There have been many, many great Blue Jays over the years. Division championships, pennants, and World Series Trophies have come to Toronto throughout their 38-year history. Ranking the greatest players in Blue Jays history is an incredibly tough task. I gave it my best shot. Alas, my non-definitive of the top 10 Blue Jays players of all time.
- Devon White
We kick off this list with a fan-favourite, the one they called “Devo”. Devon White arrived in Toronto in 1991, having already established himself for several years on the west coast, with the California Angels. On the offensive side of the ball, White could always steal you a base, and he actually had quite a bit of power. Yet overall, you could chalk Devo up as a league-average hitter, at best. White was probably miscast as a leadoff hitter, as he was never known as one who could get on base all that often. What puts White on this prestigious list is, of course, his centerfield defense. White was an absolute pleasure to watch patrol the outfield, combining incredible range with a knack for getting a good jump off the bat. He made some of the most breathtaking catches in Blue Jays history, including his scaling of the wall during the 1992 World Series, which should have led to a triple play, if not for a missed call from the infamous umpire, Bob Davidson.
- Jimmy Key
Jimmy Key was a Jays draftee in 1982, and he marked one of their first development success stories. He moved through the system fast, and made his big league debut in 1984. Key started making a true impact just a year later, in 1985. He was not one to strike many batters out, only setting down 5.34 batters per nine innings over the course of his career. Key was successful because of his ability to limit the walks, and keep the ball down, forcing ground balls. As a result of this, home runs and extra base hits were hard to come by against Key. This allowed him to always go deep into games; he was able to throw six 200-inning seasons during the course of his Blue Jays career. Key’s best season was 1987, where he finished second in the Cy Young award voting. Adding to his Blue Jays pedigree, Key performed admirably in the playoffs, most notably in the 1992 World Series, where he was credited with 2 of the Blue Jays’ 4 wins, with an ERA of just 1.00.
- John Olerud
Olerud, a Blue Jays 3rd round pick in 1989, moved incredibly quickly through the system. He made his debut in the same year that he was drafted, an incredibly rare feat, especially for a hitter. Olerud was famous for wearing a helmet while playing first base, as well as being one of the best pure hitters in baseball. Olerud was a player ahead of his time, in the sense that he was an advanced statistician’s dream. He was never unwilling to take a walk, making him valuable even when not hitting for power. Olerud’s best season was in 1993, when he sported a slash line of .363/.473/.599, good for an OPS (on base plus slugging) of 1.072, while also setting his career high in home runs, at 24. Olerud was underappreciated in the baseball world, due to his lack of power, at a power position in first base. He was never seriously considered as a Hall of Fame candidate, despite the fact that his numbers are very comparable to some of those enshrined in Cooperstown today.
- Tony Fernandez
Fernandez, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic spent 12 seasons with the Blue Jays, over 3 different stints. He was known for his consistent, yet unspectacular bat. This consistency, along with his longevity as a Blue Jay was good enough to make him the club’s all time hits leader, a record that still stands today. Much like Devon White, what puts Fernandez on this list is his defense. Unlike White, Fernandez never won a gold glove, but his combination of terrific hands, range, and arm made it extremely difficult to get on base if the ball was hit in his general direction. His defensive genius was never fully appreciated during his time in Toronto, mainly because of the lack of accolades, but the newer defensive statistics bring light to what a superb defender Fernandez truly was. Fernandez was instrumental in the years leading up to the back-to-back World Series championships, winning the division in 1985 and 1991, before being shipped to San Diego, only to eventually return to the Jays in 1993, and help them win the second of their World Series Titles.
- Roger Clemens
It’s not often that a player that only spent two years with a team is considered an all-time franchise great. In fact, Roger Clemens may be the only exception to this in Major League history. Roger Clemens was the greatest pitcher of all time, in my opinion. He signed with Toronto in 1997, coming off of 12 brilliant seasons with the Boston Red Sox. This was not an aging superstar slowly winding down his career, which the Jays were able to pick up for a bargain. (see: Frank Thomas, Scott Rolen.) This was the greatest pitcher of all time, in the prime of his career, playing in Toronto. Clemens deservedly won the Cy Young Award in both of his seasons in Toronto, throwing 498 innings with a 2.33 ERA, in an era where balls were flying out of ballparks at an incredible pace. Clemens’ time with the Blue Jays is not talked about very often because he played in Toronto when the Jays were at their worst. Other than Clemens, the team seriously lacked talent, which made it easy for fans to completely write off the years of Clemens’ brilliance. In terms of overall value to his team, using Wins Above Replacement, Clemens’ two years in Toronto surpasses long time Blue Jays greats Tom Henke (8 seasons) and David Wells (8 seasons). If Clemens stayed in Toronto for 2-3 more years, I’d have had a hard time not putting him #1 on this list.
- Dave Stieb
Dave Stieb made his major league debut with the Blue Jays in 1979, just 2 years after the inaugural season. His impact was immediate, following up a solid rookie campaign with an incredible decade of baseball in the 1980’s. There may not have been a better pitcher during that time period. Stieb did not strike out many batters, and relied on weak contact and location for success. He was a horse out there, consistently throwing 200 innings, and even flirting with 300 a couple of times, something almost unheard of in modern baseball. Every time Stieb went to the mound, there was a good chance that he had his no-hit stuff. As a matter of fact, Stieb became famous for flirting with no-hitters throughout the 1980’s. In 1988, he lost no-hitters with 2 outs in the 9th inning in consecutive starts, the first of which was a result of a terrible hop off of a seam, making the ball bounce over the second baseman’s head, into left field. A year later, he had a perfect game going against the Yankees, again with 2 outs in the 9th, but lost it on a solid single to left. Stieb eventually did throw a no-hitter, and it remains the only no-hitter ever thrown in Blue Jays history.
- Roberto Alomar
We are entering the home stretch of the rankings, and we have arrived at our first true surprise. The only player to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Blue Jays cap. The only Blue Jay to have his number retired. Two World Series Championships. Roberto Alomar is widely considered, by fans, to be the greatest Blue Jay of all time. Alomar was a Blue Jay from 1991-1995, and failed to hit .300 in just one of those years. He had a great eye at the plate, and sported some power. He was a feared base-stealer, and an excellent base runner. He won 10 gold glove awards, 5 of which came during his time as a Blue Jay. The baseball world generally considered him an elite defender, and to the naked eye, it sure seemed that way. That said, the same advanced statistics that shine light on Tony Fernandez’s defensive brilliance, show that Alomar was not quite the defender that many believed him to be. This does not take away from Alomar’s overall brilliance, but it appears that his offensive game was his true strength. Due to his defensive woes, and his lack of longevity as a Blue Jay, I just can’t put him any higher than 4th on this list. Bring on the criticism!
- Jose Bautista
We arrive at our first, and only active player on this list. Jose Bautista was acquired as a journeyman outfielder from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 for young catcher, Robinson Diaz. As they’d say, the rest was history. Expectations were low upon Bautista’s arrival, as Jays fans were really expecting a solid utility man, and maybe a low-end starter to bridge the gap for some of the prospects coming up. Then came September 2009. Over a year of working on his swing with Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy finally started to pay off, as he blasted 10 home runs. This was an encouraging sign, but we live in the world of small sample-sizes, and 10 home runs in a month from someone who had never really showed much power made people skeptical. Nonetheless, it gave the Blue Jays a reason to guarantee Bautista a starting job in 2010. Bautista picked up right where he left off in 2009, hitting home runs at an unprecedented pace. Bautista finished the season hitting 54 home runs. This was more than encouraging for the Blue Jays, but again, it was just one season, from a guy who had never hit more than 16 home runs in a season beforehand.
On to 2011, which was the season that proved that Bautista was no fluke. Pitchers started to really fear Jose, and they started giving him fewer pitches to hit. Many hitters would have started chasing pitches out of the zone (see: Chris Davis, 2014), minimizing the threat. Jose Bautista realized what was going on, and he adjusted. He started taking walks in addition to hitting home runs. Although the home runs did slightly decrease, 2011 established Bautista as an elite, pure hitter. He hit for power, he hit for average, and he got on base at a historic pace, notching a .447 OBP. Bautista deserved to be the second Blue Jay to win the MVP, but was snubbed due to team performance.
Jose has not slowed down since. He has battled some injuries, but when on the field, Bautista is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. Bautista is climbing in the Blue Jays record books in just 5 years of greatness. There has been no better 5-year stretch by a Blue Jays player than Jose Bautista from 2010 to 2015. If I revisit this list in 3 years, I’d think I’m going to have a tough time ranking Bautista anywhere other than first. Appreciate Jose Bautista, Toronto. He might be the best baseball player to ever play in this city.
- Carlos Delgado
Carlos Delgado, a Puerto Rican power-hitting first baseman, was one of the few bright spots during what was quite possibly the worst Blue Jays era ever. But don’t let this take away from his greatness. He made his debut in 1993, but didn’t begin to make a real impact until 1996, when he broke out with 25 home runs. Delgado’s game was consistency. He was a mainstay in the Blue Jays lineup from 1996 to 2004. He hit over 30 home runs in every season form 1997-2004. He was not afraid to take a walk. He owns the Blue Jays record book. Second in On Base percentage, the franchise leader in slugging percentage, first in runs scored, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI, walks, and runs created. Delgado combined talent with consistency and longevity. Fans remember him for his four home run game, the only one in franchise history. I could argue for Delgado at number one on this list all day. Carlos Delgado is the greatest hitter in Blue Jays history.
- Roy Halladay
Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay is the greatest Blue Jays of all time. First arriving with the club in 1998, Halladay made an immediate impact, coming an out away from a no-hitter in just his second career start. Jays fans were excited, and for good reason. 1999 and 2000 did not go as planned, and Halladay fell all the way back down to A ball. He was forced to reinvent himself, both mechanically and mentally. He came back with a vengeance. A new mentality helped “Doc” turn into one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He was a horse. His stuff was nasty, and his control was pinpoint. He struck out his fair share of batters, but he was not a “strikeout pitcher”. He generated a tonne of weak contact with his late-breaking cut fastball and his ability to keep hitters off-balance. He worked as fast as any pitcher in baseball. If you attended a Roy Halladay game, you could make plans 2.5 hours after first pitch with confidence. Doc consistently led the league in complete games. He threw 200 innings 6 different times in Toronto. From 2002-2009, Roy Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball, and there’s really no debate there. Doc will join Roberto Alomar as the only Blue Jays in the Hall of Fame. Doc will land on the Level of Excellence. Doc’s number 32 will be the second number retired. I repeat, Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay is the greatest Blue Jay of all time.
Thank you for reading my list. I am open to comments and criticism, so feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. You can find me on Twitter, @IB_BlueJays, and I’ll be working as a Counselor at North Toronto Baseball Camp this summer.
Isaac Boloten (@IB_BlueJays)