TORONTO -- Outside of the Blue Jays’ runs in the 1980s, their World Series years and the young core you see today, there’s been plenty of space in between for players you might have forgotten.
For many, Toronto was a stopover. Take Roger Clemens, who spent the 1997 and ’98 seasons in Toronto, putting up two of the most dominant seasons by any player in club history, winning a Cy Young Award in each. When we talk about The Rocket’s career, though, those Blue Jays years are never at the forefront.
Going a little deeper, here are some former Blue Jays we don’t always remember:
OF Jose Canseco, 1998
Canseco came to Toronto, launched 46 home runs and left. His power numbers in ’98 still rank among the best in club history, but it’s rarely mentioned among names who set down roots in Toronto. The Blue Jays actually went 88-74 that season -- powered by Clemens, Canseco, Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green -- but missed the postseason. Canseco went on to play three more seasons in the big leagues before retiring with 462 career home runs, ranking him 37th all-time.
2B/3B Danny Ainge, 1979-81
Yes, that Danny Ainge. A 15th-round pick of the Blue Jays ’77, Ainge played parts of three seasons with the club, hitting .220 with two home runs in 211 games. After the ’81 season, Ainge chose to play basketball after being drafted by the Boston Celtics. He made the right choice, as Ainge went on to play 1,042 NBA games, won two NBA championships, then became the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.
DH Vladimir Guerrero, 2012
Vladdy’s dad ended his Hall of Fame career with the Blue Jays’ organization, attempting to crack the big leagues one last time after spending ’11 with the Orioles. It looked like Guerrero might do it, as he hit four home runs over 12 games between Class A Advanced and Triple-A that year, but he was eventually released. Seven years later, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. debuted with the Blue Jays as baseball’s No. 1 prospect.
OF Mookie Wilson, 1989-81
Wilson played 12 MLB seasons, mostly with the Mets, and you might know him as the batter who rolled a ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. A few years later, the Blue Jays acquired Wilson via trade, and he spent the final three seasons of his career with Toronto.
RHP Phil Niekro, 1987
Niekro pitched 24 seasons in the big leagues, winning 316 games and topping 300 innings in four seasons. The knuckleballer earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but one of his final stops came in Toronto in ’87. After starting the year in Cleveland, Niekro was dealt to Toronto on Aug. 9 where he made three starts with an 8.25 ERA before being released on Aug. 31.
OF Eric Thames, 2011-12
Before Thames became one of the KBO’s biggest stars, before his triumphant return to MLB with the Brewers and before the impressive beard, he was a Blue Jays prospect. Thames broke through in ’11 and hit .257 with 15 homers and a .735 OPS over parts of two seasons with the club, but he was eventually dealt to the Mariners for Steve Delabar.
OF Otis Nixon, 1996
Nixon played until he was 40, and one of his nine MLB stops was with the Blue Jays in ’96. The veteran hit .286 that season over 125 games, and even scraped over one of his 11 career home runs in an April game against Detroit’s Greg Gohr.
OF Willie Cañate, 1993
Here’s a throwback to the ’93 World Series team, which was the only MLB team Cañate was a part of. Then 21, Cañate appeared in 38 games in the regular season and famously had one postseason appearance. Cañate came on as a pinch-runner in Game 5 for Pat Borders, who’d just singled off Curt Schilling to lead off the eighth inning. Cañate soon got caught in a rundown between third and home, though, and the Blue Jays lost 2-0.
2B Dave McKay, 1977-79
McKay was the first Canadian to play for the Blue Jays, starting at third base on April 7, 1977, at Exhibition Stadium. McKay went 2-for-4 that day and played three seasons with the Blue Jays, eventually finishing his eight-year MLB career with the A’s. McKay is now the first-base coach for the D-backs.
LHP Denis Boucher, 1991
In Boucher, we have one of the very few Canadian-born players who spent time with both the Blue Jays and Expos in their career. Boucher started seven games for the Blue Jays in ’91 and later finished his MLB career in Montreal, before then moving into a pitching coach role with the Canadian National Team in ’03.