Raptors win, they are a flawed team, DeRozan and Lowry aren’t as good as we think they are, and they have no answer for Giannis.
I do truly hope guys like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are the real deal. I really do. If they do turn out as good as they are looking, you will finally be able to put that Tucker jersey into the depths of your closet, the same place I put my Keith Crowder jersey… oh wait, I had more sense than that.