True Blue Pt. 1 – The Best Of The Blue Jays

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”.

CATCHER

Ernie Whitt

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.

First Base

Carlos Delgado

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 …

8 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Carlos Delgado, I hated to see come up for the Mets when he played for them. He was a great home run hitter. I also felt bad for him because he missed the Blue Jays World Series wins by just a hair. At one time the Jays had Delgado and Green at the same time…that is some left-handed power.

    Looked up Ernie Whitt… for a catcher in that era he was really good…very consistent.

    • Dave

      Delgado could really hit! Yep, with Green in the lineup too at his best, that was something. He was good still with the Mets, but man, at his peak with Toronto, he was a force to contend with.
      Whitt was indeed a good enough player and like I suggested, he was a sort of “good guy” and a very hard worker that made him a fan favorite.

      • badfinger20

        Catchers in that era concentrated on defense mostly and his offense numbers were very good for a catcher. The good guy part just made it better.

        Delgado and Green in the lineup had to be scary. The Dodgers had Green and Sheffield which was deadly until Green hurt his shoulder and lost a lot of his pop.

        I never understood why either of them were traded unless they were rebuilding…and for Raúl Mondesi?

      • Dave

        Your memory is better than mine! I think you’re right- they traded Green for Mondesi. I recall Mondesi coming over but couldn’t remember how he arrived in toronto… he was good briefly but never lived up to what his perceived ability was and from what I can recall had major attitude problems with the management. His son’s doing fine with KC now though, isn’t he? Green was a good player but I think like John Olerud he was (very unfairly) criticized here for seeming too detatched and unemotional

      • badfinger20

        He had attitude problems with Dodger management also…that is why I couldn’t figure out why Toronto traded for him…maybe thinking a change of scenery would help…I see it didn’t.

        Olerud was fantastic. His OBP was great…he would fit in with todays players very well.

        Green… What made him so special to Dodgers fans…other than hitting over 40 homeruns in a year (In Dodger Stadium that was a feat back then) was he was left-handed. Back then they could not produce any lefthanded power in their system. He balanced the lineup.

      • Dave

        I didn’t realize Green hit 40 with LA, but he had deceptive power. I think you can get most blue Jays fans if you ask them a trivia question of naming the players who hit 40 or more in a year for the Jays… few remember Green, fewer still tony Batista (no relation to Jose Bautista!). I think a combination of media pressure and sadly, Cito gaston, messed up Olerud. He was a great hitter, had a good eye, like you said, good on base pct… but he didn’t hit a whole lot of home runs. Which should have been fine — who woldn’t take a .340 hitter with .400 on base and maybe 20-24 homers a year? But Toronto management felt if they altered his approach he could be a 40 home run guy… he was never quite the same after the ’93 batting title.

      • badfinger20

        Yes he hit 42 and 49 one year… That is why it puzzled me…He hit 42 in his last Blue Jay year…I was thrilled about the trade…The Jays had a surplus of left handers…maybe that was the reason. The Dodgers have honored Green a few times.
        I would have taken Olerud in a heartbeat…he would make an astronmical amount of money today with those numbers.

      • Dave

        I think you may be right about the left, lol. Seems like Toronto might have thought they had too many LH hitters back then, to me it was a non-issue…a good hitter is a good hitter. Shawn was an LA native, wasn’t he? Nice to be well-loved in your hometown.

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