December 5, 1990.
Twenty years ago today.
It was likely the most important day in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.
And it was also the day that the Toronto Blue Jays broke my heart.
Flashback to September 25, 1990. Toronto was in first place in the AL East, a game-and-a-half in front of Boston. Only seven games remained. A second consecutive trip to the ALCS looked likely.
But the Jays lost that day, 8-4 to the Brewers. That loss kicked off a four game losing streak, and the Jays finished the season by dropping six of eight, including two of three to the Red Sox. The 1.5 game lead turned into a 2-game deficit, and a second place finish.
Toronto was one year removed from losing to Oakland in the ALCS. The wounds inflicted by the 1985 ALCS collapse against Kansas City, and the stretch run collapse in 1987, were still fresh. Now came yet another collapse.
It was too much.
It was time for a change.
On November 5th, George Bell was granted free agency. He would not return.
On December 2nd, Junior Felix and Luis Sojo were sent to the California Angels. In return the Jays picked up a speedy centrefielder who would hit leadoff – Devon White.
But the biggest news came on December 5th.
Twenty years ago today.
Toronto traded two of its best players to the San Diego Padres. Gone were Fred McGriff (1990: .300 avg, .930 OPS, 35 HR, 88 RBI, 4.9 WAR, 10th in MVP voting) and four-time gold glove winner Tony Fernandez (1990: .276 avg, .742 OPS, 4 HR, 84 RS, 26 SB, 3.9 WAR).
Coming back to Toronto was a 30-year old, 8-year veteran named Joe Carter (1990: .232 avg, .681 OPS, 24 HR, 115 RBI, -1.4 WAR), and a 22-year old, third year player named Roberto Alomar (1990: .287 avg, .721 OPS, 6 HR, 60 RBI, 24 SB, 2.9 WAR, All-Star).
Nevermind that McGriff and Fernandez were two of Toronto’s best players. They were my two favourite players. I was eleven years old. And I was a wreck.
The Fernandez poster on my wall had to come down. My collection of McGriff baseball cards went in a binder, then went under my bed. I had always pretended to be Tony Fernandez when playing baseball. I played shortstop because he did. Now I couldn’t pretend to be him anymore. He was gone. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to replace him with Manny Lee.
I even toyed with the idea of becoming a Padres fan, but in the end stuck by the Jays.
Good thing I did.
Everybody knows what happened afterwards. The Jays won the AL East division in each of the first three seasons after the trade. They won the whole effin’ thing in ’92 and ’93. The Padres never finished higher than third, and by ’93 both McGriff (to Atlanta) and Fernandez (back in Toronto) were gone.
But December 5th represents more than just the trade. It represents the day that the Toronto Blue Jays put themselves on the baseball map. Sick of being a perennial contender that falls short, GM Pat Gillick proved to the world that he would do whatever it takes to win. Long known by the “Stand Pat” moniker, Gillick blew apart the lingering doubt that the Jays would always be a bridesmaid and never the bride. He reinvented the Toronto Blue Jays on the fly.
From that day forward the team became baseball’s best, on the field and off. Toronto set attendance records, attracted the best free agents (Morris, Winfield, Molitor, Stewart), and continued to trade aggressively (Cone, Henderson).
Most importantly, from that day forward, Toronto won.
I consider it the turning point in franchise history.
And it happened twenty years ago today.
Happy anniversary Jays fans.