The Toronto Blue Jays became the second MLB franchise based in Canada in 1977. We look at their best upgrade and worst downgrade since joining the Majors.
We’ve reached the end of our week-long series here at Tip of the Tower, where we look at the best upgrade and worst downgrade by Toronto and Buffalo sports teams. It only seems fitting to end with the Toronto Blue Jays, as their shortened season begins on July 24.
The team they currently have is filled with young, exciting talent who could very well become All-Stars within a few years, but first let’s take a trip down memory lane. We go back to the days when Toronto was trying to find their way in MLB, before one executive develop the team into a consistent contender.
Then, we look at the downgrade which came following the Blue Jays’ championship days. Some say after those days, a dark cloud slowly began to hover around Toronto, all thanks to management.
The biggest upgrade in franchise history
After his playing days were over, Pat Gillick became the assistant farm director for the Houston Colt 45’s. After scouting with Houston, Gillick was hired as the New York Yankees’ scouting director in 1974.
The Hall of Fame executive became the Blue Jays’ vice president of player personal in 1976. He quickly moved into the role of general manager, building the Blue Jays into a powerhouse over the next seven seasons.
Gillick would lead Toronto to five AL East titles, 11 consecutive winning seasons, and two back-to-back World Series championships. The Blue Jays went 1,352-1,297 in his 17 seasons as general manager from 1978 to 1994.
Toronto’s growth from the 1980s to the early 90s is all thanks to some of Gillick’s most famous moves. He always knew the club needed one final piece to the puzzle after falling short with those teams from the 80s.
The push to make the team contenders didn’t happen until 1990. The Blue Jays sent Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. Gillick would also acquire Devon White from the Angels.
There were other great trades, too, like acquiring Juan Guzman from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987, then adding Jack Morris and Dave Winfield before the 1992 run. Trading for David Cone came at a cost, as the Blue Jays sent Jeff Kent to the New York Mets.
For the 1993 run, Gillick managed to sign Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart, while trading for the best base stealer ever, Ricky Henderson. Gillick also brought back fan favourite Fernandez for the stretch run.
The upgrade: Pat Gillick as Blue Jays general manager.
The worst downgrade in franchise history
The worst downgrade came down two to different general managers, Gord Ash and J.P. Ricciardi. Both are responsible for making some head-scratching moves, but we’ll focus on Ash.
Ash was promoted to general manager after the abrupt end of the 1994 season, as Gillick left town to become the Baltimore Orioles’ general manager. Ash had his hands tied in many ways during his Toronto Blue Jays tenure, but his biggest mistakes could be attributed to his own indecisiveness.
Ash made moves with extremely talented players, trading John Olerud, Juan Guzman, Woody Williams, Shawn Green, and Roger Clemens and turning them into Robert Robert Person, Joey Hamilton, Raul Mondesi, and David Wells. Eventually, Mike Sirotka, but that was a disastrous experiment.
Ash’s free agent signings include Clemens, Erik Hanson, Benito Santiago, Randy Meyers, and Jose Canseco. Aside from Clemens, the rest of the high profile players produced mediocre results.
The argument could be made that Ash was mistreated due to an aging team and an ownership situation soon to be inherited. However, he failed to live up to expectations of the multiple challenges in front of him. His poor decision-making and short-term thinking, and lack of ownership support seem more reasonable.
When Ash was fired on October 2, 2001, club president Paul Godfrey told reporters he felt it was time to change the “culture, emotional makeup and attitude of the club.” Yikes.
The downgrade: Pat Gillick to Gord Ash as Blue Jays general manager.
What are your thoughts on the Toronto Blue Jays’ top moment in franchise history? Is there another one that should be considered? Similarly, is there another forgettable moment which should be included? Let us know in the comments below.