On April 7, 1977 Major League Baseball arrived in Toronto. It was new, it was fresh and they even played their first game the only way Canada knows how… in the snow!
They were one of only two cities in Canada to be awarded a Major League franchise, the other being the defunct Montreal Expos. In 1992 and 1993 the Blue Jays won consecutive World Series titles before finally returning to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. There, they reignited the passion of baseball fans in Toronto with back-to-back playoffs runs into the ALCS before succumbing to the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and the Cleveland Indians in 2016.
Over their now-four decades of history, fascinating players have graced the ball diamond at Exhibition Stadium and then the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre). Some have won batting titles or MVPs, some have won Cy Young awards, and some have even gone on to the Hall of Fame. And who knows, in 10 years time we may need to sing the praises of current Jays like Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, Jose Bautista, and Marcus Stroman.
15. Fred McGriff – 1B/DH
In 1982, Fred McGriff was part of a trade to Toronto that was considered the worst in New York Yankee history. The Yankees felt comfortable dealing the young first sacker to Toronto, as Don Mattingly was already entrenched at that position. Of the two players he was essentially traded for, Dale Murray and Tom Dodd, neither made any serious impact. From the get go, McGriff routinely hit 30 homers a year and even led the AL with 36 in 1989 along with a league leading .924 OPS. His lone appearance in the playoffs with Toronto resulted in three hits and three RBI against Oakland in the 1989 ALCS. McGriff was then part of another monster trade to San Diego in 1990 that would bring Robbie Alomar to town, helping the team win its first World Series title. The man affectionately nicknamed “Crime Dog” (given by broadcaster Chris Berman) also hit the first home run at the then state-of-the-art SkyDome (now Rogers Center).
14. Kelly Gruber – 3B
Between 1984 and 1986, Gruber bounced between the majors and the minors after being picked up by the Jays from Cleveland in the 1983 Rule 5 draft. The instantly likeable Texan became the everyday third baseman for the Jays in 1987. He became the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle, smacking a single, double, triple, and a home run in a game played April 16, 1989. He was also part of what some Blue Jays fans think was “the triple play” turned at the SkyDome against the Atlanta Braves in the fourth inning of Game 3 of the 1992 World Series. Gruber was a fan favorite in Toronto even though his career was relatively short (he was traded to the Angels in 1993 and retired soon after). Gruber was a two-time all-star and had a career year in 1990, hitting .274, with 31 homers and 118 RBI, finishing fourth in MVP voting in the process.
13. Jimmy Key – SP
When you see Mark Buehrle pitch, you are essentially seeing Jimmy Key. The best left-handed pitcher the Jays have ever had — apologies to David Price, who is a newbie — didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he had great command and used it wisely. From his debut in 1984 to the 1992 championship year, Key was like the Energizer bunny, wind him up and send him to the mound for yet another quality start. How quality was he, you ask? In eight seasons as a starter (his first year he was long relief), Key pitched a whopping 28 complete games in 250 starts, eight of them coming during his career year in 1987. That year, Key went 17-8 and came in second in Cy Young voting. He won at least 13 games seven of eight seasons as a starter (very Buehrle like) and his crowning achievement was going 2-0 against Atlanta in the ’92 World Series.
12. Jesse Barfield – OF
Before we marveled at Jose Bautista’s gun from right field, no one threw it harder, and longer, than Jesse Barfield. In fact, Barfield lead the American League in outfield assists for three straight years, 1985 to 1987. Along with Lloyd Moseby and George Bell, the trio are often considered the best of the 1980s. Barfield debuted in 1981 and assumed the starting right field job in 1982 until he was moved to the Yankees in 1989. Along with his cannon for an arm, Barfield was also a fairly prolific hitter, leading the AL in homers with 40 in 1986. That was his watershed year, when he also drove in 108 runs, hit a career high .289 and was also an all-star, won a gold glove and silver slugger and finished fifth in MVP voting. Barfield didn’t end up winning a championship in his career (which ended in New York in 1992) but he did bat .280 with a homer and four RBI in the thrilling seven-game ALCS against Kansas City in 1985.
11. Tony Fernandez – SS
Here’s a trivia question for you: what Toronto sports athlete played four different stints in the city of Toronto? Answer: Tony Fernandez. He was part of a wave of players from Dominican Republic brought to Toronto by legendary scout Epy Guerrero, signed as an undrafted free agent in 1979. The Blue Jays clearly found a diamond in the rough with Fernandez, who became the everday shortstop in 1983. Fernandez was just an average hitter with Toronto, but his skills with the glove were evident. He was a five-time All-Star as well as a four-time Gold Glove winner. He went to San Diego in 1991, returned to the Jays (from the Mets) in 1993, then played for Cincinnati (1994), the Yankees (1995), and Cleveland (1997) before returning to Toronto in 1998. A stop in Milwaukee in 2001 and return to retire a Blue Jay was the end of his 18-year odyssey.
10. Tom Henke – RP
The “Terminator” was the best closer the Blue Jays have had in their entire history. He didn’t give up many hits, averaged nearly a strikeout per inning, and saved 217 games between 1985 and 1992. He led the American League in saves with 34 and games finished with 62 in 1987 and was also part of a dynamic bullpen shutdown duo with Duane Ward during the 1992 World Series. He returned to the Texas Rangers in 1993, (they drafted him in 1980) before ending his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1995. His 311 career saves place him 21st among closers, all-time.
9. Duane Ward – RP
Originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1982, he was traded to Toronto for hard throwing pitcher Doyle Alexander in the middle of the 1986 season. Duane Ward was a co-partner in closing out games with Tom Henke, during the glory days of the late 80’s and early 90’s. As long as the Blue Jays had a lead after seven innings, they knew that there was a good chance Ward and Henke could close the other team out. After Henke left in 1992, Ward became the dominant closer and finished the 1993 season with 45 saves and a league leading 70 finished games. To date, those 45 saves are a record that stands as the most ever by a Toronto closer. Ward also logged a 4-1 record and five saves in 19 playoff appearances with the Blue Jays (including two saves against the Phillies in 1993).
8. Roger Clemens – SP
Ever controversial, “Rocket” Roger Clemens was always more readily identifiable as a member of the Boston Red Sox or the New York Yankees. However, he did play two stellar seasons in Toronto. After a bitter divorce from Red Sox Nation in 1996, he came to Toronto after signing a four-year, $40 million dollar contract. Clemens proved he was not as washed up as Sox management thought he was, winning the AL Cy Young his two seasons in Toronto. He was lights out in 1997 and 1998, winning 21 games in ’97 and 20 in ’98 en route to his fourth and fifth Cy Youngs all-time. He was so dominant, he also lead in ERA both years (2.05 and 2.65 respectively) and strikeouts (292 and 271). Clemens would win his sixth Cy Young with the Yanks in 2001 and his seventh and last as a member of the Houston Astros in 2004.
7. Paul Molitor – DH
Paul Molitor’s tenure in Toronto was brief, but he left it all out on the field as a “grinder” that Jays fans loved. After the 1992 World Series win, the Blue Jays cut ties with playoff hero Dave Winfield leaving fans to wonder if the team was a one hit wonder. Enter Molitor. In his first full year in 1993, the future Hall of Famer hit .332 and led the AL in hits with 211. Incredibly, he was sandwiched between teammates Roberto Alomar (.326) and John Olerud (.362) for the top three in batting average that year. After a lengthy career with the Milwaukee Brewers and not winning a World Series title, Molitor was an integral part of the Jays second of two championships. “Molly” collected 12 hits in 24 at bats against Philadelphia, including two doubles, two triples, two homers and eight RBI. He also drew three walks for a .571 on base percentage.
6. Dave Stieb – SP
Other than Roy Halladay, there has been no more effective righthanded starting pitcher in Jays’ history than Dave Stieb. The seven-time all-star (a Blue Jays’ record) won the second most games in the 1980s (140), behind only future Blue Jay Jack Morris. And the converted outfielder was also threw the only no-hitter in the team’s history, beating Cleveland 3-0 on Sept. 2, 1990. This was after losing two no-hit bids, with two outs and two strikes on the batter in the ninth no less, in consecutive home starts in September 1988. Stieb amassed all but one of his 176 career wins as a Blue Jay and his complete game and shutout stats are astounding. In 412 career starts he went the distance an incredible 103 times, with 30 of those resulting in shutouts. Stieb’s declining performance resulted in his release prior to the 1992 World Series, but in a classy move by the team, he was awarded a World Series ring anyway.
5. Carlos Delgado – 1B
You can’t mention all-time great Blue Jays sluggers without the name Delgado rolling off your tongue. For nine seasons between 1996 and 2004, Carlos was “the man” in Toronto. Delgado is just one of six major leaguers ever to hit 30 or more homers in 10 consecutive seasons, eight with Toronto from 1997 to 2004 (and one each with Florida and the New York Mets). Not only that, but three times he hit more than 40 homers and drove in over 130 runs in the same season, leading the American League in RBI with 145 in 2003. In 2000, he also lead the junior circuit with an amazing 57 doubles and 99 extra base hits total (one triple, 41 homers). Despite his yearly batting heroics, Delgado was an all-star just twice to go along with two Silver Slugger awards. He was second in MVP voting in 2003 as well. In 2015, the man who owns several Blue Jays batting records was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
4. Roy Halladay – SP
Roy Halladay’s career with Toronto began rather auspiciously. In his second career start against Detroit in 1998, he came within an out of pitching a no-hitter. Things did not progress very well soon after that. During the 2000 season Halladay had an ERA of 10.64, which could have ended his career. But the Blue Jays sent him down to Double A to work on his mechanics and in 2002, Halladay returned to the big club and finished the season with a 19-7 record and ERA of 2.93. While Halladay didn’t win a World Series title in Toronto, he was a six-time All-Star and a Cy Young winner (2003) who could be counted on to give the Jays quality starts (he lead the AL in complete games five times during his tenure). In his Cy Young year, Halladay went 22-7, throwing nine complete games (1st in the AL), and two shutouts (also 1st).
3. Joe Carter – OF/DH
“The Homer” will always be Carter’s defining moment as a Toronto Blue Jay. His walk-off, game-winning drive against hapless Phillies reliever Mitch Williams in 1993 is as iconic a moment as there is in all of sports. After distinguished but unfulfilled stints with the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians, and San Diego Padres, Carter found lightning in a bottle after a huge multi-player trade to Toronto in 1990. He was in the thick of it with six hits and two home runs as Toronto beat Atlanta in 1992 and then slammed another seven hits and two dingers against Philly in 1993. He left the Big Smoke in 1997 and finished his career playing for the Baltimore Orioles and then San Francisco Giants in 1998.
2. George Bell – OF/DH
In 2015, shouts of “MVP, MVP, MVP!” were heard around the Rogers Center whenever Josh Donaldson stepped to the plate. By accomplishing that feat, he was just the second Blue Jay to win the award. George Bell did it in 1987, when he absolutely slaughtered AL pitching. In addition to a league leading 134 RBI, he also rapped out 47 homers (second behind Mark McGwire), topped the loop in total bases (369), hit .308, slugged at a .608 clip and had 83 extra base hits. His nine seasons in Toronto were the best of his 12-year career, which also included trips to the 1985 ALCS, where he batted .321 in seven games and the 1989 ALCS, where he was held to a .200 average, but did hit a home run and drove in two. Bell is enshrined on the Rogers Center’s Level of Excellence and is also an inductee to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
1. Roberto Alomar – 2B
Roberto Alomar was the key component, along with Joe Carter, in what was known for Toronto as “The Trade” in 1990. Jays’ GM Pat Gillick made a huge splash, shipping ever popular players and All-Stars Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for the whiz kid second sacker and big hitter Carter. Without a doubt Alomar was the best second basemen to ever play in Toronto and one of the best all-time. He was the classic “five tool” player who could hit for average and power, steal bases, and make out-of-this-world defensive plays at second base. The lasting contribution of the Hall-of-Famer was what some consider the most important hit in Jays’ history. It was his game-tying, two-run blast off Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of Game Four of the 1992 ALCS, which the Jays would go on to win. He was also lights out against Philadelphia in 1993 World Series, batting .480 in six games.