True Blue Pt. 4 – The Best Of The Blue Jays

So, we actually had a decent series in Beantown, and if our fate this season is to be “spoiler”, well whose post-season fates better to spoil than the Curt Schilling-bloodied Sox! Nevertheless, it’s been a disappointing season so far, so 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 our choices for best 3B and DH.. Today, we move around the diamond for three more standouts at their position, and today it’s the trio of positions out there we have had a number of good ones at – the outfield! I toyed with the idea of picking the best 3 outfielders period, but decided to break it down to individual spots since traditionally, Toronto hasn’t been one to switch their outfielders back and forth willy-nilly.

LEFT FIELD:

George Bell

Yes, another LF hit the shot heard around the world (or Canada at least), and was a pretty good one for us for a good chunk of the ’90s – Joe Carter. But the guy who he replaced has to take the crown. Bell was a ground-breaker in many ways for the Jays – first big Dominican star for them (not inconsequential for a team that for years was with only the Dodgers as finders and perfectors of talent from the DR) , first Jay to win the AL MVP award, perhaps at his best the very first Toronto superstar. What he wasn’t, famously, was Toronto’s first gold-glover… Bell’s excellence always stemmed from his bat, not his glove, something that eventually led to his termination (as he made it clearly known he didn’t like the concept of being a full-time DH.)

But his bat was special. Bell came up as a youngster in 1981 and was with Toronto though ’90, playing 150+ games annually from ’84 to ’90. He retired a White Sox (Sock?) in 1993, making his Toronto time the bulk of, and the best of, his career. With the Blue Jays he logged 1181 games, knocked 1294 hits, 202 of them homers. He drove in 740. For his Jays career, he hit .286, with a .486 slugging percentage and .811 OPS (which was 19% above league average.) When he was young, he had surprising speed and gumption, stealing 21 bases in ’85 but primarily for George it was all about smacking that ball hard. His 1987 MVP season saw him hit .308, score 111 runs, hit a then-club record 47 longballs and drive in 134 runs, still the second-best tally ever for the team. He had 4 years of 25 HR and 5 of 90 or more RBI.

Bell was colorful, passionate, quick to rile and get riled, but a fan favorite of the early years of success, and one of the best-hitting outfielders the team’s ever seen.

CENTER FIELD:

Vernon Wells

This was one of the hardest positions to call. Four names quickly came to mind. Besides Wells, there was World Series-era Devon White, the only recently-departed Kevin Pillar and one of the first Jays’ stalwards, “Shaker” Llloyd Moseby.  White and Pillar were somewhat alike in being only ordinary hitters, but brilliant, fleet-footed defensive stars who could be counted on for about one highlight reel catch (not infrequently scaling a wall to do so) per series. As good as their gloves were, I dropped both from the running largely due to their duration – both played between 600 and 700 games in blue-and-white, only about half of the number played by the other pair.

Moseby was reliable and spanned the entire decade of the ’80s here, playing 1392 games with 169 homers, and an All Star appearance in 1986. Impressive, but just a wee bit short of Wells, who in fact ended with one game more – 1393. Wells first arrived in 1999 at a young 20,but only played 3 games in the Bigs the next year. However, he was essentially the everyday CF from 2002 through ’10, racking up Gold Gloves from ’04-’06 and being a two-time All Star. At his best, although not a match for White or Pillar in highlight catches, he was fast and reliable as any defensive outfielder in the AL, with two full seasons without any errors (and over 350 total chances handled smoothly in each.) More notably, he was an above-average hitter in every respect. Through his Toronto years, he hit .280 with 223 HR and 813 RBI, all contributing to a WAR of 29 over the years. In his best season, 2006, he hit .303 with 32 homers, 106 RBI and a remarkable WAR of 6.2. It was one of his three 100 RBI campaigns. Through his career in Toronto, Wells is the team’s all-time leader in at bats (5470), and is second in hits (1529), doubles (339) and RBI (813.)

Wells was always a rather low-key, decent sort who got on well with fans and the media. In an unfortunate sort of Catch-22 situation, his final days in Toronto were rather unpopular due to the simple fact that the club had listened to the fans and signed him to keep him around. The result was a very big, long-term deal that paid him about $124M over 7 years. His numbers didn’t keep up with the contract, and there was palpable relief when the Jays traded him to Anaheim leading up to the 2011 season. He hit just .227 with a total of 47 homers in the last three years he played, between the Angels and Yankees. Of course, had he left in free agency in 2008, fans would have been riled up, and had he settled for considerably less money, fans would have probably remained squarely in his corner. 

RIGHT FIELD:

Jose Bautista

With apologies to Jesse Barfield. Barfield was the RF for the team through most of the ’80s, the first Jay to hit 40 homers in a year (1986, when he led the majors and drove in 108 to boot) and whose cannon arm brought him Gold Gloves in ’86 and ’87. All the while being a thoroughly decent and likeable guy. But his stature has to be relegated to “silver medal” status by the guy who shares his initials and his talent, and became the face of the franchise this decade.

Bautista is one of baseball’s best “rags to riches” type stories. Not that Jose grew up in rags; he was one of the fortunate Dominicans to grow up in middle class surroundings and get a good education. However, his baseball career seemed tentative through the first decade of the 2000s, playing with little acclaim for, and easy disposal by, Tampa, Baltimore, Kansas City and Pittsburgh who traded him with little fanfare, to Toronto. At the time in 2008, fans shrugged and Bautista was seen as a run-of-the-mill backup infielder. It wasn’t until the following year, when Alex Rios started swearing at fans (becoming a detriment to the franchise)  that “Joey Bats” got to play regularly… and in right field.

From there, there was little looking back. In 2010, the first season he was an everyday outfielder for the Jays he rocketed to the top of the league’s hitters, knocking 54 longballs, a record which still stands for Toronto, and the first player in three years to reach that number in the AL. He also drove in 124 that season, and not surprisingly, given his power, was walked 100 times. That was the first of 4 years he had triple digit walks, in 2011 he had 132 in just 149 games! He also led the league in homers that year, with 43.

When all was said and done and his Jays career was done, after 2017, he played 1235 games, hit .253 with a stellar .372 on base percentage due to his good eye and all those bases on balls. He hit 20 or more homers every year from ’10 on, tallying 288 with the team, second only to Carlos Delgado. Likewise his 790 runs scored and 803 walks; his 766 RBI puts him third. It all added up to a 37.3 WAR, just a fraction behind Tony Fernandez for best. He had an 8.3 in 2011 alone.

Like Barfield too, Bautista had a fantastic arm from the corner, although as he aged, his range began to diminish some. He assisted throwing out 86 runners through the years from RF… and when called upon played third base quite acceptably as well.

No surprise that he was a 6-time All Star or was in the top 10 for MVP voting four times. And like most sports superstars, Jose didn’t shrink away from pressure. In 2015-16, the first Toronto teams to make it to the post-season since the early-’90s, he had a .364 on base percentage and drove in 16 in 20 games. He opened the scoring in the 2016 Wild Card game with a homer but of course, is ever beloved in Canada for another homer, that 3-run blast “bat flip” against Texas in the deciding game 5 of the 2015 ALDS. Time and time again when the pressure was on, Bautista would rise to the occasion, making him one of the most popular Jays of all-time.

Next up, we’ll start to look at some of the best pitchers ever for Toronto…

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