Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blue Jay Way

2nd year Expansion teams aren't expected to do much.  With those lofty aspirations we can say that the Blue Jays did not disappoint.  At 59-102, 40 games behind the division winners the Jays actually improved 5 games over their 1977 inaugural season totals.  The Jays played their home games in the weirdly shaped Exhibition Stadium, which was better suited for Canadian Football or soccer.  A temporary wall was added from left center to right to cordon off the football field dimensions and not create a LA Coliseum affect like the Dodgers had when they first moved west in 1958.  On the field the Jays had a young team that combined with some veteran hitters.  Not many of these young players would stick around to become the stars of their mid 1980's contenders.  Many turned into trade bait that would help the Jays acquire those valuable pieces.  Veterans John Mayberry (acquired from KC) and Rico Carty (acquired from CLE) paced the offense.  Both hit over 20 homers.  If fact they were the only Jays to reach double digits.  The pitching staff was ranked next to last in the league and did not have a starter with a sub 4.00 ERA.  Jim Clancy 10-12, 4.09 probably would have won 17 or 18 games playing for a contender.  He would be one of the few that would stick around from Toronto's salad days and eventually play on a division winner.  He would play 12 years north of the border and become a fan favorite.

Moore would arrive in Toronto after suffering through the expansion blues in Montreal since 1970.  The suffering would not get any better in Toronto, nor would Moore, who's chief skill was eating up innings out of the pen.  Moore would spend the next 3 seasons in Toronto doing just that.  I found this photo while searching the web. It's a unique view of a pitcher covering the plate on a wild pitch, which I assume a guy like Moore did quite frequently.
Brian Milner was an 18 year old catcher who burst on the scene hitting .444 in just 9 games of action with the Jays in '78.  He would finish his major league career as a .444 hitter, because he would never make it back to the show.  In 5 years of minor league ball Milner never rose above AA and his batting average never eclipsed .260.  This photo came from his Topps rookie panel card.
Alternate view for Milner, who had just 9 at bats as a major leaguer, but 2 Topps Rookie Cards !!!
Alberts, a career minor leaguer, was a lifetime .287 hitter at the Triple A level.  He wasn't much of a fielder and only posted 18 major league at bats, with all of them coming in 1978 for the Jays.  He hit .278 in those 18 chances, but never got another opportunity to play for the big league club, which is kind of shocking considering how desperate the Jays were for talent.  Alberts was 28 by the time the Jays gave him his sip of coffee.  Getting sent back down must have definitely affected his psyche.  In his final 2 AAA seasons his batting average fell below .220, which facilitated his release.  This is a photoshopped version of his 1979 Syracuse Chiefs minor league card.
An original Jay, drafted out of the Minnesota Twins organization, McKay was a switch hitter who started 145 games in the Jays infield in 1978.  His .238 average signaled to management that a huge upgrade was needed.  He didn't even have a '78 Topps card, because of his abysmal '77 campaign where he batted .197 in 95 games.  After hitting just .218 in '79 he was shipped off to Oakland where he became a solid pinch hitter / platoon player.  His greatest fame would come as a base coach for Tony Larussa.  I used his 1977 O-Pee-Chee card shot for this card.  Most folks in the states never saw the O-Pee-Chee set, which totally blew away the Topps versions because they paid very close attention toward getting live, no airbrushed shots for the Jays.
1978 marked the final year of Kirkwood's pedestrian major league career.  Kirkwood best season was back in '75 when he was 6-5, 3.11 with the Angels.  He moved to the Chisox and saw his ERA balloon up and his success spiral down.  He would got 4-5, 4.24 out of the pen for the Jays.  After being released by the Jays at the age of 28 he opted not to head back to the minors and called it quits.  This photo came from Kirkwood's 1979 Topps offering.
28 year old career minor leaguer Ernie Whitt was drafted out of the Boston chain in 1977 and immediately was farmed out by the Jays.  Most players who reach this status disappear forever.  Whitt took up the challenge to get better, which he did.  After spending the early part of his career in an organization with Carlton Fisk as a fixture behind the plate, Whitt knew how to work.  In '78 he would get just 4 at bats.  In '79 he wouldn't even play in the majors, but in 1980 he would make the most of his opportunity and spend the next 9 years as the Jays starting catcher.  During that span he would hit over 130 homers and knock in over 500 runs for the Jays, who became contenders.  Let's just call him, "Never Quit, Ernie Whitt".  I found this autographed photo of Whitt on ebay.
Originally drafted by the Yankees, 8th overall in 1976, Iorg wound up with the Jays as part of the expansion draft of 1977.  Never a prime time full time player Iorg made his mark as a hard nosed platoon player in 9 seasons in Toronto.  1978 would be his first shot at the big leagues.  He would hit .163 in 19 games.  Due to his lack of production he was rewarded with a full season in the minors in 1979, but would return for good in 1980 and consistently play around 120 games a season as a utility man who could play all of the infield and outfield spots.  His best season was 1985 where he hit .313 in almost 300 AB's.  This card was created by using a team issue photo on blue screen that I cropped and superimposed over a picture of Exhibition Stadium.  Notice the unique temporary wall behind him ?
Purchased from the A's in late May, Coleman was on the final legs of a rock solid major league career, where he won 20 games twice for the Tigers.  Coleman would gain the "well traveled" label because he spent 7 of his 15 seasons on different teams.  He arrived in the majors as an 18 year old with the old Washington Senators, who were pitching starved.  Coleman pitched well, but the Sens never hit much.  When he got to Detroit he hit his stride making fans easily forget the guy he was traded for, Denny McLain.  In 1978 he saw limited action (60 innings in 32 games) and performed admirably for the Jays by going 2-0.  Even though he was just 30 years of age, he was an old 30 (take that Frank Robinson) having logged many innings.  He would spend parts of the next 2 seasons in SF and PIT before calling it a career at 32.  I found this photo on ebay.
 Mayberry was saved by the expansion Royals from the Houston Astros chain and proceeded to carve out his spot as one of the top power hitting firstbasemen in the AL.  In spring training of 1978 the Jays purchased his contract from the Royals.  Mayberry rewarded their faith by leading the team with 22 homers and 70 RBI's.  He would go on to hit 92 homers in 4 1/2 years of service in Toronto and help mentor a young Willie Upshaw, who would eventually become his replacement.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
Bosetti's contract was purchased from the Cardinals at the end of spring training in 1978.  St. Louis had him pegged as a light hitting / average fielding outfielder.  Toronto needed someone to play centerfield and was willing to take a chance that Bosetti could turn out to be more.  What they got was a guy who hit .260 in 2 full season of work.  In 1979 Bosetti played in all 162 games.  By 1980 he dipped to .213 and his days in Toronto were now on notice.  In 1981 he was shipped to Oakland in mid season where he played sparingly for parts of 2 seasons before being released.  This photo is an autographed photo found on ebay.
After creating Bosetti's original card I found this photo from his 1980 Topps supersized card and decided to create a second view.
The enigmatic Rico Carty was a .330 hitter in his prime.  As good as he was with the bat, that's how bad he was with the leather.  When the AL instituted the DH Carty was a perfect fit.  Unfortunately his temper and attitude made him a perfect fit to be traded time in and time out.  He was originally drafted by the Jays in '77 from Cleveland in the expansion draft, but never played for Toronto because they sent him back to Cleveland.  The 38 year old DH hit .278 and had 20 homers for the Jays in '78.  In late August he was traded to Oakland for the remainder of the season.  In 1979 he would be traded back to Toronto where he finished his career.  All in total he worked for 6 teams in his 15 MLB seasons.  His lifetime .299 average puts him 1 point below the coveted .300 threshold.  This photo, although grainy, was the only non airbrushed photo I could find of him in a Jays uni.
Tim Johnson spent his entire baseball career as a .230 hitting utility infielder for both the Brewers and the Jays.  In '78 he hit .241 in limited action after arriving on April 28th in a trade for his clone, Tim Nordbrook.  Johnson would spend 2 seasons in Toronto as a player, but would become more infamous for his 1 season as manager in 1998.  During that season he was able to take a rag tag team of underachievers and get them to finish in 3rd place with a 88-74 record.  After the season ended Johnson admitted to lying to his players repeatedly when trying to motivate them.  Johnson's lies centered around his fictitious service in Vietnam, a place that he never set foot in.  During the war he was in the Marine Corps reserves and never saw live action.  Many of his players felt betrayed.  He was fired during spring training the following season and entered therapy.  A sad ending to a blue collar player who worked his way up the ladder.
Tom Buskey was a man before his time.  In the 1970's he was considered a journeyman middle reliever who just wasn't good enough to start.  If he played today he would be a high priced setup man, who would have owned he 7th or 8th inning.  Buskey started out with the Yankees then moved over to the Indians as part of the deal that brought Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow to New York.  He performed admirably for some awful Tribe teams before being shipped to Texas and then being given his subsequent release.  He landed in Toronto in mid 1978 and spent the next 3 seasons in the Jays' pen.  In 1978 he would see just 13 innings of action.  In 1979 he would go 6-10 despite a 3.43 ERA.  In 1980 his ERA would balloon to 4.46 and at the age of 33 his career was over.  Even though he spent parts of 3 seasons in Toronto the only photo we could find to use was his 1980 Topps card which required extensive airbrushing to remove the card logos.
Hutton spent 12 seasons in the majors as a defensive replacement at first base and a lefty bat off the bench.  He is best know for his work as a broadcaster.  During his career he typically averaged around 100 at bats or less in his role.  In 1972 he got his one chance to start on a dreadful Phillies team that lost well over 100 games.  He was slick with the glove, but only hit .260 with just 4 homers while playing his home games in hitter friendly Veterans Stadium.  Hutton played just 64 games for the Jays in '78 before the Expos purchased his contract.  He just .254 with zero pop.  Due to his very brief tenure there aren't any color photos of his time in Toronto.  I used his Hostess card photo, which I find very appropriate because Hutton was anything but a Twinkie as a pinch hitter.
Underwood arrived in the majors at the ripe old age of 20 in 1974.  He had tow solid seasons winning 14 and 10 for a Philly team that was on the upswing.  He stumbled in '77 and split time between Philly and St. Louis going 9-11 with a 5.00 ERA.  The Jays picked him up during the offseason in exchange for future Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich.  Underwood was 6-14, 4.10 in '78 for the Jays.  A terrible record for a guy who didn't pitch all that bad.  He was 9-16, 3.69 the following year and one had to think that if he had a team like the Yankees behind him instead of the Jays he could reverse his fortune.  Well guess what ?  He was dealt to the Yankees in 1980 and went 13-9, 3.66, so having a solid team behind a good pitcher can make a world of difference.  After leaving the Yankees midway through 1981 he landed in Oakland hand had 2 1/2 solid seasons befor elanding in the Baltimore pen in 1984 for his final season.  Underwood's years in Toronto contributed to his final major league record (86-87, 3.89) being 1 game below .500.
No TD catches or Salsa dances for this guy in the Super Bowl.  Just an outstanding 7-3, 1.71 season as the Jays closer with 9 saves.    The Jays must not have thought he was more than a 1 hit wonder (they were correct) and shipped him off to Cleveland in exchange for future All-Star Alfredo Griffin.  I found this great shot of him while searching the web.
Horton spent just 33 games in a Blue Jay uniform after arriving in late August in a deal with Oakland that exchanged DH's on two bottom teams.  By this point in his career Horton looked to be winding down.  After hitting just .205 with 3 homers the Jays allowed Horton to become a free agent.  He signed with Seattle and won the comeback player of the year award with a .279-29-106 season.  Horton's best years were spent as a member of the late 60's early 70's great Detroit Tiger teams.  Horton, a native of Detroit, was not only a key figure on the 1968 Tiger World Champs, but an integral figure in helping the city overcome racial strife.  Horton's key superstition was that he wore the same batting helmet throughout his career and painted it every time he switched teams.  He didn't have to do any painting at all during his first 15 seasons, all spent in Detroit.  His final 5 years saw him move 6 times.
The Jays pilfered Upshaw from the Yankees system as a rule 5 selection.  Even though he wasn't ready for he majors at 21 he still spent the 1978 season on the Jays major league roster where he hit .237 with just one homer in over 230 at bats.  1979 would see his return to the minors for some much needed seasoning.  By 1982 he would become the Jays regular first baseman after Mayberry left.  He would hold that job down for the next 6 seasons until the "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff arrived.  Upshaw was a slick fielder with a solid bat.  I found this photo on a Blue Jays press guide and thought it would make a nice card.

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