While we Jays fans all begin the slow process of recovery from the bad news about Marcus Stroman, why not look back to the franchise’s very beginnings? Here’s a bunch of trivia about the 1977 Blue Jays:
- Bob Bailor had 523 plate appearances for the ’77 Jays and struck out only 26 times. In his career, spanning over 3200 appearances, he struck out 164 times. Ten major leaguers struck out at least that often in the 2014 season alone, including MVP Mike Trout.
- The Jays had three young catchers who, in total, played 50 years in the major leagues: Rick Cerone, Alan Ashby, and Ernie Whitt. All three of them were playing in the majors in 1989.
- By contrast, the Jays had three young pitchers whose only year in the majors was 1977:
- Jeff Byrd started 17 games, and you have to wonder why: he had an ERA of 6.18, and walked 68 men in 87 innings. He was sent to the minors the next year, got hurt, and played his last game of professional baseball in 1979, when he was just short of his 23rd birthday. Byrd was originally a second-round draft pick, so he must have been expecting more of a career than this.
- Dennis DeBarr was a 24-year-old lefthander who pitched 21 not very effective innings in 1977. In the offseason, he was traded to Cleveland for Rico Carty, which turned out to be a good deal for the Jays. Not so much for the Indians, though: like Byrd, DeBarr played his last game of pro ball in 1979. He was also originally a second-round draft pick.
- The oddly similar-sounding Mike Darr started one game for the 1977 Jays, and failed to make it out of the second inning, giving up three hits, four walks, and five runs. He did strike out one batter (Butch Hobson). Like Byrd and DeBarr, Darr last pitched in the minors in 1979; Darr’s problem was that he had no idea where the strike zone was. In his last season, Darr walked 106 men in 154 innings in class-A Kinston. His son, also named Mike Darr, played three seasons in the outfield in San Diego from 1999 to 2001, but was then killed in a car accident in spring training in 2002. According to Wikipedia, nearly the entire San Diego Padres organization was at his funeral. (The older Mike Darr is still alive – he turns 59 in less than a week.)
- The Jays used a total of 15 pitchers in 1977, which isn’t all that many. In 2014, they used 27 (if you count Steve Tolleson); in 2013, they used 31.
- Jerry Garvin, a 21-year-old lefthander, got off to a great start: after five starts, his ERA was 2.14, and he had four wins. It was downhill from there, unfortunately, mostly due to his tendency to give up long balls – he led the AL in home runs allowed with 33.
- The Jays’ best pitcher was Pete Vuckovich. Inexplicably, he was not given a regular slot in the starting rotation, despite a respectable 3.47 ERA. I can only assume that Vuckovich somehow annoyed manager Roy Hartsfield. Vuckovich later went on to win the Cy Young Award with the Milwaukee Brewers. Living well is the best revenge!
- The first Blue Jay ever was catcher Phil Roof, who was traded to the not yet existing Jays in October, 1976 for a player to be named later. (I guess it would have to have been a player to be named later, as the Jays had no players.) Roof only had five at-bats all year, and was released after the season.
- The Jays had one genuinely good offensive player in 1977: Roy Howell, who was acquired from Texas early in the year, went on to hit .318 with an on-base percentage of .386. On September 10 of that year, he drove in nine runs in a single game, which is still the Blue Jays’ club record. He never did as well after that, but lasted in the majors until 1984. He and Vuckovich were teammates on the 1982 AL champion Milwaukee Brewers. Howell is from Lompoc, California, which is a cool-sounding name.
- The Jays’ worst hitter that year was their token Canadian: Dave McKay had a .222 on-base percentage, which is really awful.
- In general, the 1977 Jays weren’t very good. They tied for last in the league in runs scored with 605 (with Oakland), and they had the second-worst team ERA, next to their fellow expansionites in Seattle. They did lead the league in one category, though: Jays pitchers hit only 20 batters, which was the lowest total in the league. This was impressive, given that they were last in the league with 62 wild pitches.