Toronto Blue Jays (1977-Present)
American League (1977-Present)
American League Champion: 1992, 1993
World Series Champion: 1992, 1993
In 1977, for the second time, Major League Baseball placed a team in Canada. This time they got it right. Toronto is the 4th largest City in North America (behind Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles). It also had a history of supporting professional baseball.
The baseball Toronto Maple Leafs began play in the International League in 1896. They remained an independent minor league franchise well into the 1930s. In 1914 a young pitcher from Baltimore hit his first professional home run at Toronto’s Harlan’s Point Park while playing for the Maple Leafs. That would be the only minor league round trip ever hit by George Herman Ruth. Like most other minor league teams they were forced into becoming a farm team for the Major Leagues in the 1930s. The Maple Leafs would survive until 1967.
Toronto’s first attempt at fielding a Major League franchise came in the 1960s, when a group of cities wanting to have major league baseball got together to form a third major league. Toronto was on the forefront of the attempt, but the attempt was thwarted when Major League Baseball added four teams in 1961-1962, and four more in 1969. This meant that Canada’s largest city was without professional baseball after the folding of the Maple Leafs in 1967 until 1977.
Toronto thought they were going to get a team in in February, 1976. The Labatt Brewing Company made a bid for the San Francisco Giants. The Giant owners accepted the bid, and the Toronto Giants were in line to start play at the recently renovated Exhibition Stadium in the 1976 season. While awaiting final approval of the sale from the National League, a California Judge blocked the sale. Expansion was the next option, but they almost ran into an even bigger obstacle than a California Judge.
The American League announced later in 1976 that they were going to put teams in Seattle and Toronto. The Labatt Brewing Company again moved in to buy the new franchise slated for Toronto. That’s when the President of the United States stepped in. Gerald Ford let it be known that he thought Major League Baseball should put a team in the Nation’s Capital before awarding one to a city outside the United States. Baseball ultimately said “no” to the President, and Toronto had their team.
Like most expansion teams, the Blue Jays early years were not competitive, but unlike other expansion teams, Toronto had a plan. They hired Pat Gillick to run the team in 1978. This set the franchise on a youth program, and a gradual ascension into an elite status in Major League Baseball. Dave Steib, Alfredo Griffin, Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, Jesse Barfield, and Tony Fernandez were just some of the young stars brought in by Gillick.
He hired Bobby Cox to manage them in 1982, just as they were ready to contend. By 1983 they posted a winning record for the first time. Cox left for Atlanta in 1985, but the team continued to improve. For the next eleven years they would become the best team in the American League Eastern Division. Division champs in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1993, they went on to win the first World Championship for a franchise outside the United States, when they defeated the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series. They repeated as champs in 1993 on Joe Carter’s dramatic 3-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.
They left Exhibition Park for a brand new indoor stadium in 1977. The Skydome was a wonder to behold, and the Blue Jays thrived there. They drew 3 million fans for the first time in 1989, 4 million two years later, a figure they would also surpass the next two years. The owners’ lockout of 1994 probably hurt the Blue Jays more than any other franchise. As a two time defending champion they were one of the favorites to win it all in 1994, but the lockout prevented them the opportunity. By 1995 they were on the descent. Attendance dropped below 3 million, then below 2 million in 2000. It has never fully recovered.
Evidence shows that Toronto will support a winner. Behind Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Enarnacion they won the American League East in 2015. Attendance surged to above 3 million the next two years. Toronto is not a small TV market, but one of the largest, about even with Dallas/Ft. Worth. The potential for this franchise is huge. If management gets its act together this city could support a team to rival the Yankees and the Red Sox.
Used primarily in a platoon arrangement in his early years, he eventually became full time. Ernie Whitt (1977-1989) was solid behind the plate and grew into a better than average hitter, for a catcher. An easy choice
Toronto has had a bunch of worthy candidates at first base. Unfortunately for Edwin Encarnacion (2009-2016), Fred McGriff (1986-1990), and John Olerud (1989-1996) none of them can be shifted to another position, and the choice here is undeniable. Carlos Delgado (1993-2004) came up as a catcher, but he quickly was shifted to first base. He drove in over 100 runs six straight seasons with the Blue Jays. Probably the best run producer in franchise history.
Roberto Alomar (1991-1995) was an All Star and Gold Glove winner all five years in Toronto. The Hall of Famer was the best player on Toronto’s two World Championship Teams.
Josh Donaldson (2015-2018) won an MVP for Toronto in 2015. Despite his short time in Toronto he’s the choice unless we decide to move Jose Bautista (2008-2017) there. Bautista is going to make the team somewhere, but he only played third base 146 times in Toronto. When he was an All Star he was a right fielder.
Tony Fernandez (1983-1990, 1993, 1998-2001) was a key element on the team that won Toronto’s first two American League East Titles. They brought him back in their second World Championship season in 1993. A Gold Glove at shortstop, who could also contribute with the bat. An all time fan favorite in Toronto. An easy pick
Jesse Barfield (1981-1989) and Lloyd Moseby were teammates when the Blue Jays rose to a contender in the late 1980s. Neither one was still there when Toronto won it all in 1992 and 1993. The outfield of Barfield, Moseby and Bell was the best in baseball at the time. Most observers at that time felt that Bell was the best of the three and Moseby the weakest. The formula we use shows the opposite, with Moseby the best (narrowly over Barfield) and Bell the weakest. This is a tough call, but we’ll trust the formula. Lloyd Moseby (1980-1989)
By the formula we use Lloyd Moseby (1980-1989) and Vernon Wells (1999-2010) are even. They were both superior defensive outfielders and slightly better than the best left fielder (Jesse Barfield). One is going to left field. Despite his excellence in the field, Moseby never won a Gold Glove, while Vernon Wells (1999-2010) won nine of them. With some reservations we’ll keep Vernon Wells (1999-2010) in center field and move Lloyd Moseby to left.
Jorge Bell (1981-1990) was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1987 when the Blue Jays had the best outfield in baseball. 1987 was the year Toronto collapsed late and blew the American League East Title to the Detroit Tigers. By the time the franchise made it to the World Series in the early 1990s Bell was in Chicago. Overrated as a player, due to his inability to accept a walk, he only gets the nod if we move Jose Bautista (2008-2017) to third base. Bautista had a strange career arc. Up to age 28 his career high in home runs in a season was 16. In 2010 he exploded to a league leading total of 54. For his last seven seasons in Toronto his lowest total for home runs was 22. A power surge at age 29 that was totally unexpected.
Dave Stieb (1979-1992) was a workhorse, leading the league in innings pitched twice in the early years of the franchise. He won an ERA title in the Jay’s first pennant winning season. Injuries plagued him after 1990, so he was not a key component of the teams that won the World Series. He won 175 games for the club, more than anyone else.
Roy Halladay (1998-2009) is #2. His record in Toronto was 148-76. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2003 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2019, shortly after his tragic death in a plane crash in 2017.
While not the quality pitcher that Stieb and Halliday were, #3 Jimmy Key (1984-1992) was the ace of the staff during the Blue Jays most successful years.
#4 is very close between Jim Clancy (1977-1988) and Pat Hentgen (1991-1999). Clancy lost more games than he won in Toronto, but he was there when the team was not very good. In that context his 128-140 record is not bad. On the other hand, Pat Hentgen (1991-1999) was there during their best seasons. He was a three time All Star, and even won a Cy Young Award in 1996 when he won 20 games and led the league in innings pitched. This is a toss-up.
Cito Gaston (1989-1996) was at the helm when Toronto won it all in 1992 and 1993. He was also in charge when they won the American League Eastern Division Championships in 1989, and 1991. That’s four of the Blue Jays six Pennants. An easy choice.
There is no obvious player. There is no George Brett, Robin Yount, or Tony Gwynn to make the selection easy. The first to consider is Dave Stieb (1979-1992). The choice of Stieb over Roy Halladay (1998-2009) as Toronto’s top pitcher was a difficult one. Both are worthy, but we did ultimately selected Stieb as the #1 pitcher. That seems to eliminate Halladay.
The best offensive player in Blue Jay history was Carlos Delgado (1993-2004). That has to count for something, but he had little value on defense, and the team didn’t win while he was there.
The teams Roberto Alomar (1991-1995) was on did win. They won Eastern Division Titles in four of his five years, and the World Series twice. There is a problem, he was only there for five years. Of the men we’re considering he’s the only one in the Hall of Fame.
Jose Bautista (2008-2017) spent ten seasons in Toronto. His offensive production was close to Delgado, and he played right field, so he had some defensive value. Bautista was a 6-time All-Star, while Delgado in his twelve years was only selected twice. Bautista was instrumental in the Blue Jays 2015 Division Title.
The last to consider is the beloved shortstop, Tony Fernandez (1983-1990, 1993, 1998-2001). Winner of four Gold Gloves from 1986-1989, Fernandez anchored the team that was the best in the American League Eastern Division. On offense he was good, not great. His OPS while in Toronto was .765, with a peak of .805 in 1987 when he finished 8th in the MVP voting. The metrics we use rates the five; Stieb, Delgado, Bautista, Fernandez, Alomar, in that order. Since the formula we use tends to underrate pitchers, it seems to verify the conclusion that the best answer is the All-Star pitcher, who four times finished in the top ten in the Cy Young Award vote, Dave Stieb (1979-1992).