Franchise Four

Today is the final day of voting for Major League Baseball’s current nod to its past, the “Franchise Four.”

The Franchise Four, if you’re not aware, is a fan vote whereby we can pick the four greatest players ever to play for each team. Let the debates begin and armchair critics chairs become airborne.

Some franchises would appear to be relatively simple to pick. Chicago Cubs? How about Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg. Others are trickier because there is so much history; take the Yankees for instance. Maybe Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter. But it’s hard to forget Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio or Mariano Rivera. Others are difficult for the opposite reason. Try picking four greats for Tampa Bay. And there’s Washington where my guess is none of the Franchise Four ever played for the Nationals (Larry Walker, Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Steve Rogers… Montreal, you can now begin sobbing unapolagetically.)

My particular interest is , not surprisingly, the Franchise Four for the Blue Jays. Now in their 39th season, there’s a surprising number of viable options to represent Toronto. For me, three are fairly simple choices.

Carlos Delgado played for the Jays for a long time (1993- 2004) and at a high level. He is second in all-time games played for Toronto, with 1423, over which he hit a solid .283, with a club record 336 home runs- more than a hundred more than second -place Vernon Wells. He’s the alltime Jays RBI leader as well, with 1058 and second in on base percentage, behind only John Olerud, who’s tenure was much briefer.

His 145 RBI in 2003 not only led the league but is a team record that still stands. Nine years of 120+ games, a two time All Star, three time Silver Slugger. Although he doesn’t join George Bell on the list of American League MVP winners, he was the runner-up in ’03 to Alex Rodriguez who was at the time using PEDs by his own admission. Unfortunately JP Ricciardi ran him out of town prematurely and a bad back cut short what would have otherwise likely been a Hall of Fame career. He may not be Cooperstown, but he’s on the Jays “Level of Excellence” and can’t be anything other than one of the “f4.”

Roy Halladay is a no-brainer to me. First appearing at the end of 1998 in dramatic fashion (coming oh-so-close to a no-hitter on the last day of the year) and being the face of the franchise most of the time until he ended up being traded for 2010, he was always a classy individual off the diamond and a top-flight pitcher on it. Well, actually, to be accurate, he was the latter after a brief stint back in A-ball in 2001 to retool his delivery. After doing that, he was a stellar 135-62 (or a .671 winning percentage on a team that hovered around .500 continuously) with a 3.32 ERA. That’s a good ERA in any era, but remarkable in the early 2000s, when the steroids were shooting as fast as the balls were out of the parks and the league average ERA was 4.39. Add in his durability, (266 innings pitched in ’03) such as his 47 complete games and two 20-win seasons and it’s no wonder he was a six-time All Star for the Jays, their Pitcher of the Year five times and was in the top 5 for Cy Young voting four times besides the one he won in 2003. Overall he’s third in games started all-time and second in wins for Toronto. Arguably no other Blue Jay received as much attention across the league as Roy did in ’09 when rumors abounded of him being traded… until

Jose Bautista, my third pick, started hitting dingers when given the chance to play every day. Joey Bats hasn’t yet accumulated career numbers with the Jays to rival Delgado or a few others, but he’s clearly become the Face of the Franchise, and has had unparalleled popularity which continues to grow, as do his numbers. Since arriving from Pittsburgh, he’s played in 833 games and counting, and is tops of the current roster in games, hits, home runs… his 54 homers in ’10 is a team record and the 529 walks over the span is incredible and puts his OBP at .384, fourth best among all Jays. Two times leading the majors in long balls, league leader in slugging percentage in ’11, three Silver Slugger awards, five time All Star (including last year when he became the first jay ever to lead fan voting across the AL), he’s brought respect to a team often overlooked Stateside. Moreover, as noted in a blog here recently, he brings an intangible along with him. In the lineup, the team seems confident and capable of racking up huge tallies; when he’s absent, the team deflates. One might argue that he isn’t the best Blue Jay of all-time, but he probably is the best-known one… and he’s not far down the list on the talent list!

Three down, one to go. This is where it gets tricky. Certainly we can give a nod of appreciation to Mr. October (93 edition), smilin’ Joe Carter, to Vernon Wells, to the closer of the glory years, Tom Henke, but it’s hard to argue for them in the top four. It’s hard not to put Dave Stieb up there. For the entire decade of the 80s, he was among the premiere pitchers in the AL, and still leads the team in all-time wins (175), starts and innings. He also tossed our one and only no-no, in 1990, the year his win total topped out at 18. In his 16 non-consecutive year career, he only logged four games in any other uniform (with the White Sox in ’93.) He came out of retirement in 1998 to pitch out of the Jays bullpen, for lawd’s sake! A 7-time All Star, he had a great 1985 when he led the league in ERA and then started 3 games in Toronto’s first playoff series. He belongs on the Level of Excellence, where he is honored… but falls just short of the Franchise Four.

My most controversial ommission is bound to be Roberto Alomar. Alomar was charismatic and well-liked in Toronto, was a sparkplug for their back-to-back World Series wins (a .381 post-season average with the Jays, stealing 8 bases in both ’92 and ’93 playoffs and of course, being remembered for one memorable homer off Dennis Eckersley that turned the team’s fortunes around in the ALCS) and won five Gold Gloves in his time in Toronto. From ’91 to ’93 he had at least 170 hits a season, and his .326 average in ’93 was third best on the club… and third best in the league! And let’s not forget, he is the only person in the Hall of Fame depicted wearing a Jays cap.

For all that, as much as I loved watching him turn the double play and appreciate his contribution to the success of the early ’90s team, i find it hard to put a player who only played for the club for five years up there with players who contributed much longer. His 703 games doesn’t even crack the top 30 on Jays all-time.

No, my pick for the final member of the Franchise Four is another middle-infielder with remarkable dexterity and speed…Tony Fernandez. If ever there was a player who bled blue jays blue, it’s Tony. After all, he started his career with Toronto in 1983, was disappointed to be traded to San Diego after 1990, and returned for three more stints in Ontario, eventually retiring a Jay in 2001. His 1450 games played is far and away most by anyone in a Jays uniform, and his 1583 hits in those games is likewise tops. Although not a power hitter, his 613 RBI ranks him sixth. In 1986, he managed to play in 163 games; four years later he led the majors with a team-record 17 triples. Eight times he stole bases in double digits and he sported a nifty .298 average over his many years of Blue Jaydom. Four-time All Star, four Gold Gloves, four years in the AL Top Ten in hitting. In 1999, at age 37 he managed to hit .328 and drive in 75 runs for the team he’d just rejoined. Happily he managed to get a World Series ring with the ’93 club after being traded back from New York midseason. It’s worth noting that he managed to collect 10 RBI in 12 games that post-season. Tony , like Halladay, was always polite and classy off the field and brought goodwill to the club through his charity work.

So there you have it : Delgado, Halladay, Bautista, Fernandez. My Blue Jays Franchise Four. Have you picked yours yet?

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