From the moment Devon White's cleat dug into the batter's box in Detroit on April 6, 1992, to the World Series winning home run hit by Joe Carter off Mitch Williams in 1993 at SkyDome, the Blue Jays treated baseball fans to something special.
It's been 17 years since the back-to-back World Series titles and the memories still hold a treasured place with fans across Canada. Those invested in the team are less likely to recall 1992 as the year of dressing backwards and grooving to Kris Kross, and 1993 for the final season of Perfect Strangers.
The Blue Jays captured the headlines and SkyDome was the place to be in the early 1990's. The excitement over the franchise's first World Series win spilled over into the following year and the fans' passions empowered the players on the field.
"Coming out to [SkyDome/Rogers Centre], knowing it was going to be sold out everyday, all season long," Paul Molitor, MVP of the 1993 World Series, told TSN. "Realizing the fans were extremely supportive and hungry to win back-to-back titles and be a part of that, it was an easy environment to come out here and work in, that's for sure."
Members of 'Blue Jay Nation' know exactly where they were when the clinching games ended. And with all special sports moments, they are remembered, discussed and dissected for years after.
It is the nature of fandom.
Who was more important to the team's success? Which pitcher would you start in a deciding game? Who would you take as DH - Dave Winfield or Molitor? Which of the teams was superior?
The last question is the one that really grabs the imagination.
- - Building The Clubs - -
Any discussion of superiority has to start with how the teams were built. And although the Jays boasted one of the top farm systems in the majors during the 1980's and 1990's, it was a single trade that helped pave the way for their World Series success.
The offseason blockbuster in December of 1990 that sent fan favourites Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Carter paid immediate dividends. The duo (Alomar - .295, 9 HR, 69 RBI, 53 SB and Carter - .273, 33, 108, 20) powered the club to a 91-71 record and they won the American League East by seven games over the rival Boston Red Sox.
The Blue Jays had teased fans before, falling twice in the American League Championship Series – to George Brett and the Kansas City Royals in 1985, then to the Bash Brothers and the Oakland Athletics in 1989 – but everything seemed to be in place heading into the 1991 playoffs.
The ALCS match up against the Minnesota Twins looked to be a good one for Toronto and the club was poised to become the first Canadian team to reach the Fall Classic. The Blue Jays took eight of 12 from the Twins in the regular season, but that success did not continue into October.
While the Blue Jays managed to split the first two games at the Metrodome, they lost three straight upon their return to Toronto. The season was over and the franchise's postseason struggles continued.
"We had profound disappointment at that point," current Blue Jays president Paul Beeston told TSN. "I thought we had built the team so that it would be contending for a World Series; we picked up Robbie Alomar, we picked up Joe Carter, we picked up Ken Dayley. We thought that we had all the pieces together and we played Minnesota tough all that year."
The front office knew the team was close and in the off-season wanted to make moves that would put them over the top.
"We thought we needed to add another veteran player to the mix, someone with experience, someone that had been in a winning situation," said former Blue Jays' general manager Pat Gillick.
The club made two big additions. Veteran starter Jack Morris was signed to solidify the starting rotation. He was fresh off a heroic 10-inning performance for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Winfield was brought in to provide the team with another productive bat in the middle of the order. The big name signings gave the club a new confidence.
"We went to spring training in 1992 and there was a whole new feel within the organization," said Beeston. "We brought in a winner in Jack Morris, brought a Hall of Famer in Dave Winfield and if we were Toys 'R' Us before that day, we were IBM after that."
The team did not have trouble with support, drawing 4-million fans in 1991, and could have easily stood pat heading into 1992, but with the additions of Morris and Winfield they once again proved they were serious about winning it all.
"Skydome was still a bit of a novelty, it was still fairly new and it was a desired location. Toronto was still considered one of the upper echelon teams eventhough they had not won it all," explained TSN's Rod Smith, who covered the Blue Jays in the early 1990's. "Fans were getting used to Pat Gillick's efforts to bring in big name players, they knew those kind of moves could happen and did happen. I don't think there was shock, but there was excitement because the fans knew of the credentials [Winfield and Morris] carried."
- - 1992: The World Series Comes North - -
The team won the American League East by four games over the Milwaukee Brewers.
The additions of reliever Mark Eichhorn in a deal with the California Angels (July 30) and ace starter David Cone (August 28) gave them a boost down the stretch. Cone was to become a free agent at the end of the season and the move to get him was costly. Toronto sent future sent two promising players in Jeff Kent, a future National League MVP, and Ryan Thompson to the New York Mets.
"For all the talk about renting players, in baseball the Blue Jays were on the cutting edge," said Smith. "It was something Gillick did very well and it might have been his best move of all getting David Cone from the Mets for the stretch drive.
"That made a statement to Jays fans, it made a statement to everyone. They sent a couple of their potential future stars away to basically rent a pitcher, everyone knew they were going for it in '92."
By the time the playoffs started, the rotation consisted of Morris, Cone, Juan Guzman, Jimmy Key and Todd Stottlemyre. As imposing the starters were the team had another major advantage on the mound, the ability to shorten games with closer Tom Henke and set-up man Duane Ward. There were few teams able to match their depth in the starting five and possibly no team able to match the back end of their bullpen.
"It was great, teams would look at us from the other side and say 'we got a seven-inning ballgame here,'" said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "Because if they weren't ahead by seven innings, if we had a one run lead, or even tied or ahead by two they knew they had no chance."
While the opposition was intimidated by the Blue Jays bullpen duo, the offence took confidence in that even a one-run lead would likely be enough.
"[The offence] knew that if we were ahead we weren't going to lose those leads," Gaston told TSN.
While Gillick built a strong pitching staff, it was the team's ability to perform in all aspects of the game that he believes made it successful.
"I don't know if we had any particular strength one over the other, but I don't know if we had any particular weakness," he recalled. "We played well offensively, excellent defence, we had a good bullpen, good starting pitching so consequently I think we were pretty well rounded club.
"I think our strength was the fact that we really didn't have any weaknesses."
Gaston had similar thoughts on the team being well-rounded.
"In 1992 we had just about everything, we were pretty balanced as far as defence, as far hitting and pitching."
The Blue Jays defeated the dreaded Oakland Athletics 4-2 in the ALCS and then captured the organization's first championship by beating the Atlanta Braves in six games in the World Series. It was an incredible high and gave Canada bragging rights in Major League Baseball.
- - 1993: Dare To Think Repeat - -
It was hard to imagine it could get any better - the organization had its first title and spring training could not start soon enough.
There were more changes leading up to spring training and once again, a starting pitcher and designated hitter took the spotlight as the team signed right-hander Dave Stewart and brought in Molitor at the plate.
Stewart was a major factor in Oakland's powerhouse teams; his patented "death stare" and reputation as a fierce postseason competitor made him an attractive target. He went 8-3 for Oakland in the postseason during their run of their three AL championships and lone World Series title from 1988 to 1992. The addition of Molitor gave the team one of baseball's smartest players. His combination of speed, plate discipline, creativity and power made an already impressive batting order even more formidable.
The new players came at a cost as the club said goodbye to longtime Blue Jay Key and Winfield. Even with the changes, great things were expected from the new look Blue Jays.
"Fans were accustomed to winning teams, and winners and there were solid expectations the Blue Jays would keep the thing going because they still looked like the favourite going into 1993," said Smith.
In addition to Molitor, the offence was also bolstered by the maturation of Alomar and John Olerud. The team scored 847 runs as Olerud (.363), Molitor (.332) and Alomar (.326) finished 1-2-3 in the AL batting race.
Once again, Gillick managed to add two more valuable pieces during the season. Fernandez made his return to Toronto to play shortstop after a deal was struck with the New York Mets (June 11) and Rickey Henderson was acquired from the A's (July 31). Henderson was the ALCS MVP when the A's eliminated the Blue Jays in 1989. He had a .609 OBP and eight stolen bases over the five game series, so the Jays' front office was well aware of his skill set.
"[Henderson] always had that knack for getting on base," recalled Gillick. "He always had that knack for making pitchers nervous, no matter when he got on base.
"In Henderson, Molitor and Alomar we had three guys who were very good base runners, but also very instinctive players and they could really raise havoc with opposing pitchers."
The team's combination of speed and power made them tough to face.
"It's not too often you can just outscore teams and we did a lot of that in '93," said Gaston.
"That line-up all year was a lot of fun to be a part of," Molitor told TSN. "The top five guys got a lot of attention in the beginning, but then we added Rickey [Henderson] and the guys at the bottom, like [Pat] Borders and Ed Sprague and [Tony Fernandez], it was balanced from top to bottom and you knew that every night they couldn't afford to pitch around anybody, it didn't matter who was hot and who was not because everyone was pretty dangerous."
The Blue Jays captured the AL East by seven games over the New York Yankees and defeated the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS. They faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series and won on a thrilling home run by Carter in Game 6. They were the first back-to-back World Series Champions since the Yankees captured titles in 1977 and 1978.
- - The Debate - -
Now the two squads had very different strengths. The 1992 side was heavy on pitching, boasting a dominant one-two punch at the end of the bullpen. The 1993 lineup relied more on their bats, with a solid order from top to bottom.
There are also many similarities on how they were put together. Both teams made big off-season signings with a veteran pitcher and a future Hall of Famer to DH. Each year, they added important pieces during the season and hit landmark home runs at crucial moments. But the biggest similarity was that core of players that the teams were built around.
But which team would win a head-to-head match-up? Would the pitching from the 1992 team be enough to counter WHAMCO from 1993?
Beeston and Gaston would not put one team above the other.
"I don't think there was one superior to the other. They both had a nucleus and they both had added parts. Was Paul Molitor better than Dave Winfield? Was Dave Stewart better than Jack Morris? We made a lot of switches by the time we got to 1993. I don't know which team was better, they were both very good in their own way and they both won.
"I wouldn't say one was any better than the other, they were just different, but both peopled with superb athletes who were commited to winning," explained Beeston.
"I can go back and tell you that the 1985 team was probably just as good as that team," added Gaston. "The 1989 team was a fun team to manage, I would put all those teams together, they were just different people I don't think one was superior than the other."
When asked for his selection, Gillick gave the 1992 club the slight edge.
"That is a tough question," he said. "I think going back to the bullpen, even though in '93 we won it, I thought our bullpen in '92 was better than we had in '93. I think overall, taking into consideration the bullpen is so important, I think our bullpen was a little better in '92 than '93."
TSN.ca Fantasy expert Scott Cullen put his number crunching skills to work in a comparison of the two squads and has his solution to the debate - click here to check out his thoughts. This Double Play blog takes the opposite side of the debate.
Now, we want your opinion. If the 1992 Jays faced the 1993 team, who would win? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or click the "Your Call" button below for a rapid reply.