TORONTO -- With the release of the 2021 ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the debate begins again around who will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The Blue Jays don’t have a leading candidate they can claim fully as their own, but many players who spent parts of their career in Toronto are up for consideration, including Roger Clemens (1997-98), Scott Rolen (2008-09), Omar Vizquel (2012) and Mark Buehrle (2013-15).
Roberto Alomar was Toronto's first Hall of Famer in 2011, while the late Roy Halladay entered Cooperstown without a team logo on his plaque as a tribute to both the Blue Jays and Phillies organizations.
Here’s a look at the five best Blue Jays who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Players must be officially retired, which excludes franchise great José Bautista for now.
1) Right-hander Dave Stieb (1979-92, '98)
Key fact: Blue Jays’ all-time leader in wins (175), starts (408) and innings (2,873)
Stieb’s greatness is appreciated by Blue Jays fans -- particularly those who watched the right-hander pitch through the 1980s -- but his name still doesn’t receive the respect it deserves around baseball.
The seven-time All Star won 175 games for the Blue Jays and was one of the league’s most dominant starters for a decade. Whether you prefer sustained success or peaks of greatness, Stieb has something to satisfy your argument.
Through the 1980s, Stieb averaged 33 starts and nearly 233 innings per season with a 3.32 ERA. Narrowing down to a four-year peak from 1982-85, Stieb threw nearly 275 innings per season with a 2.91 ERA. The righty later seized the big moment he had chased and come close to so many times, as he threw a no-hitter against Cleveland on Sept. 2, 1990. Stieb had taken a no-hitter into the ninth inning three times before, losing all three in the final frame, but that accomplishment still ranks among the greatest individual moments in franchise history.
2) First baseman Carlos Delgado (1993-2004)
Key fact: Delgado leads all Blue Jays hitters with 336 home runs (473 career)
Another Blue Jays great whose career remains underrated, Delgado deserved better than to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year, receiving only 3.8 percent of votes.
If Delgado had snuck another 27 home runs over the wall to reach that magic number of 500, perhaps it would be a slightly different conversation, but there’s no denying that the power-hitting Puerto Rican was one of baseball’s best offensive talents for over a decade.
Delgado remains the name that this next wave of Blue Jays stars will be chasing in the club’s record books, topping all hitters in home runs (336), RBIs (1,058), doubles (343), walks (827) and OPS (.949). Power is what Delgado was known for, but his plate approach and pure hitting talent are what made him special.
Much like Stieb, Delgado checks off both boxes when it comes to sustained success and elite peaks. His best season with the Blue Jays came in 2000, when he hit .344 with a .470 on-base percentage, 41 home runs, 137 RBIs and a 1.134 OPS. In an era when the Blue Jays were typically on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, Delgado was the bright spot. He continued his success with the Marlins and Mets for five more seasons after his first 12 with the Blue Jays to round out an incredible career.
3) Shortstop Tony Fernandez (1983-90, '93, '98-99, 2001)
Key fact: Fernandez is the club’s all-time leader in games played (1,450) and hits (1,583)
Fernandez’s fascinating career spanned seven organizations, but he’ll always be known as the Blue Jays shortstop. After beginning his career in Toronto in 1983, Fernandez returned three more times, the latest in 2001, when he finished his career at age 39.
Baseball fans of a certain age -- and certainly Blue Jays fans -- grew up trying to recreate Fernandez’s famous throws across the diamond in their backyards, typically across his body as he ranged deep into the hole.
“He didn't do things by the book,” said Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez, who played with Fernandez and later managed him. “He made up things and I think that's what kids liked about him. Kids could go out on the field and say, 'This is what Tony Fernandez would do,' and throw an off-balance throw or make a backhanded catch.”
Valued at 43.5 fWAR over his career, Fernandez doesn’t offer up the dominant, MVP Award-type seasons, but his consistency and defensive skill will be remembered. Fernandez died early in 2020 at the age of 57 after suffering a stroke while battling kidney issues.
4) First baseman John Olerud (1989-1996)
Key fact: Olerud leads all Blue Jays hitters with a career .395 on-base percentage
Olerud jumped right to the Major Leagues after the Blue Jays drafted him in 1989, skipping the Minor Leagues entirely, and his talent warranted it. Few hitters in baseball had a plate approach that rivalled Olerud when he was at his best, making him an on-base machine for Toronto over eight seasons before he went on to play for the Mets, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox over a 17-year career.
Olerud’s power wasn’t overwhelming, but he was a pure hitter from the left side. That was on full display in his incredible 1993 run, when he kept his average above .400 as late as Aug. 2, before eventually hitting .363 with a 1.072 OPS. He finished third in American League MVP Award voting that season behind only Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor. Add in two World Series rings and a strong postseason performance over 66 career games and the full picture of Olerud’s career is very impressive.
5) Left fielder George Bell (1981, '83-1990)
Key fact: Bell won the AL MVP Award in 1987
Bell spent just one year on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1999 (1.2 percent of votes), and while his case would have been strengthened if he’d been able to play deeper into his 30s to build his counting stats, Bell’s peak was very impressive.
In that 1987 MVP Award season, Bell hit .308 with 47 home runs, 134 RBIs and an OPS of .957. Along with Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield, Bell helped to make that outfield one of the best position groups in the history of the franchise, earning himself a spot on the Blue Jays Level of Excellence.