Monday, September 17, 2018

Around the Horn: Toronto Blue Jays

O, Canada! My "Around the Horn" series makes the trek north of the border, to look at the only current MLB team not in the United States, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Blue Jays were founded in 1977 along with the Seattle Mariners as part of the last round of American League expansion (that is, until 1998 when the Rays (nee Devil Rays) were added).

From their inception until June of 1989, the Jays played at Exhibition Stadium, a strange creature of a stadium positioned on the shores of Lake Ontario. According to Wikipedia, there was a small snowstorm before the inaugural game in April of 1977 and the team had to borrow the Zamboni from the Maple Leafs to clear the field.

During the first few years of the Blue Jays existence, they were nothing to write home about. However, when Bobby Cox took over as manager in the early 1980s, things began to improve and the Blue Jays began to rise in the standings. The 1982 Topps "Future Stars" card shows a glimpse into the future. Let's see how each player on this card panned out:

Jesse Barfield - Played 12 MLB seasons total, the first nine of which were with the Jays. He finished in the top 10 of Rookie of the Year voting in 1982, twice in the top ten of MVP voting (1985, 1986), and won Gold Gloves in 1986 and 1987. His best season was 1986, the only season in which he made the All-Star team, in which he slugged 40 homers, hit .289 with a .559 slugging percentage, and drove in 108 RBIs.

Brian Milner - Only appeared in two major league games in 1978 and accumulated 9 official at bats in those two games. He tooled around the lower minors for a few years and was out of organized baseball after 1982.

Boomer Wells - Also known as Greg Wells, he lasted all of two seasons in the majors (1981 with TOR and 1982 with MIN) and only appeared in a paltry 47 games during that span. In 1983, he went over to Japan and had a very prolific career over there playing until 1992 with the Hankyu Braves, Orix Braves, and the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.

Throughout the 1980s, the Blue Jays were perennial contenders for the AL East Division crown and actually won the Division in 1985 before being bested by Kansas City in the ALCS that year. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they had veterans like Jim Clancy along with youngsters such as Cecil Fielder and Mark Whiten who would eventually lead them to the promise land. More on that later.

I picked these cards out because I always enjoyed the pure white of the Blue Jays uniforms during this period. Also, I think Cecil Fielder's four year run with the Jays gets forgotten quite a bit as most remember him for the home run clubbing first baseman for the Tigers during the early part of the 1990s.

From the "short term stops" file, here's some 80s cards of Jeff Burroughs and Juan Berenguer. 

Burroughs only season with the Jays was his sunset year of 1985 where he only made 86 games. He's shown here in the 1986 Fleer issue. It's one of only a handful of cards I have from that particular set. Berenguer, also known as "El Gasolino" in addition to his "SeƱor Smoke" moniker, had a brief 12-game sojourn north of the border in 1981 as he was purchased by the Jays from the Royals just before the second half of the season started. 

In the middle of the 1989 season, the Blue Jays moved from Exhibition Stadium into the brand new Skydome (since renamed Rogers Centre), a giant multi-purpose stadium built on the former Railway Lands in downtown Toronto.

Fred McGriff and Joe Carter were part of arguably the biggest and most famous trade in Blue Jays history. In December of 1990, the Blue Jays traded McGriff and Tony Fernandez to San Diego for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. The rest is history. 

McGriff had a few good seasons with the Padres before being acquired by the Braves in 1993 for the stretch run to the playoffs. Fernandez spent two seasons in San Diego before being traded to the Mets in the 1992-93 offseason. He found his way back to Toronto after being acquired via trade in June of 1993. All totaled, Fernandez had four different stints with the Jays (1983-1990, 1993, 1998-99, and 2001) before retiring.

Would I call myself a Fred McGriff collector? Yes, possibly as he's a player I'm familiar with from seeing him with the Braves on TV. Seeing cards of him though in a Blue Jays uniform is just fascinating. These are my four favorites that I have.

Carter and Alomar helped the Jays win back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993, with Carter hitting one of the most famous home runs in World Series history in 1993 off Mitch Williams of the Phillies. Alomar anchored the defense up the middle and earned both an All-Star nod and a gold glove in every season he spent up in Toronto. We won't mention the little umpire spitting incident though.

Joe Carter is definitely someone cool I enjoy collecting, mainly because of that home run in the 1993 World 

The Jays also had some great pitching during this time from players such as Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, and Pat Hentgen. Morris joined the team in 1992 and won 21 games for the Jays after having just won the World Series with Minnesota the year prior

Some more stars from early 90s Blue Jays teams, including "Hard Hittin'" Mark Whiten, and Dave Winfield, who's one of my favorite players to collect. Looking back now on it, those 92 and 93 teams were just absolutely loaded.

I mostly remember Paul Molitor for his time with the Brewers and him signing a three-year deal with the Blue Jays after spending 15 years in Milwaukee was a bit of a shock to me as a kid as I imagined him as a Brewer for life.

The Jays sort of fell off after the 1994-95 strike but did have some younger players coming up like Carlos Delgado. They even changed their long time logo and uniforms. 

They also managed to snag Roger Clemens for two brief seasons in 1997 and 1998. I'm not sure too many people remember his time in blue up north so I guess this could be filed as a "short term stop" even though it was two seasons. It's still bizarre to me to see him in anything but a Red Sox uniform.

One player I didn't care much for when he was with the Reds was Edwin Encarnacion. In a rare trade where it worked well for both teams, the Reds traded him and a couple minor leaguers in exchange for Scott Rolen. Encarnacion had a heck of a run with the Blue Jays, and coupled with Jose Bautista, made for a crazy power threat in the lineup. 

So there we are, a look at some of my favorite Blue Jays cards in my collection. Hope you enjoyed this entry in the "Around the Horn" series.

Next up ... the Cleveland Indians!


  1. When I think of the Blue Jays, the first player that pops into my head is Dave Stieb. Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff are right behind him.

  2. Great write up on the Jays. I would say Stieb would be the only other one to touch on and specifically his quest for a no hitter. He got into the 9th with one in 1985, then amazingly in 1988 he had back to back starts in September with a no hitter with only a last strike needed, and lost both bids before finally getting a no no in 1990. The 7 time all-star us definitely my number one Jay.

    1. I never knew that about Dave Stieb so thanks for the info! Admittedly, I never really got the chance to see the Blue Jays play unless they were featured on a national TV broadcast.

  3. Cecil never really hit his stride in Toronto.. Think the best thing for his career was going to Japan when he did.
    The late 90s logo change was one I liked as well. The only Jays logo I hated was the black and silver Angry Bird.

  4. When I think of the Jays I still remember the '92 World Series when they took out my Braves. Grrr....