by Darren Clarke, July 11, 2021
“That fucking pop up…”
Bobby Cox, post game 7, 1985 ALCS
For Bobby Cox, for many Toronto Blue Jays fan, this was the story of the 1985 American League Championship Series– Death by wind aided pop up. The idea that the final knife in the Jays World Series dreams was sunk by fate rather than light hitting Jim Sundberg missing a home run by a fraction of an inch being more emotionally palatable than the more ambiguous alternatives. Regardless, Toronto’s ALCS loss to Kansas City would come to be viewed as the first significant instalment in a series of disappointments in the mid-to-late-eighties that would see the team consigned to the status of an uber-talented underachiever, their accomplishments reduced to footnotes relative the renovated World Series teams of the early nineties.
But like that fucking pop up was more than a pop up there was way more to that team, to that series, than twists of fate and disappointment.
The 1985 Blue Jays team that faced Kansas City in the ALCS featured so much to revel in- a quirky, quasi-baseball stadium on the shores of Lake Ontario, a fan base with self-esteem issues (and a propensity for melting/falling down in the face of adversity), Toronto’s finest sports management team, a gifted, often petulant, ace, a completely original, otherworldly, young shortstop from San Pedro De Macoris, a lanky, small town, closer out of Missouri known as The Terminator and an outfield for the ages.
The Jays playoff date with the Royals was chaperoned to Canadians via NBC’s finest baseball play-by-play crew at the time in Tony Kubek and Bob Costas. Their opponent meanwhile was lead by the charismatic, All-American boy, George Brett, flanked by a savvy, pesky, lineup and a top shelf starting staff anchored by submarining, closer-extraordinaire, The Quiz, Dan Quisenberry.
So, through the lens of that Game 7, of the 1985 ALCS, with some sage assistance from Kubek and Costas- let’s explore the significant people, places, and things attached to the first truly great Blue Jays team and their maiden voyage into the playoffs.
Person, Place or Thing #1- “The Mistake By the Lake,” Exhibition Stadium
My memories of going to Jays games in the eighties generally begin with being seated in the left field bleachers, eating a clammy slice of Pizza Pizza, while being impaled by brisk, knifing, winds off of Lake Ontario. The Ex was often cold, damned cold. As an always unprepared teenager though I suppose I bear some responsibility for that discomfort. In any event, the Ex was, however imperfect, a great dive to catch a ball game at. I have a whole raft of random baseball memories attached to being at the park for games- little things like late inning comebacks after 80% of the crowd had already filed out of the stadium, Willie Upshaw tossing the ball to the umpire thinking there was three outs when there was only two (then watching the base runner round the bases to score), and hearing the, “OTTO! OTTO!” chant for Otto Velez in 1982. I was also at the Ex for at least three major league debuts, each with varying degrees of significance, 1) May 1, 1987, Toronto native and Jays rookie outfielder Rob Ducey’s first at bat in which he just about hit a ball out of the park off the Rangers’ Jose Guzman, 2) September 11, 1987, New York Yankee Jay Buhner played his first MLB game and, like Ducey, launched a pitch just short of the fence to the track in center, 3) May 18, 1987, 22-year-old Fred McGriff’s first MLB plate appearance, where he delivered a single to left to open an amazing career on the good foot (note- I was at the park this day wearing, for reasons I cannot remember, a Cleveland Indians jersey with “HALL” sewn on the back. Mel Hall hit a home run in his first at bat and doubled later off Jays starter Jim Clancy).
The nature of what Exhibition Stadium was though meant the stadium was more than just a place with baseball memories attached to it.
The name Exhibition Stadium, “The Ex,” derived of the fact it was conceived as an extension as the Canadian National Exhibition (“CNE”) which runs every summer for the 18-days leading up to Labour Day. The CNE began in Toronto in 1879 at which time the first stadium was built. The field the Blue Jays began playing on their original expansion season, the one covered in snow for Anne Murray’s rendition Oh Canada before journeyman Doug Ault hit two home runs off Ken Brett to spark a 9-5 win on April 7, 1977, that stadium was the fourth incarnation of the Ex since 1879.
The Ex of the 1980s was multi-purpose. And like all multi-purpose stadiums, in trying to be useful for many things, it wasn’t particularly good at anything. It was a football field for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, a soccer field for the Toronto Blizzard of the North American Soccer League (NASL) from 1979-1983 and in a zillion different configurations home for numerous concerts.
The most common configuration for concerts was with the stage just ahead of the left side of the infield facing the left field bleachers. Between the bleacher seats and the stage, on the artificial turf, a sea of folding chairs were lined up as, “floor seats.” The lineup for 1985 was eclectic-
I was at that George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers show. I was there in the pouring rain and can tell you this- it was awesome.
Despite its’ shortcomings as a place for a particular type of event the Ex nonetheless had a sort of ramshackle charm- that friend from your youth who despite never seeming to really care much about your comfort or happiness nonetheless delivered a wild enough assortment of surprises and compelling experiences to make you treasure the relationship.
Beyond George Thorogood I also saw the likes of Kim Mitchell, The Cult and Whitesnake (hard to admit that one) there. There was something about entering the Ex grounds in the 80s. It was like entering an open circus or post-apocalyptic carnival- the aroma of cotton candy and hot dogs mixed with the more pungent smells of caged animals and hay, all carried on cool Lake Ontario breezes. It was bad, overpriced food, carnival games you couldn’t win, it was harried families, it was too many young and older men carrying their particular brand of combustible machismo around like a chip on their shoulder, it was tanned legs, cut off jean shorts, mullets and feathered hair. It was a potent mix of tackiness, warm tar and cement, greasy food, fear and sex, traversed by an overwhelming throng of the greater Toronto area.
It was ugly, it was sensational.
Configured for a baseball game The Ex was a cornucopia of quirks. Beyond the right field fence was the left over bit of the football field replete with yardage markings. Moored in that bit of excess astro turf, rising above the fence down the right field line was a lost scoreboard, aimed vaguely towards the vicinity of third base, seemingly planted in its’ spot entirely by accident. At a certain juncture behind first base and further down the right field line the seating became flat, aluminum, benches, facing away towards left center field. Aluminum benches that on a cold spring or fall evening made for a far from loving spot to enjoy a game. The left field bleacher seats were cheap, single digit pricing, that meant as a teenager I was often found there. Bleacher seats were a decent spot to enjoy a game but for sell out games you faced the challenge of trying to find a spot beyond the open seats that sat right behind the solid blue plastic fencing. It could also be a dangerous environment particularly in series against the rival Detroit Tigers where attendance seemed evenly split with Jays fans and Tigers fans who had either done the drive from Michigan or grew up in Toronto as Tigers fans in the days before the Jays had a team. It could get violent those games and scraps during those often important series in the mid-eighties were more the rule than the exception. And of course, no conversation about the Ex would be complete without mentioning seagulls. Seagulls were a fundamental part of the stadium often mingling in large groups on the field before swooping up into the lake air and back down always on the hunt for discarded stadium food. The most famous incident involving a seagull of course was Dave Winfield killing one while doing warm up throws prior to an inning.
It was August 4, 1983, a game between the Blue Jays and the visiting New York Yankees when, prior to the bottom of the fifth inning, Dave Winfield struck a seagull with a throw he contested was directed to the team’s bat boy. Winfield was arrested post-game for cruelty to animals and the Toronto Humane Society joined the police investigation into the incident.
The CBC reported a quote from Michael O’Sullivan of the Toronto Humane Society on their involvement in the investigation, “We also accepted the bird from [police] and have submitted it to the University of Guelph for a full autopsy to give us a cause of death.”
And that’s where the Blue Jays played baseball from 1977 through May 28, 1989.
And that’s where the NBC’s Dick Enberg began his introduction to Game 7 of the ALCS game, amicably echoing longtime Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Foster Hewitt in his intro, “Good evening baseball fans in Canada the United States and Newfoundland.”
It was six-degrees celsius for Game 7 in Toronto. The initial overhead shots of the Exhibition Stadium accompanied by Enberg’s smooth as butter on bread voice announcing, “a cool autumn night in Toronto,” as the camera panned to the crowd to find a man in a fur coat and fedora, then to a woman in ear muffs. The broadcast quickly cut to update viewers on the NL Championship series being decided earlier in the day. The Cardinals had mounted a comeback in Game Six against a young Orel Hershiser, finishing off the Dodgers when Tommy Lasorda decided, with first base open, runners on second and third, two out, to pitch to an in his prime Jack Clark instead of walking him to face 24-year-old Andy Vanslyke. Clark subsequently launched a Tom Niedenfuer pitch into the bleachers of Chavez Ravine leaving Dodgers left fielder Pedro Guerrero to toss his glove in disgust as Clark rounded the bases.
The broadcast then framed George Brett as he introduced the Kansas City lineup and gave his take on Dave Stieb. While ever diplomatic, Brett alluded to the same theme that guest analyst, Rick Dempsey (longtime Orioles catcher) and colour man for the American broadcast, Tony Kubek, both did- Talented but emotional.
And that was no lie.
Once the game began, with Bob Costas and Tony Kubek calling the game, the most compelling moment of the top of the first was the showdown between Stieb and Brett. Brett had spent the first six-games of the series reminding everyone of how great of a player he was, consistently laying the Jays talented pitching staff to waste to the tune of a .400 batting average, .538 on base percentage and .950 slugging percentage coming into game seven.
Brett strode to the plate with his trademark loose limbed, gunslinger entering a saloon, understated cool. Stepping into the box though he pivoted his body into an unthreateningly crouch, seemingly almost bent with by age, his bat largely hidden behind him with just the upper barrel exposed above his left shoulder. But it was pure possum, waiting to uncoil easily and suddenly into the kind of smoothly lethal brute force that filled up outfield gaps and bleachers in Kaufman Stadium and ballparks across the league.
Dave Stieb meanwhile stood on the mound with his usual gung-ho gym teacher countenance. Stieb’s strong jaw and moustache may have suggested Magnum PI like machismo but his petulant disdain for friends and foes alike undercutting his, “Tomorrow I’ll Be Perfect,” (the title of his book published in 1986) quest for greatness was more Jonathan Quayle Higgins (“The Third”) obsessive compulsive disorder than, “Private Investigator,” cool.
The first three pitches from Stieb to Brett were low and away, out of the strike zone. This came as no surprise to Costas who offered after ball three, “There is no more a intense competitor than Stieb but even he has no desire for a macho confrontation with Brett.” The fourth pitch was generously called a strike despite again being low and away. Pitch five was an overhand curve that Brett was ahead of and grounded foul. Pitch six was the exact same 12-to-6 curve breaking from chest level down to Brett’s ankles as he swung over top of it.
A rare victory for the Jays over George Brett.
Stieb sprinted back to the Jays dugout.
Person Place or Thing #2- Dave Stieb
“When he is on the mound, listen, David’s not a very good person, okay?”
Lloyd Moseby via Shi Davidi (The Big 50 Toronto Blue Jays)
Dave Stieb’s origin story is well known in Toronto. Originally scouted as an outfielder with Southern Illinois University he didn’t impress until, May 3, 1978, when he caught the eye of Jays legends, executives Al Lamacchia (who had signed a young Cito Gaston for the Houston Cold .45’s in 1961) and Bobby Mattick. After underwhelming Lamacchia and Mattick with a bat in his hands, Stieb was moved mid-inning, late in the game, from the outfield to pitch. He immediately, as Bobby Mattick told Sports Illustrated in 1983, “… knocked our eyeballs out.”
The trouble was, true to Stieb form, he didn’t think of himself as a pitcher. In Stephen Brunt’s book, Diamond Dreams. he recounted this early exchange between Lamacchia and Stieb-
Al Lamacchia- “You’re a pretty good outfielder but let’s assume you don’t hit.”
Dave Stieb- “Don’t worry about that. I’ll hit”
A deal was subsequently struck wherein Stieb would both pitch and hit in the minors. Quickly though, Stieb realized Lamachia was right, he wouldn’t hit and that his path to Major League Baseball was on the mound. Despite his limited experience as a pitcher Stieb needed very little renovation of his delivery to excel, “All we did,” said Mattick, “was try to give him a changeup and work a little on his control. We didn’t monkey around with his mechanics at all. He has the same delivery today as he had then. He was a natural, one in a million.”
What Stieb became as a major league pitcher provided the Blue Jays with their first great player. In a time where teams were most identifiable by their starting rotation the Jays finally had an ace to rival the likes of Jack Morris in Detroit, Bruce Hurst in Boston, Ron Guidry in New York and Charlie Leibrandt in Kansas City. Finally, when teams brought their best to town we had someone who could beat them.
With his herky, jerky, jocular, delivery, knee buckling slider, his death stares at teammates who had dared make an error behind him, his infamous, endless, in game adjustments of his jock, Stieb dominated the American League beginning in 1980 at age twenty-two. 1985 would actually be the high water mark of Stieb’s pitching career as he posted a league leading 2.48 ERA. His win-loss record however was 14-13 owing to the Jays propensity to blow leads and not provide their ace the kind of run support you would hope for from a first rate team.
So it was appropriate then that on this night, Game 7, with a trip to the World Series on the line, Stieb would be on the mound for the Jays presenting Toronto with an opportunity to seek center stage in the great American past time.
Center stage in America, being acknowledged by our swashbuckling, charismatic, neighbour to the South was always kind of a thing in Canada and particularly Toronto.
Person, Place or Thing #3, Toronto Sports Culture
A month prior to the ALCS in 1985 My American Cousin won the International Critics Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. At the heart of the story was a young, bored, Canadian girl getting swept up in the James Dean-like, “rock’n roll swagger,” of her older, visiting, American cousin, Butch. The movie symbolizes much of the relationship between Canada and the United States in that, as much as Canada may claim to dislike American indifference we really, really, just want them to like us, or at least, acknowledge us. Toronto in particular seemed particularly desperate for some kind, any kind, of acknowledgement of being a pretty darn big city itself.
The problem was, when it came to sports, Toronto kept doing things like having their hockey team owned by incompetent charlatan and despot, Harold Ballard, and their baseball team owned by a beer company even though for the longest time they couldn’t legally sell beer at their major league games. Toronto kept wanting to be Big Time but kept being Tiny Talent Time.
To understand the lack of self-esteem going into the 80s, particularly when it came to sports, you have to fully understand the depths the cities cornerstone sports franchise had fallen to.
The Toronto Maple Leafs fall from grace is often traced back to the Harold Ballard years in the 70s and 80s but the malaise dated back further given that even the 66-67 Stanley Cup team was an aged team that followed a mediocre regular season with a surprising Cup win that was the death rattle of a slowing fading franchise. The Blue Jays sprung to life against a backdrop of the first of many Leafs mirages in the form of the last decent team of the Harold Ballard era- the 1977-78 Toronto Maple Leafs, a team lead by Sittler, MacDonald, Salming, Turnbull, Mike Palmateer and Tiger Williams. That core of players, all age 23 through 27, provided hope for a brighter future as they won the preliminary round over Los Angeles, upset the the first place Islanders in the quarters before getting swept by Scotty Bowman’s Montreal Canadiens on their way to their third of four consecutive Stanley Cups. It was all circus from 1977-78 forward for the Leafs though as the team descended into Ballard’s chaos. While the Jays quietly worked on building a sustainable winner the Leafs loudly worked on ravaging any kind of hope from their franchise. That core slowly all moved on- MacDonald first in 1979, Turnbull in 1981 and Sittler in 1982. The team’s drafting was lousy, the return on trades underwhelming, with Borje Salming being left behind as lesson in fading elegance, a reminder of what could have been but never was.
In the early 80s though sports fans in Toronto began to sense that the two teams, while both predominately losing, were on vastly different paths. Labbats was finally able to sell beer at the Ex in 1982 and purely coincidentally it was the same season the Jays began to show signs of life with the first significant indicators on display in the 1982 season under new manager Bobby Cox. The ’82 Jays team finished 78-84 tied for last in the AL East with Cleveland. Importantly though, the nucleus of the team was young and there was more talent on the way. Meanwhile, in June of 1985, the Leafs drafted first overall and elected to choose a rambunctious, spark plug, with a lethal shot and as it would turn out, a brittle back- they selected a future icon, from the Saskatoon Blades, Wendel Clark- Wendel to Leaf Nation. It was a great pick but the Leafs had eleven more picks in the 1985 draft. With those remaining picks they got right to work at being back on brand, selecting Ken Spangler, Dave Thomlinson, Greg Vey, Jeff Sorowick, Jiri Latal, Tim Beam, Andy Donohue, Todd Whittemore, Bobby Reynolds, Tim Armstrong and Mitch Murphy. Thus displaying the kind of keen eye for non-NHL talent that would consign Clark to his future as the heir to Borje Salming’s throne of great talent wasted.
Whatever insecurities Toronto may have had in regards to its’ place in the greater North American consciousness or simply as a sports city it wasn’t something teenagers living outside the GTA thought about. We thought it was the greatest place in the world. It had professional hockey and baseball, it had Sam the Record Man (a sprawling record store that was massive compared to the few tiny shops in St. Catharines, its’ iconic, glowing, facade defining Yonge Street for us), it had concerts, it had head shops full of bongs and rock t-shirts. It was Mecca to us.
So we travelled there when we could, small town kids excitedly travelling to the big, bad, city, feeling wonderfully overwhelmed.
Often those travels were made via driving to Burlington, jumping on a GO train (my friend Mario always parroting the GO announcer, “Next stop Mimico…”) that would deposit us at Exhibition Stadium to sit in the the left field bleachers and watch a team full of dynamic and often eccentric talents take the field beneath the soft glow of the stadium lights .
Bottom of the First
“I was just frustrated with myself, frustrated with the way I’ve been playing. Some guys break bats, break up clubhouses. I just decided to go a little crazy and burn my uniform.”
Bottom of the 1st in Game 7, Damo leads off for the Jays.
Growing up in Southern Ontario in the 70s-80s, diversity seemed to me a varying spectrum of white, or in simpler terms it was pretty much- Italian and non-Italian. Baseball then introduced me to the greater possibilities the world had to offer.
That was part of the early appeal to me of the Jays. While hockey did provide great names- Gilles Gilbert, Gilbert Perreault, Mirko Frycher, Anders Hedberg, Pierre Larouche, Dino Ciccarelli, Reijo Ruostalainen, they were pretty much all fastened to varying forms of white caucasian. Baseball offered a larger look at the world at large, particularly Central American players with great names like Damaso Garcia, Luis Leal, Juan Berenguer, Jose Rijo, Luis Tiant, Fernando Valenzuela.
In a traditional expansion team timeline the painful early periods are often hallmarked by the emergence of average to good players as fan favourites due to the lack of abundant choices. Thus, Bob Bailor was my favourite player in the late 70s, Otto Velez was another fan favourite from the early years and Damaso Garcia for a time was the teams’ most identifiable player. For four seasons, 1982 through 1985, Garcia hit at a .295 clip and made the American League All-Star team twice. Garcia was something to behold, thin, handsome, he had a certain elegance and restraint in the way he carried himself on the baseball field which contrasted with his absolute lack of discretion at the plate. Damo swinging at pitchouts and pitches that bounced five feet in front of the plate was a regular occurrence but the thing was- he often hit those same pitches. In 4,134 career plate appearances Garcia walked a mere 130 times but he also only struck out 322 times. He was an elegant hacker. Damo was a high average, low power, low walk player who could steal bases, averaging forty a season for the four years in question. He was a decent but not great defender. Oh and he also set his uniform on fire in 1986.
This night he faced a young Bret Saberhagen who at age 21 had managed a 20-6 record with a tidy 2.87 ERA, a stat line that would lead to him being recognized with the AL Cy Young Award later that year.
To start his at bat, completely out of character, Garcia took the first three pitches to run the count to 3-0. Saberhagen got a generous strike one call the next pitch with Garcia already running to first expecting the outside pitch to be called a ball. The next pitch was also a ball outside but Garcia swung and missed in classic, flailing fashion, spinning his body around 360-degrees in the process. After another helicopetering swing lead to fouling a pitch off Garcia grounded out to the smoothest second baseman in the business, Frank White, for the first out.
Next up was Lloyd “Shaker” Moseby.
Moseby was drafted by the Jays 2nd overall in the amateur draft in 1978, got to the majors at age 20 in 1980 and had three rough seasons of being worked over by major league pitchers (his slashes for those first three years- .233 BA/.285 OBP/.364 SLG) before dialing into his best self in 1983 where he went .315/.376/.499. Moseby, like many of the Jays, was a fun watch- legging out triples, stealing bases and playing a decent centerfield. Visually Moseby was a striking figure as well with a face that seemed to almost be made up of too many angles. At the plate this night he entered with his trademark bag of quirks- hands twitching just behind his chin, dramatically digging into the batter’s box with his spikes like a cat with his claws on a rug. Saberhagen started getting calibrated with the strike zone versus Moseby leading Costas to comment on the difference between the two starters, “Compared to Stieb, Saberhagen seems almost serene out there.”
Saberhagen threw a dynamite overhand curve for strike two to Moseby and a fastball with some zip off the plate to induce a late Moseby swing for the strikeout.
Next up, Rance Mulliniks.
Person, Place or Thing #4, The Platoon
You can’t dig into a game from 1985 and present it in 2021 without providing some context. For instance, in 1985 only the four division winners made the playoffs. That kind of exclusivity provided a thin margin of error for teams. So, while the Jays fielded any number of excellent teams in the 80s, unlike modern major league teams, they were not provided any kind of second chance at redemption via having more divisions and wild card opportunities. What would the 80s Jays story have been if there had been those opportunities?
The game itself, in theory, in play, as televised and commented upon in the media, was also an entirely different beast. There was but a few games televised every week, little access to highlights, thus morning box scores (which were always a day behind in relaying West Coast results) were a significant tool to digest day to day baseball. There was no replay, no automated square on the screen, less obsessing about balls and strikes and calls on the bases, and less analytically evolved game planning- defensive adjustments were modest, starting pitchers defined games with bullpens ideally reserved for late in the game (if at all) and the idea of platooning players was yet to be fully embraced. Among the forerunners of the competitive advantage of platooning players were the likes of Earl Weaver in Baltimore and Bobby Cox in Toronto. Cox employed it to some advantage at mainly two positions- Third base and catcher.
Rance Mulliniks, a man who appeared more likely to provide assistance with last year’s taxes than be an elite athlete was the poster child in Toronto for the benefits of platooning. After a few unimpressive major league stops with the Angels and the Royals, Mulliniks found his best self beginning in 1983 with his playing time maximized to be almost solely against right handed pitchers. From 1983 to 1988 Mulliniks managed a slash line of .293/.374/.458 as the left handed hitting portion of a platoon with Garth Iorg.
Similar to Mulliniks, Garth Iorg cut an unimposing figure on the baseball field. Thin and gangly, Iorg was a baseball mutt appearing to always be on the verge of rolling his sock up over his jeans so he didn’t get his pants caught in his bike chain on his ride home. Iorg also had the batting stance most mimicked by kids in the 80s- he leaned back, waaaaay back, left leg stretched out, upper body aligned with the ramp like angle of his front leg. It was like Iorg was trying to disguise his true intentions at the plate, “What’s that I’m holding in my hands? Why nothing, nothing at all… it’s umm… a rolling pin! Yeah, I was just about to make some cupcakes.”
Iorg was a contrast to Mulliniks- he was quirky, exuberant, reckless in the field and at the plate while Mulliniks was reserved, calm in the field, patient at the plate. But for a time it worked. It really, really, worked. In 654 at bats in 1985 the two combined for 48 doubles and 17 home runs while batting .302.
While the Mulliniks/Iorg platoon fully blossomed in 1985 the other significant platoon had ventured into the twilight of its’ life.
In the 80s Toronto loved a catcher. Something about the everyman nature of the people that manned the catching position appealed to Toronto’s affection for sports stars who looked more like potato chip delivery guys than athletes and that weren’t naturally skilled enough to find threatening. Ernie Whitt and Buck Martinez fit the bill perfectly.
The Whitt-Martinez platoon had its’ high water mark in 1983 with the two combing for 653 at bats with 35 doubles, 29 home runs. Both had classic catchers builds in being stocky, solid, types. Similar to the Iorg/Mulliniks contrast, in this case Whitt seemed expressive and fiery, Martinez, reserved and professional. The two leveraged the fanbases affection to varying levels of success outside of playing for the team- Whitt had an ownership stake in the Canadian pizza franchise, Mother’s Pizzeria, in the early 80s (leading to the, “Ernie Whitt Pizza Special,” being included on the menu) later managed the Canadian Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams while Martinez went on to manage the Blue Jays briefly in 2001 and part of 2002 amidst a lengthy broadcast career that began with the Blue Jays in1987 (through 1994), before moving to ESPN, then to Orioles broadcasts, before returning to regale Jays fans with his unique brand of, “In my mind…” musings from 2010 to now.
The ultimate symbol of the end of the Whitt-Martinez era of a true, shared, platoon occurred in July of 1985. By 1985 Whitt had fully realized his abilities while Martinez’s production waned. This lead to one of Cox’s significant platoon positions becoming the more conventional starter and backup. But on July 9th Cox decided to have Martinez behind the plate to catch young Tom Filer who was making his major league debut against Seattle in the Kingdome. As Martinez put it in his book, From Worst to First, The Toronto Blue Jays in 1985, “That sealed my fate.”
In the bottom of the third inning, with Phil Bradley on second base Martinez’s old teammate Gorman Thomas hit a ground ball single between first and second into right field. Rounding third base Bradley decided to challenge the cannon arm of Jesse Barfield. The rest was bedlam. Barfield made a perfect throw to Martinez who picks up the story from there, “Just as it hit my glove, I could see Bradley out of the corner of my eye. He ran through me like a freight train, hitting me on the left side of the shoulder. The collision bent me back straight, but my foot stuck in the dirt. I dislocated my ankle and broke my fibula up by my knee. Still, I held onto the ball to secure the out.”
The chaos though was far from over.
Umpire Larry Young loomed over the clearly hurt Martinez yelling, “Show me the ball! Show me the ball!” Martinez sat up and raised the ball to Young who then signalled out. Meanwhile, Thomas, despite having all the finesse a guy named Gorman generally has, looked to try to advance to third. Recognizing Thomas’s advance Martinez made the toss from his seated position with the ball sailing past Jays third baseman Garth Iorg into left field. Thomas decided to try for home. In left field, George Bell, not always known for throwing precision, corralled the ball and tossed a strike home to his seated catcher, “I scooted around to get into position to take the throw. Thankfully, Gorman is a good man and friend. Knowing I was hurt, he tried to tiptoe around me instead of barreling straight through me. The ball hit the dirt and hopped into my glove just before Gorman stepped around me. It was the only 9-2-7-2 in the history of the game.”
As Martinez was being stretchered off the field his ex-Brewer teammate Thomas came over to check on him noting, “Nice going Martinez, they’re booing me because I didn’t slide.” Thomas, DH-ing that game, then preceded to sit with Martinez until the ambulance arrived.
Both Martinez and Thomas were in the twilight of their careers at that point making the moment between friends all the more poignant given both their playing careers would end in 1986.
Bottom of the 1st Continued
Mulliniks cagily worked a two-out walk from Saberhagen. Willy Upshaw, followed with a hot grounder through the box that clipped Saberhagen-
Costas- “They have hit him hard both literally and figuratively in this series.”
Kubek- “It appeared to catch a bit of the thigh and a lot of the hand as Howser and Mickey Cobb, the trainer, come out…”
After a long mound visit, Saberhagen, who continually flexed his pitching hand during the visit, as if trying to get the feeling back, faced 38-year-old Al Oliver who was platooning at DH with cagey veteran Cliff Johnson. Oliver, despite being past his best-before date in 1985 had managed some clutch hitting in the series. Nonetheless, after a mighty hack on the second pitch missed, he was behind 0 and 2.
The results of the third pitch were evident immediately by Tony Kubek’s reaction-
Costas- “Hit him. The bases are loaded and Oliver pops up, grabs the ball and throws it back to Saberhagen.”
Kubek- (over the replay of the ball hitting Oliver in the right shin) “… and Oliver pops up clapping. Happy to be on base and load ’em up. Take a look at Oliver… said- I’ll take it any way you give me.”
Exhibition Stadium roared as George Bell stepped to the dish- Bases loaded, two out, Kubek noting, “And the guy that’s coming up I think is about due to explode. He hit the ball very hard in the fifth game in Kansas City…”
Hunched over the plate, always ready, willing and able to swing, George Bell twitched in the box, took the first pitch for strike one and then had to reach a bit for the next pitch leading to the initial hint of excitement in Costas’ call quickly dissipating, “In the air to right… Sheridan back… he’s got room… and he’s got the ball.”
The Jays came up empty in the first.
We do have to pause here and appreciate just how special George Bell was though.
Person, Place or Thing #5, George Bell
“Those fans can kiss my purple butt…”
There were really two George Bells as far as the Toronto baseball narrative was concerned. The first George Bell was the one we were seeing in 1985. A Rule 5 pick out of Philadelphia in 1981 Bell was stashed on the Jays bench for a season to retain him, then put him in the minors for a year and a half. Returning to the majors in mid-1983 Bell would have his coming out party in 1984. Bell was ferocious at the plate and in the field, regularly hitting pitches delivered in (and often out) of the strike zone, for doubles and home runs, chasing down fly balls (however clumsily) and tossing out baserunners with a strong arm. The second, later version, of Bell involved a steady decline in his defence, in execution and especially effort, leading manager Jimy Williams to try to move him to DH in 1988 so the team could give Syl Campusano full-time reps. George Bell the ferocious being portrayed increasingly as George Bell the petulant, George Bell the defiant, George Bell the unwilling to give chase to balls that had gotten past him in the outfield.
In 1985 however, the showdown with Jimy Williams and fans over being moved to DH and his, “Kiss my purple butt,” poetic response was still a ways off. In the 1985 regular season George Bell was kung-fu kicks and raucous celebration.
It’s worth remembering that the 1985 Blue Jays team was primarily a young team with some lesser known journeymen like Mulliniks, Whitt, etc. When established teams tried to intimidate the young Jays team Bell was often the catalyst for the push back. Just ask Bruce Kison.
Bell was asked about the July 23, 1985, incident in the Jays-Red Sox game, in a 2018 interview with Mark Hebscher. Bell told Hebscher that it was, “a long story,” dating back to when Kison pitched for the Angels and apparently didn’t like Damaso Garcia and Lloyd Moseby, “I don’t think he liked too many people when he was pitching.” From his golf cart interview position in 1985 Bell went on to explain that with Boston Kison had thrown at Alfredo Griffin and Damaso Garcia. The only issue being Alfredo Griffin had never faced Kison when he was pitching with Boston.
But hey, thirty-three year-old memories and all that.
If you’re looking for how George Bell ended up charging the mound and throwing a surprising sideways karate kick at Kison in 1985 though, Kison’s last two starts, including one against the Jays, would be a good place to start. Kison had gotten off to a remarkable start to 1985 with a 3-1 record accompanied by a 2.02 ERA through June 8th. On June 13th though Kison faced the Jays and gave up 10 hits, 6 earned runs, in four and two-thirds innings. In Detroit on June 18th he surrendered 12 hits and 6 earned runs through five and a third innings ballooning his ERA to 3.94.
On July 23rd, at Exhibitions Stadium, Kison started the game well, making tidy work of the Jays through the first five outs before he faced Ernie Whitt who would end up grounding out to second baseman Marty Barrett. Before Whitt grounded out however Kison had unleashed a fastball that sailed behind Whitt’s head thus reigniting the grudge the Jays apparently held towards him.
In the third inning Tony Fernandez hit a triple that was followed by a Rance Mulliniks home run to make the score 2-0 Jays. Then came the fourth inning. Kison struck out Willie Upshaw to start things then faced Bell. Bell had flown out to centre in his previous at bat. In the game ten days earlier Bell was 1-4 off Kison with a single. So whatever animosity was lurking around it certainly wasn’t driven by Kison’s inability to get Bell out. So, whether it was frustration or simply bad execution that lead to Kison hitting Bell, in any event, he pegged him. Whether it was revenge for previous real or imagined wrongs, or rather simply the frustration of getting hit by a baseball travelling ninety-miles-an-hour- Bell, who had braced for the impact of the ball hitting his shoulder, dropped his bat, paused for a moment, then bolted for the mound where Kison stood, arms at his sides, completely still.
The sideways karate kick was a surprise though. Bell never paused his rumble to the mound, he simply straightened himself up on the run, leapt up in the air and kicked out his cleat so his spikes found Kison’s stomach. Bell then turned, threw a few punches at Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman who had been chasing him from home plate and finally he speedily back-pedalled towards a safer arrangement of predominately white sweaters.
The game was delayed for eight minutes as the two teams rummaged about with players and coaches being jostled including bullpen coach John Sullivan who was knocked down and reportedly kicked multiple times by Red Sox first baseman Bill Bucker.
Bell was ejected from the game while Kison remained. The Jays grudge though had only grown at this point with Kison’s beaning not necessarily being considered the Jays greatest grievance, as Bobby Cox said, “…that’s not what upset us. What upset us was the kicking of Sully (bullpen coach Johnny Sullivan).”
After a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, the Jays and Whitt in particular may have exacted greater revenge than Bell’s cleat to the stomach of Kison in the sixth. Walks to three of the first four batters in the inning had the bases loaded for Whitt who promptly cleared the bases, launching a grand slam home run. As he slowly ambled around the bases Whitt animatedly waved his arms as he yelled non-stop at Kison. Asked what he was saying to Kison during his trot Whitt replied, “‘No comment. If I told you, you couldn’t use it anyway.”
The 35-year-old Kison was removed from the game after the Whitt grand slam. He would only have one more start left in his major league career, finishing the 1985 season in the bullpen and retiring after the seasons end in lieu of a rotator cuff injury.
The Jays ended June 23rd two-and-a-half games ahead of the Tigers in the AL East. The team had entered first place on May the 20th and would not relinquish that lead for the remainder of the season. Still, the season wasn’t without its’ scares for the fragile Toronto sports market. Which brings us the other lasting image of George Bell from that season.
Coming into October, seeking their first ever division title the Jays were up by five games with six games left. Those six games though were against two teams who had traditionally caused the Jays to doubt themselves- Detroit and second place New York. Detroit came to town first and perennial Jays nemesis Frank Tanana won game one in a complete game win where he surrendered only one run. The lead was down to four games. In Game Two, Kirk Gibson and Darrell Evans homered off Dave Stieb and Jack Morris picked up the win. But the Yankees lost. The lead was still four games. Game Three, Walt Terrell threw a complete game shutout as the Tigers won 2-0. The Yankees won that same day bringing the the Jays division lead down to three with the second place New York team coming to town.
Game One the Jays were up by a run entering the ninth. Closer Tom Henke entered the game with the opportunity to seal first place. Henke elicited a pop up from Mike Pagliarulo and struck out Willie Randolph. The Jays were one out away. In his book Change Up Buck Martinez relayed the feeling in the Jays dugout as journeyman catcher Butch Wynegar stepped up, “We lead, 3-2, in the top of the ninth, and felt like we were going to explode with excitement. We were practically popping the champagne corks already… the count went quickly to 3-2. We were a strike away! Henke wound up and threw his pitch, and Wynegar connected. The ball sailed over the wall.”
Henke then gave up a single to Bobby Meachem and walked Rickey Henderson. Bobby Cox sidled from the dugout to the mound to replace Henke with lefty Steve Davis to face Don Mattingly. An error by Lloyd Moseby in centre would sink the knife in deeper as it allowed Meachem to score. The Yankees would win.
Lead down to two games with two games left. Doubt crept into every crevice of Toronto fandom.
Former Yankee Doyle Alexander took the mound for Toronto in the second game of the series.
Person, Place or Thing #6 Doyle Alexander
Doyle Alexander had the face and body type that seemed more aligned with grumpily sitting at a some lost Arizona truck stop, chain-smoking cigarettes, while eating a $2 breakfast and ignoring how beautiful his waitress was, than making a living throwing a baseball. His delivery seemed born more of limitations and tragic childhood injuries (maybe, being tossed from a bull at a rodeo when he was a grumpy young cowboy… in Arizona) than any coordinated act of athleticism. Alexander stood on the mound, a crouched figure that more unfolded than uncoiled as he heaved every square inch of himself along with the ball to home plate. Every pitch seemed like it might be his last. However unsexy his game was though, it worked.
Doyle Alexander’s path to Toronto really began while sporting a Yankees jersey, at the Kingdome in Seattle, on May 6, 1982. Alexander entered the third inning of the game matched up against pitching legend Gaylord Perry (who was searching for his 300th win) with the scoreboard still clean. But many bad things happened in the third including an error by ex-Jay catcher Rick Cerone, triples by Jim Maler and Al Cowens and three more hits to make it a five run inning so frustrating that after returning to the dugout Alexander punched a wall fracturing a knuckle.
In the wake of the injury Alexander initially offered to forfeit his earnings while unable to play. The Players Union intervened however and instead of forfeiting his earnings Alexander ended up being fined by the team. The Yankees were not impressed, with Yankees Vice President Bill Bergesch commenting, “This is a very simple case of a player accepting his responsibility. Now the union comes in and makes a shambles of the entire affair.”
Alexander ended 1982 1-7 with a 6.08 ERA and began the following season under new manager Billy Martin (the fourth Yankees manager in two years). Alexander’s first two starts (both against the Jays) were ugly no-decisions, that left him with an 8.00 ERA. Quickly Alexander’s 1983 was looking as ugly as his 1982. Shorty thereafter, May 31st, with an 0-2 record and a 6.35 ERA the Yankees decided to release the 31-year.
21-days later Alexander signed with the Jays. Alexander pitched decently the remainder of the season and was excellent in 1984 and 1985. The very definition of a crafty pitcher, Alexander was known famously for his, “circle change,” a variation of a palm ball with his thumb and index finger forming a circle on the inside of the ball, the pitch being delivered with the same arm speed but less spin and miles-per-hour in order to deceive hitters. And not deceive hitters to elicit strikeouts but rather weak contact.
On October 5th in front of a nervous crowd of forty-four thousand plus at Exhibition Stadium that’s exactly what Doyle Alexander did for eight and two-thirds innings- he induced weak contact and struck out absolutely no one. Lefty catcher Ron Hassey then came to the plate with the Jays up 5-1 predicated upon home runs from Upshaw, Moseby and Whitt. Alexander got Hassey to hit a soft fly ball to left field that George Bell let melt into his mitt before sinking to his knees with his arms raised in jubilation. The moment, just before he was immediately mobbed by Tony Fernandez first, then the rest of the team, an iconic one for Bell and the Blue Jays.
Steve Clarke wrote in 100 Things Blue Jays Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, that after the Jays win Alexander was offered a glass of fancy champagne and responded saying, “I ain’t drinking that crap,” electing instead to crack open a beer.
With one out in the second Royals light hitting right fielder, Pat Sheridan dropped a perfect bunt just out of Stieb’s reach for a single. Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni moved Sheridan to second with a groundout bringing up another less than scary member of the Royals lineup- Jim Sundberg. Sundberg was a catcher’s catcher, which is to say he was known for great defence (he won six Gold Glove Awards over his career) and mediocre hitting with his slashes for 1985 (at age 34) of- .245/.308/.381, being aligned with his career stat line.
Three pitches in Bob Costas with the play call-
“The one and two (pitch)… HIT SOFTLY! BUT IT MIGHT BE IN A GOOD SPOT! YES IT IS… THE ROYALS ARE GOING TO BE ON TOP!”
Kubek- “And every swing that Jim Sundberg had against Dave Stieb he was trying to hit the ball the opposite way… Whitt wanted him to go outside, Stieb wanted to come in, he still gets the ball to right, breaks his bat, gets an RBI.”
Down one coming into the second inning Ernie Whitt lead off by, as he was wont to do, tomahawking a pitch into right for a single. Jesse Barfield followed and struck out, looking a little lost at the plate, bringing up 23-year-old shortstop Tony Fernandez. Fernandez would line out to center with Garcia grounding out to Frank White at second to end the inning but we need to pause at Tony Fernandez.
Person, Place or Thing #7 and #8, Tony Fernandez and Epy Guerrerro
There was a moment in Tony Fernandez’s first at bat versus Bret Saberhagen that stood out to me. A seemingly innocuous play really, Fernandez fouling a pitch well back into the crowd behind home plate. With the ball soaring far out of play, the catcher not bothering to give chase, Fernandez stood with the bat on his shoulder and intently watched the ball through its’ entire journey. And to me, that was Tony Fernandez- he embodied the innocent joy and wonder of immersing yourself completely in details of the game and navigating them beautifully.
Dave Stieb may have been our first great player but Fernandez was our first otherworldly player. For all the good, fun, players the Jays had from their inception in 1977, we never had someone beautiful to watch until Tony Fernandez came on the scene in 1984. There was absolutely nothing more fun to watch than Tony. From this wire thin, pensive, young man came the grace of a great ballet dancer, quickly covering immense distances at shortstop, leaping and slinging off balance throws with surprising pop to first base. Everything looked easy and slick. From his Praying Mantis type batting stance he unleashed doubles and triples all over the field, wielding his bat like a wand. There was also the magic of his swinging bunt, pulling in the infielders as he turned to bunt then rearing the bat back to chop the ball past surprised infielders. And Tony could run, his many triples legged out with a grace that seemed akin to what Jesus would have used to walk on water.
Tony was signed as an Amateur Free Agent in 1979 out of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic by legendary Jays’ scout Epy Guerrero. Worthy of note here is that at this time it was really only the Jays and Dodgers working the Dominican Republic hard.
In the 80s and 90s Epy Guerrero was viewed as the secret sauce of the Jays scouting department. In total he signed 52 major league players over his career, was named International Scout of the Year in 2008 and is a member of the Dominican National Sports Hall of Fame. The major impact Guerrero had on the 1985 team was in the form of George Bell acquisition (via convincing the team to pick him in the Rule 5 draft) and the signing of Tony Fernandez.
After Guerrero passed away in 2013 Tom Hawthorn wrote in the Globe and Mail about how the Fernandez signing came to pass-
“One of his more famous capers involved a beanpole boy who showed soft hands in the field and a lashing stroke at the plate. The youth was so poor he could not afford a glove, so had fashioned a cardboard milk carton around his left hand to cushion the sting of sharp grounders. His prospects were dimmed by a deal-breaking – and very noticeable – flaw. He walked with a pronounced limp.”
“Mr. Guerrero sent the boy away for surgery to remove a bone chip in his right knee. For the first time since childhood, the boy walked and ran without a hobble. The scout signed him to the Blue Jays. “The other scouts thought I was crazy,” Mr. Guerrero told the Washington Post in 1986. “They didn’t know that the boy had had surgery, so they told me I had just signed a tullido, a cripple. But I knew better.” That boy was Tony Fernandez, who went on to become a keystone player for the Blue Jays, winning four consecutive Gold Glove Awards as the American League’s best fielding shortstop.”
Fernandez’s career as summed up in Baseball Reference doesn’t do justice to the experience of watching him play. He was a rare, singular, talent, that the limited mathematical manifestations of his production doesn’t fully convey. Ozzie Smith was thought of as the ultimate defensive shortstop of his day but he didn’t touch Fernandez in terms of eye popping, expectation defying, plays. Smith, even with his backflips, was Salieri, excellent but expected, Fernandez was Mozart, wild and without precedent. He was the rarest of all things in a game with a lengthy history, he was a complete original.
When we’re examining the narratives that define the 80s Jays teams Fernandez should be at the heart of the conversation. The major narrative of the present and recent past is that the 80s team underachieved and was unable to win big games until December 5, 1990, when the team traded Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter. The idea in there though that Fernandez or McGriff weren’t competitive, great, players, oversimplifies what drove those World Series teams and is, well, ridiculous.
There were two major incidents that appeared to impinge upon Fernandez’s otherworldly abilities in Toronto. Tony Fernandez was having his best season in 1987 batting .322 through September the 24th. Enter Bill Madlock. That late September game against the Tigers was pivotal as burly, veteran, third baseman Madlock, with no intention of sliding towards the second base bag, veered six feet off the base path to take out Tony Fernandez as he tried to convert a double play. The New York Times broke it down from there-
“Replays appeared to show that Madlock went out of the basepath. No interference call was made, and the Exhibition Stadium crowd booed Madlock loudly.
The game was delayed for six minutes while Fernandez was examined on the field. Starkman said Fernandez had hit his elbow on a wood border separating the artificial turf from the dirt sliding area.
Fernandez was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and was to undergo surgery to wire his elbow together. A bone at the tip of the elbow, the olecranon, was fractured, Starkman said.“
Still, the Jays won that night 4-3 and with Manny Lee (also from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic) manning short they won the next two game to put them up by three-and-a-half-games on the Tigers games with seven games to play.
Despite sending Mike Flanagan, Jimmy Key and Dave Stieb out in the next series versus the Brewers the Jays were swept. This left the team with a slim 1.5 game lead on the Tigers with three games to play, against the Tigers in Detroit.
What happened in that series would add another instalment to the faltering lore of the Jays team prior to Gillick’s shakeup in 1990.
In Game One of the series Jim Clancy blew up early lasting only two innings, surrendering four runs, before giving way to David Wells. Wells locked it down from there but even Manny Lee’s second career home run couldn’t get the team to overcome the four run deficit versus former Jay Doyle Alexander. The game ended 4-3 Tigers. The AL East now had the Tigers and Jays tied in first with just two games to play.
Game Two Jays starter Mike Flanagan would pitch eleven innings, give up only one earned run on eight hits. It wouldn’t be enough. Lefty Jeff Musselman replaced Flanagan in the twelfth and with one out gave up consecutive singles to Lou Whitaker and Bill Madlock before walking Kirk Gibson to load the bases for Alan Trammel. Mark Eichorn came into the game for his league leading 89th appearance of the season. Trammell celebrated Eichorn’s work ethic with a single to left field to end the game.
The Jays were now down by one game heading into the final game of the season.
The matchup for game 162 was a great one, Jays nemesis Frank Tanana on the mound for Detroit, Jimmy Key on the mound for the Jays.
My biggest memory of the game that day involves plodding Cecil Fielder on first base with Manny Lee at the plate. I was making a ham sandwich in the kitchen with the game broadcast turned up. I held my butter knife with mayo above the slices of bread laid prone before me when I heard, “There goes Fielder…” And I froze.
A hit and run with Fielder running and, far from contact hitting specialist, Manny Lee at the plate? Really Jimy Williams? Really?
The inevitable happened. Lee missed the pitch, Fielder was easily thrown out. Lee, just for fun, ended up tripling in that at bat.
Key pitched great that day. Eight innings, three hits, one run surrendered via a Larry Herndon home run that just barely scraped over the left field fence. He sat down the last twelve hitters in order. Tanana though was his usual soft tossing, maestro, self, painting the black at will and ending the day with a complete game shutout.
Think about that though- In the last two crucial games Jays starters pitched 19 innings surrendering three runs only two of which were earned.
Frank Tanana meanwhile made four September starts with pennant implications versus the Jays between 1985 and 1989. He would pitch 32 innings and surrender 2 earned runs. In 1987 alone he made two big September starts pitching sixteen innings and not surrendering a run.
That, that’s a villain.
The next debilitating moment for Tony Fernandez came in April of 1989 in Arlington Stadium against the Rangers when reliever Cecilio Guante hit Fernandez in the face with a pitch. Steve Milton described being there for that moment in an article published in the Hamilton Spectator in 2017-
“Arlington Stadium was a small, almost Meccano-like structure that had a minor-league feel. Montreal’s Jarry Park without the joie de vivre. You were close to the action, so the whole stadium heard that pitch hit Fernandez. And there is no sound like a bone being cracked by a hard pitch. Sickeningly evocative.
Fernandez immediately hit the dirt and there was dead silence, especially on the Blue Jays bench, as he lay motionless. He’d hit his first career grand slam earlier and Gruber had hit the go-ahead homer right before him but the Jays didn’t rush the mound in retaliation because they were in shock, and because they didn’t think the pitch was intentional. Guante, Fernandez’s friend from the Dominican Republic, adored his fellow countryman.”
Fernandez had a shattered orbital bone and the impact of being hit in the face with a pitch appeared to manifest in a more tentative and less effective Fernandez at the plate that year. The Jays won a relatively weak East Division in ’89 before being bounced easily by Tony LaRussa’s A’s in a flash of Rickey Henderson steals and Ernie Whitt complaining about, well, being unable to throw him out. It was a quick, 4-1 win for the A’s that set the stage for a mediocre 1990 and the the trade of Fernandez and McGriff to San Diego.
Like Bell, the Tony Fernandez that left Toronto was viewed very differently than the one that had arrived. He was viewed a reclusive, bitter, unable to win. Was that fair? Probably not. First, it would be fair to consider how much players who were not white or North American were viewed relative their white counterparts in Toronto (see Don Cherry’s decades of purposely mispronouncing any names that didn’t rhyme with Smith) but I’m electing to simply bypass a deeper look at that here and leave that for somebody else to pick up if so inclined. What I will focus on is the mindset of the Toronto baseball fan through the lens of an expansion franchise in the great American past time. Through the lens of trying to keep up with the Jones’s in American League East in the 80s.
We do need to check back in on the game though.
The 3rd Inning– What’s in a name?
The third inning is a quiet one with the lone hit from either side being a one-out double from Rance Mulliniks that did not result in a run. There’s a few things worthy of note from that inning.
- Royals light hitting shortstop Buddy Biancalana struck out. Many have struck out, few have had as great a name as Buddy Biancalana.
- Lonnie “Skates” Smith grounded out to third. Lonnie Smith was an excellent major league ball player with not just a great nickname but one that was perfectly applied to how he manned the outfield. In his 1989 Baseball Abstract Bill James had a brilliant breakdown of Smith’s unique defensive stylings, “Many players can kick a ball behind them without ever knowing it; Lonnie can judge by the pitch of the thud and the subtle pressure through his shoe in which direction and how far he has projected the sphere…. He knows exactly what to do when a ball spins out of his hand and flies crazily into a void on the field, when it is appropriate for him to scamper after a ball and when he needs to back up the man who will have to recover it. He has experience in these matters; when he retires he will be hired to come to spring training and coach defensive recovery and cost containment. This is his specialty, and he is good at it.”
Person, Place or Thing #9, The American League East
Being the lone team in a different country, Toronto was always going to feel like the new kid at school upon joining Major League Baseball. Additionally, being an expansion team at that time was a punitive exercise in team building. The Jays started with scraps. Self-esteem was going to be an issue. Never mind the fact that Toronto joined a division in 1977 whose alpha-team was situated in New York, a city Toronto always aspired to be. So Toronto’s, “Why don’t you like me?” complex would be on full display for awhile.
Here are Toronto’s win-loss records from inception through 1984-
1977– 54- 107, 1978– 59-102, 1979– 53-109, 1980– 67-95, 1981– 37-69 (strike season), 1982– 78-84, 1983– 89-73, 1984– 89-73.
Those early years were rough- 233-413 through 1980. For four years, New York, Boston, Milwaukee, Baltimore, even Cleveland, kept coming to town and taking our lunch money. That made it hard to feel good about ourselves (or buy lunch).
The early expansion years, while at times painful, were a more innocent time. The win-loss records of the expansion years tidily sums up the painful elements of the time but doesn’t do justice to the granular pain of daily drubbings doled out to subpar lineups that included things like the 1979 team that had future basketball great Danny Ainge playing third base and closers Tom Buskey and Dave Freisleben.
There were good things though and we were willing to embrace average to good players for limited achievements beginning with Doug Ault’s two home runs on opening day. There was also power hitting journeyman Otto Velez, there was Bob Bailor’s .310 average in 1977, there was former Yankees first baseman Big John Mayberry, there was Rick Bosetti, who endeared himself to our insecure nature by proudly spending his offseasons in Toronto, there was the water bug defence and zero offence from the nimble Alfredo Griffin. On the mound there was not quite ready for primetime players- Tom Underwood, Jerry Garvin and 21-year-old Jim Clancy (who managed the unique feat of starting and ending a long career looking age 31 the entire time) there was Jesse Jefferson, there was Luis Leal, until there was Dave Stieb.
With Dave Stieb we were able to start dreaming on the possibility of defending ourselves from having our lunch money stolen.
Person Place or Thing #10, Hardy, Beeston and Most Especially, Gillick
“We are all basically support staff for Pat Gillick.”
Paul Beeston after becoming President of the Toronto Blue Jays
Any organization can have a couple great players. Building a great team is a more complex thing. For the bulk of those early years I was largely unaware that the Jays in fact had people in their organization capable of doing just that- building a real contender.
Perhaps the most unsung figure in the Jays development into a contender was Labatt’s board chair and future CEO of the team, Peter Hardy. Hardy was directly involved in the hiring of the the original three people most responsible for shaping the Blue Jays team from inception into the 80s- the team’s first General Manager and President, Pete Bavasi, the team’s first employee, Vice President of Business Operations, Paul Beeston and Vice President of Player Personnel, Pat Gillick.
Peter Bavasi’s achievements in the organization are generally regarded as being responsible for the naming of the team (and the classic Jays logo that resulted) as well as setting the Jays up for early public relations and financial success. His best move though was one that ended up in his departing in 1981. In 1978 Bavasi relinquished his GM duties to former Yankees Coordinator of Player Development, Pat Gillick.
Stephen Brunt’s Diamond Dreams goes into detail on the front office angst that played out as Gillick and Beeston became increasingly agitated by Bavasi’s shiftless, at times theatrical, role playing as Team President. A flashpoint in the Bavasi vs Gillick/Beeston relationship happened in 1981 with Bavasi’s plan to fire manager Bobby Mattick (who started with the organization in 1976) the same night his father, President of the California Angels, Buzzie Bavasi, fired manager Jim Fregosi. Brunt relays the event as the tipping point for Hardy who recognized that Bavasi’s whimsical, often vain, handling of his position was at cross purposes with his own sense of ethics and fair play. The crescendoing battle between Bavasi, Gillick and Beeston was brought into black and white terms with the incident. Hardy decided to intervene, first, to stop the Bobby Mattick firing, second, to reconcile the, “one of these things doesn’t belong here,” nature of the head office.
On November 24, 1981, Peter Bavasi resigned from the Toronto Blue Jays. Hardy moved into the position of CEO and Gillick, with Beeston at his side, was now free to run the organization guided by his sense of decency while employing his uniquely creative skillset in crafting a team.
Matters of culture are largely outside a fans line of sight regardless of how significant their impacts are. The handling of Mattick though symbolizes the thoughtfulness of the organization. Mattick finished out the season and was offered the opportunity to return the next season to manage. Instead Mattick elected to step down from the role and take up the position of Coordinator of Baseball Operations before ascending to the role of Vice President of Baseball in 1984. Retaining a valuable resource instead of parting with Mattick in an inflammatory way benefited the Jays, it benefited Mattick, who would say of the organization at the time, “People from outside the organization would have given their eye teeth just to come with us.”
While matters of culture are hard to pick up on for the average fan, matters of creativity are not. Gillick’s creativity was increasingly on display as the years passed for the expansion team in Toronto- The mining of talent from the Dominican Republic, drafting, Rule 5 pickups, quiet trades, reclamation projects. Gillick used every tool at his disposal to find talent for his team.
As the Jays improved into the 80s however they were long dogged by their achilles heel- A bullpen whose mantra seemed to- “Which way to the fire? We have gasoline.”
Person, Place or Thing #11, The Bullpen Problem and its’ Resolution
The house next door to me growing up in Thorold was the Grenville house. It was a double lot with half the property dedicated to rose bushes. Rose bushes lined the entire outside of the property as well as forming a circle around a bird bath in its’ center. Mrs. Grenville loved roses. Mr. Grenville obliged. My first introduction to the Toronto Blue Jays came via Mr. Grenville’s nightly routine of listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth radio broadcasts on his porch every night in the summer.
In a world void of dedicated sports TV channels, Jays games on the radio were a staple in the eighties. This made Tom and Jerry’s play-by-play (accompanied largely by the quiet buzz of the crowds in the background) an integral part of summer in that era- emanating from front porches and out open car windows across Ontario. Thorold is a fairly quiet city now, it was a spectacularly quiet city then. So while we hung out on my front porch or played hide and seek outside in the summer, somewhere in the distance, crackling into the quiet summer night, drifting over his world of rose bushes, we’d hear the Jays game unfolding for Mr. Grenville as he sat peacefully in his floral upholstered swinging chair.
That’s how I was given my introduction to Pat Gillick’s long awaiting resolution to the Blue Jays bullpen problem- sitting on my front porch on Queen Street South on July 29, 1985, listening to the Jays game emanating from Mr. Grenville’s porch.
The Jays were playing Baltimore on July 29, 1985. The Orioles, lead by their fiery manager Earl Weaver, often symbolized the established AL East elite who had a knack for finding perverse ways to steal victory out of the jaws of defeat when playing the Jays. The manifestations of this were often painful, sometimes bizarre, as in the game Orioles closer Tippy Martinez picked off three Jays in one inning in a 1984 loss.
It was fitting then that on July 29, 1985 in Baltimore, facing Earl Weaver’s Orioles, the Jays would, however creakily, became a playoff team. How the main character, a 6’5” lanky, bespectacled, man whose countenance fell somewhere between Funeral Director and studious farmer, came to be there in that moment is worth pausing to consider.
In Shi Davidi’s book, Toronto Blue Jays- The Big 50 Davidi relayed the story of how Tom Henke became a Blue Jay in the wake of losing the charismatic Cliff Johnson in free agency. In the 1985 free agent compensation draft the team had its’ eye on reliever Donnie Moore only to see him selected by the Angels. Bill Cutshall of the Expos was the teams next desired choice but with the Cardinals took Expo Angel Salazar which meant the Jays couldn’t take another player from the Montreal system. This left the Jays looking for another viable option. Pat Gillick turned to scout Moose Johnson and say, “Who should we take Moose?”
And so it was that Tom Henke became a Blue Jay.
The 27-year-old Henke had struggled in the majors prior to then, particularly in 1984, where in 28.1 innings he’d given up 36 hits, 20 walks and posted a 6.35 ERA. But in 1985, at Toronto’s AAA affiliate in Syracuse, New York, Henke found himself, posting a 0.88 ERA allowing only 13 hits in 51.1 innings and striking out 60 batters. The lead to Henke getting called up to the big league club in time to make his first appearance at Memorial Stadium in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied 3-3.
Henke got the side to go down in order in the bottom of the ninth and Damaso Garcia hit a home run off Orioles starter Mike Boddicker in the top of the tenth. Henke returned for the bottom of the tenth nursing a one-run lead.
It was after 10 pm as I sat on my porch eavesdropping on the Tom and Jerry play-by-play floating out into the night. With one out Larry Sheets pinch hit for Alan Wiggins and worked a walk. Len Sakata came into pinch run for Sheets as memories of a million blown saves by a million a ramshackle cast of relievers flickered in our heads (Plus, when it came to Baltimore, trouble could start in the most unlikely ways often starring the ultimate peripheral character Len Sakata).
The Jays came into the matchup with a 7-Game Lead over the Yankees but until they were able to lock down big games there appeared to be the same old massive chink in their armour. 1985 saw the Jays bring in Bill Caudill to be their closer after saving 88 games the past three seasons between Seattle in Oakland. Caudill was 28 when he joined the Jays and had saved 36 while posting an ERA of 2.71 the season previous. Caudill though completely blew up in April where his 5 saves were offset by 2 Blown saves and an ERA of 6.28. This this lead to another bullpen by committee, comprised of Jim Acker, lefty Gary Lavalle and Caudill. While Caudill’s performance improved from April the bullpen continued to be a source of abject nervousness left over from years of seeing the likes of Joey McLaughlin, Roy Lee Jackson, Dale “Spud” Murray, Dave Geisel, Randy Moffitt, Jim Gott, Dennis Lamp, falter in the nitty gritty.
With Sakata on first and one out, light hitting John Shelby popped to short. Two out. Next up- Cal Ripken. I can still hear the play-by-play call as Ripken launched a Henke pitch to deep centre in Memorial Stadium. I can still feel that sense of dread about to be realized, and the surprise when suddenly, it wasn’t. Jesse Barfield (with a rare appearance in center field) glided back to the warning track to catch the ball and end the inning. Jays win.
For the remainder of 1985 Henke would win three games, lose three games, save thirteen while posting a 2.03 ERA. We had our closer, we had our Terminator. Henke was the final piece in the Jays evolution into a contender. From the original team that was regularly whacked inning in, inning out, to a competitive team that struggled to win in tough situations, the Jays appeared to have finally arrived as a team that could compete with the big boys in all moments of the game no matter the degree of pressure.
Person, Place or Thing #12, The First Six Games
The first six game of the ALCS a wildly diverse collection of contests skillfully delivered by Bob Costas and Tony Kubek.
ALCS Game 1-
Dick Enberg opened the broadcast as the camera, looking out from behind home plate, panned across Exhibition Stadium lit up by the stadium lights, “The excitement, the magic of the American League Championship Series has hit Toronto, Ontario, for the first time. Exhibition Stadium on the waters of Lake Ontario is the scene, a crowd of 45,000 expected, the weather is ideal, the temperature in the mid-fifties.”
NBC’s pre-game show provided some history on baseball in Toronto, advising that it actually dated back before Abner Doubleday’s, “invention,” of the game and included such significant moments as Babe Ruth’s first professional home run being hit in a minor league game in Toronto playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Baltimore Orioles long time field general, Rick Dempsey, then provided some insight on Jays hitters- Damaso Garcia was a notorious first pitch fastball hitter that could be tamed with offspeed stuff out of the zone, George Bell could hit to all fields and reach pitches off the plate because, “his bat is two inches longer than any other hitter in the American League,” and in the second half of the season Jesse Barfield had established himself as one of the premier power hitter in the league.
Next, Enberg sat between Dempsey and George Brett in the Kansas City dugout interviewing Brett. To close the interview Enberg turned to Dempsey and asked him to, “Pick for us a winner in this series.” Dempsey responded, “I hate to do this while George is sitting here because I know they’re going to pitch around him but I gotta go with Toronto. They have a little bit stronger defence and a little bit stronger offence and like I say, they’re not going to let him hit the ball if they can help it.”
Brett chuckled, “Sometimes they can’t help it though…”
The pre-game ceremony then began with visiting coaches and player introductions done over the echoing, aged, Exhibition Stadium public address system by Murray Eldon, “Catcher-catcher-catcher, John Wathan- Wathan- Wathan…”
The Toronto crowd was mostly distracted during the Kansas City introductions until it came to Dan Quisenberry who, despite his good natured smile and tip of the hat, was greeted with a chorus of boos from the crowd. 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen received a similar reaction. At the Kansas City starting lineup George Brett received the loudest and most confused reaction. A combination of muddled boos and cheers.
“AND NOW YOUR 1985 AMERICAN LEAST EAST CHAMPIONS! THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS!!!”
The crowd rose to its’ feet cheering, Canadian flags waved in the crowd. The biggest cheer for the bench players went to Buck Martinez, Doyle Alexander (who tipped his crooked billed cap and seemed for a moment genuinely happy), Tom Henke and Dennis Lamp. For the starters it was a uniform allotment of excitement culminating with the introduction of Dave Stieb who was warming up in the bullpen down the left field line.
The camera panned to Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (who would throw out the ceremonial first pitch from the stands) and his wife Mila Mulroney sitting in the front row seated on either side of MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth near the Jays dugout. The game was about to begin.
“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we ask you to rise and join the popular Canadian recording artists, Dan, Larry, Gordon and Roy- The Mercey Brothers in the singing of the national anthems.”
From there the broadcast was in the capable hands of Bob Costas and Tony Kubek. Introducing the series Costas wondered at the oddsmakers having the Blue Jays as favourites to win (continuing the trend of nine of the last ALCS being won by AL East teams). Kubek cautioned, in his trademark, thoughtful, style, that much of that was based on generalized regular season performance where things like starting pitching and bullpen depth, wouldn’t play a significant role, adding, “… and the left-handers for Kansas City are going to negate a lot of that (offensive) production.” Kubek was picking Kansas City for the series but Stieb to start, Henke to finish, for a Jays win, in Game One.
The first inning was scoreless with the main points of interest being the ball used for the first pitch being taken out of the game so that it could be placed in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the camera catching Tony Fernandez chancing an impish grin towards his notoriously ill humoured starting pitcher after Stieb had dropped, then fumbled, a soft liner from Willie Wilson (before throwing him out). The first also featured the opening showdown between Toronto pitching and George Brett. The early pitching sequence from Stieb would be the hallmark for the rest of the series- away, away, away. Stieb snuck a few sharp breaking, overhand, curves by Brett before throwing a fastball over the meat of the plate, up in the zone. Brett’s easy power swing launched Stieb’s mistake to the base of the center field wall for a double.
“Sometimes they can’t help it though…”
Before inning number two Costas and Kubek discussed Exhibition Stadium dimensions with Costas introducing a concern about the official distances, “There are some, and Tony you’re one of them, who think that right field distance (330-feet) might be off, might be ten feet too long.”
Kubek confirmed that Jays coaching staff had done their own measurements and had advised that it was likely up to ten feet shorter than advertised. This segued Kubek into one of his favourite topics when doing Jays games from Exhibition Stadium- The Wind. “Prevailing winds are usually what it is right now. Blowing across from the left field foul pole to the right field foul pole (the camera panned to the Canadian and American flags ontop of the right field scoreboard confirming this). It helps balls hit to right field and right center, it kills balls hit to left field.”
Pat Sheridan grounded out to start what would be an uneventful first inning. The replay showed Damaso Garcia smoothly moving to his left to corral the ball and throw out Sheridan. The camera then focused on Garcia as Kubek advised, “It will be interesting to see the mobility of Damaso Garcia. In playing soccer with the Dominican National Amateur Soccer team (note- Garcia was actually captain for the Dominican Republic national football team at the 1974 Central American and Caribbean Games in Santo Domingo) he had some looseness in his right knee. Rickey Henderson, in that important three out of four series versus Oakland, threw a roadblock and hurt his left knee. Since then he’s been out of the lineup more than in. In the last few days he’s started to run more freely.”
Garcia would noticeably limp through the entire series.
Jesse Barfield hit a single off the end of the bat into center to start the second. Following up Tony Kubek’s reference to first base coach Billy Smith, Costas smoothly transitioned to some underlying angst in the Jays organization, “Jimy Williams is the coach at third and some say Williams could be the manager of the Blue Jays if Bobby Cox goes elsewhere. Cox indicated yesterday he’d like to come back to Toronto… although the rumours persist that Ted Turner will make him an offer to be both the General Manager and the Manager and return to Atlanta.”
Costas may have been onto something.
Leibrandt meanwhile was clearly distracted by Jesse Barfield on first and uncorked a fastball into Willie Upshaw’s ribs to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Garth Iorg hit the first pitch he saw for a medium fly directly at where Lonnie Smith was standing in left. Skates though dropped it. As Bill James alluded to though, Smith was a master of recovery, he quickly got the ball back into the infield for the force at third on Barfield. Costas, “The line that was first applied to Dave Kingman has also been applied to Lonnie Smith- He plays left field the way you would imagine Steve Martin would play Hamlet.”
Up next, Ernie Whitt, skipped a stone juuuuuuust past a diving Steve Balboni into right and Willie Upshaw chugged home well ahead of Pat Sheridan’s off the mark throw. The Jays first ever post season run made it 1-0.
Next, a well placed, jam-shot, grounder by Tony Fernandez got past Brett and was found by shortstop Biancalana too deep in the hole to make a play- 2-0 Jays. Steve Farr starting tossing in the bullpen down the right field line as Jim Sundberg visited the mound. Damaso Garcia came to the plate.
Damaso Garcia ripped the hardest hit ball of the inning between first and second, Jimy Williams held Iorg at third. The bases were loaded.
Leibrandt though would escape without incurring further damage eliciting a pop up to third from Moseby and ground ball out to short from Bell to end the first.
Meanwhile Stieb continued to dominate Kansas City leaving Costas to veer into irreverence, noting during a Buddy Biancalana at bat, “Here is Buddy Biancalana, coping with dual pressures- not only opening at shortstop in a League Championship Series but knowing that all fans of the David Letterman Show are watching his every action closely. He was adopted by David as his favourite major league player this year… back when every newspaper was filled with the Pete Rose countdown- how many more hits to catch Cobb? David started a Buddy Biancalana countdown. Since Biancalana at this moment has fifty-six career hits he’s better than forty-one-hundred behind the Georgia Peach.”
Bottom of Three
Cliff Johnson lead off the inning and on a 1 and 0 count swung and missed with a mighty cut that included, per usual, Johnson’ helmet falling from his head. On the next pitch the helmet stayed on and Johnson smoked a double to right field.
Rain began to fall during Jesse Barfield’s at bat. Multi-coloured umbrellas began to pop open in the crowd, rain coats were being pulled on, and Brian Mulroney helped Peter Ueberroth put his jacket on in his seat. Barfield worked a walk. Steve Farr got back up in the bullpen. Willie Upshaw lined a single in front of Willie Wilson who just about got the force at second. Bases Loaded, nobody out. Dick Howser ambled out to the mound and called for Steve Farr to come in from the pen. Rance Mulliniks pinch hit for Garth Iorg and promptly smacked a liner in front of Wilson again, Costas proclaiming, “Everybody moves up one station. And it’s 3-0 Toronto with the bases still loaded!”
Ernie Whitt would work a walk next forcing in a run. 4-0 Jays.
Next up Tony Fernandez tagged a rope right at Pat Sheridan in right field for a sacrifice fly. 5-0 Jays.
Despite it being early, a song rose from the crowd, “Nah-nah-nah, nah-nah-nah- hey-ay-yay- goodbye!”
Farr would get out of the inning with the score 5-0 but the Jays were on their way to an easy 6-1 win, with, as Tony Kubek predicted- Stieb starting, Henke closing. Stieb pitched eight shutout innings, striking out eight Royals, walking just one, allowing only three hits.
Toronto up in the series, 1-0.
ALCS Game 2
The pitching matchup for game two was Bud Black for the Royals, Jimmy Key for the Blue Jays. Tony Kubek introduced Key to fans as he finished his warmup tosses, “Jimmy Key, well… quite a story. In ’84 he was a non-roster player and made the staff, primarily in relief. This spring, when he came to the spring training camp down in Dunedin, Florida, he made the team as the fifth starter but as the season progressed he moved up to number two in terms of consistency.”
Jimmy Key wasn’t his usual sharp self this game, lasting only 3 1/3 innings, giving up 7 hits and 3 runs. DH Cliff Johnson drove in the first Jays run with a double in the fourth and kept the inning alive in the sixth with a two-out single which lead to a two-run single from Jesse Barfield to tie the score 3-3. From the eighth inning on it was a battle of closers- Quisenberry vs Henke. In the bottom of the eighth the Jays plated a run via a George Bell sacrifice fly. 4-3 Jays. Henke came out to try and seal the win in the ninth but gave up an unlikely solo home run to Pat Sheridan. 4-4. The ninth was scoreless. Henke and Quisenberry remained in the game.
The tenth was wild,
In the tenth Henke gave up an RBI single to Frank White to give the Royals the lead. Bottom of the tenth Tony Fernandez bounced one over Quisenberry’s head, Onix Concepcion scooped the ball, Costas took it from there, “He double clutches… and he is safe!” The mercurial Fernandez followed through first base pogoing into the air motioning the safe sign with his thin arms.
Following the replay (which indicated Fernandez was indeed safe) Tony Kubek commented, “And another little thing that might make a difference.”
The Toronto fans were now, as a whole, on their feet and nervous excitement filled the cold night air. A grounder to Brett off the bat of Garcia moved Fernandez into scoring position at second base.
Lloyd Moseby came to the plate then and sizzled a grounder between White at second and Balboni on first-
Costas- “BASE HIT!!!”
Kubek- “He can throw…”
Costas- “HERE COMES SHERIDAN’S THROW!!! WILLIAMS WANTED TO STOP HIM!!!! HE’S SAFE!!!
After running through Jimy Williams stop sign at third (though Kubek would later suggest Williams did indeed send Fernandez) a slick slide by Fernandez got him to home plate just ahead of Pat Sheridan’s solid throw. Fernandez bounded up after the slide and ecstaticly bounced all the way back to the dugout.
The crowd went bonkers.
George Bell stepped to the plate. Before a pitch was delivered to Bell, Quisenberry elected to toss over to first to check on Moseby. The throw was right at Balboni’s wide chest. Somehow though, Balboni didn’t get all of the ball, as it glanced off the top of his glove, off his chest and rolled behind first. Just enough to allow Moseby to take second base.
Bell lifted a shallow fly ball to Willie Wilson bringing Al Oliver up the plate with two out. Oliver swung over, what Costas rightly called, “A wicked breaking ball.” 0 and 1.
To make this inning a virtual smorgasbord of Exhibition Stadium delight, the next happening was narrated by Tony Kubek as the cameras focused in on some outfield intruders, “Out in the outfield the seagulls are getting very troublesome, they’re alighting all over the field and getting in people’s way…”
Costas, not missing a beat, replied, “They feel safe knowing Dave Winfield isn’t here...”
After a ball from Quisenberry Al Oliver took a mighty cut overtop another of The Quiz’s assortment of tantalizing, varying degrees of slow, pitching repertoire.
Costas, “That thing seemed to hang out over the plate for an eternity!…”
The replay showed the epic swing, miss, and crumbling of Oliver as Costas continued, “Oliver tried to wait on it and almost ended up screwing himself into the ground taking his cut…”
Oliver fouled the next pitch off. Costas continued to marvel at Quisenberry, “Quisenberry for years has relied on what he calls, his Peggy Lee fastball… “Is that all there is?” That’s what the hitters often walk away thinking… but he’s fooled them for five or six years now.”
The next pitch was a ball outside.
The 2-2 pitch was down and away. Oliver went with the pitch slicing.a grounder between Brett and Concepcion, “THAT MIGHT DO IT!!” exclaimed Costas. The crowd roared. Moseby sped around third headed for home-
“THE THROW FROM SMITH!!! THE BLUE JAYS WIN IT!!! AND THEY’LL TAKE A TWO TO NOTHING LEAD OVER KANSAS CITY ON THE AL OLIVER HIT!!!”
Toronto leads the series, 2-0.
ALCS Game 3
Early in his 2011 Hall of Fame induction speech Pat Gillick mentioned, “I told George Brett, I still haven’t got over 1985 when they beat us…”
This was to be George Brett’s last playoff appearance. He almost seemed to know that.
For his career in the playoffs Brett would slash .337/.397/.627. In 1980, a time before we had access to much more than a handful of baseball games a week, Brett’s pursuit of the elusive .400 mark (he hit .400 through September 19th, finishing at .390) was a frequent flyer story on Mel Allen’s weekly roundup of baseball happenings- This Week in Baseball.
Between the .400 chase and big three-run home run off Goose Gossage versus the Yankees in the spotlight of the 1980 ALCS we were all acquainted with Brett’s greatness, his impeccable ability to rise to the moment, heading into the 1985 ALCS.
With Willie Wilson on first Brett took a high fastball and swung overtop a sinker before Whitt tossed out Wilson trying to steal on a controversial/wrong call. After a brief delay with Royals manager Dick Howser meekly arguing the call, hands in his Royal blue team jacket the entire time, the next pitch was low and in, Brett sunk his teeth into it, Costas exclaiming, “WELL HIT! DEEP RIGHT!!! ROYALS WILL TAKE THE LEAD IF IT STAYS FAIR! AND THEY ARE!”
Alexander didn’t allow another hit in the through the first three. Royals up 1-0 coming into the fourth
George Brett lead off. The inning previous he had made a nice play on a Lloyd Moseby grounder, spearing a high hopper to his right at third and tossing home to nail a streaking Damaso Garcia at the plate. Now on a 1-0 pitch Brett golfed a pitch at his ankles off the top of the right field wall just over Jesse Barfield’s glove for a lead off double. Hal McRae hit a long flyball to right to move Brett to third and Frank White brought Brett home via another deep flyball to right that Jesse Barfield made a great catch on.
The Jays lit up Bret Saberhagen in the fifth.
Ernie Whitt lead off by lining a hanging curve ball into right field. Next up- Jesse Barfield.
Barfield was 26 in 1985 and after years of waiting, finally got his shot at a full time job in in the outfield. At the time he appeared to be the most potent all around player the team had ever seen. Barfield batted .289 that year, hit 34 doubles, 9 triples and 27 home runs, stealing 22 bases to boot. And he looked the part. Long, lean, and fluid, Barfield played outstanding defence with an arm for the ages, regularly tossing out shocked baserunners until that shock naturally evolved into an abundance of caution. People stopped running on Barfield.
Now versus Saberhagen, Barfield was clearly feeling loose, even as the count went to 1 and 2. The fourth pitch was up and away, Barfield went with the pitch and torched it over the right field wall to tie the game. Kubek commented as Barfield celebrated in the dugout, “… Barfield has learned from Cito Gaston to cut down his swing… if they stay away, go with them.”
Uncertainty ran through the Kansas City crowd.
Tony Fernandez followed Barfield and hit a Saberhagen pitch on the nose but right at Lonnie Smith for an out. Damaso Garcia was up next and after a few wild swings, one of which included his patented 360-degree spin, Garcia doubled down the right field line. This prompted a visit from the pitching coach to the mound.
With Garcia on second Lloyd Moseby worked the count to full before ripping a ground ball off of Saberhagen that bounded into left field as Garcia scampered home for a 3-2 lead. In the wake of the hit, Saberhagen lay in front of the mound in obvious pain as the trainers sprayed pain reliever on his lower leg. He stayed in the game.
The unimposing Rance Mulliniks came to the plate next and in between throws over to first to hold Moseby (who was picked off first earlier in the game), fell behind 0-2, before a nice compact stroke steered a pitch into the first couple rows of the right field bleachers. 5-2 Jays.
Costas- “And a happy flock of Blue Jays as they sense a three to nothing lead in the series.”
That was it for Saberhagen. Bud Black came into relieve. Black got Upshaw for the second out of the inning and then faced Cliff Johnson. Let’s pause on Cliff Johnson for a moment.
Cliff Heathcliff Johnson. Cliff Johnson first came to Toronto at age 35 in 1983 and as the right handed half of a DH platoon he simply raked. He was all kinds of unbeautiful assembled into one gorgeous package. Johnson’s helmet with no earflaps was always falling off, tumbling from his head on massive swings and while running the bases. Johnson had a half-threatening, half-dead pan, face that looked like he had absorbed all the cumulative, hard, suspect, knowledge shared in pool halls around the world directly into his soul. Johnson entered the batter’s box pawing at the dirt with his cleats, hunched, before either using every ounce of torque in his body to swing unless, there was two strikes- in that case Johnson would smartly choke up on the bat and humbly serve up singles to the opposite field. He was also supremely animated with umpires- varyingly good humoured, displeased, shocked or wryly world weary. Every at bat was an adventure in discovering the possibilities of Heathcliff.
Johnson started this at bat versus Bud Black by patiently taking a few pitches for balls and then one for a strike that required him to express his unhappiness with the home plate umpire by gesturing to his mid shin regarding the pitch location. On the next pitch the 37-year-old lined the ball sharply to the right of diving short stop Buddy Biancalana. Somewhere between home and first Johnson’s helmet came off as he coerced top speed from a body that appeared entirely undesigned to follow that request. But he got there, helmetless, well before Biancalana’s off target throw.
Next, George Bell found the gap between short and third to put runners on first and second. Ernie Whitt followed with a walk. Bases loaded for Jesse Barfield. Bud Black was taken out of the game and replaced with Steve Farr. On a 1 and 1 pitch Barfield drilled a one hopper to Frank White for the final out of the inning.
5-2 Toronto. The world never looked rosier for the Jays.
Bottom of the Fifth
Steve “Bye Bye” Balboni lead off with a long fly ball to left that completely disregarded his nickname, refusing to leave the park, instead being tracked down by George Bell who employed a hop-skip-and-a-jump at the warning track to catch the ball. Those extra few feet between the warning track and the seats were eclipsed by the next batter though as a Jim Sundberg homer chopped the lead to two.
Bottom of the Sixth
I remember this inning vividly. Willie Wilson lead off by spanking one up the middle off Alexander’s glove. Up came George Brett. Brett had not been fooled all night by Alexander on any pitch. The trend would continue.
Costas- “Well hit to left centre, back goes Moseby… along with Bell… FORGET IT! HOME RUN BRETT!”
Meanwhile, Steve Farr, who’d spent the bulk of the season in the minors kept on shutting down the Jays.
Bottom of the 8th
The top of the 8th was controversial as it involved seemingly another missed call by an umpire. The umpires missed a few in this series and in the top of the eighth George Bell appeared to slide (if you can call it a slide, it was a thing of ugly by George that ended with him careening over the bag and barely hanging on with his left hand) under the tag to safely steal second only to be called out. There were other calls in the series that went awry- The pickoff of Lloyd Moseby earlier in the game, the flyball (again involving Moseby) in Game Two, that he appeared to catch only it was ruled to have hit the turf and been trapped.
Regardless, the game was still tied heading into the bottom of the eighth with the worst thing that could possibly happen to the Jays that night about to happen again.
George Brett, 3 for 3 on the evening, 1 double, 2 home runs, lead off the inning versus Jim Clancy. As Brett walked to the plate the crowd rose to cheer while Costas wondered out loud, “I wonder if Bobby Cox is aware that George Brett… has absolutely demolished Jim Clancy over his career?”
The best in 1985 graphics displays was overlaid on the vision of Brett digging into the batters box-
Batting .447 (21 for 47) lifetime vs Clancy
But on this occasion the lanky Clancy managed to get Brett to offer on a bad, ankle high, pitch. Brett squibed a meek grounder past a diving Damaso Garcia for a single anyways. DH Hal McRae, the number three hitter, then laid down a bunt with Kubek predicting before the first pitch that, in lieu of McRae’s rib injury, a bunt would likely be the play. Frank White followed by grounding out to Tony Fernandez getting Brett to third with two out. Cox then chose to intentionally walk Pat Sheridan. Up came Steve Balboni.
1985 graphics displayed as the bulky Balboni stood in the box-
2 for 2 (3-run Home Run) lifetime vs Clancy
There was nobody working in the Jays bullpen.
Clancy quickly got behind 2-0 on Balboni who was really struggling coming into this at bat, 0-11 on the series. Clancy one again made a decent pitch that was in on Balboni’s hands. For the second time in the inning though he would be unlucky. The ball blooped in the air out behind second base with Fernandez from short, Garcia from second, Moseby from centre, converging on the ball in a triangle formation. The ball would fall inches out of the reach of a flailing Fernandez.
Stever Farr pitcher 4 1/3 innings surrounding only two hits and finished out the game for the win.
Toronto leads the series 2-1.
ALCS Game 4
Stieb vs Leibrandt
Through five innings this was exactly the kind of pitching duel that was expected. It was scoreless. In the sixth though Stieb ran into trouble.
Lonnie Smith worked a walk to start the inning. Whitt came out to the mound to chat with Stieb who seemed to lose the strike zone in the at bat delivering four pitches chest high to Lonnie Smith.
With the count 1 and 1 to the next batter Willie Wilson, Smith took off for second as Wilson lined a single to center. Runners on first and third, nobody out. Bobby Cox ambled to the mound with his aged, cowboy on the mend walk. George Brett was up next.
Costas- “As well as Stieb is pitching, the essence of the ballgame may be right here with the guy most likely to hurt him.”
Stieb toed the rubber and set to deliver, behind the plate Whitt rose from his crouch, with Costas immediately realizing the moment, “They are going to walk him intentionally to load the bases!”
Kubek chuckled, “No outs! You’ve seen this kind of thing happen before… Ted Williams… I’m sure it’s happened to Brett before… when it happens, you know you are looking at greatness.”
Costas- “There is respect and there is reverence.”
Bases loaded, no outs, Hal McRae at the plate. If Blue Jays fans weren’t sweating, Dave Stieb clearly was with sweat rolling down his his cheeks and glistening on the back of his neck. On three days rest Kubek suggested Stieb was, “stiffening up,” as his pace was suddenly super slow, un-Stieb like, as he made multiple ball changes and called Ernie Whitt out to the mound despite being ahead, 0-2, in the count. Costas pointed out that Stieb’s velocity was down 3-4 miles per hour since the start of the game.
The next pitch soared past McRae’s head. Then a curve high and inside. The pitch after that a fastball inside. The final pitch of the at bat, just missed the outside corner, away, ball four. Stieb fell to a knee, grabbed some dirt and threw it in disgust.
Royals 1, Jays 0. Still nobody out.
Costas- “In light of what Brett has done Bobby Cox’s move may have seemed logical. Stieb’s sudden streak of wildness turns logic to lament for the Blue Jays.”
Pat Sheridan came to the plate and let Stieb off the hook with an infield pop up on a hanging fastball. Second baseman Frank White strode to the plate next, bases still loaded, one out.
White hit a soft grounder to Fernandez who cooly underhanded a throw to Garcia at second. Garcia pivoted and unleashed a low, bounding, throw to first where Upshaw smoothly dug it out to beat White by a step.
Given what took place and how done Stieb had looked while working slowly and chewing gum with increasing intensity, 1-0 wasn’t bad.
Despite how gassed Stieb looked in the sixth he returned for the seventh. After two outs Stieb walked Biancalana and Smith and Cox decided to bring in Henke who induced a meek fly ball from Willie Wilson to end the threat.
Meanwhile Liebrandt kept dealing, using his full arsenal to keep the Jays off balance and scoreless into the top of the ninth.
Liebrandt took the mound for the bottom of the ninth with a 1-0 lead and nobody working in the Royals bullpen. Three pitches later, Dan Quisenberry took off the towel around his neck, rose from a bench and hurried to the bullpen mound just as Liebrandt managed the improbable task of walking Damaso Garcia on four pitches.
Royals pitching coach Gary Blalock sauntered to the mound to allow Quisenberry some time to get loose. Blalock chatted for a bit with his starter before leaving lefty Liebrandt to face the Jays left handed hitter Lloyd Moseby. Given it was 1985, given it was lefty versus lefty, a sacrifice bunt would have been standard. Moseby though didn’t square around on the first pitch and instead took strike one low and inside, Kubek commenting, “Bobby Cox, with that pitch anyways, holding true to form, he sacrificed just twenty-one times during the entire regular season… lowest in the major leagues. He trusts in his sluggers.” The second pitch was a ball, well inside, pushing Moseby off the plate. The third pitch was headed inside as well before Moseby quickly lashed out, Costas making the call excitedly, “Base hit over White and it might get into the gap! this game is going to be tied, Jimy Williams is waving Garcia home! Moseby stops at second! A 1-1 game.”
With Quisenberry entering the game Kubek, who regularly did Jays games on CTV with Don Chevrier used the time to introduce Lloyd Moseby to an American audience likely largely unfamiliar with the Jays centerfielder, “He loves the spotlight… for awhile people said of him that he didn’t know if he wanted to be Reggie Jackson or Rickey Henderson. His comment was very simple- I can be a combination of both. He’s a very cocky young man. He had to grow up in the big leagues. He had three atrocious years, .220’s, .230’s… Bobby Mattick, then the manager, stuck with him. He’s rounded out to be a good player.”
Nobody out. Go ahead run on second. George Bell versus Dan Quisenberry. After ball one to Bell, Costas commented, “The Blue Jays, certainly one team, Quisenberry has not mastered,” as the graphic lit the screen-
BLUE JAYS CURRENT ROSTER
Batting .322 (47 for 146) lifetime vs Quisenberry
“Al Oliver in the on deck circle and it was Oliver who got the game winning hit of Quisenberry in Game 2.”
Bell spent the majority of the at bat swinging at pitches inside and fouling them off as the count was stuck at 2 and 2. Finally Quisenberry decided to float a curveball well off the plate. On his front foot, leaning far across the plate, Bell was swinging again, using that purported extra two inches of length to his bat, to maximum effect-
Costas- “He just reaches for it! And it finds a hole… he just served it up into centerfield.”
Jimy Williams held Moseby at third.
Al Oliver stepped in. Quisenberry, perhaps still working the George Bell- “Why throw a pitch over the plate?” playbook, threw a few pitches off the plate before serving up a hanging breaking pitch inside that the veteran Oliver appeared to pause on, mid stride, in order to lean back and tighten his swing to his body. In any event the contortion was successful in allowing Oliver to get the fat part of the bat on the ball, drilling it down the right field line. 3-1 Blue Jays.
With the crowd clearly displeased and unsettled Quisenberry made quick work of the Jays from there leaving Oliver stranded at third.
In the bottom of the night Henke gave up walks to Balboni and Dane Iorg putting the tying run on first but after a determined message from Tony Fernandez (with some demonstrative finger pointing thrown in) got Jamie Quirk to pop up to end the game.
The Jays were one game away from the World Series.
Toronto leads the series, 3-1.
ALCS Game 5
In 1985 23-year-old Danny Jackson had just finished his first full season in the Major Leagues. His final numbers- 14-12 with an ERA of 3.42, while excellent, didn’t appear on the surface to indicate an insurmountable challenge for the Blue Jays. After overwhelming Damaso Garcia for a three-pitch strikeout to start the game though Costas and Kubek provided some foreshadowing for the game to come as Jackson faced Lloyd Moseby next-
Costas- “Talking to Dick Howser before the game he did mention the August 17th start by Danny Jackson in Toronto where he worked seven innings and struck out nine… and Howser said, “I don’t think I’ve seen so many broken bats by a pitcher as I saw in that game versus the Blue Jays.”
Costas- “Against the Jays this year Jackson has made three appearances… he’s 1 and 0 with two no-decisions but he’s pitched well each time… his ERA in those three appearances is 1.98.”
Kubek- “We’ve talked about left-handed pitchers and the big thing… the pre-series hype- “Can the Blue Jays handle left handed pitching?”
Jackson induced a weak grounder to first from Lloyd Moseby while Kubek and Costas relayed that Howser was talking about potentially using Bud Black or Bret Saberhagen in this elimination game. A George Bell double over Willie Wilson in centre brought about a nervous hum in the KC crowd as Cliff Johnson stepped to the plate. The 1 and 0 pitch was a high fastball (Kubek reported the radar gun tracking Jackson at 96 mph- heady stuff for 1985). Johnson offered at the pitch out of the zone for an infield pop up. Johnson angrily tossed his bat behind him toward the dugout as he half heartedly ran to first. Frank White easily squeezed the ball for the third out. Inning over.
Jimmy Key was starting for Toronto. Key was just 24-years-old in 1985 and in his first full season as a starter he managed a 14-6 record with a 3.00 ERA. And we need to pause for a moment and consider a large difference between 1985 and 2021 in terms of the pitching. Right now, in 2021, the average MLB team strikes out 8.91 hitters per game. In 1985 that number was 5.34. The reasons for the differences are complex and not something we’ll get into here. I mention it only because Jimmy Key made the All-Star team in 1985, his ERA of 3.00 was fourth in the AL ( behind Stieb #1, Leibrandt #2, Saberhagen #3), Key averaged 3.6 strikeouts per nine.
Contact was going to happen.
Lonnie Smith lead off the bottom of the first with a double to the left field corner off a low curve ball.
With Willie Wilson at the plate Key devoted a lot of attention to Smith including a close call on a pick off attempt with Fernandez bolting in from behind Smith and, in mid-flight, snagging the throw from Key, slapping the tag back down on the sliding Smith whose fingers found second base just ahead of the the tag.
On the next pitch Smith took off for third. Third baseman Garth Iorg was playing in for the bunt and had to backpedal to try and get back to the bag. Whitt got off a meek throw that the stumbling Iorg couldn’t quite corral as he tried to simultaneously catch the ball and swipe backwards at the sliding Smith. Runner on third, nobody out.
Key struck out Wilson.
Up strode George Brett. Costas and Kubek speculated on an intentional walk but Key came at Brett with two inside pitches- 1 and 1. The next pitch was a curve ball that froze Brett momentarily before he made a weak, off balance, swing that drove the ball into the turf bounding high towards Fernandez who gracefully charged in to corral it. Fernandez scooped the ball, momentarily struggled to get a grip, before whipping a languid, side-arm, toss to first to retire Brett. Bobble or not, with the contact play on, Smith was going to score.
And that’s all they’d need.
Jackson, though wavering at times, was resolute in taming the Jays into the ninth where he got two quick outs leading to the call from Costas after Jackson jammed pinch-hitter Cecil Fielder with a first pitch fastball leading to a quiet grounder to first, “This might do it!… Balboni! We’re going to Toronto!”
Kansas City wins 2-0.
The post game shots of the Toronto dugout captured a surprisingly high degree of dejection for a team going home with a series lead.
If it was any consolation to Toronto sports fans, that same night Wendel Clark scored his first (and second) NHL goal in a rare 5-1 win for the Leafs in Chicago.
Toronto leads the series, 3-2.
ALCS Game 6
Mark Gubicza, age 23 starting for Kansas City, Doyle Alexander, age 34, for Toronto.
Coming off getting roughed up in game three Alexander got Lonnie Smith to fly to Moseby in centerfield on his first pitch. From there, Alexander would fight it for the rest of the night.
Alexander walked Wilson and then walked Brett. The Exhibition Stadium crowd was dead quiet. Hal McRae up next.
McRae ripped a seeing eye single to Tony Fernandez’s right to bring home the first run.
Jim Acker began to work in the Jays’ pen drawing a comment from Costas, “… despite the temperature in the low fifties, no sweatshirt for Mr. Acker.” Alexander would go on to strike out Sheridan and get Balboni to pop up to Whitt to end the inning.
Costas was in particularly whimsical form this evening introducing Gubicza as he opened the bottom of the first, “As Damaso Garcia settles into the batter’s box, 23-year-old Mark Gubicza, gets ready. 6’5″, 210, used in relief in Game One of this series and pitched very well. The son of a Philadelphia area postman! And here’s his delivery… for a strike… In fact, the battery, both offspring of mailmen. Jim Sundberg’s dad a retired postman from Galesburg, Illinois…”
Garcia ruined Costas’s opening narrative by slicing the next pitch into the gap in right for a double. The Exhibition Stadium came to life for the first time as the camera panned to mascot BJ Birdy doing a cartwheel in the stands.
Lloyd Moseby was jammed next but managed to bloop a single into left field in front of Lonnie Smith. Runners on first and third nobody out. Bud Black began to throw in the bullpen for Kansas City.
Rance Mulliniks’ at bat was elongated by Gubicza holding Moseby on first before Mulliniks finally hit a jam shot towards the mound. Gubicza gloved it, tossed to Biancalana at second, Biancalana hesitated, looking for a moment at Garcia who had briefly paused before realizing it was his job to take off home. But Biancalana thought better of the low percentage play at the plate and instead tossed to first for the double play. 1-1.
The second inning was scoreless with the most significant point of interest being Costas responding to Kubek referencing the crowd’s apparent support for George Bell’s post-game-5 comments by succinctly, accurately, editorializing, “Bell probably regrets his ill advised comments after game five. That the umpires were anti-Canadian and particularly, anti-Dominican. They may have just missed a call on a given ball player who plays for a given ball club.”
The top of the third began with Willie Wilson leading off and offering at the first pitch. Costas, distracted by speculation on potential World Series matchups gave the hit little love, “Wilson hits it softly but it finds a hole over Fernandez.”
Alexander tamed his nemesis George Brett next, tossing him low junk that eventually lead to a slow grounder to Mulliniks that got the force of Wilson at second. Early in Game Six Alexander was finding a new nemesis however and that man was now striding to the plate- Hal McRae. The at bat would be a lengthy one allowing Costas and Kubek to talk about how obviously banged up McRae was, to the point the Royals trainer offered that if it were the regular season he would likely be on the disabled list. They also managed to fit in the fact that ex-President Richard Nixon would be arbitrating the dispute between umpires and MLB about extra pay in lieu of the Championship Series in 1985 moving to seven-game series from the former five-game series.
On the eighth pitch of the at bat McRae ripped a ground ball just fair past Mulliniks down the third base line, the ball then veering into foul territory beyond the bullpen mounds in play. George Bell lost his footing on the slick faux-dirt surface as he picked the ball up (Kubek referenced a drainage pipe, maybe a hose, in the area which tells you a lot about Exhibition Stadium) and Brett scored.
Pat Sheridan flied out to Bell next. A wild pitch moved McRae to third. With two strikes on Steve Balboni, Alexander threw an apparent strike that did not get the expected result from home plate umpire Darryl Cousins. Doyle Alexander was clearly disappointed, while Ernie Whitt, crouched behind the plat, was clearly giving it to Cousins for missing the call. The Exhibition Stadium crowd decided to release some tension as the audible chant rose up, “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!”
Costas was unamused by the chanting, “And we see that at least one unwelcome import has made its’ way across the border and into Canada. The barnyard chant, that’s one American custom… best not picked up.”
Bottom of the second Gubicza overpowered Jesse Barfield to start the inning. Tony Fernandez was up next and used his magic wand to guide an outside pitch between George Brett and the third base bag. Fernandez brazenly challenged Lonnie Smith’s arm (Smith had been well positioned towards the possibility of an opposite field poke by Fernandez) and snuck by Frank White’s desperate tag for a double.
Gubicza was all over the place versus the next batter Damaso Garcia. Following a fastball that buzzed over Damaso Garcia’s head, the children of postal workers unit broke down as Gubicza missed well outside and down, managing to blow the ball past Sundberg. Tying run on third. Gubicza managed another improbable four pitch walk to Garcia. Shaker Moseby came to the plate.
A slow grounder to shortstop Buddy Biancalana combined with Fernandez bolting on contact home, tied the game.
Gubicza’s struggles to find the strike zone continued as the patient Rance Mulliniks worked a walk to put runners at first and second with two out. Bud Black, who Costas mentioned, “… has been up and down more than a pump handle,” was throwing again in the Kansas City bullpen.
Willie Upshaw swung at the first pitch from Gubicza. Score it 4-3, inning over. Game tied at two.
The top of the fourth was scoreless and quiet aside from an error by Tony Fernandez which, happened in the wake of Kubek and Costas’s ongoing debate of who was the best defensive shortstop in the American League- Kubek believed it was Fernandez, Costas had stated earlier in the game he believed it was Guillen because he made less errors.
The game broadcast returned from commercial to show Dennis Lamp warming up now for the Blue Jays. Doyle Alexander once again began the inning facing Willie Wilson for the Royals, this time however managing to dispatch him with a nasty, sinking, circle change, for strike three. Next up was George Brett with Kubek commenting, “Let’s see if they throw him a strike in a 2-2 ballgame. They need to stay outside about six inches off the plate.”
I remember this at bat vividly. It seemed to define the moment. It seemed to decide the series to me at the time.
The first pitch from Alexander was- six inches off the plate. 1-0. The second pitch caught the outer black on the plate causing Brett’s shoulders to slump in disappointment at the call. 1 and 1. The next pitch was in the dirt in front of home plate. 2 and 1. Alexander came back with a fastball to the outer part of the plate on the following pitch that seemed to surprise Brett who swung and missed for strike two. 2 and 2. And it was here, age eighteen, I sat in front of my parent’s cabinet TV and begged Doyle Alexander not to come back with a circle change.
But a circle change it was. Low, on the outside of the plate. It took Costas a second to warm up to the fly ball that resulted-
“In the air to right centre, back goes Moseby, ALONG WITH BARFIELD!!! IT IS………….. GONE! We had to wait because the umpire came all the way out, almost to the wall, before giving the signal. It’s the third home run of the series for Brett, ALL OF THEM off Doyle Alexander.”
Kubek paused for a moment, “Well now why would you want to pitch to him in a tie ball game?” Kubek, not one for being inflammatory, decided to move on from second guessing Bobby Cox and instead focus on one of his favourite recurring theme, one familiar to any of us who watched him regularly on local Blue Jays broadcasts- the uncertainty attached to the breezes coming in off Lake Ontario, the winds at Exhibition Stadium, “… George got a little bit of help from the wind.”
Costas sided with Kubek, “It just looked like a long fly ball off the bat and the wind kept pushing it out…”
3-2 Royals. This time there would be no answer from the Jays offence in the bottom of the inning as Gubicza mowed the side down in order.
In the top of the sixth it all fell apart for the Jays with Doyle Alexander still on the mound.
The inning began innocently enough with an overhead shot of Exhibition Stadium from the Goodyear blimp and Kubek referencing how quiet the crowd had become. The next camera shot was of the empty portion of the left field bleachers that stretched for eternity away from centerfield providing only a view of the empty stretch of football field beyond the right field fence. Kubek advised that attendance for the final series of the season with the Yankees actually exceeded the attendance for Game Six of the ALCS noting, “Pricing out the market folks…thirty-three dollars Canadian for the most expensive seats… those (the “centerfield” seats where) you can’t see go for about sixteen-bucks…”
Feeling as though he needed to perhaps exonerate Toronto baseball fans Kubek then added, “They got just under two-and-a-half million baseball fans here this season in a park that really wasn’t made for baseball.”
The topic of the stadium allowed Costas to add, “They’ll have a new park probably in time for 1989 and they are talking about a retractable dome.”
The long opening face-off between Alexander and Jim Sundberg to open the sixth went to 3 and 2 before Alexander’s juuuuuust missed to walk Sundberg. Alexander yelled in at the umpire after the ball four call and angrily received the ball back from Ernie Whitt. Dennis Lamp and lefty Gary Lavelle (who had received a cortisone shot days before) were now tossing in the bullpen. White, who Kubek advised was, “nursing a damaged right hand,” laid a bunt down the first base line to move Sundberg to second. Up came light hitting Buddy Biancalana. Kubek noting, “Mulliniks moves up at third in case Biancalana tries to beat a bunt out.”
Biancalana, age 25, with 156 games under his belt over four seasons was hitting .194 in the regular season to that point in his career with a .284 slugging percentage. He was 2-for-14 (both singles) in the ALCS going into this at bat. Biancalana took the first pitch for a ball before taking a might hack at pitch number two, Costas waiting a beat before reacting in surprise, “Biancalana hits it pretty good into right centre field and HELLO BUDDY BIANCALANA! One is home and Biancalana wants a triple! And that’s just what he got!”
Tony Kubek weighted in, “This could be the end of Doyle Alexander.”
It was. Dennis Lamp got the Jays out of the inning down 5-2.
In the bottom of the sixth Costas commented as the camera zoomed in on Bobby Cox, “Bobby Cox doesn’t want to have to use Dave Stieb in Game Seven but he’s staring squarely at that possibility.”
The bottom of the inning though brought the crowd to life with Lloyd Moseby leading off with a single. Next Rance Mulliniks took Gubicza to the wall in the left where Willie Wilson made a nifty catch (Kubek credited the wind for knocking this ball down and preventing a home run). Willie Upshaw then walked bringing Al Oliver to the plate with runners on first and second.
At this point Howser elected to bring the man who started the season as the Royals ace starter, lefty, Bud Black, into the game. Oliver was called back in favour of right handed Cliff Johnson. Up 3-1 in the count Johnson singled between Brett and Biancalana to make the score 5-3. One out, runners on first and second for George Bell.
Immediately, Black uncorked a wild pitch to move the runners up to second and third. The quiet Exhibition crowd of moments ago was now on its’ feet. The centerfield camera showed Johnson in his “00” jersey, the potential tying run, pawing around second base, as Black faced off against Bell. The crowd was quickly deflated though as Bell popped up to first baseman Steve Balboni. Ernie Whitt was scheduled next. Not long ago, Whitt would not have hit in this situation but given Buck Martinez’s injury he was bereft of a right handed compliment. Thus, Whitt, who hit .213 versus lefties in 1985, was sent to the plate accompanied by the usual chant of, “ERNIE! ERNIE! ERNIE!”
At 2-0 Whitt popped up to the Sundberg to end the inning, the inning coming to a close with Kubek musing, “I wonder Bob if the wind didn’t push this ball back into a catchable spot?”
Toronto did not quit. Lamp skewered the Royals lineup the rest of the way going three and two-thirds surrendering one hit, one walk, striking out five. The Jays offence meanwhile continued to mount challenges against Bud Black including having two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh which ended with Garth Iorg grounding out to Steve Balboni.
The bottom of the ninth opened with the Jays still down two, the camera focusing in on a few home made signs in the crowd, including, “THERE IS NO WAY HOME DOROTHY”
Seeing the sign Costas noted, “Apparently there’s a few Canadians who think that Kansas City is in Kansas, which it is but not THIS Kansas City.”
Tom Henke worked in the bullpen in the ninth, oddly throwing sidearm (which he did use in a game on rare occasions), allowing Kubek to opine, “He’s working on his submarine style down there,” before Jesse Barfield struck out to open the inning. Tony Fernandez followed Barfield and after a brief interruption from a seagull buzzing Bud Black, Tony Fernandez stepped out of the box allowing Costas to muse, “One writer noted that last game there were ducks on the field. I would like to know how ducks could enter the stadium… that’s beyond the scope of their flight pattern isn’t it?” These are seagulls folks…”
At 2 and 2 Fernandez stroked a grounder that pulled Balboni to his right. Bud Black was slow to get off the mound and Fernandez took flight towards first, his helmet unable to withstand the speed, tumbling to the turf, as Fernandez barely beat Black (who lost his hat on the way to first) to the bag for a single. Garcia opened his at bat with two straight spinerama swings, fouling the pitches straight back, before hitting into a fielders choice at second base where Tony Fernandez came in hard on Buddy Biancalana. Lloyd Moseby came up next, tying run still on first, two out.
Moseby raked a single into right field. Runners on first and second, two out, Dan Quisenberry coming in from the pen with Garth Iorg scheduled up and not a meaningful left handed bat available. The Exhibition Stadium PA played The Beatles, Help, as the Quiz warmed up and Iorg stretched in the on deck circle, “Help me if you can I’m feeling down/and I do appreciate you being ’round/Help me get my feet back on the ground/Won’t you please, please, help me.”
As Iorg walked to the plate, fiddling with his batting glove, Costas has some other matters to attend to, “Folks, I gotta’ tell you that, due to the length of tonight’s game The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson will not be seen. For most of the country late local news will follow the game then Late Night With David Letterman.”
Iorg managed a Damaso Garcia pirouette to swing and miss at pitch number one. He took ball two. Produced a carbon copy pirouette for the next two pitches, leaving Costas to close it out, “Got him! The Quiz comes through and there will be a final game here.”
Series tied, three games apiece.
Back to Game Seven, Fourth Inning, 1-0 Royals
Kubek- “What a reaction by Dave Stieb after he broke off the wicked curve ball (for strike three)…” adding rhetorically, “You think he isn’t tough?”
Stieb had started off the fourth by inducing a ground ball to first from Brett and striking out Hal McRae with a wicked, diving, curve ball for the second out. Kubek’s commentary was accompanied by a replay of Stieb’s post strikeout reaction of a lively strut around the mound with the compulsory Stieb jock adjustment.
Costas- “Sheridan steps in… he dragged a bunt for a hit in the second inning… in the air to RIGHT! It’s chasing Barfield back… remember the wind… against the FENCE! and GOODBYE! The second home run of the series for Sheridan… A lazy flyball on another day in a different ballpark…”
Kubek- “… and remember, Pat Sheridan… had just three home runs this year…”
Steve Balboni followed Sheridan and stepped his big self into a hanging curve from Stieb-
“Well hit to left center field… but the wind isn’t blowing in that direction… and Bell makes the catch short of the track.”
Balboni had hit the ball just a bit down from the sweet spot of the bat and the inning was over. 2-0 Royals.
As the Jays jogged in off the field Kubek offered, “I wonder if Saberhagen’s hand is bothering him because the bullpen is getting going…”
The telecast returned from commercials to show Bret Saberhagen leaving the game after briefly trying to warm up but being unable to continue in the wake of the swelling caused by the hot Willie Upshaw grounder that clipped his pitching hand earlier in the game.
Charlie Leibrandt entered the game and warmed up as John Fogerty’s, Centerfield, played over the stadium PA, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today…”
George Bell greeted Leibrandt by muscling a 1 and 2 pitch down the third baseline past a diving Brett, where it ramped off the bullpen mound down to bounce off the bench where an Ontario Provincial Police Officer scurried out of the way. Double for Bell.
Ernie Whitt dug into the batter’s box as Costas noted, “The Jays have left five already this game…”
Whitt lined the first pitch he saw clearly foul down the first base line. A vocal component of the fans in attendance were not happy with the foul ball call leading Kubek to comment, “They’re not going to let up on the umpires are they…”
Costas, was out of patience, “The cheers of derision continue every time they get an obvious call right.”
Whitt would strike out bringing up Barfield. Jesse Barfield may have been the best all-around player on the Jays at this time but somewhere along the line in this series he’d lost his mojo. Not in a crumbling in the limelight way, rather, in a- it simply happens to the best hitters throughout the season kind of way. The timing of this though was awful.
Barfield would miss a middle-middle fastball popping it up high over the Kansas City dugout towards the photographers stationed at its’ end. Steve Balboni reached overtop the scattering photographers to snare the pop up for out number two.
Tony Fernandez followed with a rare strikeout to end the inning. Royals up 2-0 heading into the fifth.
Stieb made it through the top of fifth scoreless, surrendering only a two out single to Buddy Biancalana.
The 1985 broadcast went to commercial. The Youtube rendition of the game captured a rare 1985 commercial at this point which I feel I must share. The commercial was for the Hyatt Hotel chain which bizarrely featured a fictional Hyatt hotel in space leading to the shot of a cordial front desk clerk preparing to greet a customer-
“Good evening Mr. Uecker.” (the camera turned to find Bob Uecker stepping up to the desk)
“Hey, they even know me up here… ha-ha…”
“You’re in room 200.”
“200. My lifetime batting average… alright…”
Returning to the game Costas and Kubek talked about Kansas City playing with fire given all the Jays baserunners while simultaneously lamenting the Jays’ inability thus far to capitalize. Seemingly sensing his cue, Damaso Garcia sent a 3-2 pitch into right for a single to start the inning.
The Garcia hit ignited the crowd to chant over Moseby’s at bat, “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS! LET’S GO!”
A foghorn came to life in the crowd as Moseby took consecutive balls well inside to start the at bat. Leibrandt paint the outside black for strike one before jamming Moseby for a soft ground ball to Frank White that moved Garcia to second. Garth Iorg pinch hit for Mulliniks next.
Iorg would take a serious rip at the fourth pitch of the at bat, Costas reacting right away, “INTO LEFT CENTER AND DEEP! BACK GOES LONNIE SMITH!!!! and he’s got it… hit it as well the other way and this game is tied.”
Kubek- “Yep, not into that wind when you hit it that high…”
The crowd quieted to a low grumble in the wake of the disappointment of Iorg’s long flyball not finding the seats. Willie Upshaw brought the crowd back to life however by smoking a liner over the first base bag into right field for a double to bring home Garcia. The Jays closed the gap to one run.
Costas, “So Upshaw, in a series long slumber, awakens the Blue Jays with a big base hit.”
Cliff Johnson pinch hit for Al Oliver next, his at bat delayed as a Jays’ groundskeeper had to run into left field to retrieve an unravelled roll of toilet paper someone in the bleachers had tossed out onto the field. Finally, Johnson stepped into the box as the broadcast displayed his performance for the series to date over his heavy lidded countenance-
Batting .412 (7 for 17) in the AL Championship Series
Before the first pitch from Leibrandt to Johnson the camera focused on a clearly agitated Al Oliver in the dugout. This prompted much speculation from Costas and Kubek as Leibrandt delivered ball one, the two broadcasters raising their voices to be heard over the excited Toronto crowd-
Kubek- “I don’t know what Oliver was saying… he’s upset, did he say?… If I read his lips right… “they’ve got a right hander up”? (the camera stayed on Oliver as he continued to angrily chirp in the dugout)… he’s mad… he’s hot!”
Leibrandt threw a fastball down the middle to even the count at one.
Costas- “Well, Al, who is a very personable guy but not short on ego, has long contended he shouldn’t be platooned at all- he can hit the left handers.”
Kubek- “He’s saying the same basically, I think. Or at least thinking what you are saying- in the fifth inning they’ve got a righthander warming up in the bullpen for the Royals.”
Leibrandt threw ball two.
Costas- “And in the late innings when it’s very possible Quisenberry will be in the ballgame, Oliver, who has been his nemesis, will not be a factor.”
Leibrandt missed again, low and away, to make the count 3 and 1. The crowd roared sensing possibilities.
Leibrant threw low and away again. A circle change. Johnson hesitated then swung, missing badly. Full count.
The next pitch was a fastball, again, well outside- but big Cliff swung and missed. Inning over. The camera found Oliver still clearly upset and demonstrative in the dugout as he appeared to finally turn and head down the dugout tunnel, Costas finished it up heading to break, “There isn’t much dissension on this Blue Jay club but Al Oliver is hot right now.”
As Stieb toed the rubber to open the top of the sixth the camera showed Garth Iorg, taking over at third base after pinch hitting for Rance Mulliniks. Tony Kubek commented on what was going on behind Iorg, “And in the back of Garth Iorg you saw the bullpen… and it’s going for the Blue Jays and Bobby Cox… as Stieb takes the rubber.”
Willie Wilson lead off with a shallow fly ball to center for one out.
Stieb was at 72 pitches before his confrontation with Brett, 76 after, as Brett made his way to first with a walk. Kubek had speculated at 3 and 0 that, “Dave Stieb now, really pushing himself on those three pitches to Brett. Not saying it’s all he’s got left but he wants to get him out and get out of this inning.”
With Brett on first, one out and Hal McRae at the plate, Stieb snapped off a couple great benders to get ahead one and two. A man seated behind home plate opened his winter jacket at this point to display for the camera a baseball shirt that read, “John 3 3.” For those of you curious, John chapter 3, verse three, reads, “Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The man, face covered by the bill of his cap, kept his jacket open as Stieb delivered a fastball into the ribs of Hal McRae. Runners of first and second, one out.
Stieb was furious with himself after the pitch, immediately pacing to the right of the mound, quite clearly yelling, “FUCK!!!”
Kubek, who was always attuned to the nuances of Stieb commented, “… and he’s dropping down more and more,” in reference to the ultimate Stieb tell when he had stumbled into poor performance- his arm angle dropping from three-quarters to be closer to a side arm delivery, thus flattening out his pitches.
Kubek- “And Bobby Cox is going to come out and talk to Stieb to see how bad his elbow maybe stiffening up… or his shoulder… What has he got left?”
Costas- “Cox’s visit is brief, Acker continues to throw in the bullpen, Stieb stays in.”
Pat Sheridan stepped to the plate and the outfield camera dropped ever so slightly in its’ angle on home plate, effectively removing John 3 3 from its’ shot. Pitch number one was a nifty curve for strike one. Pitch two a little less beautiful a curve but nonetheless a strike missed by the umpire Dave Phillips. Stieb took two steps in to retrieve the ball from the catcher and ensure Phillips was very aware of his feelings about the call. 1 and 1. Tom Henke was spotted running from the dugout at this point to join Jim Acker warming up in the bullpen.
The count moved to two and two before Stieb buckled Sheridan’s knees leaving Sheridan to limply hit a slow grounder to the right of Stieb. Problem was the Jays had Tony Fernandez playing closer to second base in lieu of the left handed hitter. Fernandez had to range far in the hole to corral the ball and was left with his only play at tight one at third. He almost made it look easy.
Kubek- “Is that not outstanding? To flip that ball on the run to Garth Iorg… you’re something Tony.”
Runners on first and second, two out, Steve Balboni coming up.
After two fine curveballs to Balboni to start the at bat (one of which was called a ball, drawing another long look from Stieb in it at Phillips) Stieb, almost solely throwing the curve ball at this point, lost his touch on the pitch. The count went full. Balboni fouled off a hanging curve. Stieb threw a dead straight, dead slow, fastball outside to walk Balboni.
Bases loaded, two out, Jim Sundberg the next batter.
Stieb tossed the ball in and out of his mitt as Ernie Whitt lifted his mask and walked to the mound. The camera focused on Tom Henke and Jim Acker working quickly in the Jays’ bullpen, then on Bobby Cox in the Blue Jays dugout where he now walked over and chatted with pitching coach Al Widmar. What took place in the conversation we’ll never know but one thing we know for sure- Cox stayed in the dugout.
Stieb’s first pitch to Sundberg was the curve ball he was suddenly struggling to find. It was well low, ball one. The next pitch was a fastball, delivered almost sidearm, flat with some sink towards the inside black of the plate. Sundberg took a strong swing and similar to his approach in the first at bat, sent the ball to the opposite field, only this time, deep to right. Costas called it from there-
“In the air to right-ttttt… Barfield going back, look out FOR THE WIND!!!! IT HITS THE TOP OF THE FENCE!!! And I believe it’s still in play! Yes it is… TWO RUNS WILL SCORE! THREE RUNS WILL SCORE! It’s a triple for Sundberg, he missed a grand slam by the narrowest of margins… as it is it’s a three-run triple… and Kansas City’s lead goes to five to one.”
With that, Jim Sundberg, son of a US postman, delivered.
Over the replay of the hit Tony Kubek again talked about, “the wind keeps pushing it,” before the camera moved to Stieb walking from the pitchers mound to the dugout, Costas commenting before the game went to commercial, “Stieb and Cox walk off together, maybe towards a long winter.”
For all the, “fucking pop up,” commentary on the Sundberg triple it is often missed that it was, in theory, more a home run than a pop up. The difference? The give in the Exhibition Stadium outfield fence. That, “narrowest of margins,” that Costas referenced Sundberg missing the home run by may simply have been the initial force of Jesse Barfield’s body weight as he jumped up, and into, the less than rigid right field fence, thus pushing it back enough to keep the ball from fully escaping the park.
Jim Acker followed Stieb, gave up a bloop single to Frank White that plated Sundberg, before getting Buddy Biancalana to end the inning. 6-1 Royals.
The game sped by from there with Leibrandt and Acker locking in and the fans growing more and more restless sensing the end of the 1985 season drawing near.
In the ninth the Jays kept focused and kept battling, their fans however, not so much. If anybody broke down in this series it was the Toronto crowd.
The forgotten man, DH Jeff Burroughs, who’d been made redundant when the team brought Cliff Johnson back, lead off the bottom of the ninth pinch hitting for Ernie Whitt. With Burroughs in the box preparing for the second pitch Dave Phillips suddenly stepped in front of Sundberg and waved his arms gesturing time out as he marched towards first base. Kubek brought viewers up to speed, “The pause right here is… from what I can see through my binoculars… time is called… there is a person down…” the camera focused on a few paramedics and Jays personnel surrounding a man prone on his back near the stands down the right field line, “… on his back and you can still see his feet, flat out on his back… apparently he has fallen out of the stands. We will not give you more than that. We will not alarm anybody because we do not have a report… there’s been a lot of unruly behaviour it appears… Quisenberry going over… somebody has apparently fallen out of the stands… the Royals are out of the dugout…”
It was about this point where the camera focused in for a close up on the man prone, in a snow angel like, pose, inches from the wall of spectators near the right field corner. It was not this man’s best moment. He was wearing an old pair of jeans, a dark red, satin, jacket, a plain white t-shirt which, in the fall, had ridden up, leaving his substantial, pale white, belly exposed for the cameras. The camera quickly pulled away.
Costas and Kubek elected to move on to talking about how skilfully the Jays roster was crafted by management, then to thanking those responsible for the broadcast as the camera returned to the site of the fan being stretchered off through a door in the right field fence to an awaiting ambulance.
Burroughs would end up meekly grounding back to Leibrandt.
Despite the bleak circumstance he PA announcer, Murray Eldon, kept up his enthusiasm, “Now batting! Jesse Barfield-field-field…”
Barfield stepped into the box and then had to immediately step out as Phillips called time again. Kubek reacted in frustration, “Ahhh…”
Costas enlightened us on what was happening, “And some fans run across the field carrying a Canadian flag and that draws one of the biggest ovations of the night…” And thus we got to watch three young Toronto bumpkins running across center field with a giant Canadian flag, “… and it also draws a swarm of security people that descend like locusts…” Sadly, the crowd in seeming unison, booed security removing the three young men from the field.
Dan Quisenberry, warming up in the Royals bullpen, mere feet away from the crowd, was now surrounded by a multitude of police and security personnel.
Barfield’s at bat resumed and from behind home plate a white blanket was unfurled featuring, what appeared to be, in black letters, “2 Cory, 5:20.” It was the same man as before with the John 3:3 shirt, he had just moved down a few rows. Now, since last I checked there wasn’t a disciple named Cory (unless he was like the fifth Beatle of the apostles) I am assuming it’s 2nd Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” … We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
So, there was that.
Despite being down early in the count 0 and 2 Barfield fought back and stroked a high breaking pitch into right field for a single. This was the Jays first hit since Upshaw’s double in the fifth.
Tony Fernandez was up next.
Costas– “This is hit down the right field line and Sheridan won’t get it. Fernandez wants a double and that’s what he has. Second and third and one out.”
Kubek- “Who knows?”
Costas- “Here comes Howser.”
Dan Quisenberry left the abundance of security in the bullpen and jogged to the mound to face Damaso Garcia.
Garcia quickly pounded a submarine offering in front of home plate where it took a medium hop into the glove of Quisenberry who tossed to first for the second out.
Costas- “A run scores, Fernandez moves to third… and the Blue Jays are down to their last out.”
The game felt very over at this point and Kubek and Costas spent some time talking about the close friendship between the rival managers Howser and Cox having coached together in the Yankees farm system in the 70s and been teammates in the Yankees system in 1968.
Lloyd Moseby was now all that stood between the Royals and winning the ALCS. He took strike one as the camera focused on Bobby Cox, standing alone at the front of the Jays dugout looking out at the game.
Kubek- “And there’s Bobby Cox… who is hurting inside right now. This all started way back last March, way back, last winter…”
Kubek would not get to fill out that thought as Moseby hit a soft grounder to Frank White and Costas wrapped it up, “And this may do it for the Royals. For the second time in their history they’re on their way to the World Series!”
As the Royals players and coaches gathered in celebration at first base, many fans took the liberty of wandering out onto the field where they seemed more lost for what to do than anything. So fans wandered over the astroturf milling about, many carrying Canadian flags being mostly harmless as the Royals moved their celebration to the dressing room.
As the scene switched to the Royals locker room Costas noted that in a classy move, the crowd was now standing, cheering, for both teams in the wake of the end of the series.
The 1985 Kansas City Royals
The Battle of Missouri, The Show Me Series, The I-70 Series, whatever you want to call it, was great. St. Louis versus Kansas City. George Brett’s last playoff appearance would end as wonderfully as it started with him batting .370 vs St. Louis. But the 1985 World Series was almost entirely about pitching.
There were four home runs hit in the 7-game 1985 World Series in total. Bret Saberhagen who we last saw in Game Seven versus the Jays holding his swollen hand up to the dugout camera, the result of one the many comebackers that winged him in the series, rebounded to be the World Series MVP. Saberhagen was 2-0, 2 complete games, 18 innings pitched, 1 run surrendered.
Danny Jackson (who would pitch 26 innings in the post season surrendering only 3 runs) and Saberhagen would combine for a 3-1 record, 34 innings pitched, 4 runs given up in the series with St. Louis.
And of course, the Royals came back from a three games to one deficit to win the World Series.
“I knew that Cox was going, in retrospect, the day that he left here, which would be one or two days after the season. I looked and there was nothing in his office. Everything was gone.”
Jays Vice President Paul Beeston in Stephen Brunt’s Diamond Dreams
Bobby Cox did end up moving back to Atlanta where he became GM with Chuck Tanner as manager. Jimy Williams become the Blue Jays next manager.
Bobby Cox would move from GM of the Braves back into the manager’s role during the 1990 season. Williams would last as the Jays manager through 1989. Fate however wasn’t finished with the Cox-Blue Jays connection.
“Why are you interviewing me when you already have the right guy? It’s Cito.”
“When I was a kid there was three things I wanted to do. I’ve done two of them. I always wanted to be a major league player. I wanted to drive one of those big trailer trucks. And I wanted to sing. Well, I can’t sing. My dad was a truck driver, so I learned how to drive one of those trucks. So you get two of three things- it’s not bad in life. And I have two other things, but I never asked for that.”
Cito Gaston, Diamond Dreams
After three disappointing seasons following the 1985 ALCS lost the Jays started 1989 12-24. Jimy Williams, the once well liked third base coach, had appeared to grow crusty and rigid as the Jays manager over the years. After a 13-1 loss in the finale of a series sweep at the hands of the the Twins Paul Beeston fired Williams who, according to Brunt, remains bitter to this day, refusing to discuss his Jays tenure publicly.
Beeston and Gillick left Willams’ home after firing him and went immediately to Cito Gaston’s residence. Cito’s response to the news of the firing was surprise, “I was shocked. This organization doesn’t operate that way. They take care of people.” Cito wasn’t all that receptive to the job offer, “I named off all the other coaches, Al Widmar, John Sullivan and Bob Bailor ‘I’m happy with what I’m doing.” Beeston advised that he wanted Cito to be in place temporarily to which Cito responded, “Just don’t take too long.”
Cito was a baseball lifer, spending nine-seasons in the minors with Atlanta before getting a nine-game cup of coffee with the Braves in 1967, in the process rubbing shoulders with teammates like Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, future occupant of the Space Hyatt Hotel- Bob Uecker, and his roommate for that brief stint, his childhood idol, Hank Aaron. Gaston’s real shot to be a full-time big league outfielder arrived in 1968 with the expansion draft. In the American League the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners were to be introduced in 1969, while in the National League, the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres would simultaneously spring to life. Gaston was selected by the Padres with their final pick in the draft (middle infielder Jimy Williams was selected earlier in the draft by the Montreal Expos).
Gaston’s finest season in San Diego would be 1970 where he made the National League All-Star team. Beyond that season however Gaston’s MLB accomplishments were modest. By the end of 1978, sold to Pittsburgh by Atlanta (who he returned to in 1975) in September and released by the Pirates after the season, Gaston’s diminishing production had his career in jeopardy.
Gaston was provided the opportunity to come play in Toronto in 1979 but declined due to his wariness of Peter Bavasi who he had crossed paths with in San Diego. Buzzi Bavasi Cito respected, Peter not so much. Al Lamacchia, the same man who initially signed Cito to a pro contract in 1961 was the Jays executive who offered Cito the chance to come to Toronto in 1979. Instead, Gaston chose go to Atlanta Braves camp as a non-roster invitee. It was there where he would be let go by his former teammate at AA in 1965- Braves manager Bobby Cox, after being offered the job of a part-time scout. The man still wanted to play. So he chose to follow an opportunity in a new league, the Inter-American League. Unfortunately, the league folded in June when he was in Santo Domingo. From there he went to the Mexican League and finally, after one season, he realized his time as a player was up.
Like many players, the end of his playing career was a bitter time for Cito Gaston. When Hank Aaron called and asked Cito, “to work with me, not for me,” in the Braves farm system he initially declined the offer. Aaron called again, Cito declined. Finally, he accepted.
In 1982 Bobby Cox brought Cito with him from Atlanta to Toronto where he would become a very successful hitting coach.
Taking over for Jimy Williams in 1989 Cito, temporary manager, lead the team to a first place finish in the AL East. The team would bow out to the Oakland A’s in the ALCS, losing four games to one but that one win would be the lone blemish on the A’s playoffs as they went on to sweep the San Fransisco Giants in the World Series.
Gaston’s success as manager in 1989 convinced him to take the job on more than a temporary basis. The team seemed to respond to Cito’s laid back style, his trust in his players, his demand they channel adversity as learning opportunities instead of frustration. In 1990 however the Jays finished second to the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. In the wake of that season Pat Gillick made significant changes to the roster. Devon White was acquired from the Angels, while Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter were brought in from San Diego in return for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.
The Jays won the AL East again in 1990. The playoffs however would still pose a problem as the team lost four games to one again, this time to the Minnesota Twins lead by Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and Kent Hrbek. Like Kansas City, like Oakland, Minnesota followed up beating the Jays in the ALCS by winning the World Series.
1991 would add another chapter to the long and winding road that was the relationship between Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox. The Jays won the AL East, defeated the Oakland A’s four games to two in the ALCS and would face Bobby Cox’s Braves in the World Series.
Cito Gaston had been teammates with Bobby Cox as a player, been managed by him later in his playing career, had been brought to Toronto to be part of Cox’s coaching staff and now here they were, managerial adversaries on baseball’s biggest stage.
The End of an Age and the Age that Ends
In the pre-steroids era baseball careers could end quick. So it was that many of the Jays from the 1985 team had their careers end at or around age 32. Damaso Garcia, Jesse Barfield and Garth Iorg played their last MLB seasons at age 32, Lloyd Moseby and Willie Upshaw age 31.
The team’s first great player, Dave Stieb, would pitch his last full season in 1990 going 18-6 with a 2.93 ERA. In September of that year Stieb, who had four one-hitters in his career, three of which were lost with two-out in the ninth, finally got his no hitter in Cleveland. It was just in time.
Between 1982 and 1985 Dave Stieb average 275 innings pitched a season. He managed a 2.91 ERA over those four years and was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the AL during that time span. But the work took a toll that’s easily spotted in the results from 1986-87. While he recovered from 88-90 there’s little doubt the stress of years of heavy lifting contributed to the shoulder and back issues that meant he never pitched more than 100-innings after age 32. Dave Stieb would be there in 1992 when the Jays won their first World Series but injuries meant he didn’t pitch past August of the season.
There’s a sad story attached to Stieb relating to the post-game celebration in the Blue Jays locker room after they’d beaten Oakland. While a few inflammatory articles/hit pieces were written by the likes of the Chicago Tribune’s Bob Verdi about the event, more exercises in admonishing Stieb for the audacity of having outperformed Jack Morris in the 80s than anything, Stephen Brunt provided a more nuanced take in his book Diamond Dreams–
“In the locker room afterwards, even as the players were acknowledging that there was one step left to climb, it was hard to contain the joy. Some of the younger players- Derek Bell foremost among them- found it particularly difficult. Dave Stieb had a reputation among some of his teammates for being aloof, arrogant, apart from the rest- though given the fact in 1992 he’d battled injuries all year long, understood that his career might be grinding to an end, and probably didn’t feel as much a part of the team as he might have, that was at least understandable. And now, noticing that Stieb had left the clubhouse, the rabble-rousers took it upon themselves to drain beer after beer into his locker. For everything he meant to the team over the years, Stieb certainly deserved better.”
“There were pictures of my kids in there,” Stieb said. “That made it worse. But I know who did it. They said I left right away, but it was forty minutes, and the thing is I was upstairs congratulating Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick. It’s not like I left the building.”
Dave Stieb was released by the Blue Jays on October 28, 1992, having given his right shoulder and back pitching for the Blue Jays.
The Prodigal Son Returns (and returns again… and again)
“It was a deal that would prove to be the catalyst in Toronto’s rise to the top of the baseball world.”
Craig Muder, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
There is no doubt that Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter played massive roles in the Jays two World Series victories. That idea I take no issue with. The insinuation though that the Jays had to get rid of Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to win on the big stage is absurd. In fact, after the Jays World Series win in 1992, Tony Fernandez came back to prove it.
Mid-way through 1993 the Blue Jays had light hitting Dick Schofield starting at shortstop. Meanwhile, after two seasons in San Diego, Fernandez had been traded to the New York Mets where he started the season struggling at the plate. This provided Pat Gillick the opportunity to bring Fernandez back in June of 1993 in return for Darrin Jackson. The move seemed to rejuvenate Fernandez who slashed .306/.361/.442 the rest of the way and batted .333 with 9 RBI’s against Philadelphia in the World Series.
By 1993 Tony Fernandez’s otherworldly presence in the field had been slightly diminished by significant injuries and general wear and tear over the years. He was still beautiful to behold though, still graceful, still fluid, still magic. That half season of Fernandez at short and Alomar at second was a baseball lover’s delight, it was the frosting, on top of the frosting on the proverbial cake,
Fernandez became a free agent after the 1993 World Series win and moved around the league making stops with the Reds, the Yankees and the Indians, before returning to Toronto for the 1998 season to play third base for two seasons. At ages 36 and 37 Fernandez slashed .324/.407/.454 for the Jays.
After the 1999 season Fernandez became a free agent and spent a season playing in Japan.
In 2000 Fernandez signed with the Brewers, was released by them shortly into the season before once again, finally, returning to Toronto. At age 39 Fernandez gave the Jays 62 plate appearances at DH, batting .305, to end his career.
The Skydome and the Last Days of the Ex
The Skydome opened for baseball on June 5, 1989. The park would be home to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Toronto Argonauts, numerous concerts and of course, as many Monster Truck shows as they could cram in at the time. It was celebrated as the future while all the while it was the past- owing more to cookie cutter, artificial turf, relics, like those found in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh at the time. The Skydome was out of date at inception with the next Major League Baseball stadium to be built being Baltimore’s beautiful, timeless, baseball only facility, Camden Yards.
Almost every new MLB park that followed further served to render the Skydome an antiseptic, cement and blue plastic, behemoth with a gimmicky roof void of character.
With the opening of the Skydome the Ex became largely dormant save for being used as a racetrack or parking lot on occasion as well as continuing to host concerts. The last concert held at the Ex before it was demolished in 1999 appears to have been August 28, 1994, with, I think, the perfect artist ending the Ex’s career as a concert venue- Michael Bolton.
In many ways the move from Exhibition Stadium to the Skydome defined an era in Toronto baseball with many the team’s most vital pieces having just moved on, or about move on, from the Jays fold. Vital pieces like Tony Kubek.
Tony Kubek and Reconciling the 1985 Loss
The Toronto Star once said of Wisconsin native Tony Kubek, “He educated a whole generation of Canadian baseball fans without being condescending or simplistic.” But it was more than that. Kubek didn’t pontificate, he didn’t look for hot takes, he loved to dig into the ebbs and flows of performance, he didn’t feel compelled to contort baseball to be anything more or less than what it was to support an emotional need, he instead sought the truth by continuing to observe and evolve. So it was that where many baseball experts saw the crescent, Kubek saw the whole of the moon.
Of course there was also Kubek’s White Whale– the wind and by extension, fate. The twin pillars of Kubek’s commentary were first- Performance. How performance could evolve/devolve gradually and by great leaps. Second, Fate. How random interventions of fate could alter the course of an at bat, a game, a career. To know more about Kubek’s playing career is to be further informed of his intimate knowledge of how quickly, and by how much, moments and careers could be altered by even the tiniest of things- for instance, a bad hop.
Without ever saying it, Kubek’s general matter of fact delivery showcased a deep understanding of what most defines winning and losing in sports- The design. Somebody has to win, somebody has to lose. It’s something we rarely talk about because, well, it’s not as romantic or inflammatory, not as emotionally fulfilling, to embrace. It is the reality however. But recognizing the fundamental nature of a game that has to end with both a winner and loser, regardless of the merits of both teams, provides a much more honest context to appreciate those profound moments when an uncertain combination of, excellence, failure, the wild and the whacky, intercedes, in whole or and in part, to contribute to defining who wins and who loses.
Take Game Seven of the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game itself is best remembered for the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski’s 10th inning, walk off, home run to win it. The twist of fate that may have played the biggest part in the Pirates victory though didn’t happen in extra innings, rather a few innings earlier.
24-year-old Tony Kubek was the starting shortstop on the Yankees in 1960, batting .333 in the World Series, coming off the finest regular season of his career where he hit .273 with 14 Home Runs. The Yankees were up 7-4 in the bottom of the eighth, Gino Cimoli on first, nobody out, Bill Virdon at the plate.
“It was an automatic double play ball if it didn’t take that bad hop.”
Tony Kubek was bent to receive the second hop from Bill Virdon’s, “automatic double play ball,” when the second hop clearly hit something, changing its’ trajectory, causing it to suddenly, wildly, veer up and into Kubek’s throat. Instead of being up by three with two out, nobody on, the Yankees were up by three, nobody out, runners on first and second. Kubek, unable to catch his breath, was forced to to leave the game. The Pirates would score five runs in the inning.
That injury to Kubek would never heal properly and directly lead to a premature end (age 29) to a promising career.
However cheated Kubek may have been in his playing career he made up for it with a singularly great broadcasting career. While Kubek’s baseball broadcasting career was dynamic and influential across the United States, for those of us in Southern Ontario, Kubek’s work on CTV from 1977 through 1989 not only educated, it elevated our appreciation for what was happening within a baseball game. Appropriately his time working for the Jays aligns with a certain under appreciated era in the team’s history, ending just before the team won its’ first World Series.
In the end Kubek left us with something profound. A lesson in how to aggressively pursue the truth in an event while humbly accepting the likelihood of ambiguity colouring the core of its’ meaning. That’s a big thing to pass along to people.
Take the Jim Sundberg triple in Game 7. The happening can be looked at a million ways- a mediocre pitch from an exhausted pitcher the Royals were seeing for the third time in nine days, a nice bit of hitting aided to an extent by the wind, an almost-home-run save for Barfield inadvertently pushing the fence back, but the reality is it was a triple that sealed the series. Whatever it was it certainly wasn’t a, “fucking pop up.”
The nature of the 80s era team is often defined by the question- Did they fail to come up big when it counted due to some tragic defect in their makeup? And the answer has been accepted as- Yes. However, the deeper you dig into the 1985 series as it played out it seems ridiculous that is the defining question. There’s really little to nothing within the games that indicates a fatal flaw. The Jays played great defence, largely got solid pitching, and a significant contingent of their team had very good series. Kansas City won one more game than Toronto. We can talk about how great George Brett was, some timely hitting, some timely pitching but the main reason why they won was- Somebody had to. Even when two great teams face each other- somebody has to win, somebody has to lose.
When Kubek considered the visage of Bobby Cox looking out at the dying light of a game, a series, he was about to lose, he knew knowing the right answer was all about knowing the right question-
How does it feel to finally get to the playoffs and lose something of substance?
And so were we all. Beautifully, finally, heartbroken.
The home team doesn’t want to get beat if they can help it but as George Brett once said, “Sometimes they can’t help it though…”
(All pictures via Wikipedia)