The Greatest Blue Jay of All Time

With Roberto Alomar’s induction into the Hall of Fame last week, the “Greatest Blue Jay of All Time” debates have sprung anew.

In Sunday’s Toronto Star, two Toronto baseball heavyweights chimed into the discussion, unveiling their GBJOAT selections.  Dave Perkins went for a pitcher, siding with his namesake Dave Stieb; Richard Griffin went for offense, naming Carlos Delgado the greatest.

Though each man is entitled to his own opinion, and there isn’t a right or wrong answer – they’re both wrong. 

The Greatest Blue Jay of All Time is Tony Fernandez.

Hands down.

I can back my proclamation with sentiment and emotion.  He is the greatest because he is MY favourite.  He inspired me to play shortstop when I was a ballplayer as a kid.  Because of him, I knew that I could be a good player even though I didn’t have power and couldn’t hit home runs.  Defense and speed, singles and doubles – they were all just as important as a home run. 

But sentiment and emotion can work for any player.  If a fan’s favourite all time Jay happens to be Rob Butler, well they can probably make a good case with sentiment and emotion.  Same for Mark Whiten, Pat Hentgen, or Randy Knorr.  I have a friend whose favourite Jay of all time is  Glenallen Hill simply because he suffered from arachnophobia.

But in terms of the greatest Jay, I can use numbers to back up my choice of Tony.

First, two caveats:

1. I disagree with Richard Griffin that the GBJOAT can’t be a pitcher.  Though I understand where he’s coming from (pitchers play in far fewer games), I don’t agree with it.  They are important.

2. I agree with both writers that this should be about the “Greatest Blue Jay” not the “Greatest Player Who Was a Blue Jay.”  A case can be made for Roger Clemens or Dave Winfield or Paul Molitor or Rickey Henderson in the latter category.  But to be in the former, a player needs longevity.

That is why our very first Hall of Famer, Alomar, is out of the discussion.  He only played five seasons here, only 703 games.  That ranks him only 25th on the all time Toronto games list.

So the second caveat is this: to be considered a player must have appeared in 1,000 games in a Blue Jay uniform; a pitcher in 300.

Right away that narrows the list down to 22 possible candidates for Greatest Jay of All Time – 10 players and 12 pitchers.  By applying the following tests, you’ll see without a doubt – with no sense of sentiment or emotion – why Fernandez is the greatest.

Test 1 – The Smell Test

OK, so test 1 isn’t all about numbers.  But there are three guys on the list who just have t0 be removed.  There is absolutely no way either Rance Mulliniks, Mike Timlin, or Kelvim Escobar can be in the discussion.  They’re out.

Test 2 – The All-Star Test

Though it can be argued that selecting All-Star teams is a flawed process, if a player was never chosen to play in the mid-summer classic, there is no way he can be the GBJOAT.  Cut are Willie Upshaw, Scott Downs, and Jason Frasor (who, by the way, has appeared in the 4th most games by a pitcher in Blue Jays history).

Test 3 – The Import Test

In my world, the GBJOAT had to start his career as a Blue Jay.  Anybody who broke into the big leagues wearing a different uniform and then was acquired by the Jays  is eliminated.  Though these players might have taken their career to the next level in Toronto, they were somebody before wearing the Jay on their chests.  So long Ernie Whitt, Joe Carter, Duane Ward, Tom Henke, and Paul Quantrill.

Test 4 – The Awards Test

Just like making an All-Star team is important, it is also important for a player to be recognized as a top performer in his league.  In our case, if a player has never finished in the top-10 in MVP voting or the top-5 in Cy Young voting, he is out.  Say goodbye to the “Shaker” Lloyd Moseby, and pitcher Jim Clancy.

Test 5 – The “I Never Wanted To Be Here” Test

Bye bye David Wells.

Test 6 – The “Other Team” Test

Though it might seem unfair, when a player leaves Toronto and has the best years of his career in another city, I can’t rightfully name him the GBJOAT.  Jimmy Key was amazing with the Jays, but in his first two seasons with the Yankees he went to the All-Star game twice, and twice finished in the top-4 in Cy Young voting and top-11 in MVP voting.  He’s cut.

Test 7 – The Defining Moment Test

We are down to the final seven, but we can eliminate two more when looking at the defining moment of each player’s Blue Jay career.

Tony Fernandez – World Series record for RBI by a SS in 1993, flirted with .400 in ’99

Carlos Delgado – Monster 2003 season, likely should have won AL MVP

George Bell – 1987 AL MVP

Roy Halladay – 2003 AL Cy Young

Dave Stieb – Author of Toronto’s only no-hitter (and club record 7 All-Star games as well)

Jesse Barfield (AL leader in HR in 1986) and Vernon Wells (AL leader in hits in 2003) don’t quite stack up.

Test 8 – The Playoff Test

Carlos Delgado, and Roy Halladay were amazing Blue Jays – top notch players and incredible community figures.  But the fact that neither was ever able to lead Toronto into the playoffs will forever leave a gap in their Blue Jay careers.

Test 9 – The World Series Test

George Bell never made the World Series with Toronto.  Though Dave Stieb won a ring in 1992, he appeared in only 21 regular season games and 0 playoff games.  The 1992 Blue Jays won without him, not because of him.

So there you have it – the only player left is Tony Fernandez.

And if you need one more indication of why he is the greatest of all time, take one look at his career stats – both as a Jay and NOT as a Jay:

With Toronto: .297 average, .353 OBP, .765 OPS, 4 All-Star games, 4 Gold Gloves, 4 top-26 MVP finishes

Elsewhere: .269 average, .326 OBP, .698 OPS, 1 All-Star game, 0 Gold Gloves, 0 MVP votes

Toronto brought out the best in Tony. 

And that is why Tony Fernandez is the Greatest Blue Jay of All Time.

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