Blast From The Past – Otto Velez

I’m depressed.  This season, this beautiful season that was filled with so much promise, is quickly going straight to hell.  Five sttaight losses.  Three games under .500.  Enough injuries to break a teams soul. 

Looking for something to cheer me up and get my mind off of the troubles on the field, I went to a place where any good baseball fan would – Baseball Reference, taking refuge in page after page of Toronto’s glorious history. 

After stumbling around the franchise encyclopedia for a while, I took a look at the Blue Jays all time leaders, and was surprised by a few things I saw.  For instance, Shannon Stewart has the 10th highest career offensive WAR in team history, along with the 4th best career batting average.  The 6th highest single season batting average in team history belongs to Rance Mulliniks of all people, a .324 mark in 1984. 

But one name caught me more off guard than others, and it has inspired me to bring back a popular series that 500 Level Fan used to run – Blast from the Past, where we take a look at some of the less famous players in Blue Jays history.

This man had 1,843 plate appearances with Toronto, more than Paul Molitor, and ranks 7th in team history in career OBP (.372), 7th in team history in OPS (.834), and 6th in team history in Adjusted OPS+ (127).

The man is Otto Velez.

While I’ve heard his name before, I never expected to see him on team leaderboards (unless those leaderboards were for moustaches.  Seriously – what an incredible moustache!  It’s almost like two separate moustaches on either side of his lip, combined into one.  I’ve never seen anything so fantastic!!!).  I would have never placed him in the top-10 of any offensive category – maybe not even in the top-30.  But there he is, hanging out above Roberto Alomar and Jesse Barfield in career OPS as a Blue Jay.

Otoniel Velez Franceschi was born in 1950 in Puerto Rico, made his major league debut with the Yankees in 1973, and came to the Blue Jays with the 53rd pick of the 1976 Expansion Draft.  He made club history by playing in Toronto’s inaugural game against the White Sox on April 7, 1977, serving as the DH, and made quite the debut.  He singled and scored in the 5th, walked in the 6th, and hit a second single in the 8th.  In fact, while Doug Ault gets all the hype for his multi-HR game, the Jays MVP in their first month of existence was none other than Otto Velez.

Velez won the AL Player of the Month Award for April, putting up obscene numbers – especially for an expansion team.  He went 23 for 52, good for a .442 AVG, and hit 5 HR, 7 2B, with 18 RBI, 10 Runs, and a 1.397 OPS.  In the next 11 years, only two Blue Jays would win a Player of the Month Award, making Velez’s achievement all the better.

Though the rest of his ’77 season wasn’t quite as good, he still finished with 16 HR, a .256 average, and a .824 OPS.  Pretty solid numbers for a team that went 54 – 107.

His career highlight came with the Blue Jays in 1980.  That season was one of his best as a Jay as he slugged 20 homers with an .852 OPS, and his best day came on May 4th against Cleveland.  In a doubleheader he hit for the cycle of home runs, hitting a solo shot, two-run shot, three-run shot, and a grand slam as part of a 10 RBI day.

He stuck around in Toronto until the end of the 1982 season, when after appearing in only 28 games he was released.  He was picked up for the ’83 season by the Indians, but was so pathetically bad that he was let go after only 10 games of hitting .080.

Overall, Velez was a very useful  Blue Jay in the early years.  From 1977 through 1980 he put up WAR’s of 1.6, 2.1, 2.7, and 1.3, right up there in the top players on the team.  In fact, his 2.7 WAR in 1979 was good enough for T-43rd in the American League, ahead of players such as Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski.  He’ll always have that.

So hats off to Otto Velez.  He is a man who I think deserves a little more credit from Jays fans.  He is one of the original members of our great team, and though two members of that original Expansion Draft went on to have better careers (Jim Clancy and Ernie Whitt),Velez was still one of the best players on a few very sorry Jays teams.

Cheers Otto, and thanks for helping to take our minds off the 2012 woes, for a few hours at least.

Otto Velez: Career Major League Statistics

11 seasons (1973 – 1983)

3 teams (NYY, TOR, CLE)

.251 average, 78 HR, 272 RBI, 244 R, 6 SB, .810 OPS

*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better.  If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.

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