Bobby Cox Is Headed for Cooperstown

Originally published on Torontoist on December 10, 2013.

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Bobby Cox and Jesse Barfield enjoy the amenities of flying CP Air. Advertisement, Blue Jays 1985 Scorebook Magazine.

Glancing at his statistics, you might think Bobby Cox’s four-year tenure as Blue Jays manager was a blip between two stints as skipper of the Atlanta Braves. Yet Cox, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday alongside managing peers Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, was one of the key factors in Toronto’s transition from hapless expansion team to legitimate contender.

The team Cox inherited upon assuming the reins in October 1981 had the dubious distinction of having finished in last place six times during its five-year existence (the 1981 season was split into two halves due to a mid-season player strike). General manager Pat Gillick, who worked with Cox in the Yankees farm system during the mid-1970s, described his new manager as someone dedicated to “continually building confidence rather than trying to destroy it.” While in Atlanta, Cox had developed a reputation for respecting his players, defending them whenever they upset upper management. And along with that reputation, Cox brought a coach who would prove important to Toronto’s future: Cito Gaston.

Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot described Cox’s restrained personality and handling of players:

As subject matter, Bobby Cox isn’t the sort of blabbermouth quote-hungry journalists dream about. He harbours the odd controversial opinion and an occasional colourful notion, assuredly, but keeps them to himself…To the outside world, Cox presents a beaming countenance. No silver lining escapes him. If somebody strikes out four times with men on base, Cox mentions a timely hit he smote two days earlier. A vanquished pitcher actually threw beautifully in the Coxian view but was the victim of atrocious misfortune…Cox is the kind of guy you’d want to work for, if you played baseball for a living.

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Toronto Sun, April 4, 1982.

Over four seasons, Cox oversaw the emergence of the young talent pool Gillick built up. Names like Barfield, Bell, Fernandez, Key, Moseby, Steib, and Upshaw became regulars. The results were quickly apparent—though the Jays finished last again in 1982, they tied with the Cleveland Indians and finished within a few games of the .500 mark.

The squad earned its first winning season in 1983, sitting in first place for 43 days in the tough American League East division before settling for fourth. “That summer, baseball for the first time became Toronto’s own, as those who had perhaps caught a game or two during previous seasons were suddenly glued to their televisions or radios, or were snapping up some of the nearly two million seats sold at Exhibition Stadium,” sportswriter Stephen Brunt observed in his book Diamond Dreams. “The notion of a Toronto team, a Canadian team, actually appearing in the World Series—something expansion fans can’t even dream about—suddenly seemed entirely possible.”

That possibility came tantalizingly close when the Blue Jays won their first divisional title in 1985. “The drive of ’85,” as the campaign was billed by the Star, was a tight race with the Yankees that wasn’t decided until the final week of the season. “That was as good a year as you’ll ever have in baseball,” Cox reflected years later. “Especially when you have a young team that’s never been there…The first time is the most fun. It’s the most exciting. I’ll never forget that.” Despite a heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Royals in the first round of the playoffs (the Blue Jays were up three games to one in the series before blowing it), many observers saw great things to come.

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Cartoon by Andy Donato, Toronto Sun, October 23, 1985.

Cox, though, wouldn’t be around to see that promise fulfilled. Braves owner Ted Turner had regretted his decision to axe Cox the moment he made it—during the 1981 press conference announcing the firing, Turner remarked that “the best guy for managing this team is Bobby Cox. But we can’t have Cox because I just fired him.” And a week after the Jays’ exit from the playoffs, Turner announced he had hired Cox as the Braves’ new general manager. Although Cox had enjoyed his time in Toronto, he said: “I love my own family more.” Cox’s wife and children had remained in the Atlanta area during his Jays tenure, and he frequently flew down to visit during his days off. “I’m full of regrets about leaving Toronto,” he told the Sun, “but the biggest one of all is the fact that we were unable bring the city its first World Series.”

Yet in a way, Cox did bring Toronto its first World Series. He returned to the Braves bench in 1990, transforming them into a perennial first-place finisher. Cox’s Braves had little luck in the playoffs, though, and the 1992 World Series was no exception—the Blue Jays took the championship in six games.

Additional material from Diamond Dreams by Stephen Brunt (Toronto: Penguin, 1997), the October 16, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail, the April 6, 1985 edition of theToronto Star, and the October 22, 1985 edition of the Toronto Sun.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Countdown to Opening Day

Originally published on Torontoist on February 19, 2013.

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Financial Post Magazine, March 1980.

Six weeks from today, Rogers Centre will be packed with fans eager to see if the Blue Jays will live up to their off-season hype during an opening day match with the Cleveland Indians. But back in 1980, fans could only hope that things wouldn’t get any worse. The previous year, the Jays had set a still-standing team record of 109 losses.

With the thrill of being an expansion team gone, the Jays looked to the future. New manager Bobby Mattick’s mission was to teach the first batch of prospects developed through the team’s farm system how to play in the big time. Mattick, a veteran scout known for his eye for talent, knew he was a caretaker manager who would guide the team until it was ready for contention.

The 1980 season began in Seattle, where the Blue Jays dropped three out of four games against the Mariners. The umbrella-wielding fan shown in today’s ad was well-prepared for the team’s home opener, as it was rained out. Only 7,000 fans braved 40-kilometre-per-hour winds and near-zero temperatures when the Jays finally took the field on April 16. They were rewarded for their misery with an 11–2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Jays immediately jumped into the lead thanks to a two-run homer by third baseman Roy Howell in the first inning. Starter Dave Stieb pitched a complete game, giving up only six hits.

While the team continued to occupy the American League East basement, it lost fewer than 100 games for the first time in franchise history. Names like Garcia, Moseby, Stieb, Upshaw, and Whitt began appearing regularly in the box scores. The Blue Jays had a long way to go, but there were glimmers of many future big innings.

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

UPDATE

The 2013 Blue Jays weren’t as bad as the 1980 edition, but they failed to live up to pre-season expectations. They finished in the AL East basement, with a 74-88 record.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Take a Gamble on Charles Stoneham

Originally published on Torontoist on May 15, 2012.

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Mail and Empire, April 26, 1920.

Today’s ad may be one of the least visually dazzling we’ve featured, but the man behind it didn’t lack for colour or controversy. Anyone interested in investing in northern Ontario mining stocks might have wanted a second opinion before dealing with Charles Stoneham.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1876, Stoneham entered the financial field as a clerk for a life insurance company. He established his own brokerage firm, Charles Stoneham & Co., in 1913, which eventually operated offices across North America. Though sometimes portrayed as a Wall Street broker, Stoneham ran a “bucket shop,” which allowed gamblers to place bets on stocks without actually buying or selling them, a practice that was legal until the stock market crash in 1929. Stoneham developed close ties with notorious gamblers like Arnold Rothstein, corrupt institutions like Tammany Hall, and political figures like New York governor Al Smith.

These relationships came in handy whenever his shady business dealings landed him in legal trouble. Within a year of today’s ad being first published, Stoneham closed his firm (“without explaining his motive,” according to the New York Times) and shifted investor accounts to other brokerages that quickly failed. He was eventually acquitted of charges ranging from mail fraud to perjury, though in one case a juror claimed he was intimidated into changing his vote.

In 1919, Stoneham became majority owner of the New York Giants baseball team, which he operated until his death in 1936 from Bright’s disease (or, as the Toronto Star put it, a “lingering organic disease”). He was succeeded by his son Horace, who was once described as a “knowledgeable owner who drank into the wee hours with his favourite players and others whom he considered part of the team’s family.” Horace moved the team to San Francisco after the 1957 season and was almost responsible for transplanting the franchise to Toronto. Prior to the 1976 season, Horace agreed to sell the team to a consortium that included Labatt Breweries and CIBC, but municipal officials in San Francisco erected legal blockades until owners amenable to leaving the team in the Bay Area were found. Any disappointment over Toronto’s loss of the Giants was short-lived, as a consortium with similar backers soon landed the expansion team that became the Blue Jays.

Additional material from The Ball Clubs by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella (New York: Harper Perennial 1996), the September 1, 1923 and January 7, 1936 editions of the New York Times, and the January 7, 1936 edition of the Toronto Star.

 

A New Look For the Blue Jays?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2011.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Just What Blue Jays Fans Ordered

Originally published on Torontoist on April 13, 2010.

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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.

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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).