John Candelaria is one of many Blue Jay players to make only a brief stopover in Toronto, just half a season in 1990. But unlike a large majority of those players, Candelaria was actually good at one point in his career – good enough to receive some Hall of Fame votes in 1999.
He was also one of the most colourful people in the game in his younger years. According to his Wikipedia page Candelaria was on the verge of signing with the Dodgers when he showed up to a tryout wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf on it that said “try some, you’ll like it.” For some reason LA decided not to sign him after seeing that. Strange. And – also – amazing.
Unfortunately, he was neither good nor colourful as a member of the Blue Jays. He was instead a shell of his former self, a 36-year old pitcher on the downside of his career when he made his brief stopover north of the border.
Candelaria was drafted by the Pirates in 1972 and made his debut with Pittsburgh in 1975. For the next 11 seasons Candelaria dominated the National League as a Pirate, pitching a no-hitter in 1976, making the All-Star team in 1977, and winning the World Series in 1979. His ’77 season was so good (20-5, 2.34 ERA, 133 K’s) that he finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and 18th in MVP voting.
But we don’t care about that.
We don’t care that he spent the next five years bouncing around from team to team, AL to NL and back. No, what we care about as Jays fans is what went down in late July of 1990. On July 27, 1990, Toronto was in first place in the AL East, one game ahead of the Red Sox. The Jays were trying to win their second straight division title and make it back to the ALCS for the third time in franchise history. The Jays had a good team, with McGriff, Fernandez, Gruber, Bell, and Mookie leading the offense, a rotation of Stieb/Stottlemyre/Wells/Key/Cerutti, and the dynamic Henke/Ward duo in the bullpen.
But Toronto was scuffling. On the morning of July 27 they might have been in first, but the club had gone a mere 11-16 over the past month. Something needed to be done to shake things up. Later that day Pat Gillick sent Nelson Liriano (he of the fantastic Dominican moustache) and Pedro Munoz to Minnesota for the veteran presence of Candelaria. The hope was that he could stabilize the bullpen, make a few spot starts if needed, and provide a veteran voice down the stretch.
Unfortunately for Toronto he sucked. He was far, far removed from his glory years but had been providing decent work out of Minnesota’s bullpen at the time of the trade (7-3, 3.39 ERA in 58.1 IP). But in Toronto he only pitched 21.1 innings over 13 appearances, going 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA and walking nearly as many batters as he struck out.
He also failed to provide the Jays with the leadership they badly needed. With the painful collapse of the 1987 team still fairly fresh in the minds of players and fans, they fell apart again at the end of 1990. Toronto lead the division by 1.5 games with only eight games remaining but collapsed, finishing 2-6 to end up two games back of rival Boston. One month later, Candelaria was gone, signing with the team who spurned him due to his weed shirt long ago – the Dodgers.
But his time in Toronto wasn’t a total disaster.
He was resp0nsible for one very important thing that helped pave the way for Toronto’s back-to-back World Series teams.
John Candelaria, known as the Candy Man, gave Toronto its first taste of men named Candy, ensuring that any future Candy’s would fit in without prejudice or discrimination.
In August of 1991 Candy Maldonado was acquired.
The rest is history.
John Candelaria: Career Major League Statistics
19 seasons (1975 – 1993)
8teams (PIT, CAL, NYM, NYY, MON, MIN, TOR, LAD)
177-122 record, 2,525.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,673 K:592 BB
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