I liked my Hall of Fame column so much I decided to tell you who the best 50 Blue Jays of all time were. Suddenly I’d been working on it for a week and it was 121.
See, I put up 50, and then remembered “Oh right, that guy,” “oh and then this guy,” “oh there was that guy too” and then of course once those guys were in you can’t leave out this other guy. Well, now it’s 121 guys. I was aiming to finish at 120, but miscounted.
Now, I am not absolutely saying for sure this list correctly names the 121 best Blue Jays and for positions 121 through 30 or so, the order may be a bit rough. I did put thought into the top 20 or 25 for sure, though. My general rules were
- We are considering what the player did while with the Blue Jays; how awesome they might have played elsewhere is not relevant.
- I used Wins Above Replacement as a general guide, but subject to the modifications of Rules 3-5.
- Players who contributed to winning teams, or who did good things in the playoffs, were given extra credit.
- Peak accomplishment is more valuable than just being okay for a long time.
- I don’t always trust WAR, especially when measuring players prior to the 1990s.
Well, why delay? Let’s go. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I loved writing it.
Bonus Player: Ryan Goins, Infielder, 2013-2017
There’s a lot of history to plow through and I’m not great at using Baseball Reference‘s sorting tools, so I forgot some people, like Ryan Goins. I remembered him because the Blue Jays released him a few days ago, as they acquired a presumably better player from the Cardinals.
“Go-Go” is not much of a hitter, but he could play any position on the field well and could pinch run, which is a useful guy to have around. He had a decent year with the bat in 2015, and I kind of hoped he would keep that up, but he went back to his old ways.
In 2016 the Blue Jays ran out of pitchers on Canada Day in a marathon game with Cleveland and had to ask Ryan to pitch the 18th inning. He somehow managed to pitch a scoreless inning, which was cool. Then in the 19th they brought in another position player, Darwin Barney, to pitch, and Cleveland managed to beat him, but to have two position players have to pitch in the same game is just insanely unlikely. Prior to that there had only been eight occasions, ever, where a position player was asked to pitch for the Blue Jays.
If it wasn’t so hard to change the numbering for all these players he would rank around position 110.
Bonus Player: Rick Leach, Outfielder, 1984-1988
Leach was a world-class football and baseball player at Michigan State, who, surprisingly, chose to accept a baseball career. He was more famous as a college football player, but then I guess college football is just more of a thing.
He was never an especially good baseball player but he had his moments. He’d rank close to last on this list.
Bonus Player: Dan Plesac, 1997-1999, 2001-2002
Plesac, whose last name sounds like a made up name invented by a serial novelist, first started pitching for Milwaukee in 1986 and for about four years was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Although he lost his job as Milwaukee’s relief ace after a bad year in 1990, he kept on pitching, and ended up pitching 1,064 games, the seventh highest total of all time. He had two stints with Toronto and pitched okay both times, and in between they traded him to Arizona for Tony Batista, a wonderful trade.
Bonus Player: Rajai Davis, Outfielder, 2011-2013
Rajai is a very, very fast player with 394 career stolen bases to date. His tenue with the Jays was one of the worst stretches of his career, actually, but he was good enough to mention. Despite his speed, he’s a poor outfielder, with slow reactions and a terrible arm.
Rajai has always been just a so-so player but has lasted for twelve years in the big leagues, playing fairly well into his 30s. A common characteristic of position players is this:
Fast players age well, slow players age poorly.
If some big lumbering ox comes up at age 24 and plays well, and at the same time a fast, nimble player comes up and plays just as well, I would say it is ten times likelier that the fast player will still be around in ten years. It’s no guarantee, but it’s where the smart money is.
- Shea Hillenbrand, Designated Hitter, 2005-2006
Hillenbrand was a straightforward hitter who the Blue Jays got from Arizona. He just hit. He didn’t field much and didn’t draw walks, but he could hit, and he was Toronto’s only All-Star in 2005 because Roy Halladay broke his leg a few weeks before the game. Hey, whatever works.
If you’re wondering why an All-Star is the last name on this list, well, remember the Jays have had a thousand guys I did not list here. Oh, yeah, and Hillenbrand was a nut case who, later in the 2006 season, went bananas, told all the other players they should quit, and got into a fight with John Gibbons, the team’s manager. Like, an actual fight.
To this day no one knows what the hell Hillenbrand’s problem was. The team was playing quite well at the time and was in contention. Hillenbrand was playing regularly, so he personally had nothing to complain about. He was just sort of insane.
Perhaps more amazingly, the Blue Jays designated him for assignment – the first part in the administrative process to get rid of a guy – but then offered him in a trade to the Giants, and, incredibly, the Giants took him, and gave the Jays a pretty good pitcher in return. Hillenbrand’s career ended shortly thereafter.
- Ted Lilly, Pitcher, 2004-2006
Wait, didn’t John Gibbons get into a fight with Ted Lilly, too? Maybe it wasn’t just Hillenbrand.
Lilly pitched mediocre baseball for the Blue Jays but was sent to the All-Star Game in 2004 because the team was so terrible he was the default choice, and I guess they couldn’t send Carlos Delgado because they already had a lot of first basemen.
- Jeremy Accardo, Pitcher, 2006-2010
The guy the Jays got in return for Shea Hillenbrand was Jeremy Accardo. No, the rest of the list won’t be this convenient.
In 2007, Toronto’s relief ace, B.J. Ryan, got hurt, and so the Jays had Accardo fill in. He pitched incredibly well, saving 30 games with a tiny 2.14 ERA. They barely missed Ryan.
In 2008 it all went wrong. Accardo could not get anyone out, his season was short, and he was never very good again.
When pitchers fall apart it’s always best to assume injury but in the case of Accardo the team treated him atrociously. Under the stewardship of J.P. Ricciardi, the team’s general manager from 2002 to 2009, the Blue Jays kind of lost their way from an ethical point of view; they were known for lying publically and manipulating baseball’s complicated roster management rules to gain advantages and deny players service time and benefits in ways the rules were not meant to be used. And then there was the fact that Accardo was engaged to the daughter of the vice chairman of Rogers Communications, but it was broken off. Hmm.
- Jim Acker, Pitcher, 1983-1986, 1989-1991
A generic relief pitcher. According to Baseball Reference, Acker was a replacement level pitcher – that is, he had no value above the best guy you could find basically for nothing by plucking someone off the waiver wire, or paying some other team a nominal amount of cash to take a Triple-A veteran off their hands. If true he should not have made this list, but I’m not sure I entirely buy that. Acker struck out very few men and didn’t have great control, in spite of which his ERAs were decent, and that is a pattern typical of pitchers who are just getting lucky or have good defenses behind them. But that sort of thing rarely keeps up longer than a season, and Acker did it for years, so I suspect he had some ability that the WAR stat (Wins Above Replacement – the overall margin by which the stats say you are BETTER than that replacement guy) is missing.
- Russ Adams, Infielder, 2004-2007 and 2009
Adams was a 2002 first round draft pick, and in fact I think one of the first ten draft picks. He had a fine rookie season in 2005, and in 2006 he just blew up. He was awful, and never played well again.
I don’t know anything firsthand about developing young baseball players but the sense I got with Adams is the Blue Jays didn’t know what they were doing. While he was a good enough hitter in 2005 he struggled a bit as a shortstop, and playing badly in the field can affect a player’s confidence at the plate. The Blue Jays started moving him around from this position to that and jerking him back and forth from the majors to the minors, and he kept getting worse at an age he should have been getting better. One wonders if things might have worked out better if they had given him a job he could do and just left him to it for awhile.
- Garth Iorg, Infielder, 1978-1987
Originally Garth didn’t make this list but as it expanded I felt it’d be wrong to leave him off. Garth was the other side of the great third base combination with Rance Mulliniks – Rance is way up the list – and he was definitely the lesser half, but I’m glad I got him onto the list because he played over 900 games for the Blue Jays and it seemed weird to leave him off. He was a good defensive third baseman but usually not much of a hitter.
Garth made the final out of the Blue Jays’ season (and his career) in 1987, thus completing the team’s epic last week choke job. For the life of me, I do not understand why he was even up in a 1-0 game. He was the worst hitter on the team.
Garth’s brother, Dane, was also a major league player. If you had a last name as weird as “Iorg” (it’s pronounced “Orj”) wouldn’t you give your boys really boring first names, like John or Steve?
- Dennis Lamp, Pitcher, 1984-1986
Lamp was pretty bad in 1984 and 1986 but in 1985 he won 11 games and lost none. That is the second highest number of games ever won in a season by a pitcher who lost no games, the record being 12.
It should be noted that for relief pitchers won-loss records can be kind of flukey and unconnected to their performance, but Dennis had a good year and helped the Jays make the playoffs for the first time.
Another statistical oddity about him is that in his career he both won and lost exactly 96 games. I don’t know if that’s the highest number ever by an exactly even pitcher, but it’s gotta be one of the highest.
Like many 70s and 80s pitchers, Lamp had a glorious moustache. Look at that face-pelt.
- Glenallen Hill, Outfielder, 1989-1991
Hill was a big outfielder who could hit the ball a bazillion miles, as evidenced by the time when, with the Cubs, he hit a ball out of Wrigley Field, across the street, and onto the roof of the apartment building on Waveland Avenue. He didn’t do a lot else well. He was so muscular he didn’t really have the agility to play defense on run very fast.
“The Thrill” became famous during his Blue Jays career when he wound up on the disabled list after crashing into a glass table in his hotel room, which he did because he had a nightmare about spiders and jumped out of his bed in fright. He was a delightful guy. He’s too high on the list but I had to include him to tell that story.
- Jose Canseco, Designated Hitter, 1998
Canseco was gotten on the cheap for a one year deal and belted 46 home runs, the third highest total in team history. He did very little else well.
Jose Canseco is of course baseball’s most famously roided up player, and after his playing days were over wrote (or had written for him) the book “Juiced!”, the thesis of which was that baseball was chock full of steroids. At the time many dismissed the book as a pack of lies written by a self-serving jackass, and in fairness it did have many weird lies in it, such as his claim that he was the fastest sprinter in the history of the world. (Huh?) But yeah, baseball was full of steroids.
Major League Baseball, like so many big institutions, waited until after all the horses has left the barn before slamming the door shut on the steroid issue. In retrospect, it seems obvious they should have done something about steroids long before they did, and failing that, should have admitted they had blown it, and that there was a problem long before they did. As always happens, the story breaking later was worse than if they’d dealt with it before. I’d like to say “I don’t know why people are so stupid” but… what if big organizations actually cover shit up all the time and they usually succeed? What if denying problems exist is actually the odds-on bet because they’ll almost always get away with it, and the scandals that do blow up in the faces of the rich and powerful are just the rare exception?
- Dustin McGowan, Pitcher, 2005-2014
A first round draft pick, McGowan was a talented pitcher whose arm betrayed him, again and again. When healthy he looked great; he was healthy for maybe five months. His ten year stint with the Blue Jays included four complete seasons missed to injury.
Pitching is just about the worst thing you can do to a specific part of your body that does not involve deliberate self harm. It is the ultimate repetitive stress injury risk. The great majority of young men who become professional baseball pitchers have their careers destroyed by injury.
In the last twenty years, major league teams have tried to overcome this by significantly reducing the number of pitchers thrown by young pitchers. When I was a kid, major league pitchers were expected to keep pitching as long as they were getting guys out. Now all pitchers are very limited in how much they pitch, especially young ones – and yet there is little evidence that this helps reduce injury. Pitchers are as likely to shred their arms as they have ever been. It may simply be an unavoidable part of the sport.
- Homer Bush, Second Base, 1999-2002
Part of the bounty gotten from trading away Roger Clemens, Homer was, despite his name, not a home run hitter. He was a small, very fast, good-fielding second baseman. He had a terrific year in 1999 and looked like he might be the second baseman the Blue Jays had needed since Roberto Alomar left. Then he was terrible in 2000. Then he was good again in 2001, then terrible in 2002. Who knows why these things happen?
- Jerry Garvin, Pitcher, 1977-1982
A new largely forgotten original Blue Jay. In 1977, the inaugural season, Garvin lost 18 games against just ten wins. In spite of that, Garvin pitched reasonably well. He lost 18 games only because the team behind him was a grab bag of castoffs and losers who couldn’t hit or catch.
- Chris Woodward, Infielder, 1999-2004, 2011
A good defensive infielder, so-so hitter, and lifetime winner of the Toronto Blue Jays Billy Bob Thornton Lookalike Contest:
- Mookie Wilson, Center Field, 1989-1991
Mookie was a folk hero with the Mets in the 1980s, in part because he was exactly the kind of guy who would expect to be called “Mookie” and also because he was a pretty fun player to watch, a spray hitter with great speed. Mookie is the guy who hit the ground ball that went between Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series. Ask a Red Sox fan about it! Remember to duck!
Anyway, in 1989 the Jays got Mookie from the Mets to help them in the pennant race, and he did help them as they beat Baltimore on the next-to-last day of the year. In 1990 he played pretty badly and helped the Blue Jays lose a division title they really should have won.
- Danny Cox, Pitcher, 1993-1995
Cox pitched extremely well for the Blue Jays in 1993, helping them win the World Series. Other than that I don’t remember a lot about him and remembered to include him only because when I was going through the Jays’ seasons his name came up on Baseball Reference.
After the 1988 season, prior to which he’d pitched many fine seasons with the Cardinals, Cox was injured and missed two entire seasons, but he came back.
- Josh Phelps, First Base, 2000-2004
An extremely big, strong young man who looked like he might become a big time home run hitter. Phelps could hit the ball a mile, but as is so often the case, the challenge for Josh was hitting it at all. He made some progress in 2003, and had a decent year, but the league figured him out after that.
- J.P. Arencibia, Catcher, 2010-2013
Arencibia was a much ballyhooed prospect and he lived up to it in his first game, hitting two home runs, including one in his first at bat; only three Blue Jays have ever done that, Alvis Woods and Junior Felix being the others.
Arencibia had ludicrous power. He could hit a home run and make it look like he was hardly trying. Regrettably, he could not tell a strike from a ball and seemed unwilling to learn, but that is something major league pitchers WILL learn. The Jays were extremely invested in him and it was not hard to see why; he just LOOKED amazing when he hit a ball. Heck, he was even handsome. They started getting rid of catchers who even seemed like they could threaten his job, at one point dumping Mike Napoli, quite a good catcher, for nothing at all because they just loved J.P. But his hitting got worse; in 2013 he batted .194, the worst batting average in the history of the team, and walked 18 times all year so he was truly a putrid hitter, probably the worst in the majors.
He didn’t want to get better, and from all appearances did not even accept that he was failing. When criticized he’d lash out. The Jays finally broke his spell over them and shipped him off to Texas, where he was even worse, and he was completely out of baseball by age 29.
- Matt Stairs, Designated Hitter, 2007-2008
A Canadian boy, from New Brunswick. Matt Stairs was built like a weightlifter and his hitting strategy was to hit the baseball as hard as he could and see what would happen. He scuffled around or a long time and didn’t become a regular player until he was 29, and had some damned good years.
Stairs hit more pinch hit home runs than anyone else in history, 23 in all; second is another guy in this list, Cliff Johnson, who hit 20.
- Junior Felix, Outfield, 1989-1990
When Junior Felix came up he looked like he might end up the greatest Blue Jay ever. He was 21, strong, ran like the wind, played good defense and just looked amazing. He hit a home run on the first pitch he ever saw. He got better his second year, still a little unpolished but a guy that good at age 22 is absolutely the kind of player you dream of.
In the 1990-1991 offseason they traded Felix to the Angels for Devon White, a trade which appeared to be completely insane. White was a good player but he was much older, and coming off a bad year, and there was talk he had a bad attitude. The trade was so bizarre, especially for a team that at that time rarely made bad decisions, that famed writer Bill James refused to believe the first person who told him about it, laughing and saying “the Blue Jays aren’t that stupid.”
The trade turned out to be one of the best trades the Blue Jays ever made. Felix could not remain healthy and didn’t play all that well again; White played magnificently for Toronto, and is way, way higher on this list.
It turned out later that Junior Felix was not as junior as people had been led to believe. He was not, in fact, 22 when Toronto traded him, but was actually at least 27 – meaning he was basically already peaked – and might well have been older. His birth certificate was bogus, and witnesses from his hometown in the Dominican had said he had been attending school when he claims to have been not yet born. (I should point out he looked older than 22, but at the time I just assumed he was ugly.)
In light of that revelation, the trade made a lot more sense.
That raises an interesting question to me which I’ve never actually gotten a solid answer to; just what is a team’s responsibility to be honest about stuff like that? If the Blue Jays knew Felix was not 22, but was, say, 30, but did not share that information with the Angels, that is a deceitful act. You aren’t allowed to lie about a player’s health when trading him – you have to give the other team a chance to give the player a full medical – so why could you lie about his age? There is NOTHING more important in judging the value of a young player than his age. A 22-year old with Junior Felix’s skills and statistics is immensely valuable; a 23-year-old measurably less valuable, a 26-year-old much less valuable, and a 30-year-old basically a spare part. You’d think that would be the sort of thing that, if you did not disclose, the Commissioner would have to punish you for. Of course, maybe the Angels knew and made the trade anyway because they hated Devon White, which would explain why the Blue Jays were always winning and the Angels always losing back then.
Junior Felix in 1990 was the outfielder who caught the fly ball that clinched Dave Stieb’s no-hitter, the only no-hitter in Blue Jay history.
- Gustavo Chacin, Pitcher, 2004-2007
Chacin’s official rookie season was 2005 and he had a hell of a year, winning 13 games and getting some Rookie of the Year votes. As it turns out it was a fluke.
Chacin’s name is pronounced “Cha-seen,” which sounds classy, and for a few weeks at SkyDome they ran phony ads on the Jumbotron where Gustavo was pitching a new fragrance called “Chacin,” which the voice over artist spoke to sound sexy. “Chas-seeeeeeeeeeen.” Gustavo was in the ad, and at the end of it he breaks character and bursts into laughter. It was funny as hell. I wish they did more of that at the stadium rather than playing loud music all the time.
- Dave Collins, Outfielder, 1983-1984
A speed merchant with no power, Collins stole 60 bases in 1984, which remains the Blue Jays team record to this day.
Collins had a good year, but the Toronto chapter of the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) gave him the Player of the Year Award for the Blue Jays, which was flatly bananas. He was not even close to being the team’s best player. He literally wasn’t the team’s third-best outfielder.
Stolen bases are very cool, but they are not an especially potent weapon in Major League play. The value of a stolen base is such that you might be adding one run to your team for every four bases you steal – and you lose the value of at least two steals for every time you’re caught stealing. Collins stole 60 bases and was caught stealing 14 times, so the total value of all that running was, being generous, ten runs, which is maybe one game in the standings.
Despite winning that award, the Jays traded him to Oakland, because they had to make room for Jesse Barfield, who was a bazillion times better.
- Al Woods, Outfielder, 1977-1982
Woods hit a home run in his first major league at bat with Toronto in 1977, in the team’s very first game ever. I am quite certain that confluence of events is unique in major league history.
Al was before my time and I don’t remember seeing him play, but looking at his numbers and such facts as I have at hand, I honestly don’t understand why he wasn’t a better player. He had a really good year in 1980, so he was capable of it, but never did it any other year. His ratio of walks to strikeouts suggest he was a smart hitter, he was a talented athlete, and the Jays at the time certainly didn’t have a lot of great players beating him out for playing time, but it just didn’t come together. Maybe he got hurt, I don’t know.
Presumably in an effort to confuse fans, the Blue Jays in their expansion year had two outfielders named Woods, the other being Gary, but Gary wasn’t nearly good enough a player to make this list.
- Raul Mondesi, Outfielder, 2000-2002
Mondesi won the 1994 Rookie of the Year Award for the Dodgers. He was a hell of a talented player but kind of a miserable asshole who made himself unwelcome everywhere he played, sooner or later. He’s in prison now on some sort of fraud or corruption case, and I can’t say I’m surprised.
- Luis Leal, Pitcher, 1980-1985
Luis Leal was a big Venezuelan guy who came up with the Blue Jays in 1980, had some good years, and was gone halfway through the 1985 season at the age of 28, his career over. If there’s one thing you should take away from that story it’s that most baseball players, even ones who become pretty good ones, have very short careers. They don’t get long. Luis Leal was a good pitcher, and he got six years and that was it.
One thing that surprised me in doing this list is that Toronto hasn’t had many players who were with the team longer than five to seven years. Toronto has had few lifers or near-lifers. Part of that is just happenstance and luck, but a larger part is just that players who last a really long time are rare. But some teams have lifers; Craig Biggio, Mariano Rivera, Chipper Jones and other guys all played long careers with one team quite recently. Toronto has had no players quite like that.
- Bob Bailor, Utility Player, 1977-1980
Bailor hit .310 for the Blue Jays in their first year of existence, in 1977, making him a minor hero.
Bailor was a slap hitter, a guy who just tried to poke the ball into the hole and avoid striking out, a strategy that works to get your batting average to tolerable levels but which means you can’t hit many home runs. This type of hitter basically does not exist anymore. Slap hitters used to be a common part of major league baseball, but evolution is such that they are no longer a thing. It is the strategically optimal hitting approach to be selective, take a lot of pitches, and try to wait for one you can hit as hard as humanly possible even if it means you strike out more. It’s only been 40 years since the Blue Jays started, but baseball has changed quite a lot.
- Otis Nixon, Outfielder, 1996-1997
When I said Bob Bailor was a slap hitter I certainly did not mean to suggest he was anything like Otis Nixon. Otis had all the power of a watch battery; in 17 major league seasons he hit 11 home runs. He averaged 13 doubles per full season, an astoundingly low total for a professional baseball player. Otis’s game was basically just running; he was extremely fast, so the idea was just to tap the ball and beat the throw the first.
Players like Otis were quite common in the 1970s and 1980s. They’d get some fast guy, teach him to switch hit, and tell him to tap the ball and run like hell. Even by the standards of those batters, Otis was incredibly power-free.
The acquisition of Otis Nixon in 1996 tells you everything about the Blue Jays doldrum years you need to know. Otis wasn’t a bad player or anything, but why a team that had finished with the worst record in baseball in 1995 decided “You know what we need? A 36-year-old center fielder who couldn’t break a champagne glass with his bat” is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.
Otis was, I am sure, the ugliest player in Blue Jays history. Behold him in all his glory. This is actually a really good shot.
- John Mayberry, First Baseman, 1978-1981
Mayberry was a big star for the Royals in the 1970s, a first baseman who could really hit; he helped the Royals become a good organization. In the 1977 playoffs he showed up for a key game either drunk, high or hung over, and played a game as badly as it could be played, and they exiled him to Toronto, which was a new expansion team. He wasn’t especially good but in those early days the Blue Jays didn’t have a lot else going for them. Mayberry was the first Blue Jay to hit 30 home runs in a season, in 1980.
- Colby Rasmus, Outfielder, 2011-2014
Rasmus was acquired in a trade from St. Louis that at the moment looked like the heist of the century. He was a 24-year old player with outstanding skills and who’s already proven he could hit major league pitching. Players like that are immensely valuable. There was talk he had attitude problems, but isn’t there always?
Well, I guess they were right. Rasmus proved to be immune to coaching, in part because his father insisted on remaining his hitting coach. The wisdom, or lack thereof, of relying on your Dad to instruct you in how to hit major league pitching, as opposed to relying on trained professionals who have millions of dollars in resources at their disposal, should be obvious even to people who are not baseball professionals. But I guess it wasn’t so obvious to Colby Rasmus.
If you’re paying attention to this list, you will maybe notice that a lot of player’s tenures with the Blue Jays end in 2014, and a lot of other players begin in 2015. You might also remember 2015 was the first year the team made the playoffs since 1993. Not a coincidence.
- Barry Bonnell, Outfielder, 1980-1983
Kind of a generic outfielder who did everything okay and nothing badly. Bonnell had his best year in 1983, hitting .318, and the Blue Jays shipped him away to Seattle, where his career came to a swift conclusion. In fairness, the guy they got in trade wasn’t any good, so it was even.
- Tony Castillo, Pitcher, 1989 and 1993-1996
Castillo was the LOOGY for the Blue Jays, the Lefthanded One Out GuY, whose job it was to come in to face a big lefthanded bat and get that one guy out. He was pretty good at it.
- Alfredo Griffin, Shortstop, 1979-1984 and 1992-1993
Alfredo was the first Blue Jay to win a major award; he shared the 1979 Rookie of the Year Award. From that point on he was a dismal player for a long time.
This really does Alfredo no justice; he was a wonderful player to watch. He played baseball with a carefree, stupid abandon you just don’t see anymore. Griffin felt the strike zone was an inconvenience; he would swing at absolutely anything and wouldn’t take a walk for love or money. He ran the bases as if he was suffering from a terminal illness and the cure was underneath the next base. No fast runner has ever been unnecessarily thrown out so man times. It’s a testament to his skill that he did as well as he did. In the field he had great range and a strong arm but got really excited when the ball was hit his way and often tried to make impossible throws, so he made a lot of errors, even for a shortstop. (Shortstop and third basemen make more errors than players at other positions, because the plays they make are the hardest ones.)
Alfredo got into the 1984 All Star game because he had a ticket. His teammate and friend, Damaso Garcia, was named to the team and brought Alfredo as his guest. Shortly before the game, American League shortstop Alan Trammell got hurt, and there wasn’t enough time to fly anyone else in, and Alfredo was there, so they said “Well, you’re an All Star now” and he dressed and even got to play in the game. How can you not love sports?
- Dave Stewart, Pitcher, 1993-1995
Not the Dave Stewart in the Eurythmics. Stewart was a hero of the great Oakland A’s team of the late 80s and early 90s, winning 20 games four seasons in a row and pitching heroically in the playoffs. He was really over the hill when the Jays got him, and was done after two and a half years.
Stewart ranks on the list because he was the MVP of the 1993 AL Championship Series, but having given him credit for that, he was not the correct choice; the award should have gone to Devon White. Stewart did start and win two games but he did not actually pitch especially well, and was baled out by his defense.
That said, Dave Stewart in his career was one hell of a playoff pitcher. He won two games in a playoff series four times, and was the MVP of three different playoff series. I do not believe anyone else in baseball history can say both those things.
- Ricky Romero, Pitcher, 2009-2013
Ricky was Toronto’s first round draft pick in 2002.
If you don’t know what the “Draft” is, it’s how baseball determines where young man in the United States and Canada will play. Amateur players – college and high school kids – cannot be directly signed; they must be drafted. Every June, after the school year ends, baseball holds a draft whereby, starting with the team that had the worst record in the majors the year before and going down to whoever won the World Series, each team says “This player is ours.” Then they go back to the top and do it a second time, and a third, doing it forty times altogether. So Toronto in 2002 with their first round draft pick said “We want Ricky Romero.” This instantly made Romero their property; only Toronto was allowed to sign him to a contract. A player can only dodge the draft by refusing to enter professional baseball at all and remaining in school or in amateur ball for a full year. Players outside the United States and Canada can’t be drafted and can do as they please. The idea was to ensure weak teams got first crack at good talent.
As you can imagine, getting a good first round draft pick can be a game changer; if you can grab someone like Ken Griffey Jr. or Bryce Harper it can give your team two hundred million dollars in improved baseball at a fraction of that price.
So anyway, Romero had high expectations by the Blue Jays, and in 2009 he started delivering. He was pretty good, and then in 2010, and then in 2011 he was one of the best pitchers in the American League.
And then I cursed him. I bought his shirt.
I decided I wanted a Blue Jays jersey and Ricky Romero seems like a safe bet, a good young pitcher with a bright future who the team had under contract for years. Also, his uniform number was the number of my birthday, which was kind of cool. What could go wrong?
Ricky’s control had never been his strong point but in 2012 it was suddenly really, really terrible; he lacked any sort of command over his pitches. He limped through the entire season and it didn’t go well, but 2013 was even worse; he just could not throw a strike, and after four catastrophic games the Blue Jays gave up and sent him to the minors. He never made it make to the major leagues.
In baseball, the sudden inability of a player to throws strikes is called Steve Blass Disease, after Pirates pitcher Steve Disease… no, wait, it was Steve Blass. Blass was a very good pitcher who in 1973 seemingly developed a psychological inability to throw a strike. They could never fix it. His career was over. It’s afflicted other pitchers from time to time, like Rick Ankiel and Dontrelle Willis, and sometimes even affects fielders; Dale Murphy, a great outfielder, started as a catcher but had to be moved from that position because he became unable to throw the ball back to the pitcher. He’d hurl it over the guy’s head or twenty feet to the side. Throwing anywhere else, he was fine. Chuck Knoblauch, a second baseman, suddenly caught it in 1999 and on one occasion, while making a routine throw, inexplicably flung the ball high over the first baseman’s head, a hundred feet past him, and into the stands, where it hit Keith Olbermann’s Mom. Knoblauch was one of the best players in baseball and it ruined his career.
No one has ever come up with a solution for Steve Blass Disease. It seems to be a permanent thing.
- Brandon Morrow, Pitcher, 2011-2014
Morrow threw as nasty a fastball as you ever saw, and when he was on he was amazing; he famously lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, in a game in which he struck out 17 men. If he was bringing it, he looked like he’d never lose a game again. The Jays tried for years to make him a starting pitcher but he simply did not have the endurance to do it. After he left he became a relief pitcher and he’s very good at it.
Morrow, now with the Dodgers, pitched in all seven games of the 2017 World Series, the first pitcher since Darold Knowles in 1973 to do that.
- Brett Cecil, Pitcher, 2009-2016
Cecil started out as a starting pitcher and had a pretty good season in 2010, winning fifteen games, but he fell apart in 2011. So they tried him as a relief pitcher and he was quite good at it for several years.
In the 2015 American League Championship Series, Cecil was badly injured making a fielding play against Kansas City. I don’t know if it was lingering, but while he started the 2016 season supposedly healthy, he was just terrible at the outset of the year. He lost five games in April, which is kind of amazing for a relief pitcher. He pitched much better the rest of the season, but the Blue Jays made no effort to retain his services after 2016 and St. Louis gave him a $30 million contract.
Letting him go was probably wise because you can always find more relief pitchers at cheap prices. I would never give a contract that big to a middle reliever. In fact the Blue Jays did come up with several relief pitchers in 2017 just as good as Cecil who pitched for the minimum salary.
- David Cone, Pitcher, 1992 and 1995
Cone was acquired in mid-1992 to bolster the pitching staff; the guy they traded to get him was Jeff Kent, who went on to have a wonderful career. Cone helped the Jays win the World Series, so I guess maybe it was worth it. Cone was a free agent and departed for Kansas City after the season was over.
In 1995 the Jays traded some prospects to the Royals to get him back. He pitched really well, but in July the Blue Jays realized they were an awful team and they needed to get some youth, so they traded him to the Yankees.
What’s fascinating is that Cone, a truly great pitcher, was traded twice in one year, for a total of six prospects, and not one of the prospects he was traded for ever amounted to much. Only one, Chris Stynes, really had a career in the majors, and it wasn’t much; four did not make the majors at all. Teams will often be criticized for trading away prospects, but prospects are just dreams, and you never know if they’re going to become anything more than that.
A bright, eloquent man, Cone was the only player who spoke during the 1992 World Series celebration to acknowledge the Canadian element of Toronto winning the World Series, telling the crowd that while all the players were American or from the Dominican and such, “we feel the pride of Canada. Don’t ever change.”
In retrospect, I have Cone too far down the list. He wasn’t in Toronto long but he was very good when he was there and helped them win a World Series.
- Greg Myers, Catcher, 1987-1992, 2003-2005
Nicknamed “Crash,” after the Bull Durham character, Greg was a young catcher who came up around the same time at Pat Borders; the team elected to keep Borders and get rid of Myers, which I don’t think was necessarily a great choice but they got a good return on the trade. Eons later, in 2003, he came back and at 37 years old had the best season of his career.
- Billy Koch, Pitcher, 1999-2001
Koch was a rookie in 1999; Toronto named him their relief ace, and he did quite well for three years, saving 100 games. They traded him to Oakland, where he had another good year and then blew his arm out.
You’ll often hear supposedly informed baseball people talk about how it takes a really special kind of pitcher to be a closer, and yet the Blue Jays have on three occasions just handed the job to rookies, and had it work out; Tom Henke, Roberto Osuna (who was only 20 when he was given the job) and Koch. Really, if you’re a good pitcher you’re a good pitcher.
- Yunel Escobar, Shortstop, 2010-2012
A very good defensive player and had some hitting skills. The word on him has always been that he’s kind of a dick. Late in the 2012 season, Escobar decided it would be a great idea to write “Tu es maricon,” which is Spanish for “You’re a faggot,” right in the eyeblack on his face. Manager John Farrell, who speaks Spanish, claims not to have seen it, which seems pretty damn unlikely to me, but anyway both he and Escobar were not long for the Blue Jays.
82.5 Aaron Sanchez, Pitcher, 2013-2017
I totally forgot about Aaron until I nearly had this column ready to go, so bonus player! Played wonderfully for the 2015 and 2016 playoff teams, and won the 2016 American League ERA title, posting the best won-loss percentage (15-2) in team history. He was hurt most of 2017, and they need him to recover to not be horrible in 2018.
- Scott Downs, Pitcher, 2005-2010
One of the last names added to this list; I simply forgot about him, but he was quite a good relief pitcher and merited inclusion over a few other marginal names. Downs pitched in a time that was pretty dark for the Blue Jays and I found myself looking at their roster and thinking “oh yeah, that guy was here, too” several times.
Downs was an odd looking fellow, and so Blue Jay broadcaster Mike Wilner decided his nickname should be “Snake Face.” I can’t imagine why, but Scott did not warm up to this idea.
- Justin Smoak, First Baseman, 2015-2017
A good defensive first baseman and a guy who can hit a baseball into the next century but who for most of his career has struggled to consistently make contact. I always wanted the Blue Jays to just put him out there every day and let him hit and see if that would help him with his consistency, and in 2017 they did, and it worked; he had a pretty good year, hitting 38 home runs and getting on base at a decent rate, but his September was awful, and should perhaps serve as a warning that he won’t keep doing it.
Smoak is slow. Now, by major league standards, “slow” is relative. A slow major league baseball player is quite fast. Professional baseball players are much faster than you realize, and major leaguers are REALLY fast. Justin Smoak would be one the fastest men on your slo-pitch team. When they talk about this player or that player being slow of foot, bear in mind that we’re not talking about slow by the standards of normal humans.
80.5 Casey Janssen, Pitcher, 2006-2014
I forgot Janssen for two months. Sorry, Casey!
Janssen was a failed starting pitcher in his 2006 rookie season; the Jays turned him into a relief pitcher and he pitched really, really well for years.
After the 2014 season Toronto elected not to offer him a new contract, and he signed with Washington. A lot of fans felt the Jays had cheaped out by doing this, but 2015 was Casey’s last year in the major leagues, and Toronto made the playoffs without him, which they never had with him.
I harp on this a bit too much but must return to it; Relief pitchers are not that valuable. No matter how well they pitch, they simply do not pitch enough to be really important. I guess the best relif pitcher in baseball last year was Andrew Miller, and he was awesome; a 1.44 ERA, gave up only one hit every two innings, struck out three times as many men as got a hit off him. Amazing – but it was in just 62 innings. He saved his team maybe 20 runs, which is a significant contribution but wouldn’t make him one of the 100 more valuable players in baseball. Miller has been awesomely good like that for years, but he’s a part time player. If he was that good as a starting pitcher he’d be compared to Sandy Koufax and Cy Young, but he’s not. (He used to be a starting pitcher, but couldn’t hack it.)
Of course it is important to have a number of good relief pitchers so you don’t blow every game in the late innings, but individually, relief pitchers aren’t worth giving up a lot of money or other players for. In the last quarter century the only relief pitcher who was ever really worth a big, long term contract was Mariano Rivera.
- Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop, 2015-2017
Tulowitzki was a superstar in Colorado, and it was something of a shock when they traded him to Toronto. He was owed a lot of money, though, and I guess they wanted to be out from under that. He makes $20 million a year, which makes him the highest paid Blue Jay ever. Rogers can afford it.
Since arriving in Toronto Tulowitzki has played excellent defense but has not hit the way he did in Colorado. I absolutely, one hundred percent expected that. Aside from the fact he’s in his thirties and guys just get old, there is also the fact he’s not in Colorado anymore.
For those of you who are not huge baseball fans, it’s important to note that baseball stadiums are radically different from one another, and significantly change a player’s statistics. Some ballparks strongly favor the hitter, and some the pitcher, due to a variety of factors:
- The depth and height of the outfield walls; deeper fences mean fewer home runs
- The amount of foul territory; less foul territory means fewer opportunities for players to catch pop fly balls
- Lighting; better lighting means better hitting
- Weather; warm weather is better for hitting, and wind can affect the path of the baseball
But the biggest thing is altitude – and Colorado’s Coors Field is a mile in the air, a vastly higher altitude than any other major league city. This is an incredibly dramatic effect on the flight of a baseball, and increases scoring by at least thirty percent. Tulowitzki was a good hitter but his numbers were inflated by that effect.
- John Cerutti, Pitcher, 1985-1990
Cerutti was a lefthanded pitcher with good control and little velocity who bumbled along for years getting by as someone you wouldn’t trust in a big game but was useful as a fourth starter/long relief kind of guy. He was the first Blue Jay pitcher to win a game at the SkyDome.
After his playing days were over he become a broadcaster for the Blue Jays and he was very good at it. In 2004, he did not show up to work, and they found him dead in his hotel room of heart failure. He was 44, had not had any health issues, and was such a nice man that they Toronto chapter of the BBWAA renamed its “Nice Guy Award” the “John Cerutti Award.” Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
- Cliff Johnson, Designated Hitter, 1983-1986
A huge, lumbering man who could not get out of his own way, but was a first rate hitter who could hit home runs without striking out much. He was actually kind of scary looking, though in real life he was a really nice guy.
Cliff’s tenure with the Jays was not actually continuous; he was sent to Texas at the start of 1985, and then when Toronto was in a serious pennant race, they wanted him back, and got him back. He hit quite well in the playoffs for Toronto.
Cliff wore the number 00 with the Blue Jays in 1985, for some reason. The Jays that year also brought in Al Oliver, who wore 0. So the Blue Jays had two guys whose numbers were, mathematically, exactly the same. I am quite certain that is the only time that has ever happened since guys started wearing uniform numbers.
77.5 Shaun Marcum, Pitcher, 2005-2010
A starting pitcher, and he was a really good one. Not Roy Halladay or anything, but he had a number of solid years. After the 2010 season he was traded to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, a rare example of a good starting pitcher traded straight up for another player not to save money, but just because his team wanted the other guy more. After a good year and a half with the Brewers his arm gave out.
in 2007 the Blue Jays decided they didn’t want to hurt his arm and so they twice pulled him from a game in which he’d pitched more than six innings and was pitching a no hitter. Given that his arm got hurt anyway, and it’s apparent treating pitchers with kid gloves does not work, that just seems all the more galling.
- Jack Morris, Pitcher, 1992-1993
The hero of the 1991 World Series with the Twins, Morris was hired as a free agent in 1992. He then became the first Blue Jay to win 20 games in a season, though in all honesty he didn’t pitch super great, he just had a great team behind him. He was wiped in the playoffs, losing all his starts, and had nothing left in 1993. He was old.
Morris is one of maybe seven or eight guys in major league history who’ve won the World Series with three different teams – in his case Detroit, Minnesota, and Toronto. No one has ever done it with four teams. Dave Stewart, mentioned earlier, also did it; Los Angeles, Oakland, and Toronto.
Anyway, just recently Morris was named to the Hall of Fame by some committee they whomped together to give a second chance to guys who hadn’t been elected the usual way. I have nothing against Jack Morris personally, but he is a bizarre selection. It’s not that he was a bad pitcher, he was quite a good pitcher, but there have got to be 40 or 50 pitchers who were better than he was who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, including at least one, Luis Tiant, who was even on the same list for consideration. If I am counting correctly Morris is the 72nd person named to the Hall of Fame primarily for pitching in the major leagues, and at least 65 of them are better than him.
Morris was another member of the Blue Jay Moustache All Star Team.
- Buck Martinez, Catcher, 1981-1986
Now of course quite famous for being an announcer; he was also briefly the Blue Jays’ manager, and wasn’t good at it. Not much of a hitter, but a good defensive catcher. Buck’s career was more or less ended by an astoundingly courageous play that really you must see to believe. Understand when watching this; on the first collision HE BREAKS HIS LEG. And he keeps playing.
- Jason Frasor, Pitcher, 2004-2012
If you want a fair trivia question that will baffle many a Blue Jays fan, try this one: What pitcher has pitched the most games for the Blue Jays? Very few will guess Jason Frasor, but he is the correct answer; he pitched in 505 games for them.
Frasor never had a really good year and never had a really bad one. He was just a guy who’d pitch sixty decent innings a year for you.
Frasor was 5’9”, which is very small for a major league pitcher. Being short is not particularly disadvantageous if you are a hitter – obviously you cannot be as strong as a larger man, but your strike zone is smaller and there’s a limit as to how useful strength is. Willie Mays wasn’t any bigger than Jason Frasor, and he hit 660 home runs. But it’s a huge disadvantage for a pitcher. It reduces how fast you can throw a ball, and it means the release point of the ball is lower, so it takes a straighter path to the batter. Very few truly great pitchers have been short. It’s impressive a guy as short as Jason Frasor pitched in the big leagues as long as he did.
- A.J. Burnett, Pitcher, 2006-2008
A $50 million arm and a 50-cent brain.
- Candy Maldonado, 1991-1992 and 1995
Back around 1988-1991 the Blue Jays had a gazillion young outfielder prospects but none of them ever quite turned out. Mark Whiten, Glenallen Hill, Sil Campusano, and a half dozen more; they all looked okay but just didn’t pan out, at least not in Toronto. In mid 1991 they got sick of it and went and got Candy, who’d had a number of good years, and sure enough, he hit very well for Toronto. They let him leave as a free agent after the 1992 season and, sure as hell, could find no one who could play left field and hit, so they had to trade a bunch of prospects to get Rickey Henderson for two months.
Candy caught the fly ball that ended the 1992 ALCS, sending the Blue Jays to their first World Series. I ran around my house ten times, I was that happy. I will forever remember that moment.
- Jose Reyes, Shortstop, 2013-2015
The centerpiece of the massive Marlins trade that was supposed to make the Jays a great team in 2013 and blew up in their face. Reyes played okay, but he was hurt a lot, and in 2015 was traded to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki, who is also hurt a lot, so not much has changed.
- Chris Carpenter, Pitcher, 1997-2002
A very talented pitcher who could not seem to quite put it together for Toronto. Chris missed all of 2003 to injury. He wanted to come back to Toronto, but they refused to offer him a guaranteed contract, even a cheap one, because they were that cheap. So he signed with St. Louis and was the best pitcher in the National League for three years, winning a Cy Young Award.
The parts of a baseball team we tend not to think about are the coaching staffs – you hear about the pitching coach and hitting coach and stuff, but you don’t really know what they do. The story of Chris Carpenter is one that does not speak well for Toronto’s coaching; he spent years never living up to his potential and immediately become a fabulous pitcher once employed by another team. But at the same time this was the same team that revitalized Roy Halladay’s career. Who knows, huh?
- Woody Williams, Pitcher, 1993-1999?
Woody was small for a pitcher, and didn’t throw very hard. He didn’t get to the majors until he was 26 and the Blue Jays didn’t let him start until 1996 or so, and then after a few years let him go for nothing. He proved them wrong, and ended up having a pretty good career, mostly in San Diego and St. Louis. The Jays at that time couldn’t tell a good pitcher from a Pope.
- Darrin Fletcher, Catcher, 1998-2002
One of the very few players to play a lot of games for both Canadian franchises.
In 2000, Fletcher batted .320 and hit 20 home runs, which are eye popping numbers for a catcher. In spite of that it was just a good season, not a great one.
In my previous baseball blogs I’ve talked about “context.” Something you may not know if you’re not a big baseball fan is that the statistical standards of excellence (or just-okayness) aren’t always the same. Over the course of major league history teams have always scored, oh, about four and a half runs a game, but it varies a bit for a variety of reasons – ballparks are different, weather, talent, the baseball is wound tighter, rule changes, steroids, and the like.
When Fletcher had that .320 average in 2000, teams were hitting like crazy. The average American League team scored 857 runs, one of the highest average offensive levels in the history of baseball. So Fletcher’s numbers LOOK great, but everyone was hitting. So the value of his hits and homers in terms of making his team win games was not as great as they might appear. If a catcher today hit .320 with 20 homers he’d be an All Star. If a catcher had hit .320 with 20 homers in 1968, when the average American League team scored only 3.4 runs a game and in fact no one had a batting average that high, he’d be a legitimate candidate for Most Valuable Player. In 2000, Fletcher was not one of the 100 best players in the majors.
Fletcher was a good player and all, I just used him as an example.
- Lyle Overbay, First Base, 2006-2010
Had a hell of a year in 2006, but was just okay after that. To be honest, when I looked it up I was surprised he played in Toronto as long as he did. He is largely famous for being the only Blue Jay to hit into an unassisted triple play.
- B.J. Ryan, Pitcher, 2006-2009
Ryan had a big year for Baltimore as their relief ace in 2005, so the Blue Jays gave him a big bag of money. In his first year with Toronto he was just spectacular, amassing a pile of saves and a 1.37 ERA, which is ludicrously good. Then in his second year he was hurt, pitched disastrously for a week, and missed the rest of the year. Third year he was pretty good again, fourth year he was a disaster again, and that was the end of his career.
If there is any transaction that a team can make that has “bad organization” written all over it, it’s when they spend big bucks or trade any top prospects to get a relief ace. There is nothing dumber that you can do; every team in the major leagues can find a perfectly good closer amongst the dozen or more relief pitchers they have right now, or can make some failed starter a closer. Most World Series winners had a relief ace who was either a guy they picked up for nothing, a failed starter, some kid they gave the job to, or just the next middle reliever in line and they said “Well, it’s your turn. Have fun.” If you don’t believe me, look it up. The greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera? Failed starter, given the job when the previous closer left and Rivera was the next guy in line.
- Kelvim Escobar, Pitcher, 1997-2003
The only player in major league history named “Kelvim.”
Escobar (there have been a zillion Escobars) was another one of the seemingly super talented young pitchers the Jays came up with in the late 90s and struggled to coach to success. Kelvim was also dicked around in terms of his role; in 2002 the team decided to turn him from starter to relief ace, which he was not very good at.
After 2003 the Jays, somewhat controversially, allowed Escobar to go to the Angels as a free agent. This was seen as a high risk move, as he was 27 and actually had his best year in 2003. He did have some good years in Anaheim but honestly, for the price it wasn’t a huge loss. The team wouldn’t have won anything if he’d stayed.
- J.A. Happ, Pitcher, 2011-2014, 2016-2017
A tall lefthander who throws very hard, Happ has been up and down most of his career and has played for a lot of teams. He was with the Jays from 2011-2014 and was useful, if not great, and then left and pitched for two teams just in 2015. After he had a couple of good months for Pittsburgh in 2015 the Jays got him back as a free agent on a 3-year deal that I thought looked really overpriced. Damned if he didn’t go out and win 20 games. He pitched almost as well in 2017, but went 10-11 because the team behind him was really terrible.
Happ in 2014 was involved in a terrifying incident in which he was nearly killed by a line drive – one in a growing number of such incidents. Pitchers will be wearing helmets within 20 years.
His named is said “Jay Happ,” not “Jay-ay Happ.”
- Roberto Osuna, Pitcher, 2015-2017
Toronto’s current relief ace. Osuna is an immensely talented pitcher, just 22, and will continue to pitch well if they don’t blow his arm up. See the note about Billy Koch; despite being just 20 years old when they handed him the closer’s job, Osuna has been great, including truly dominating playoff work.
Osuna took a week off in the middle of 2017 due to what was reported as being anxiety issues. You might take that as being a bad sign, but I think it’s a good sign the Jays were honest about it and gave him some time off. In the past, no one would have admitted something like that and the problem would have festered. He came back and pitched fine.
- Mark Buerhle, Pitcher, 2013-2015
Buerhle’s last name is pronounced “Burly,” which is quite an accurate description.
Buerhle was a machine. From 2001 to 2015, 11 seasons with the White Sox, one with Miami and three with Toronto, he never missed a start. He was scheduled to make 490 starts in those 15 years and made every one of them, plus four playoff starts. He had a good year every single one of those fifteen years. He never had a losing record. He wasn’t a flamethrower or anything; he just went out, every five days like clockwork, and pitched like a professional. After the 2015 season, in which he went 15-8, he decided he was done, and he quit.
There are very, very few Hall of Fame pitchers who can match Buerhle’s incredible run and yet he won’t go to the Hall of Fame because he was never great. He was really good, but he never won 20 games or won a Cy Young Award or lead the league in strikeouts or ERA. He was just a guy you could rely on for a long time.
- Pat Borders, Catcher, 1987-1995, I think? 1994?
Borders was the MVP of the 1992 World Series for the Jays. I am pretty sure Pat is the worst player of all time who ever won a World Series MVP Award. Not that he was bad in the Series, he was great, but every other player I can think of who was a World Series MVP was a good to great player.
Actually, one of the curiosities of baseball is that there are not more surprising World Series heroes. In a short series anything can happen; it’s not at all surprising a mediocre player like Pat would suddenly rip out nine hits in six games, that stuff happens all the time. But he’s pretty much the worst player to ever do it in a World Series, and by “worst” this is a guy who was a regular player and had a long career, so that’s a relative statement.
- Todd Stottlemyre, Pitcher, 1988-1994
A famously dull-witted doofus, Stottlemyre really didn’t do anything especially well but he threw just hard enough and with just enough control to hold his own for ten years or so.
In the 1993 World Series, Todd started Game 4 and, it being a National League park, he had to hit. He drew a walk, and a few batters later, tried to go from first to third on Robbie Alomar’s single, but he was so bad at sliding he slammed his head into the ground and cut his chin (while being tagged out.) He was kind of dazed, and the Phillies just killed him when it was their turn up. Fortunately their pitching was even worse and the Blue Jays won 15-14. That is a real score, not a typo.
- Al Leiter, Pitcher, 1989-1995
Leiter was a hot prospect the Jays got in return for Jesse Barfield (Jesse is way higher on the list) but he could not stay healthy, struggling with blisters. He finally had an okay year in 1995 and promptly left Toronto for Florida. People were angry at him about this. The fact is the Blue Jays were an absolute tire fire of a baseball team and just two years later Florida won the World Series, so who can blame Al for that?
Leiter sometimes does color commentary on TV and he’s good at it. Most baseball commentators are horrible. The Blue Jays have employed Pat Tabler for like 15 years and I have not heard the man say 15 insightful things in all that time. He’ll say things like “the Jays could really use a hit here,” as if there a time in a baseball game you want your hitters to strike out. I mean, Pat Tabler was a major league player and I wasn’t but I really believe I’d be better at commentating than he is. I’d love to say Tabler is an exception but in truth he’s quite typical; most color commentators just blather like that. Leiter actually pointed out subtle elements of a player’s technique, or defensive alignments, or pitch selection, that I found myself saying “Huh, I didn’t know that.”