Things are getting downright depressing here in Toronto.
It has been bitterly cold – as in eyelids freezing together, nose running and freezing on your face cold – for what seems like 20 straight days. Everything is covered in snow and ice. Baseball season feels like an eternity from now.
And what of this upcoming baseball season? As the calendar readies to flip to February, Toronto’s lone roster upgrade remains the addition of Dioner Navarro, while teams around them throw money around like crazy. Texas, New York, Seattle, and Detroit are all plugging holes and getting better, while the Jays idle towards another season of mediocrity. Unless, of course, the latest rumours that have them in the mix for Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett, Stephen Drew, and possibly Nelson Cruz come to anything.
But after last night’s State of the Franchise, where the same old lines were repeated over and over again – “we’re committed to bringing a championship team to Toronto, just as long as the players don’t want too much money and won’t sign for a long term” – it’s hard to be optimistic.
So I say screw it. Let’s forget about the upcoming season for a few minutes, and talk about the glory years. Looking at photos of the disgusting Rogers Centre on Twitter last night (seriously – with the turf rolled up the field looks terrible), I started thinking about one of the best things about the stadium: the Level of Excellence.
There are currently only six players honoured on the Level of Excellence, and all deserve to be there: Tony Fernandez, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Dave Stieb, George Bell, and Carlos Delgado. Without a doubt they will be clearing a spot for Roy Halladay very soon as well. But there is somebody else that deserves a spot, somebody who was one of the best players in the history of the franchise, and also delivered one of its most iconic moments.
There have been many tributes over the years to many great Blue Jays, including Stieb, Delgado, Tom Henke, Duane Ward, Cito, and others. But for all that he did for the franchise, one man seems to be continually overlooked. I don’t know if a rift exists between him and club, or if his time has just simply faded into the past. Whatever the reason, I ask the following:
Where is Jimmy Key?
You may be forgiven if you haven’t heard his name for a while. When talk turns to great Blue Jay pitchers, the names Halladay and Stieb invariably pop up. As do former Cy Young winners Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen, dominant relievers such as Ward, Henke, and (for a season) B. J. Ryan, along with heroes of the World Series years Jack Morris and Juan Guzman. In fact, many fans might not even rank Key as the best LHP in team history, perhaps preferring David Wells instead.
But where is Jimmy Key? Why is Jimmy not mentioned often as a top pitcher in the history of this franchise? Is it because he left the team as a free agent while still in his prime? Is it because he wasn’t a part of the ’93 World Series team? Was it because he signed with the hated Yankees?
Whatever the reason, it’s long overdue that Jimmy Key be recognized for what he was: one of the greatest pitchers in Blue Jays history.
Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers.
He made his debut with the team in 1984, but didn’t become a full-time starter until 1985. In the next eight seasons, from ’85 – ’92 (his age 24 – 31 seasons), he was fantastic:
He didn’t strike out a lot of batters, but he was durable, reliable, and very consistent. In fact, in that eight year stretch, Key’s 3.38 ERA is the 8th best in all of baseball for starters with at least 1,500 innings pitched, behind only Roger Clemens, Orel Hershiser, Dwight Gooden, Dennis Martinez, Bret Saberhagen, Bob Welch, and Nolan Ryan.
In 1987 Key finished 17-8 and led the AL with a 2.76 ERA, 164 ERA+, and 1.06 WHIP, while finishing second in Cy Young voting. He also led the AL in 1989 with the fewest walks per nine innings, and was twice an All-Star in a Blue Jay uniform (1985, 1991).
In terms of where he ranks all-time in Blue Jays history, Key is near the top in many categories, including:
WAR – 3rd (behind Stieb and Halladay)
ERA – 3rd (behind Henke and Ward)
Wins – 4th (Stieb, Halladay, Clancy)
WHIP – 2nd (Henke)
IP – 4th (Stieb, Clancy, Halladay)
If that’s not enough, he also went 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA in seven postseason appearances with Toronto (1985, 1989, 1991, and 1992). Included in that, of course, is his iconic start in game 4 of the 1992 World Series, when he dominated the Atlanta Braves for 7.2 IP, allowing only 1 run on 5 hits. At one point Key retired 16 consecutive Braves hitters. The image of him walking off the mound to a standing ovation, while tipping his cap to the crowd is one of the most memorable in club history. Not to be outdone, he also pitched 1.1 innings out of the bullpen in the clinching game 6.
So for the final time in this post, I’ll ask: where is Jimmy Key? By all accounts he is the third best pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history. He was an All-Star, a World Series winner, and a legend.
After a disastrous 2013 season, a dire winter, and what is shaping up to be a sad 2014, maybe it’s time that the Blue Jays give fans something to cheer about, and give one man the respect he deserves.
It’s time to recognize Jimmy Key on the Level of Excellence.