Category Archives: Blast From the Past

Blast From the Past – Tony Batista

In celebration of Jose Bautista’s 50th HR, this week’s Blast From the Past is dedicated to the 10-year anniversary of another unlikely home run hitter.

A 40 HR season has occured nine times in Toronto’s franchise history.  The usual suspects have accounted for most of them – Carlos Delgado (3 times), Jesse Barfield (twice), George Bell, and Shawn Green.  Bautista’s appearance on that list was unexpected entering the season.  But to me, he isn’t the most surprising.  That honour belongs to a man with almost the same last name – Tony Batista.

Looking at his career stats, Batista did validate his 2001 outbreak with four more 25+ HR seasons, including two 30+ campaigns.  But for some reason – maybe the fact that he had a terrible swing, maybe the fact that he only played one full season with the Jays, or maybe the fact that he will always be tainted in my eyes because he was a horrible fielder – Batista doesn’t really belong.

Along with having one of the strangest batting stances ever, where he would stand fully facing the pitcher during the wind-up before getting into a crouch, Batista has a strange real name.  He was born Leocadio Francisco Batista in the Dominican Republic in 1973.  Though not confirmed, I would assume he changed his name to Tony around the time he was signed as an amateur free agent by Oakland in 1991.  After hitting .256 with 10 HR over parts of two seasons with the A’s, Tony was picked up by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft.

In 1999, the Jays had Alex Gonzalez as the starting shortstop.  But in June, Gonzalez went down for the season leaving a gaping hole at short – one Gord Ash promptly filled by acquiring Batista and John Frascatore for Dan Plesac.  Subbing at SS for the remainder of the season, he promptly took off.  In 98 games, Batista hit 26 HR and 79 RBI with a .285 average, definitely earning a spot on the club for 2000 and beyond.

Despite being shifted over to third base after the return of Gonzalez, Batista didn’t stop hitting.  A .263 average, .827 OPS, 41 HR, and 114 RBI to go along with his first career All-Star appearance.

I remember a lot of talk about Batista’s season being a fluke.  After all he had hit a combined 33 HR in 292 games with Oakland and Arizona, before exploding for 67 HR in only 252 games with the Jays.  2001 was going to be a season of validation – a season to prove that he was a legtimate power threat for a contending team.  Unfortunately it didn’t work that way.  Tony was terrible.  He played 72 games, hit .207 with a .649 OPS and only 13 HR.  To make matters worse, he made 10 errors for a woeful .953 fielding percentage.  The Jays sent him down to the minors, where he was claimed by Baltimore on waivers.

In Baltimore he rebounded a bit, made his second All-Star team, then signed with the Expos.  After a good season with Montreal, he hit paydirt – a two-year, $14 million contract with Fukuoka in the Japanese league.  However – he was released after only one season, as the team said they “wanted to promote younger players from within.”  He did forever immortalize himself while in Japan by faking a mound charge after being hit by a pitch.

A couple of failed comeback attempts ended his career in 2007.

While he did hit well for a few more seasons after his out-of-nowhere 41 bomb campaign of 2000, to me Tony Batista is still the biggest fluke in Blue Jay history.  He was one-dimensional, slow, and didn’t look like a HR hitter.

So no matter what J-Bau does next year, his 2010 season will always be above Leocadio 2000.

Tony Batista: Career Major League Statistics

11 seasons (1996 – 2004, 2006 – 2007)

7 teams (OAK, ARI, TOR, BAL, MON, MIN, WAS)

.251 average, 221 HR, 718 RBI, 625 R, 47 SB, .752 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.

Blast From the Past – Esteban Loaiza

On Wednesday night, top prospect Kyle Drabek made his much anticipated MLB debut for the Jays.  Though he didn’t get the win, he showed flashes of brilliance, and (in my opinion) justified the hype.

This week in Blast From the Past, I thought I’d go back in time to when another Blue Jay debuted for the team.  The situation was definitely nowhere near comparable.  This pitcher wasn’t a rookie making his first career start – he was a five year veteran.  To be honest, I can’t remember the hype surrounding his first start, but I remember there being a bit of excitement in the air when the Blue Jays acquired Esteban Loaiza from Texas.  Too bad the excitement didn’t last.

The Setup

July 19, 2000.  After the games played that night Toronto was in contention.  At 51-45 they were tied with Boston for second in the AL East, only 1.5 back of the Yankees.  Similar to 2010, Toronto had a ton of power.  Seven players would hit 20 or more HR.  But the pitching was suspect.  Toronto’s top four were eventual 20-game winner David Wells, followed by two youngsters – Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter, Frank Castillo, and 23-year old Roy Halladay.  Sensing that if he improved the rotation that the opportunity for a postseason birth was within reach, Gord Ash made a deal for Loaiza.

The Prologue

Esteban Loaiza joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1991, and made his debut in ’95.  After four average seasons as a Pirate (27-28, 4.63 ERA), he was shipped to Texas for the one of the most famous failed prospects of all time Todd Van Poppel.  In Texas he spent parts of three very average seasons.  A 17-17 win/loss record coupled with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP had Loaiza looking like nothing more than a capable fourth or fifth starter.  He had only eclipsed the 100 strikeout mark twice, and had a career high K/9 ratio of 6.2.  But Ash saw something he liked, and pulled the trigger.

The Letdown

The acquisition of Loaiza gave Jays fans real hope.  Though his numbers weren’t superb, he was a 28-year old pitcher in his prime with over five years of experience.  Bumping the talented but raw Halladay from the rotation would be an upgrade, and might be all the Jays would need to get back to the playoffs.  Sadly, it didn’t work out.  The Blue Jays finished the season on a 32-34 run, and in an extremely winnable year, finished third.  The Yankees won the division with a mere 87 wins (a total they have already surpassed this year with 16 games remaining).  Though he pitched decently, Loaiza only went 5-7 down the stretch for Toronto, not the deadline acquisition fans were hoping for.

The Salt in the Wounds

Loaiza pitched two more unproductive seasons in Toronto, going 11-11 in 2001, and 9-10 in 2002.  His Toronto tenure ended with him posting a record of 25-28 and a 4.96 ERA.  The Jays never finished that close to the playoffs again.  Sensing he was never going to be anything above mediocre (and judging by his past performance he wasn’t), Toronto let him walk.  Loaiza then spit in the face of Blue Jays fans in 2003 by going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA with the White Sox.  He lead the AL in strikeouts.  He was the starting pitcher of the All-Star game, finished second in Cy Young voting, and 24th in MVP voting.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  The worst was the fact that Gord Ash traded a minor league prospect by the name of Michael Young to Texas to acquire Esteban.  Yes, the same Michael Young who still plays for Texas as one of the top players in baseball.  The same Michael Young who is a six-time All-Star, won a batting title, and hit over .300 six times since 2003.  Yikes.

Though he also made the All-Star team in 2004, Loaiza never did much again.  A mid-season trade to the Yankees that season saw him implode and turn into a journeyman the rest of his career.

And though he didn’t make the trade, I will always blame him for losing Michael Young.

Esteban Loaiza: Career Major League Statistics

14 seasons (1995 – 2008)

8 teams (PIT, TEX, TOR, CHW, NYY, WAS, OAK, LAD)

126-114 record, 2,099 IP, 4.65 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 1,382 K:604 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.

Blast From the Past – Turner Ward

This week by special request 500 Level Fan takes a look back at a classic Blue Jay.  He was scrappy, energetic, and full of hustle, and somehow turned his limited ability into two World Series rings – despite never appearing in the post-season as  a Jay.

This week’s Blast From the Past features Turner Ward.

After being drafted by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 1986 draft, Turner was dealt to Cleveland in 1989, and then finally made his way to Toronto with Tom Candiotti in 1991.  Two classic Jays went the other way in that trade – Glenallen Hill and Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten.  Did he make an immediate impact with his new club?  No, he went straight to the minors – but did make it up as a September call up where he mashed the ball to the tune of a .308 average in 13 AB, with one start.

In 1992, he made the opening day roster, made it into 6 games by May, then was promptly demoted to Syracuse, unable to take away a starting OF job from Carter, White, or Maldonado.  But he made a much anticipated return in September, ended up hitting .345 in 29 AB, and made the postseason roster as a member of the Trenches with Derek Bell and Ed Sprague.  However – unlike those trench guys, Ward didn’t make a single appearance in the Series.  

But he got a ring anyways.

1993 – same story.  A terrible regular season (.192 in 167 AB), but a spot on the postseason roster and a second World Series ring despite zero playing time.  Even Willie Canate got into a game.  Ward is likely the most undeserving recipient of two World Series rings this side of Eric Hinske, and likely only Mike Maksudian did less to win a championship.

Finally, Toronto let go of Turner in the offseason, allowing Milwaukee to claim him on waivers.  The Brewers, likely citing his championship rings, badly misused Ward in 1994 by actually allowing him to play.  His clubhouse persona, his sunflower seed spitting potential, and his proficiency at sitting down all went to waste.  He made 427 plate appearances – something he clearly wasn’t used to (.232 average, .685 OPS).

But give him credit.  He actually turned in a lengthy major league career, and produced a decent season in 1997 with the Pirates (1.007 OPS in 191 PA).  His career highlight came in ’98 in Pittsburgh, when he crashed through the right field wall at Three Rivers Stadiium while making a spectacular catch.  The highlight gave him national exposure and loads of TV time.

Despite his lifetime .251 batting average, Turner Ward is currently employed as the batting coach for the Mobile BayBears, a double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

Who knows – we might see him back in the bigs sometime soon.  Stranger things have happened.

Turner Ward: Career Major League Statistics

12 seasons (1990 – 2001)

6 teams (CLE, TOR, MIL, PIT, ARI, PHI)

.251 average, 39 HR, 219 RBI, 210 R, 33 SB, .721 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.

Blast From the Past – Duane Ward

Last Sunday (August 29) the Blue Jays honoured Dave Stieb on the 20th anniversary of his no-hitter.  In a pre-game ceremony, Stieb was presented with a painting, and a video tribute by many past teammates and club officials.  Four of his former teammates were present at the ceremony to honour him, including Duane Ward.

With a lot of talk this season about Kevin Gregg having a career year as Toronto’s closer, despite constantly (or so it seems) getting into trouble in save situations, it makes a fan long for the days of bullpen dominance.  For me, those days happened when Duane Ward was in the pen.

Ward was a top prospect back in 1982, drafted 9th overall by the Atlanta Braves.  He made his major league debut for the Braves in 1986, but after only 16 innings pitched, Atlanta shipped him to the Jays straight up for Doyle Alexander.  For Jays fans who were too young (like myself) to remember, Alexander was a big deal for the Jays.  In two full seasons, and parts of two others, he went 46-26 with a 3.56 ERA for Toronto, leading them to their first division title in 1985.  So letting him go was a big deal.

But it paid off – big time.  Ward became a full-time member of the Blue Jay bullpen in 1988 and was dominant.  He was used primarily as a set-up man to the Terminator Tom Henke, giving the Jays the best bullpen finishers in baseball.  He was so dominating that after the Jays won the 1992 World Series they decided not to re-sign Henke, giving the full-time closers gig to Duane.

Ward was a workhorse.  In a day and age where pitchers are treated very carefully, where relievers rarely throw more than two innings in a game, or more than two games in a row, Ward’s numbers seem absurd.  From 1988 – 1992, he exceeded 100 innings pitched each year, hitting 127.2 in ’90.  Crazy.

His stats are also off-the-charts.  In that same time frame, as a set-up man, he went 49-51, with a 3.09 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 560 K’s, and 76 saves.  76 saves – as a set-up man!

Absolutely nothing changed in 1993 when he took over the role of closer.  He lead the American League with 45 saves.  His ERA was 2.13, his WHIP 1.03.  He struck out 97 batters in only 71.2 innings.  He was named an All-Star, finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and 22nd in MVP voting.  I will not hesitate to call him Toronto’s last true dominant closer.  The pot-pourri of arms we have had for the ninth inning over the past 15 years (Ryan, Koch, Frasor, Accardo, Timlin, Escobar) are nothing compared to Ward.

Unfortunately his dominance only lasted one year.  Biceps tendinitis forced him to miss the entire 1994 season, and caused his retirement after only four games in 1995.  He was only 31 when he hung up the cleats. 

But his time with the Jays will never be forgotten.  The fire engine red moustache, the smoking fastballs, the fist pump when he nailed down a save, and his huge role in the back-to-back to World Series years will always be a part of Toronto lore.  Godspeed Duane, godspeed.

Duane Ward: Career Major League Statistics

9 seasons (1986 – 1993, 1995)

2 teams (ATL, TOR)

32-37 record, 666.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 679 K:286 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.

Blast From the Past – Cliff Johnson

Yesterday, fellow Blue Jays blogger Ian at the Blue Jay Hunter released the results of a survey he created that asked readers to name the quintessential Blue Jay.  The winner was Joe Carter.  My vote went to Tony Fernandez, in my opinion the greatest Jay ever.  But that is not the point of this diatribe…

The point is this: though Tony Fernandez is in my eyes the quintessential Blue Jay, he is not the Blue Jay I associate most with my childhood.  Strangely enough, that honour belongs to Cliff Johnson.

My earliest memories of the Jays are from the 1985 season, the first year they won the AL East.  That team was possibly the greatest Blue Jay squad of all time, loaded with players such as Barfield, Bell, Moseby, Fernandez, Whitt, Stieb, Key, and Henke.  But it is two veteran players who always jump into my head when I picture that team – 38-year old Al Oliver, and 37-year old Cliff Johnson. 

The main reason why that pair always comes to mind?  Their jersey numbers.  In 1985  Al Oliver wore zero and Cliff Johnson wore double-zero.  They are quite possibly the only teammates in sporting history to both wear ‘0’.  Apparently that was enough to land them permanently in the heart of a 6-year old boy.

This week I am featuring Johnson in the Blast From the Past section, mainly because his name popped up in the news this week when Matt Stairs broke his record for most career pinch-hit home runs. 

Cliff was drafted way back in 1966 by the Astros and made his debut as a catcher in 1972.  He spent six seasons in Houston before being traded to the Yankees, the first of six times he would be dealt in his career.  He won back-to-back World Series with New York, but was traded to Cleveland after a locker room brawl with Goose Gossage that landed the pitcher on the DL.  After Cleveland, he bounced to the Cubs, and then the A’s, before being acquired by the Jays in 1982 for Al Woods – his first of two brief stints in Toronto.

Cliff had arrived.

1983 was the first season in Blue Jays history that the team finished over .500, going 89-73.  Cliff Johnson was a big reason why.  Acting primarily as DH, he finished third on the team in HR and RBI (22 and 76 respectively) with a .262 average and .862 OPS.  In 1984 he hit .304 with an .897 OPS leading the Jays to a second place finish. 

But it is 1985 where he established himsefl as my original Blue Jay.  After leaving for Texas as a free agent, the Jays re-acquired him at the August waiver trade deadline for three players.  It was in his second stint with the team that he wore double-zero on his jersey.  He appeared in 24 games down the stretch, hit .274 and helped Toronto win the division for the first time.  He then put the Jays on his back in the ALCS, hitting .368, but couldn’t prevent the 7-game loss to KC.

Cliff returned in 1986, but couldn’t replicate the magic.  He retired after the season.

Though he was never a part of playoff success in Toronto, though he didn’t (and will not) make the Hall of Fame or the Jays Level of Excellence, Cliff Johnson will always go down in my mind as the original Jay.

And likely as the best athlete to ever wear #’00’.

Cliff Johnson: Career Major League Statistics

15 seasons (1972 – 1986)

7 teams (HOU, NYY, CLE, CHC, OAK, TOR, TEX)

.258 average, 196 HR, 699 RBI, 639 R, 9 SB, .815 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.

Blast From the Past – Derek Bell

To lead off this Derek Bell “Blast From the Past” article, I will make an honest confession.  When looking up his statistics during his time with the Blue Jays I was very surprised.  For a guy who made such a memorable appearance in the 1992 World Series video with his “trenches” speech, he really didn’t do a whole hell of a lot for the Jays.  I knew that he didn’t last long in Toronto due to his trade to the Padres after the ’92 World Series victory, but I thought he made more of an impact than he actually did.

In his two seasons with the Blue Jays, Bell only had 189 at-bats in 79 games.  He hit .228, with a .645 OPS, 2 HR, 16 RBI, and 10 SB.  While it’s true that he wasn’t given much of a chance in Toronto (with Carter, White, and Maldonado ahead of him on the depth chart), I never realized his numbers were that low.  Especially considering that Turner Ward and Ed Sprague, other members of the trenches, did well enough to stick around for the 1993 World Series win, it was kind of shocking that the most notable “trench guy” didn’t.  What is even more strange is that Derek Bell actually had an interview piece in the 1992 World Series video, considering his only contribution was walking in the ninth inning of game two, and scoring on Sprague’s HR.

But Derek Bell made a much bigger name for himself after his time in Toronto.  In fact his career can be easily split into three parts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good

After winning the 1992 World Series with the Jays, he was shipped to San Diego for Darrin Jackson, where he spent the next two seasons as a starting outfielder for the first time in his career.  He hit well for the Padres, but was soon traded again, this time in an enormous 12-player deal with Houston.  In his first four years with the Astros, Bell was fantastic.  He hit .334 in 1995 and finished 14th in NL MVP voting.  In ’96 he knocked in 113 runs, and in ’98 he had his most complete season – .314, 22 HR, 108 RBI.  Together with Bagwell and Biggio, Houston made the playoffs three straight seasons (1997 – 1999).

The Bad

In 1999 he suddenly fell apart.  His average dropped to .236.  He publicly feuded with manager Larry Dierker and was dropped from the starting lineup.  He managed to snag a few at-bats in the playoffs, but did nothing with them.  In fact, he owns one of the worst postseason batting averages ever – 3 for 34 (.088), with a .315 OPS.  He was traded again, this time with Mike Hampton to the Mets – but as a player Houston forced the Mets to take, not as a necessary piece.

The Ugly

After the Mets refused to re-sign him, Bell signed a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates – one of the worst contracts ever signed in baseball.  In his first year with the Pirates he tore up the NL to the tune of a .173 average, .576 OPS, 5 HR, and 13 RBI.  Coming into spring training in 2002, Bell was told that he would have to compete for a job in the exhibition season due to his declining performance.  He then unleashed a verbal tirade, some of the greatest quotes ever said:

“Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”

Somehow those words didn’t sink in with management, and Bell quit the team at the end of March.  He never played again.

To summarize: he had a few good years, constantly disappeared in the playoffs, and had his career end in disgrace.

But hey – at least he’ll always have his Blue Jay years.

At least he’ll always have the trenches.

Derek Bell: Career Major League Statistics

11 seasons (1991 – 2001)

5 teams (TOR, SD, HOU, NYM, PIT)

.276 average, 134 HR, 668 RBI, 642 R, 170 SB, .757 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.

Blast From the Past – Pete Vuckovich

Pete Vuckovich could very well be the most famous Jay to ever wear the uniform in the early years of the franchise.  Some may prefer Doug Ault, Ernie Whitt, Alfredo Griffin, Dave Stieb, or Jim Clancy, but I take Vuckovich – even though I wasn’t even alive when we was on the team.

Why?

One part for how well he succeeded on teams other than the Jays.  But ten parts for his performance in one of the greatest movies of all time.

Let’s begin with his Toronto tenure.  Vuckovich was drafted in 1974 by the White Sox, and made his debut with Chicago in ’75.  After a fairly successful 1976 season, the Jays nabbed him with their 10th selection in the expansion draft.

Vuckovich made an immediate impact with the Jays.  In Toronto’s first ever game on April 7, 1977, with the Jays clinging to a 7-5 lead heading into the eighth, manager Roy Hartsfield called on Vuckovich to finish the game.  He struck out three batters in the last two innings to record the first save in Toronto Blue Jays history.

After several appearances in relief, Pete made his first start for the Jays on May 23 – a complete game, 3-0 loss to Oakland.  He spend most of the next month and a half in the rotation, and put his name in the Blue Jays record books again with the first complete game shutout in team history.

All-in-all, 1977 was a great year for Vuckovich.  In a season in which the expansion Blue Jays came dead last with 107 losses, Pete pitched well in a mixed role of starter and reliever, finishing with a 7-7 record, 8 saves, 1 shutout, a 3.47 ERA, and 123 strikeouts in 148 IP.

And then in December he was thrown away in what turned out to be one of the worst trades in Blue Jays history.

The young, hard-throwing, and promising Vuckovich was sent to St. Louis for Victor Cruz and Tom Underwood.  Cruz pitched well in relief for the Jays in ’78 (7-3, 1.71 ERA, 9 saves) but that was his only year with the club.  Underwood lasted two seasons, combining to go 15-30 with a 3.88 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. 

How did Vuckovich fare you ask?  Well, between 1978 and 1983 with St. Louis and Milwaukee, he went 71-43, 3.31 ERA, 7 shutouts, 33 complete games, 625 K, and a 1.31 WHIP.  He also lead the AL in wins in 1981, won the AL Cy Young Award in ’82, and took the Brewers to the seventh game of the 1982 World Series.  Not too shabby.

Injury problems got in the way after that, costing him the entire ’84 season and finishing his careeer in ’86.  But then in 1989 something magical happened….

Pete Vuckovich was reborn as a mean, snarly, tobacco chewing slugger of a first baseman with the New York Yankees. 

Pete Vuckovich became Clu Haywood.

For those who somehow have not seen Major League, first of all shame on you.  Haywood was known as the “Indian Killer”, as throughout the entire movie he crushes Cleveland pitching, especially Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn.  Vuckovich actually does a credible job in the movie with a few speaking lines, and comes across as a pretty fearful looking hitter (something he was not in real life, with a career .159 average).  Unfortunately nobody else thought he did well as he has never acted in a movie again.

Vuckovich lost at the end of Major League, and he is currently involved in another horrendously losing effort, acting as a Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But he will always have his place in the Blue Jays record books.  Good work Pete!

Pete Vuckovich: Career Major League Statistics

11 seasons (1975 – 1983, 1984 – 1985)

4 teams (CHW, TOR, STL, MIL)

93-69 record, 1,455.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 882 K:545 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.

Blast From the Past – Willie Canate

In the debut edition of Blast From the Past, I dedicated the column to Mike Maksudian, perhaps the most undeserving player to ever win a World Series ring.  Today, Blast From the Past focuses on yet another Blue Jay from that 1993 team, who was also extremely undeserving of the ring – perhaps more so than Maksudian.

His name is Willie Canate.

Information about Willie before his lone season on Toronto’s roster is scarce.  He was signed as an amateur free agent by Cleveland in 1989, went to Cincinnati in the Rule 5 draft in 1992, and finally came to rest in Toronto, purchased from Cincinnati in April of ’93.  Except for a brief spell in the minors in ’93, Canate spent the entire season on the Blue Jays roster.  Unfortunately for him, however, he spent most of the season sitting on the bench.

In 1993 Willie Canate played in a mere 38 games for the Blue Jays.  He made only 10 starts, the rest of the time entering as either a pinch hitter, pinch runner, or defensive replacement.  Judging by his stats, why he would be utilized as a pinch hitter is beyond me as he only managed 10 hits all season long.  His baserunning stats aren’t much better for all the times he pinch ran – one stolen base, one caught stealing.  He was a perfect fielder however – give credit where credit is due.

But throw out the regular season stats.  There is much about Willie that we don’t know, and can’t possibly learn, from his statistics.  Perhaps he was an excellent teammate who excelled at always keeping his mates loose and relaxed.  Perhaps he had a knack for warming up outfielders arms.  Maybe he had an over-the-top work ethic, a trait that the coaching staff admired and wanted to rub off on the other players.  Whatever the reason, Willie did something right in the 1993 season.  Despite his middling numbers he earned a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays 1993 playoff roster. 

But unlike Mike Maksudian, he actually made an appearance in the World Series.

This is where the story of Willie Canate, in my eyes, turns sour. 

Flashback to Game 5 of the World Series.  After the thrilling 15-14 comeback win in Game 4, the Jays are one win away from repeating as champs.  Curt Schilling was on the hill for the Phillies facing Juan Guzman, with Philadelphia’s season on the line. 

After scoring a single run in each of the first two innings, the Phillies had a 2-0 lead.  From there, it was all pitching – zero matching zero matching zero on the scoreboard.  Heading into the eighth the Jays still trailed by two and were desperate for a rally.  After a leadoff single by Pat Borders, Cito went to the bench: in came Willie to pinch run.  Another single by Rob Butler put runners on the corners with nobody out.  Toronto fans could sense the rally.  Beers were being gripped tighter in bars all across the city.  People were ready to erupt.  One big swing and we had the lead, six more outs and we had the title.  Yonge Street was going to explode.

Except…..

Rickey Henderson grounded a ball straight back to Schilling, who took one look to our boy Canate…..and saw him caught off the bag!  He was tagged out in the ensuing run down, which wasn’t long enough to allow Butler to take third.  Rally over, game over.

After hitting .213 in the regular season, Canate had one appearance in the World Series, one chance to make an impression, and blew it.  His base running blunder cost the Jays the game.  Thankfully Joe Carter delivered in Game 6, saving Canate’s blushes.

I don’t know if it was due to his mistake or not, but that rundown was the last we ever saw of Willie Canate in the major leagues.  He split 1994 between Knoxville and Syracuse, and spent the entire ’95 season with the Chiefs.  After that he was gone, out of baseball for good.  A sad, sad end.

But Willie can look proudly upon two things: his World Series ring, and the fact that he made such an impression on one young fan that he now blogs in his name – 500 Level Fan’s Ottawa Correspondent WCF (Willie Canate Fan).

Willie Canate: Career Major League Statistics

1 season (1993)

1 teams (TOR)

.213 average, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 12 R, 1 SB, .586 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.

Blast From the Past – Pedro Swann

I have no idea who Pedro Swann is.  To this point he is the most obscure former Blue Jay that I have written about.  He barely made it to the major leagues in the first place, and his stats render him virtually worthless.   So why even bother featuring him in Blast From the Past?

Because of two words: dedication and cruelty.

Dedication – Pedro Swann played professional baseball for 17 seasons.  He played for 16 different teams in nine different leagues from 1991 to 2007, including the Idaho Falls Braves in the Pioneer League, the Toledo Mud Hens of the International League, the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League, and the Tabasco Olmecas of the Mexican League.

Cruelty – see Dedication above.

Baseball can be a cruel game, but so many players remain so dedicated to the game that they simply brush off its cruel nature.  Succeeding in the game of baseball is difficult.  For every Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols there are hundreds of Pedro Swann’s.  And taking it a step further, for every Pedro Swann there are hundreds of lesser players who never even made the major leagues.

So let’s take a few minutes to salute Pedro Swann, a classsic, woeful, and forgettable, yet joyous Blue Jay from the 2002 season.

Pedro Swann spent nine seasons in the minor leagues before making his major league debut with Atlanta in 2000.  He didn’t do much.  Swann only appeared in four games – two as a defensive replacement, one as a pinch hitter, and one as a pinch runner.  His final stat line: 2 AB, 2 strikeouts.  He didn’t even have a single ball hit his way in the outfield.  All those years toiling in the minors for that?  He never played for Atlanta again.

Fast forward to 2002, which was a very interesting season for Toronto.  Buck Martinez started the year as manager, was fired on June 2 with a 20-33 record and replaced by Carlos Tosca.  Under Buck the Jays experienced a 4-game losing streak, a 5-game losing streak, a 6-game losing streak, and a 9-game losing streak.  Tosca actually finished with a winning record.  The Jays closed the season on a 7-game winning streak, including a near no-hitter by a rookie named Roy Halladay on the seasons final day.  Eric Hinske won the AL Rookie of the Year award, then promptly ate the trophy and got fatter.

So with all of that going on a fan can be forgiven for not remember the enigma that was Pedro Swann.  Looking at his statistical performance from his time with Toronto (July & August) those who were paying close attention might not remember him either.  One thing is obvious – the Blue Jays clearly didn’t trust him. 

Swann actually received a start in his first game with the team as DH on Canada Day.  After going 0-3 with 2 K’s, Swann never started again.  He found his way into 12 more games with the Jays – 9 as a pinch hitter and 3 as a pinch runner – but only once did Toronto trust him enough to let him stay in the game and enter the field.  In those two innings, just like with Atlanta, not a single ball was directed his way. 

For those counting, that made 12 professional seasons for Pedro Swann, and not a single fielding chance in the major leagues.  Cruelty and Dedication.  (He actually did get a chance to field with Baltimore in 2003, nailing all six of his chances to finish his career with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage).

Overall, his time in  Toronto was uneventful.  Aside from collecting his first career major league hit (July 30 vs KC), he was invisible.  His final stat line with the Jays is not what he would have envisioned on the back of his baseball card as a boy: 1-12, .083 average, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 6 K:1BB, .154 OBP, .237 OPS. 

Swann’s greatest career achievement came the next season as a member of the Orioles, when he launched his only major league home run off of Roger Clemens.  Atta boy Pedro!

One more piece of trivia: though he might not have accomplished much on the field, he clearly had a perfect baseball body and face.  According to his Wikipedia page Swann played the part of Juan Vasquez alongside Kevin Costner in the movie “For Love of the Game”.

Pedro Swann: Career Major League Statistics

3 seasons (2000, 2002 – 2003)

3 teams (ATL, TOR, BAL)

.143 average, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB, .486 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.

Blast From the Past – John Candelaria

John Candelaria is one of many Blue Jay players to make only a brief stopover in Toronto, just half a season in 1990.  But unlike a large majority of those players, Candelaria was actually good at one point in his career – good enough to receive some Hall of Fame votes in 1999.  

He was also one of the most colourful people in the game in his younger years.  According to his Wikipedia page Candelaria was on the verge of signing with the Dodgers when he showed up to a tryout wearing a shirt with a marijuana leaf on it that said “try some, you’ll like it.”  For some reason LA decided not to sign him after seeing that.  Strange.  And – also – amazing.

Unfortunately, he was neither good nor colourful as a member of the Blue Jays.  He was instead a shell of his former self, a 36-year old pitcher on the downside of his career when he made his brief stopover north of the border.

Candelaria was drafted by the Pirates in 1972 and made his debut with Pittsburgh in 1975.  For the next 11 seasons Candelaria dominated the National League as a Pirate, pitching a no-hitter in 1976, making the All-Star team in 1977, and winning the World Series in 1979.  His ’77 season was so good (20-5, 2.34 ERA, 133 K’s) that he finished 5th in Cy Young voting, and 18th in MVP voting.

But we don’t care about that. 

We don’t care that he spent the next five years bouncing around from team to team, AL to NL and back.  No, what we care about as Jays fans is what went down in late July of 1990.  On July 27, 1990, Toronto was in first place in the AL East, one game ahead of the Red Sox.  The Jays were trying to win their second straight division title and make it back to the ALCS for the third time in franchise history.  The Jays had a good team, with McGriff, Fernandez, Gruber, Bell, and Mookie leading the offense, a rotation of Stieb/Stottlemyre/Wells/Key/Cerutti, and the dynamic Henke/Ward duo in the bullpen.

But Toronto was scuffling.  On the morning of July 27 they might have been in first, but the club had gone a mere 11-16 over the past month.  Something needed to be done to shake things up.  Later that day Pat Gillick sent Nelson Liriano (he of the fantastic Dominican moustache) and Pedro Munoz to Minnesota for the veteran presence of Candelaria.  The hope was that he could stabilize the bullpen, make a few spot starts if needed, and provide a veteran voice down the stretch.

Unfortunately for Toronto he sucked.  He was far, far removed from his glory years but had been providing decent work out of Minnesota’s bullpen at the time of the trade (7-3, 3.39 ERA in 58.1 IP).  But in Toronto he only pitched 21.1 innings over 13 appearances, going 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA and walking nearly as many batters as he struck out.

He also failed to provide the Jays with the leadership they badly needed.  With the painful collapse of the 1987 team still fairly fresh in the minds of players and fans, they fell apart again at the end of 1990.  Toronto lead the division by 1.5 games with only eight games remaining but collapsed, finishing 2-6 to end up two games back of rival Boston.  One month later, Candelaria was gone, signing with the team who spurned him due to his weed shirt long ago – the Dodgers.

But his time in  Toronto wasn’t a total disaster. 

He was resp0nsible for one very important thing that helped pave the way for Toronto’s back-to-back World Series teams. 

John Candelaria, known as the Candy Man, gave Toronto its first taste of men named Candy, ensuring that any future Candy’s would fit in without prejudice or discrimination.

In August of 1991 Candy Maldonado was acquired.

The rest is history.

John Candelaria: Career Major League Statistics

19 seasons (1975 – 1993)

8teams (PIT, CAL, NYM, NYY, MON, MIN, TOR, LAD)

177-122 record, 2,525.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,673 K:592 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.