A New Look For the Blue Jays?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2011.


It may be back to the future time for the Blue Jays.

Based on a leaked image picked up by the “athletics aesthetics” website Uni Watch, the 2012 Blue Jays may adopt a variation of the iconic logo the team used during its first two decades. While the version making the rounds of the internet lacks the baseball backdrop of the original version, sites like The Score are reporting that their sources indicate a ball will be part of the final design.

The Star, who asked its readers to design a new Blue Jays uniform last month, notes that a change has been in the works, but the organization has kept a tight lid on what they’ve devised. When we contacted the team’s communications department this morning, they expressed surprise about the potential new look. As an employee put it succinctly, the logo was “news to me.”

Going back to a variant on the original logo makes sense for the Blue Jays, as the 2012 season marks the team’s 35th anniversary. The design could invoke nostalgic memories among fans that the generic current logo likely never will, especially if those flashbacks involve the championship teams of the early 1990s.

Who knows, maybe Blue Jays–branded junk food will also make a comeback.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Jumping Jays

Originally published on Torontoist on June 15, 2011.

1989 Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

Tony Fernandez had good reason to jump for the Star’s camera in 1989: when today’s ad was first seen by the original owner of this scorebook, the Jays were transforming what appeared to be a long, losing season into an American League East title.

The filled-out scoresheet in the magazine shows that on May 16, 1989, the Jays came back from a 6-0 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians 7-6. It was interim manager Cito Gaston’s second victory in a row after replacing Jimy Williams the previous day. Under Williams, the Jays had won 12 of their first 36 games, which led to merciless booing from the fans in Exhibition Stadium. According to general manager Pat Gillick, Williams’s biggest problem was “He was too nice a guy and too honest a person. Sometimes players don’t like the truth.” The Star observed that few players were upset by the manager’s dismissal—before Williams’s final game, a louder-than-normal card game was played in the team clubhouse.


The scorecard for the May 16, 1989 Blue Jays-Indians game. Note that the card was printed before the managerial change.

The Star guessed that the top candidates to permanently replace Williams were former Yankee skipper Lou Piniella and Syracuse Chiefs manager Bob Bailor. The paper treated Gaston as a temporary fill-in, an impression furthered by his claim that while he’d like to manage someday, he was happy as batting coach. “I don’t know what I’d do if it were offered to me,” he told the paper.

Star sports columnist John Robertson had the following thoughts about Gaston:

Nothing would please me more than to see Cito Gaston go undefeated during his 10-day appointment as interim manager. But I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting the job on a permanent basis. He saw first-hand what it did to Jimy. And Cito Gaston is far too nice a guy to end up with Jimy’s ulcers.

Robertson was probably pleased when, following hefty compensation demands from the Yankees if the Jays tried to hire Piniella, Gaston lost the “interim” tag from his job description on May 31. The hiring proved effective, as the Jays ended the season in first place with 89 wins and 73 losses.

Additional material from the May 16, 1989, and May 17, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.

Sparky’s Start

Originally published on Torontoist on November 5, 2010.


1960 Topps baseball card of Sparky Anderson, the year he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as a player.

George “Sparky” Anderson, who died yesterday, will be remembered in the baseball world for many things. The pennants he won as a manager with the “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati during the 1970s and with the Detroit Tigers in the 1980s. His colourful and creative interpretation of the English language that helped sportswriters fill columns. The feisty, entertaining spirit he brought to the game that endeared him to fans, including many in southwestern Ontario who followed the Tigers.

His leadership abilities were evident during his playing days with the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, who offered him his first opportunity to demonstrate his managerial skills.

Following his sole stint as a player in the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, Anderson’s contract was sold to the Toronto Maple Leafs minor league club in early 1960. He spent the next four seasons as the team’s second baseman. General Manager Frank Pollock noted the high number of “smartest player in the league” awards Anderson had received from rival managers and, with the player’s prospects of returning to the majors growing dimmer, intended to offer him the manager’s post for the 1963 season.

However, the team had entered into a relationship with the Milwaukee Braves and were assigned Bill Adair as manager, so Anderson continued on as a player and was given additional coaching duties to test his potential. Adair moved on to Denver after the season and many observers figured that Anderson, who had won a Silver Glove Award for his fielding, would fill the vacancy. That the prematurely greying twenty-nine-year-old kept his family in Toronto over the winter only fuelled speculation.


Sparky Anderson as a Maple Leaf. Image courtesy of Mop Up Duty.

The suspense ended on January 7, 1964. Anderson’s hiring was announced amid uncertainty surrounding the team’s ownership after Jack Kent Cooke put the franchise up for sale (the buyers wound up being a local group). When asked if he would continue to guard second base, Anderson replied “I’d rather manage than try to play and manage, and perhaps do both badly.” On the faith management had shown him over the past year, Anderson said “Pollock shows a lot of guts in hiring me even now. After all, I’m a rookie manager moving in at a Triple A level instead of apprenticing in the lower minors.” However, he felt confident in his own abilities, boasting “I think I’m going to be a good manager, even outstanding. We won’t know until September. If we don’t win the pennant then this team will have a new manager next year.”

One of Anderson’s first tasks was to raise sagging morale and increase dwindling attendance. “I want to have a running club,” he said. “We’ll go for the hit and run and stolen base rather than sticking with stodgy, stereotyped play. It’s my opinion that we can get fans back in the park if we entertain them with a daring team that’s ready to run the opposition out of the park.”

His efforts paid off early, as overall attendance nearly doubled for the team’s first dozen home games compared to 1963. Community outreach efforts such as regular Saturday morning coaching clinics at Maple Leaf Stadium—whenever the team was at home—helped boost those numbers. Anderson offered his assistance to local baseball leagues through occasional clinics or, in the case of the Kingsway Baseball Association, serving as an honorary official. As one league secretary in Scarborough told the Globe and Mail that June, “Sparky’s never too busy to help the kids. He’s in a tough pennant race, but he took time recently to talk to our atoms and peewees. You have to go with a pro who has time for kids.”

The 1964 season ultimately proved a disappointment for the team. A series of mid-season slumps seemed to rule them out of contention for a playoff spot and earned Anderson criticism from the team brass. A late surge offered hope, but the team’s playoff dreams were dashed on the final day of the season with a loss to the Rochester Red Wings. Despite the team’s winning record (82 wins, 70 losses), a fifth-place finish resulted in rumours about Anderson’s imminent demise. The manager remained upbeat and thanked Pollock for the opportunity. He admitted that “Toronto has almost become a home for me and my family. We’ve had five wonderful years up here. And we have made many fine friends where we live in Scarboro.”

Sparky’s prediction at the start of the season came true on November 27, when he was fired. Pollock resigned the same day. Before his departure, Pollock predicted that, despite the season just passed, Anderson would be a major league manager within five years. He wasn’t far off the mark: in 1970, Anderson marked his first season in the big time by leading the Cincinnati Reds to the National League pennant.

Additional material from Baseball’s Back in Town by Louis Cauz (Toronto: Controlled Media, 1977) and the January 7, 1964, February 18, 1964, and September 15, 1964 editions of the Globe and Mail.



“Sitting on fence: Sparky Anderson, manager of Detroit Tigers, isn’t willing to bet on Astros-Mets.” Photo by Doug Griffin, 1979. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

Sparky Anderson was the first major league baseball manager I was aware of. I began following the sport soon after the Detroit Tigers hired him in 1979. His face graced the scorebooks my Dad brought home from the annual teacher outing to Tiger Stadium, and I’d see him on the pre-game show or local TV ads. His presence in the Tigers dugout was a constant during my formative years, and it seemed like he’d be there forever–elementary school, high school, university. His departure from Detroit in 1995 coincided with my declining interest in the game.

When he died in 2010, I figured my familiarity with the latter half of his career would help me appreciate his first managerial job in Toronto. It also helped it was a slow day at my office job, so I spent the afternoon quickly grabbing archival stories. My speed at this sort of thing came in handy over the years, turning around such pieces within a day or less. I’ve occasionally made pre-emptive moves when famous people with Toronto ties have been in grave health (there are several musicians I have decent files on), but being that prepared feels ghoulish.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Ee-Yah Drinks Coca-Cola

Originally published on Torontoist on August 10, 2010.
The Globe, August 10, 1910.

Baseball Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings earned the nickname “Ee-Yah” for one of his favourite shouts whenever he took the field. While shouting, jumping, and other tactics entertained fans, we’re guessing he kept these habits in reserve while practicing law in the off-season.

The drawing in this ad captures the enthusiasm Jennings brought to the game, whether it was as a star shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s or as manager of the Detroit Tigers from 1907 to 1920. The 1910 season marked the first time during Jennings’s reign with the Tigers that the team failed to reach the World Series (which may have been for the best, considering the team failed to win the ultimate baseball prize during any of those series). One of Jennings’s Baltimore teammates, fellow Hall of Famer Joe Kelley, managed the Toronto Maple Leafs during this period and led the team to International League titles in 1907 and 1912.

Coca-Cola launched its Canadian operations in 1906, when the emerging soda giant began bottling at 65-67 Bellwoods Avenue. The company got off to a rocky start locally when the property’s previous owner was sued over an unpaid commission when the property sold. The defendant claimed the plaintiff was not just a real estate broker but an agent of Coca-Cola, and as such paying a $250 commission constituted fraud. The plaintiff won round one of litigation in February 1906, but the defendant won his appeal at Osgoode Hall two months later.

Additional material from the April 20, 1906 edition of the Globe.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Just What Blue Jays Fans Ordered

Originally published on Torontoist on April 13, 2010.


Source: Toronto Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine, Volume 4, Number 11, 1980.

Thanks to your friendly neighbourhood Dominion store, budding Blue Jays fans in 1980 could extend their love of their favourite baseball team to the culinary items usually associated with the sport. If the kids couldn’t make it to Exhibition Stadium, they could pretend they were at the ballpark merrily munching on hot dogs and chips while watching or listening to a game. Proud parents might find this a great opportunity to take a picture of their junior Jays, though the kids could lose patience after being forced to hold a bag of popcorn for fifteen minutes.

The 1980 home opener was scheduled for April 14, but heavy rain, high winds, and bone-chilling temperatures led to its cancellation. Fans were used to lousy weather to start the season—as spectator Lorne Leboeuf told the Star, “I’ve been down to all four of these opening days and I come expecting the worst. Today I got it. Even before they called it, though, I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to get ‘into’ the game. The weather sure knocks the enthusiasm out of you.”

Two days later, despite windy, one-degree weather, the Jays strode onto the field and clobbered the Milwaukee Brewers 11–2. Just over twelve thousand fans saw Dave Stieb pitch a complete game where he struck out five Brewers and gave up only six hits. Third baseman Roy Howell started the scoring with a two-run homer, then turned two double plays with new second baseman Damaso Garcia. The playing conditions were an adjustment to Garcia, who had been acquired in off-season from the Yankees: “that was the coldest weather I’ve ever played in.”

The Jays hovered around the .500 mark until June then stumbled for the rest of the season. Though they finished in the American League East basement for the fourth season in a row, 1980 marked the first time the team lost fewer than one hundred games as they finished with a 67–95 record.

Additional material from the April 10, 1980 and April 17, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Thrifty Jays

Originally published on Torontoist on October 6, 2009.


1980 Blue Jays Scorebook Magazine.

While Blue Jays fans may bemoan the disappointments of the past season, at least this year’s squad didn’t stink as badly as their predecessors thirty years ago. The 1979 edition of the bluebirds was the worst in team history, with a record of fifty-three wins and one-hundred-and-nine losses. Chances were good that the shirt modelled by outfielder Rick Bosetti could have performed better on the field than most of that year’s lineup.

As Stephen Brunt noted in his history of the Blue Jays, Diamond Dreams, Bosetti was “a player blessed with more charisma and chutzpah than talent. But on a very bad team that was more than enough to make him stand out. It was Bosetti who became the first Blue Jay to publish a book under his name [Rick Bosetti’s Baseball Book, a guide on how to watch the game], which in retrospect seems like an act of colossal hubris.” Bosetti played every game of the 1979 season and had a career year, knocking in eight home runs and sixty-five RBIs to go with his .260 batting average.

Among Bosetti’s flakier habits was his desire to water the grounds of all of the natural grass fields in major league baseball…the natural way. As he told a reporter in 1979, “I’ve gotten all the American League parks. That’s why I want inter-league play. To water that beautiful grass in Wrigley Field would be a dream come true.” An outline of Bosetti’s watering technique was later provided in The Baseball Hall of Shame 2:

Bosetti claimed that he wet the grass without a hose only in pre-game warm-ups when there were no fans in the park. But it was an open secret around the league that he did it during games while pitching changes were being made. He wanted to prove that he could take a leak before thousands of fans and not be noticed. He accomplished this feat by turning to the outfield wall and putting his glove in front of his waist.

Bosetti stayed with the Blue Jays through 1981 and retired a year later after a stint with the Oakland Athletics. He later served as the mayor of Redding, California, where we hope he didn’t take a deep personal involvement in the city’s groundskeeping budget.

Additional material from Diamond Dreams by Stephen Brunt (Toronto: Penguin, 1996) and The Baseball Hall of Shame 2 by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (New York: Pocket Books, 1986).

Vintage Toronto Ads: Safe at Home with Rico Carty

Originally published on Torontoist on April 7, 2009.


1979 Blue Jays Scorebook Volume 3 Number 16.

“Belt it” was a concept the Ontario government and Blue Jays slugger Rico Carty were well acquainted with as the 1979 baseball season dawned. Too bad the rest of the Blue Jays played like careless drivers during that season’s opening game in Kansas City. Where the 2009 squad steamrolled over the Detroit Tigers last night, the 1979 team was like a deer caught in the headlights.

Fans in Toronto were likely relieved that they didn’t have to witness in person an 11–2 shelling by the Royals on April 5. The Globe and Mail declared that outfielder Rick Bosetti was “the smartest of Toronto’s players” for being thrown out of the game on a disputed call with a scab umpire (the men in blue were on strike as the season started). Bosetti missed out on a horrible second inning where the Royals scored nine runs off of starting pitcher Tom Underwood. Six of those runs were unearned, thanks to errors galore from the fielders. Most of the local papers showed right fielder Bob Bailor bending in an uncomfortable position after being hit by a pitch.

Carty acquitted himself well on opening day, reaching base four times. The “Beeg Mon” returned to the team in the off-season after a brief stint with the Oakland A’s towards the end of 1978. Carty’s fifteen-year career in the majors swung wildly from highs (a .366 batting average while with the Atlanta Braves in 1970) to lows (entire seasons missed at his peak due to injuries and tuberculosis). Carty hit .256 and twelve home runs for the Blue Jays in 1979, which proved to be his swan song. In the long run, Carty paved the way for future Blue Jays stars from the Dominican Republic, especially from his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris.

As for seat belts, the Ontario legislature mandated their usage in 1976, making it the first province to do so.

Additional material from the April 6, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail.