Sunday, February 1, 2015

I Didn't Know He Played For: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto has been around for nearly 40 years now (the organization.  The city has been around quite a bit longer.).  Still, as far as baseball organizations are concerned they are still in their infancy.  As young as they are, the team has some very identifiable players through out their history.  When you think of the early days of the team you probably think of Willie Upshaw, Lloyd Moseby and Rance Mullinicks.  The 1980's teams were identifiable with Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, George Bell and Jesse Barfield. The glory days of the Jays was the Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Kelly Gruber and Pat Borders era.  Just like any organization there are players who spend a short period of time with the team, although they are more recognizable as members of other organizations.  Here are a few players you might not have realized were Blue Jays:

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge is a name that might shock some people reading this list.  Danny Ainge played on the Celtics with legends like Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, Dennis Johnson and Kevin McHale.  He won two championship rings with the Celtics and returned as the General Manager of the team when they won their most recent title.  Before he played on the hard wood professionally, Ainge played hard ball. Over parts of three seasons (1979-1981) Ainge played for the Toronto Blue Jays.  At the end of his career he hit only .220 before deciding his future lay elsewhere.

Phil Niekro
Phil Niekro won 318 career games, 268 of those were for the Atlanta Braves.  Niekro was famous for being a junk ball pitcher and has been rumored to have doctored the ball.  Niekro also had a few succesful seasons for the Yankees in the 1980s.  What he is not widely remembered for is his stop in Toronto.  Niekro was in his 24th Major League season in 1987 and pitching with the Indians.  The Jays were in a hot pennant race with the Tigers and looking for an extra arm.  On August 9 the Tribe traded Phil to the Jays for two minor leaguers.  In three games Niekro pitched 12 innings and went 0-2. On August 31 he was released.

Mookie Wilson
If the name itself wasn't unique enough, his actions during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series are unforgettable  Leaping out of the way of a wild pitch that scored the tying run before sprinting down the line to try to beat out a ground ball that would destroy Red Sox nation for nearly 20 years.  He was the little guy's symbol of the 1986 Mets.  As the 1989 trade deadline neared the Mets were trying to shed payroll after the team faltered.  In rebuiliding their team the Mets sent Mookie to the Blue Jays, who were in the process of chasing down the surprising Baltimore Orioles. Wilson's veteran calm and presence were credited as a big help in getting the Jays into the postseason that year, although the team lost in five games to the eventual World Champion A's.  Wilson played two more years in Toronto, retiring afer the 1991 season.

Francisco Cabrera
Of all the names on the Braves' roster in 1992, Francisco Cabrera is probably not one that stands out.  Yet it was Cabrera's bat that drove home Sid Bream with the winning NLCS run and sent the Braves to the World Series for a show down with Toronto.  The Braves actually have the Jays to thank for that hit.  Cabrera was originally signed by the Jays and played for them in three games in 1989 (he had only 5 hits.  3 of those 5 were doubles).  With the Jays looking for pitching in their run for October, they sent Cabrera and Tony Castillo to the Braves in exchange for pitcher Jim Acker on August 24 (Cal Ripken's birthday).  On the final weekend of the season Acker pitched 4 scoreless innings against the O's.  The performance by Acker allowed the Jays to stay in the game and eventaully win in 11 innings making it the worst birthday gift ever for Ripken.

Dave Righetti
Rags had a very good career.  Rookie of the Year. A No-hitter.  A dominant closer for the Yankees.  Several successful years as a Giant, which set up his current job as Giants' pitching coach.  But do you remember that Rags was also a Blue Jay?  Righetti ended 1993 as a Giant but before the 1994 season Righetti signed with the cross bay rival A's.  After a brief stint in Oakland he was released and claimed by the Jays.  He appeared in 13 games for Toronto and was there when the season ending strike came in 1994.

Lance Parrish
Parrish was known as the big power of the 1984 Tigers.  He was a big free agent signing in Philadelphia, replacing Bob Boone behind the plate.  When Darren Daulton was ready to take over full time Parrish signed as a free agent with the Angels.  How many will remember that Lance Parrish wore the uniform of the Blue Jays in his final Major League season?  In 1995 Parrish played 70 games for Toronto hitting only .202 and 2 Home Runs.

Juan Samuel
Sammy appeared on the scene at an odd time in Philadelphia.  It was a time much like now in Philadelphia.  The team was indecisive about the direction they would take. Coming out of the championship days of the late 1970s and early 1980s the team was reluctant to give up on the stars that had brought them success but wanted a way to find a youth infusion.  The result was a mess but Samuel was one of the few bright spots for Phillies fans.  Later, as the move to rebuild was decided on Samuel was the key piece in the trade that brought Lenny Dykstra to the Phillies.  Although he was no longer an All Star player by that point he was still very productive.  Few realize that Samuel remained in the league well into the 1990s.  In fact, Samuel was the second baseman who replaced Roberto Alomar when he flew south to Baltimore and became an Oriole.  Samuel played three seasons in Toronto before retiring.

Mickey Morandini
Mickey Morandini was a fan favorite in Philadelphia for many years.  He turned an unassisted triple play at the Vet.  He was the second baseman on the 1993 World Series team.  He was the little guy, the one who looked like he walked right out of the high school classroom onto the field.  From 1990-1997 he played the infield astroturf as well as anyone the Phillies fans had seen before. Then in 1998 the Phillies traded him to the Cubs and received Doug Glanville in return. Phils fans loved Glanville too (they were similar personalities.  Always positive.  Always smiling.  Always working hard).  Then before the start of the 2000 season the Phillies got Morandini back via free agency.  Just as suddenly as he returned the Phillies traded him to the Blue Jays in 2000 in return for outfielder Rob Ducey.  He played a total of 35 games for the Jays and hit .271.

Jayson Werth

Jayson  Werth made his reputation as one of the big bats in the Phillies hard hitting lineup before the Nationals stole him away with a big contract.  Before he played in Philadelphia many people will remember Werth paroling the outfield at Dodgers Stadium, making spectacular catches and crashing into walls.  Before he wore Dodgers Blue he actually wore Toronto Blue.  In parts of two years (2002 and 2003) Werth played in 41 games and hit only .234.  The Dodgers saw something in his performance because they traded Pitcher Jason Frasor to Toronto on 3/29/2004 in exchange for Werth.

David Eckstein

Similar to Mickey Morandini in Philadelphia, David Eckstein was a fan favorite wherever he went.  Viewed as the little guy and often underestimated due to his size, Eckstein continuously proved people wrong and proved that he belonged with the big boys.  He made his name in Anaheim as the second baseman on the first World Series Champions in franchise history. He then moved on to St.Louis where he helped the Cardinals claim their first World Series since 1982.  After the 2007 season Eckstein was  a free agent and landed in Toronto.  He played 76 games for the Jays before being traded to the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline.

Omar Vizquel

Omar Vizquel is one of the greatest defensive Short Stops of all time and possibly a future Hall of Fame member.  In 24 years in the league he won 11 Gold Glove awards and is well known as a member of the Mariners, Indians and even Giants.  But Vizquel's last stop was less well remembered.  Vizquel played in Toronto in 2012.  He played 60 games and got his 2877th (and final) hit in a Blue Jay uniform.

Mentioned today was Jayson Werth's surprise stop in Toronto to start his Major League career, although Werth was not drafted by the Jays.  Werth was drafted in 1997 and spent several years in one organization's minor league system.  In December of 2000 Werth was traded by the team that drafted him to Toronto for a Pitcher named John Bale.  What team drafted, then traded Jayson Werth?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
On December 5, 1984, the Oakland Athletics sent Rickey Henderson, Bert Bradley and cash to the Yankees.  In return they got Tim Birtsas, Jay Howell, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk and Jose Rijo. The 1989 A's were struggling with injuries and were unable to pull away from the Angels or Royals.  On June 21 they got the spark they needed when they traded for Henderson.  In exchange the Yankees received Pitcher Greg Cadaret, Outfielder Luis Polonia and Pitcher Eric Plunk, who had been involved in the original trade.


  1. I knew that Danny Ainge played for the Blue Jays and yes he is remembered being associated with basketball.
    Now Phil Niekro is a surprise.
    Juan Samuel and Mickey Morandini were a surprise as was Jason Werth. Did not recognize Werth and it had nothing to do with the uniform.
    I hate Eckstein. If I'm not mistaken he is the player who looked like your paper boy and beat the tigers in the 2006 world series.
    I think I may have the trivia. My guess is the Dodgers. I think that is where the Phils also got Shane Victorino.


  2. I didn't even recognize Werth in that picture you posted. I also didn't realize that he didn't start with the Dodgers. I was also surprised by David Eckstein. I assumed he was always an Angel. I also thought it was cool how Ainge was such a multi-tasker and made a name for himself not only in baseball but in basketball too.


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