Confronting the Toronto Blue Jays, something opponents have enjoyed the past three years, will be different this season. The change is subtle. It will be lost on the lonely spectators in Oakland, the handful in Cleveland and the screaming mob in New York, but not on the faithful in Toronto or opposing players. The Blue Jays have a new manager who doesn’t believe in “too many rules,” and so for the first time in the club’s brief history Blue Jays won’t look like models in a High Tech ad—Blue Jays are sprouting sideburns, beards, moustaches, and their hair is spilling over their collars.
Baseball is a game peopled by men who speak in twangs (alongside a lib-
eral sprinkling of Spanish), chew tobacco and list fishing and hunting—or hunting and fishing—as hobbies. For the fan, it’s “stats,” sunshine, shirts off in bleacher seats, hotdogs and beer. When the big league arrived in Toronto, it was greeted by snow in the only ball park in the “bigs” that doesn’t sell beer. The Blue Jays were instructed on dress and behavior, and told to tip their caps in the event the fans should applaud. (One player says Toronto fans “have the worst hands in the majors.” But he isn’t talking about clapping; he’s talking about catching foul balls.) For the players, it just didn’t seem like baseball; for the fans, it was a novelty. It’s wearing off.
In their first novel season, the Jays lost 107 games; showed promise by los-
ing 102 the following year; and then last year lost 109. “Midway through last season, it appeared the players didn’t want to win, the attitude was terrible, they were giving up right and left,” says Jays President Peter Bavasi. Ball players, in twangs, Puerto Rican accents or Bronx malapropisms, all say baseball is supposed to be fun. It hasn’t been in Toronto.
The average salary in the majors is about $115,000 but players still get upset. Dissident in residence of the Blue Jays is third baseman Roy Howell. He will be a free agent at the end of this season. (His and other free agents’ right to sign with the highest bidder, without their former team being compensated, is the crux of the threatened players’ strike.) “It hasn’t been good here,” says Howell. “Young players around the league don’t want to come to Toronto, and that’s a bad sign.” But the Florida sunshine is glinting off Howell’s full red beard. “Yah, there have been changes, there’s a better atmosphere now. But it’s too late for me.”
Many thought it was too late for the new manager, Bobby Mattick, who is 64 and has never managed in the major leagues. “I turned the job down twice before I agreed. But they were persuasive, and have more guts than I do.” Bavasi hired Mattick, involved in scouting and player development since 1946, because “he relates to young players, has been one of the architects of our long-range plans and was involved with the development of the Milwaukee and Montreal clubs into contenders.” And as Bavasi puts it, the manager for the first three years, Roy Hartsfield, was “just worn out by running a team that lost so many games.”
Mattick was involved, too, in other changes. Catcher Rick Cerone, pitcher Tom Underwood and outfielder Ted Wilborn were traded to the New York Yankees for pitcher Paul Mirabella (“an adequate replacement for Underwood,” says Bavasi), rookie second baseman Damasco Garcia (“the key to the deal for us”) and blue-chip first baseman Chris Chambliss. In a position to wheel and deal either Chambliss or incumbent first baseman John Mayberry, the Jays sent Chambliss (and infielder Luis Gomez) to Atlanta for relief pitcher Joey McLaughlin (“our reports say he could be a great one, if used properly”), outfielder Barry Bonnell (“great defensively”) and infielder Pat Rockett.
That leaves the Jays weak at catcher and power-hitting, if ancient designated hitter Rico Carty can’t come through, and, like every team, in need of pitching. But there is shortstop Alfredo Griffin, co-winner of last year’s American League Rookie of the Year award. “He
will be one of the best shortstops this year, and in a few years the best in the American League,” says Mattick. Griffin is working on his throwing errors (36 last year) and base stealing. “I really made Mayberry work over at first, and guys slower than me stole more bases. I hope I can get it together this year.”
If he does there will be some fun in Toronto, and if the trades work out, the Jays may not lose 100 games. At least, this year the Jays will look more like their opponents.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.