TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have produced some of baseball’s greatest debut seasons over the past four-plus decades, but they’ve also seen plenty of stars return for encores later in their careers.
Here is a look at some of the best second acts in Toronto history, starting with a franchise great who had four separate stints with the club:
1. SS Tony Fernandez (1993, '98-99, 2001)
Fernandez was the concert that refused to end in Toronto, with three encores after his initial stint with the Blue Jays from 1983-90. One of the club’s all-time greats was dealt to the Padres with Fred McGriff in 1990 for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, a trade that would help propel Toronto to back-to-back World Series championships. It’s only fitting that the Blue Jays brought him back for their second one, re-acquiring Fernandez from the Mets in June of '93 for the stretch run. Over 94 games after re-joining the club that season, Fernandez went on one of the best runs of his Major League career, hitting .306 with an .803 OPS.
After bouncing to the Reds, Yankees and Cleveland over the next three seasons, Fernandez found his way back to Toronto for a third time in 1998 and quickly put up the two best offensive seasons of his career. His finest came in '99, when Fernandez hit .328 with an .877 OPS. In 2001, after being released midseason by the Brewers, Fernandez signed back with the Blue Jays for the fourth and final time. In classic Fernandez fashion, he hit .305 over his final 48 games with the organization.
2. RHP Dave Stieb (1998)
Stieb was one of the game’s great pitchers in the 1980s, but injuries caught up to him in the early ‘90s and, by '93, he retired.
For four years, from 1994-97, Stieb did not play professional baseball. Then, in '98, he came to Spring Training as a guest instructor. Stieb slowly started to feel that he had something left as he threw to hitters, so he was shifted over to the club’s Minor League camp in March and he stayed in Florida to build back up when the season began. Stieb pitched well at Triple-A, and in June of '98, he got the call back to the Majors and debuted, once again, out of the bullpen in a game against the Orioles. Stieb posted a 4.83 ERA that season over 50 1/3 innings at age 40, an incredible end to an exceptional career.
3. RHP Pat Hentgen (2004)
Hentgen starred for the Blue Jays through the 1990s, winning two World Series rings and the American League Cy Young Award in '96. After nine seasons, though, Hentgen was dealt to the Cardinals along with Paul Spoljaric in exchange for Alberto Castillo, Matt DeWitt and Lance Painter.
After a year with St. Louis and three with Baltimore, Hentgen signed back with Toronto in 2004, the final season of his career at age 35. The numbers weren’t there, as Hentgen posted a 6.95 ERA over 80 1/3 innings, but one of the organization’s best right-handed pitchers finished his career back in the uniform he started in.
4. LHP David Wells (1999-2000)
Following the Roger Clemens years, Toronto made another splashy veteran signing by bringing back left-hander Wells. Originally a second-round Draft pick of the Blue Jays in 1982, Wells pitched the first six seasons of his career for Toronto.
Wells was coming off an excellent season in 1998 with the Yankees, where he’d finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting and was named to his second All-Star Game. Over the next two seasons with the Blue Jays, Wells posted a 4.47 ERA over 461 1/3 innings, earning another third-place Cy Young Award finish in 2000.
5. OF Shannon Stewart (2008)
Stewart’s first nine seasons with the Blue Jays have always been underrated and deserving of more accolades than they received at the time. Especially from 2000-03, Stewart was hitting for average, stealing bases and contributing some power, making him a valuable, all-around piece of those Toronto clubs.
After parts of four seasons with the Twins and one with the A’s, Stewart returned to the Blue Jays at 34 for his final Major League season. Over 52 games, Stewart hit .240 with a .628 OPS, but he was released in August.
6. INF Alfredo Griffin (1992-93)
Griffin’s return was well timed, as he came back to the Blue Jays just in time to win the second and third World Series rings of his career. Griffin has the rare designation of playing for Toronto in three different decades, too, as his first stint began in 1979 and carried into the early '80s.