With the acquisition of R.A. Dickey, the Toronto Blue Jays now have the last true knuckleballer in the major leagues at the front of their rotation. When one thinks of a knuckleball pitcher, what generally comes to mind is an old guy who is just trying to hang on in the big leagues, fluttering a 60 MPH pitch to the plate with hopes that it won’t be hit. In fact, the Blue Jays had one of those guys before – a 48 year old Phil Neikro in 1987.
Dickey, of course, is different. He is an older pitcher, but he throws the knuckleball with authority, and dominated the NL last season. He is, in short, a much different pitcher than Neikro was when he donned a Jays uniform.
But the Blue Jays also employed another knuckleball pitcher in their history, one who was much closer to Dickey’s stature than people remember. Tom Candiotti never won a Cy Young, but with a career ERA of 3.73 he was a highly effective pitcher, especially in the prime of his career, which is when he made a stopover in Toronto. So, inspired by R.A. Dickey, this edition of Blast From the Past takes a look at the Candy Man, Tom Candiotti.
Thomas Caesar Candiotti was born August 31, 1957 in California. and made his major league debut on August 8, 1983 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. After two up-and-down seasons with the Brewers, Candiotti spent the entire 1985 season in AAA Vancouver before signing with the Cleveland Indians for the 1986 season. It was in Cleveland where his career took off.
Playing for some very, very bad Indians teams, Candiotti put up some great numbers. In the five seasons from 1986 – 1990, he went 65-59 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 667 strikeouts. In the early stages of the ’91 season he was 7-6 with an oustanding 2.24 ERA and 1.07 WHIP for Cleveland, before being dealt to Toronto.
On Thursday June 27, 1991, Juan Guzman shutout the Minnesota Twins 1-0 to give the Jays their 41st win of the season. With a record of 41-32, Toronto was in first place in the AL East with a 3.5 game advantage on the Red Sox. Though things were looking pretty good on the surface, not everything was running smoothly. Dave Stieb, Toronto’s longtime ace, lasted only nine starts before being shut down for the season in late May. Without Stieb, Toronto was left with Jimmy Key as the staff ace, and three younger pitchers without a lot of experience – David Wells, Todd Stottlemyre, and Juan Guzman. The Jays turned to a variety of arms to fill Stieb’s spot, including relievers Mike Timlin (three starts) and Jim Acker (four starts), journeyman Willie Fraser, and Canadian Denis Boucher. None were great long term solutions. With a first place team that featured Alomar, Carter, and White, the Jays were primed for big things, but GM Pat Gillick knew that another pitcher was necessary. And he struck later that night.
The Jays acquired Candiotti from Cleveland, along with Turner Ward, for Denis Boucher, Glenallen Hill, and Mark Whiten, giving the Jays an experienced starter to anchor the rotation. And anchor it he did. In his very first start in a Blue Jays uniform, Candiotti tossed a quality start (3 ER in 6 IP), and then took off from there. His first five starts looked like this: 2-3, 1.64 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 27 K. In his three losses, Toronto only provided him with four runs of support.
In all, Candiotti made 19 starts for the Blue Jays down the stretch in 1991, using his knuckleball to earn a 6-7 record, 2.98 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 81 strikeouts. With his help, the Jays clinched the division, setting up a showdown with the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS. However, in one of the most disappointing series in team history, the favoured Blue Jays lost in five games to the Twins, with one of the main goats being none other than Mr. Candiotti. Starting both Game 1 and Game 5, Tom couldn’t replicate his regular season success. In Game 1 he lasted only 2.2 IP, surrendering 8 hits, and 5 runs in the loss. In Game 5 he pitched a bit better (5+ IP, 4 runs – 2 earned, and 9 hits) but couldn’t hold a 5-2 Toronto lead as the Jays lost the series. In all, his 8.22 ERA and 2.48 WHIP left a lot to be desired.
At the end of the 1991 season Candiotti became a free agent, eventually signing with the Dodgers where he spent the next six seasons before finishing his career in Oakland and Cleveland. While his time in Toronto was short, you can’t deny that it was effective. As a knuckleballer, he set the bar fairly high for R.A. Dickey, but here’s hoping Dickey does much, much better.
Especially in the playoffs.
Tom Candiotti: Career Major League Statistics
16 seasons (1983 – 1999)
5 teams (MIL, CLE, TOR, LAD, OAK)
151 – 164, 3.73 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 1,735 K : 883 BB
*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.