Watching this injury-riddled Blue Jays club stumble to a 5-16 record over the few weeks got me to thinking about the greatest Blue Jays I've ever seen. I'm often asked to rank the Jays position by position. My choices fire up plenty of debates especially considering this organization is in its 36th season.
So let's take a run at it, starting behind the plate.
Pat Borders spent seven years with the Blue Jays plus a brief cameo return in 1999. He never hit better than .257 and in his best offensive year he only hit 15 homers and drove in 49 runs. Still, Pat is my pick for his stellar defensive work, back-stopping the majority of the games over three straight division title clubs from 1991 thru 1993 including back-to-back World Series titles.
At first base, a bit of a tougher call, since John Olerud was part of both World Series teams and won a batting title. But my nod has to go to Carlos Delgado, who owns just about every batting mark in the Jays record book.
Second base is a no-brainer. Roberto Alomar is the greatest of all the Blue Jays period. I've never seen a more outstanding or creative second sacker.
At third, in the early to mid-80's the fans loved the platoon of Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg. In his brief stay in Toronto, Scott Rolen was top notch and Troy Glaus had an impact as well. However, my pick is Kelly Gruber.
Pat Gillick scooped up Kelly in the Rule 5 draft in 1983 and though he didn't really break through with the big club for three more years, he was a key cog in the late 80's right thru to the first World Series victory in 1992. Unfortunately a neck injury ended his career prematurely in 1993 after he had been dealt to the Angels.
Tony Fernandez had four different stints in Toronto, and at one point Pat Gillick called him the greatest player the organization had ever developed. Tony could make playing shortstop look effortless with that flip throw from deep in the hole. After being swapped to San Diego along with Freddie McGriff for Joe Carter and Alomar, he was re-acquired during the '93 season and was part of the second World Series club. Bouncing around to different clubs and not doing as well in New York probably cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame. But who knows, maybe somewhere down the road...
Left field belongs to the fiery George Bell, another great Rule 5 pick-up from Philadelphia. George was the first Jays player to win an MVP award and though at first was a marginal outfielder, he worked incredibly hard to be better than just average.
Devon White holds down centre field. He provided incredible gold glove defence in centre field and had an under-rated bat during the World Series years. One of the fastest men ever to wear a Blue Jays uniform.
A few years down the road, we might be saying Jose Bautista is the greatest right fielder the Jays have ever had. But for now, it's Joe Carter, who was simply an RBI machine and will forever be remembered for hitting the World Series-winning homer off the Phillies' Mitch Williams in 1993.
Designated hitter is another tough call. Dave Winfield's class and presence helped spark the 1992 team to the Blue Jays first World Series victory. For me though, Paul Molitor is the one. He was one of the most intelligent and fundamentally sound players I ever saw and was the World Series MVP in '93.
The top starting pitcher is between Dave Stieb and Roy Halladay. Though he was coming back from an injury earlier in the season and wasn't really a factor in the World Series in 1992, Stieb was on the roster and got his World Series ring. After coming so close, Stieb finally got his no-hitter at Cleveland and was a ferocious competitor. Halladay was outstanding for the Jays and has been even better with the Phillies, but I still give Stieb a slight nod over "Doc".
There is no doubt about Tom Henke being the top closer and Duane Ward the No. 1 set-up guy. Henke was the shutdown guy for four of the Jays' five division titles and their first-ever World Series victory. Ward set him up for three of those division titles and was the closer himself in 1993, setting a franchise record with 43 saves.
The Manager: Cito Gaston. Four division titles, two American League championships and two World Series victories.
The only disappointing thing is, Bautista, Halladay and Delgado are the only Blue Jays even in the conversation for best of anything since 1993.
News and Notes
It's too late for this year, but the Jays should have Brett Lawrie back on Tuesday at Detroit. Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow should be returning in time for the Orioles series starting Friday night at Baltimore.
Kudos to the Captain
Jeter has given no indication he intends to retire after this season. He's got one guaranteed year left on his contract at $17 million and then another player's option year that could be worth anywhere from $8 million to $17 million depending on the numbers he puts up next season. And to think we were starting to write him off early last season and even the year before that.
He won't win the American League MVP award, but Derek Jeter
is having an incredible season at age 38. He's hitting .321 with a league-leading 163 hits through Sunday. His on-base percentage when he was named Rookie of the Year in 1996 was .370. Now 16 years later it's .363. Jeter has only made eight errors this season, just two over his career-low for a season.