Last night the Blue Jays looked like world-beaters, from the Rowdy Tellez grand slam to the adequately decent 5-inning performance from much-traveled veteran Edwin Jackson which brought his ERA down to 10.22. But the cold water in the face is that they were playing the most pathetic of baseball birds, the Orioles, much the same team that lost 115 games last year. All in all, it’s been a long season for the Blue Jays and us fans…and it’s still about a month to the All Star Game.
So, instead of focusing on that, let’s look back on some of the good Jays days of the past. In the spirit of the All Star Game, I present to you the All Time Blue Jays All Star Team. The best of the best over the first 42 Toronto years… The first two are both more or less “no brainers”.
Benito Santiago might be the catcher who came closest to Cooperstown who caught for the Blue Jays, but his meagre two years here were in fact one forgettable season and a lost year due to a car accident. Whitt is simply the only real true-blue, long-term star catcher the team’s ever had. After a handful of appearances with Boston in 1976, he was one of the initial Jays in ’77 and stayed until 1989. Few even remember his short post-Toronto career in Baltimore. He was the man behind the plate as the team came of age, through their first playoff appearance (1985) and when all was said and done, he’d logged 1218 games for the team, sixth best overall and by far the most for any catcher. Durability? In that magical ’85 season he played 139 games, making fans love him as much for his grittiness as his talent. Breaking two ribs in the final week of the 1987 season, sliding into second, seemed the final nail in the coffin of a team that had a 3-and-a-half game lead in their division with a week to go. After his ribs cracked on the final Tuesday, Toronto failed to win another and ended up out of the playoffs.
While he wasn’t flashy at the plate nor behind it, he was consistently good. He was an All Star in ’85 and with Toronto hit .253 with 131 homers, 518 RBI and even got away with 22 stolen bases. He hit 19 homers twice (at that point, a record for Toronto catchers), drove in 75 in 1987 and had a career WAR (with Jays only) of 19.2. His defensive WAR alone was 1.7 in ’83 and while he didn’t have the finest of throwing arms, he worked magic with the pitching staff as can be guessed by looking at the successes of pitchers like Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key and Tom Henke during his tenure as catcher.
Final bonus points for the moustached one: even though from Michigan, he embraced Toronto and Canada like few other players and for years was involved in amateur baseball in Canada. In 2004 he managed Canada’s Olympic team and in 2011, guided them to a Pan Am games gold.
One of the most under-rated players of the Steroid era, all the more lamentable given that Carlos was one of a very few home run hitters of the late-’90s not implicated in steroid scandals, let alone failing any drug tests.
Delgado, at his best, may have been the best-ever Blue Jays hitter. Surprisingly, he came through the system as a catcher but his size and wise heads in front office knew he’d never become a great backstop but that role would limit his at bats and arguably shorten his career. So, First Base it would be, and while he never shone there, he was perfectly adequate. Carlos was the last remnant of the World Series glory days with the team in the 21st Century; he made his debut at the very tail end of the 1993 championship season and played in T.O. through 2004 before ill-advised budget cutting saw him move on to Florida. In all, he played 1423 games for the Jays, including all 162 in both 2000 and ’01. Only Tony Fernandez has taken the field more with the crested bird on his cap.
Remarkably he was only an AL All star twice (see “under-rated”!) despite having eight 30HR seasons and 6 triple digit RBI campaigns. In 2003, he was runner up for AL MVP, a year many fans marked that award with an asterisk, as he came second to Alex Rodriguez, who later admitted to violating the PED steroids rules that year. That 2003 year, he hit .302 with 42 homers and 145 RBI, a number which still stands as the all-time single season record for the team. As good as that year was, it actually paled a little beside 2000 when he had a team record .664 slugging percentage and 123 walks (with a .664 slugging, no doubt pitchers were wary of giving him many down the middle of the plate) or 2001 when his OPS was a mind-boggling 1.134.
Through his Toronto run, he hit .282, averaged 75 walks a season, had a .392 on base percentage and .556 slugging percentage. That makes for a .949 OPS, fully 42% above league norm for that period. His 57 doubles in 2000 still stands as a team record as does the 4-homer game he had against Tampa in ’03. He also has more put outs – 10 333- than anyone else in team history and put all together, a WAR of 44.
A few might possibly argue John Olerud had a better single season with his batting championship ’93 (and its .363 average) but it’s pretty much impossible to suggest anyone has come close, before or since, to big #25’s career performance at first.
Up next, we’ll look at some of the best-ever middle infielders …