Saturday 3 August 2013

30 Years Ago a Bird Died

It’s been 30 (that’s T-H-I-R-T-Y) years since a seagull met with a baseball in Toronto and died.

For those of you who may not remember, or were not born, or perhaps were not even a twinkle in your parents' eyes, here’s what happened.

It was a hot hazy evening on August 4, 1983.  The Blue Jays were playing the New York Yankees at Exhibition Stadium, uh…this is where games were played before the dome was built.  There was a crowd of 36,000 people, all happy and joyous, sipping their beers and enjoying their nuts.  They had no way of knowing the horror that was about to befall on them.

Exhibition Stadium
At the end of the fifth inning warm-up, a Yankee player by the name of Dave Winfield, threw a ball which, to this day, is unbeatable in terms of the lengthy “excitement” that followed.  The ball he threw, had the disastrous consequence of meeting a seagull that had been minding its own business (and perhaps enjoying the game) from the right centre-field.  Just like that, the bird lay dead on the astro-turf. 

A very bad day indeed for that seagull.  And worse for the ball boy who was sent out to retrieve both ball and bird.  Imagine the trauma that poor kid would have suffered.  He could still be in therapy today.  Upon realizing what they had just witnessed, the crowd went crazy.  Now in a fowl mood they booed, and chanted, “Winfield sucks.”  In Toronto, that’s as ugly as it got in 1983.

Before Winfield could say, “Oh poop,” he was arrested.   There were witnesses after all, 36,000 in fact.  Some claimed the bird had been watching the game for the last three innings and causing no one any harm.  Others claimed the bird looked sort of sickly to start with. One woman was so distraught, she has never returned to see a baseball game.  The main witness however, was a cop from 14 division. He saw the whole thing play out—bird, ball, collision, dead. 

The ball that killed the bird

Clearly, despite how this police officer felt about the whole incident, he must have been a serious baseball fan at heart.  He waited until the game was over (Yankees-3; Blue Jays-1) to make the arrest. Dave Winfield was charged with “unnecessary suffering to an animal”, a charge which would later be dropped.

August of 1983 was slow for news in the city.  The Winfield/seagull story was pretty much all the media outlets covered that month—oh wait, we didn’t have the Fords at city hall back then. 

For weeks following the seagull event, the citizens of Toronto sought answers and debated:  Was the bird injured prior to its untimely meeting with the ball? Did Winfield aim the ball intentionally at the bird? Why was the feathered creature there in the first place? 

In 1983, Toronto had a seagull problem.  There were simply too many.  The squirmish at Exhibition Stadium became the springboard for discussions on what should be done about the bird population.  That was the real issue.  Up until the evening of August 4th, to deal with the excessive number of seagulls, citizens of Toronto simply protected their food and hosed car and self as required. No big deal. 

But the sudden presence of a dead seagull in front of thousands of people, well, it was just too much.  Something had to be done.  One suggestion was to bring Winfield back to Toronto and let him at them.  That didn’t fly.

In 1984 Toronto initiated strict bird control. Seagulls be gone.

And Dave Winfield did return to the city.  He played for the Blue Jays during the 1992 season, driving home the winning run during the World Series championship. 

All the flapping from August of 1983 was forgiven.  

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