So, instead of focusing on yesterday’s shellacking to the Angels courtesy the arm of Edwin Jackson, (still on the roster with his 12+ ERA last I looked today) 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…Last time we looked at Roberto Alomar and Tony Fernandez. Today, we move around the diamond for two more standouts at their position, albeit neither one quite as open and shut as some of the previous positions we looked at.
If all goes as projected and hoped for, if we revisit this in about five years, we’ll have a new name here – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In the meantime… every team seems to have its bugaboo position – the one they never seem to fill that well. For Toronto, that would be the “hot corner”. Now, it’s not fair to say the Jays have never been strong at third, but it clearly is a position which through most of their 42 seasons, they’ve been average at best. That notwithstanding, it would seem that the magic of the World Series years continues on this list as Gruber would be the team’s best third bagger.
Now, I readily concede that current Atlanta star Josh Donaldson had a stellar 2015 in Toronto, deserved his MVP and was a very large part of the team’s first trip to the post-season in over two decades. But when all was said and done, Josh stayed here for just three full seasons and a bit, putting in 462 games… about half of Kelly’s 921.
Gruber was a true blue Jay, of that there can be no argument. He was with Toronto 1984 through ’92 and only played a grand total of 18 games elsewhere, with California in 1993 before retiring. He was the team’s everyday third baseman from ’87 to ’92, injuries excepted. And while there seems like there was a perception he was balsa-boned and oft-injured (and the infamous pictures of him out waterskiing while on the DL still come up in many a hot stove debate in Ontario sports bars) he actually missed a pretty acceptable number of games – from ’87 through ’90 inclusive he played a minimum of 135 games a season at third. Not Cal Ripken but still, a guy who showed up most of the time. And like beloved players at the position who followed like Brett Lawrie and the aforementioned Donaldson, he played all out, all the time. He didn’t have quite the raw talent of those two, but he was still quite a decent infielder. He actually won a Gold Glove in his stand out 1990 campaign and his career fielding percentage was .955 compared to the league average of .949 through that period. In 1988 he pulled off 35 double plays.
At the plate he was, at his best further above average than he was with his glove. Without the short weeks with Angels counted in, he hit .259 with 114 homers, 434 RBI and a .738 OPS. All that added up to a WAR of 16 – no Hall of Fame numbers, but pretty decent. He was a two time All Star, most clearly in 1990 when he set career highs in homers (31), doubles (36), RBI (118) and slugging percentage (.512).
While Gruber was the 3B for the Jays first World Series, Ed Sprague had pretty much taken the job the next year for the team’s second, and Sprague might be the player who came closest to Kelly career-wise as a Toronto third baseman, playing 888 games through ’98, hitting .245 with 113 home runs. Unlike Gruber, his fielding came in a bit below the league norm, perhaps in no small part to his beginning his career as a catcher rather than infielder.
Hands down. Now, some might be saying I’m being inconsistent here since I just said a few paragraphs back that Josh Donaldson didn’t really merit consideration for best Third Baseman and he played just over three full seasons with Toronto. “Molly” played just three – and one of those was the infamous, strike-shortened 1994. My reaction to that is A) it’s my blog and I can be inconsistent if I want to, and also B) DH is an unusual position since Toronto has seldom rostered a full-time one – quite unlike 3B, or other field positions. Most years the DH role is shared by a number of outfielders and often first baseman having a “half day off” on a rotating basis.
But one of the exceptions to that was 1993-95, when Toronto ponied up the cash for former-Milwaukee superstar Molitor. He was 36 when he arrived, and not quite agile enough to take on the role of everyday infielder he’d done for so long with the Brewers (Toronto did occasionally start him at first, but his primary role was to hit … and that he did!). He had the unenviable task of replacing crowd favorite Dave Winfield, who performed great and helped Toronto win their first championship in his one campaign for the Jays in ’92. After a few months fans were asking “Dave who?”.
Molitor might just have been the best pure hitter, and clutch hitter ever to don the birdy shirt. In his first year with the team, he led the league in plate appearances (725) and hits (211) and came second to teammate John Olerud with a .332 batting average. The average and the hits both rank as the third-best one year totals ever for the Jays. He drove in 111 and had a .911 OPS, a full 43% above league average. If you were going to define “designated hitter”, you could do well by just pointing to Paul that year.
In ’94, he seemed to be on an even better roll before the season came to a crashing halt, hitting .341 with 155 hits in only 115 games. In all, Molitor hit .315 with 246 RBI, 73 stolen bases (not bad for an “old” guy) and a WAR of 12 in his three years. His three regular season years that is. If his regular season performance wasn’t already enough, Molitor endeared himself to the crowds by his superhuman performance in the ’93 playoffs. After going 9 for 23 in the ALCS, he simply dominated the Phillies pitching staff in the World Series (which he was the MVP of), going 12 for 24 with two homers and 8 RBI. He scored the tying run in front of Joe Carter’s epic walk-off blast in the winning game, after having a double and a two run homer earlier in the game. With the team down in the 9th, and one out, he’d singled Rickey Henderson over with a sturdy line drive off Mitch Williams, setting the stage for Carter’s blast heard around the world… or at least around Canada!
Next time out, we’ll go out to the outfield, spots Toronto has had its share of greats in.