Not only was Tony Gwynn one of the top hitters in baseball history, he was also a pretty good hoopster. Tony actually skipped the baseball season in his freshman year at San Diego State to focus on basketball. During his time at SDSU he set the single game, single season and career assist record and in addition to being drafted by the Padres, he was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the NBA Draft.
This is a pretty easy selection. Danny didn’t hit much in his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he did OK once he switched to basketball full-time. He finished his career with nearly 12,000 points, more than 4,000 assists and two NBA championships. He also authored one of the great moments in NCAA tournament history.
Reed’s path was the opposite of Danny Ainge. After a standout career at Notre Dame, the 6-5 Reed was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1965 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent two season in the NBA, scoring just shy of 1,000 points. Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Reed was playing two professional sports at the same time. After finishing the 1966 NBA season, he pitched in two games for the Braves and went back to the Pistons.
Winfield was just a phenomenal athlete. In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, he was also a stud basketball player at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his career, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA. Had he chosen the ABA, he could have teamed up with Moses Malone to form a pretty solid frontcourt.
Stoddard won a state title in high school, where he teamed up with future NBA player Junior Bridgeman, and then went to N.C. State where he teamed up with David Thompson and won an NCAA title by knocking off Bill Walton and UCLA. Not too shabby.
OK, Frank Howard was a coach in 1980, but he was also an incredibly talented basketball player. Howard went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball in the 1950s. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game. In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.
Note: The following is a guest post from Matt Sammon.
I had always liked sports as a kid, although I was far from athletic, or a kid who needed to play sports 365 days a year. While I played tee ball as a youngster, and later soccer and bowling, I was perfectly content with playing with my Legos and MASK toys indoors. But around the age of 10, my interest in sports went from casual to incredibly in-depth. I suddenly had an appreciation for the rules, the history, the players, the uniforms, you name it. I absorbed everything like a sponge. And when it came to baseball, I quickly adopted the Toronto Blue Jays as my favorite team.
This was in the late 1980s, and I was living in Tampa, Florida. I had no good reason to like the Jays, especially since they were about 2,000 miles away, but like most 10-year-olds it probably had something to do with the cool 70s unis they were still wearing in the late 80s. And while most kids gravitated towards the home run hitters as their favorite players, I gravitated towards pitcher Dave Stieb, who to this day I think is one of the most underrated pitchers of the era. In a time where fastballers like Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden stole the spotlight, Stieb’s backdoor slider frustrated more than his fair share of batters.
A Magical Day
In 1991, I was able to go to a spring training game for the first time. I had been to many minor league games at Tampa’s Al Lopez Field before, but this was the first time I would see real live Major League players in front of my eyes. You have to remember before the internet, the only ways you saw your favorite team or players was on TV or in a stack of baseball cards. A family friend of ours drove me and my 11-year-old brother to Dunedin Stadium, where we would spend $6 (!) a ticket to watch the Jays play the Chicago White Sox.
Back then, the home clubhouse and dugout were on the 3rd base side, and in between the two on the end of the grandstand was a little “fan dugout” where fans could stand behind a chain linked fence to try to get autographs of players as they walked out to the field. Naturally, as a 13-year-old baseball nerd, I had my small binder of baseball cards ready to go. One of the first players to come out was the golden-mulleted Kelly Gruber, and while I was getting his autograph, a Blue Jays employee asked me how old I was. “Thirteen”, I said. The man then asked me, “Do you want to be a batboy today?”
I was stunned… this was totally unexpected. Of all the kids in that little space, why should I be the one that gets selected for such an honor? I replied, “Yeah… let me check…” My goodness, what a doofus. “Let me check?!?” Clearly I was in a state of shock. I wasn’t going to “check” with my adult guardian, I was going to tell him I was just selected to be a batboy and can you please hold on to my cards. He was as stunned as I was, and I dropped off my card book before making a beeline to the clubhouse.
Off to Work
So I’m in the clubhouse, and they give me a real spring training uniform. They give me a bag of baseballs, and tell me to sit down next to the White Sox dugout. I had no idea what to do. I had seen batboys before, and I had seen them retrieve a dropped bat, but I had never really watched what they did. So the staff informed me I had two jobs: 1) Retrieve and store the bats the players left at home plate, and 2) when the home plate umpire looked at me and put up some fingers, I was to give him that many new baseballs from the bag. Sounds simple, so of course, I screwed it up royally.
I quickly discovered the players not only didn’t have their names on the bat knobs, they didn’t even have their uniform numbers. It was the visitors’ dugout, so there were no name or even number plates on the bat rack. I asked White Sox manager Jeff Torborg what I should do with the used bats. “Ehhhhh… just lean up over there and the players will figure it out.” Suffice to say there was a pretty good stack of lumber rolling around one end of the dugout by the end of the game. But hey, at least I had a great seat to watch my favorite team and player that day. Stieb was starting, and in the first inning he caught Carlton Fisk looking with one of those backdoor sliders. The crowd goes wild, and I walk up to a retreating Fisk, waiting to take his bat and put it into the accumulating pile of unorganized bats. Fisk kept walking with his head down, gripping the bat. “Excuse me… Mr. Fisk… your bat…,” I weakly suggested. He wasn’t going to surrender, he kept walking. It was clear I was going to have to remove it from his cold dead hand.
Speaking of dead, Cory Snyder nearly decapitated me in the on-deck circle later in the game, as I heard the bat whiz next to my head while I was serving up new baseballs to the umpire. I could see the ump wince, and he told me I needed to be careful. In my dopey fan delirium, I said, “OK!”
Oldest Trick in the Book
A couple of members of the Jays’ staff saw the newbie barely getting by, and decided to have some fun. In the 5th or 6th inning, one of the staffers sat behind me and asked me to go to the Blue Jay dugout and “get the keys to the batter’s box”. Not even thinking, I went up and did it. The Jays’ players, and even manager Cito Gaston, played along. “Oh, I think the guys in the bullpen have the keys.” So of course, I jogged out to the bullpen in left field, all the while having White Sox players dig through a pile of bats and the home plate umpire getting his own baseballs. The bullpen played their part. “Are you sure they don’t have the keys in the dugout? Why don’t you go check again?” So I start heading back to the Jays dugout. “Nah, we don’t have them, we’ll look for them later.” So I trot back to my stool next to the dugout. Mission accomplished, the staffers say I did my best. Again, in my awestruck delirium, it never dawned on me that the batter’s box was the outlined box next to home plate. I totally crossed it up with the batter’s cage, which may or may not have needed keys but that was beyond the point.
I don’t remember much else of the game, other than Stieb got the win as the Jays prevailed, probably because the Sox batters were using the wrong bats. Afterwards, I went back towards the clubhouse, where my guardian gave me my card book back. I changed back into my regular clothes and was “paid” with a fitted Blue Jays ball cap (which doesn’t fit, but I still have) and a cracked game-used Joe Carter bat (which I still have), thinking I was batboy of the year. Nobody showed me the way out of the clubhouse, back to the public area of the stadium. So as I’m wandering around trying to find a door, sitting in his locker stall still basking in the win was Stieb. My favorite player, right there, a chance for me to meet him face-to-face.
He was talking to his teammates, loudly, and cursing up a storm. Let me tell you, it’s a bit of a shock when you’re 13 and your favorite athlete is cursing up a storm, even if they are words you’ve heard and said before. Stieb saw me, said “Hey what’s up?”, and I introduced myself to him. I said I was a big fan, and I was happy he finally got that no-hitter the season before. Oh, and by the way, can you sign a couple of cards for me? Stieb obliged, signing a 1988 Topps and 1991 Donruss Diamond Kings (pack fresh!) on the spot. I thanked him, finally found an exit to the concourse, and went home.
That was over 25 years ago, yet I still remember it all like it was yesterday. Stieb’s last good season was 1991, as he developed arm problems in 1992. When the Jays finally won the World Series that year, I noticed Stieb was one of the first guys out of the dugout at Fulton County Stadium heading towards the celebration pile in the infield. The former outfielder-turned-pitcher finally could celebrate after so many close calls in his career. Several days later, he was released. The next season, he was with the White Sox, probably telling his teammates about that one spring training game he won because the batboy was looking for keys to the batter’s box.
Stieb won’t get into the Hall of Fame, and it still baffles me the Jays haven’t retired his number 37. For many years, he was often the only half-decent pitcher on the team. But even though he still doesn’t get the honor he deserves, I’ll always remember the day I got to see him pitch a gem of a game and meet him in person. And it’s a constant reminder to me that especially the little things like a hat, a bat, or an autograph can make a kid’s day… and life for many years.
ABOUT MATT SAMMON: Matt Sammon is the Director of Broadcasting for the Tampa Bay Lightning and currently roots for the Tampa Bay Rays. He can be found on Twitter @SammonSez.
Early August in a nearly empty stadium with two bad teams going head-to-head isn’t exactly the setting you’d expect for a memorable performance. But Doug Ault provided it anyway.
When the Toronto Blue Jays came to Cleveland to face the Indians for a mid-week series on August 4th, 1980, the two teams were a combined 32 games out of first place. Doug Ault was in the last year of an unremarkable career but he still had something left.
Ault Rakes by the Lake
Ault entered the series hitting .196 in limited action; In 25 games, he had amassed ten hits and ten strikeouts. The Jays were losing 11-3 in the 8th inning when he stepped in with a man aboard against Sid Monge. Ault took a pitch over the boards in left field for his first home run of the season. It made the score 11-5 and that’s how it ended. A meaningless homer to everyone but Ault.
Two days later he was the starting first baseman in the 3rd game of the series, and in the 7th inning he homered again. This shot was off Rick Waits with the Jays trailing 2-0 and Barry Bonnell on first. After a 10-52 start to the season, Ault was now two for his last three with two dingers and he wasn’t finished yet.
The next day he faced Monge again. With a man on again. In the late innings again. He smoked a two-run homer to left again. In the four game series, he was 3-4 with three homers and six RBI. He wouldn’t hit another home run in his career.
Not the First Time
Ault made home run history once before in an Jays uniform. In the first inning of Toronto’s home opener in 1977, Doug Ault hit the first home run in Blue Jays history. The shot came off Ken Brett, and as an encore he took Brett deep again in his next at-bat.
It wasn’t quite ideal baseball weather that April day in Toronto. Temps were in the 30s and there was snow falling, but Ault didn’t care. “It was like winning the World Series,” Ault told the Toronto Globe and Mail later. “I tell you, if it had been snowing all year, I might have hit 50 home runs.”
Ault retired after the 1980 season and spent time in the Jays organization as a minor league manager. Beset with personal problems, he committed suicide in 2004. He was just 54 years old.
I recently attended a game with another writer whose task, appointed him by a Canadian newspaper, was to listen to me expounding for nine innings on why baseball was worth one’s attention. It’s something I’d have been happy to do, of course, even if I wasn’t promoting a book on the subject, and even if someone else hadn’t been paying for the tickets. As it happened the night was warm, the roof was open, the beer was cold, and the Blue Jays rolled over the Royals thanks largely to Josh Donaldson‘s pair of homers, so I didn’t have to work too hard to convince the writer of the game’s charms. But what seemed to me the most significant moment of the evening came when he – a longtime resident of Toronto, but not a baseball fan – told me that he hadn’t been to a game since the Jays’ Exhibition Stadium days, meaning since 1989.
I’m aware of the company I’m likely to have on this site, namely others who remember baseball as it was played in the ’80s, so it won’t damage my pride to let slip that I do recall with some clarity the time and place he sketched. What I remember of the place was that the Ex was a terrible spot for a ballgame, with its inelegant configuration, hard aluminum bleachers, and that awful, unyielding turf which essentially amounted to bright green plastic carpeting spread over a parking lot. It looked bad and it played worse; your knees hurt just looking at that stuff.
But I’m reminded, too, of what used to occur on that surface, specifically the broad space beyond the circular sliding pits, the expanse of ground from foul pole to foul pole, and of the men who for a handful of years stood sentinel over it, from left to right: Bell, Moseby, and Barfield.
George Bell was the thumper, a three-time All-Star and Silver Slugger whose best season came in ’87, for which he was named MVP. Bell was brash and sure.
Lloyd Moseby, in center, was smoothness personified, an easy-loping vacuum. Shaker was good for 20 homers and 75 RBI a year, give or take, but his greatest value lay in chasing down balls.
Jesse Barfield was, in my remembering, the most low-key member of the trio, though no less affable than his mates. Indeed it’s their smiles that shine still across the decades, a high-wattage triple beam display which hints at the optimism projected onto a team not yet a decade old when it captured its first division crown in ’85. But the thing about Barfield was his magnificent right arm – one of the best defensive weapons there ever was. He was a trebuchet erected in right field, his entire body functioning as counterweight to sling that arm at great velocity, releasing the ball to find its target with frightening accuracy. If you chose to run on Jesse Barfield, the odds were good he’d gun you down.
Barfield was also a gunner at the plate, though his precision there lacked, which is to say he struck out a lot. But when he connected, good things often happened. In 1986, he connected more than he ever had before, and more than he ever would again: 40 HR, 108 RBI, a .289 average. He was the Home Run King, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glover, and recipient of the fifth-most votes for AL MVP.
When that season ended I was in the 5th grade, and my teacher was Ms. Delvillano who, though I was then incapable of assessing such things, it seems to me now was probably in her twenties. Tall, with extravagantly large blonde hair, often strict, with a big shouting voice, and large tinted eyeglasses, I could tell even from within the hot stew of pre-adolescence that she was beautiful. This was, you’ll understand, tremendously confusing for me.
Ms. Delvillano was also, as luck would have it, a baseball fan. And though she lived and taught in suburban Ottawa, some 250 miles from Toronto, she had some sort of connection to the Blue Jays’ front office. Whether that connection was romantic, platonic, or familial, it did not then occur to me to wonder. One way or another the result was that, in addition to bringing us outside on fine days to play soccer-baseball, and pulling out a radio so that we might listen to matinee games while doing busy work, she was able to bring in one of Barfield’s bats, which we pawed with reverence and tried unsuccessfully to swing, as well as a large Blue Jays logo printed on a plastic disc, roughly the size of those which used to rest near the on-deck circles of Astroturfed stadia, back when such things flourished across the landscape. The disc was tacked to the class bulletin board nearby a clipping from a sports section’s front page (the Toronto Star, I think) from which grinned a caricatured Barfield, beneath the words HOME RUN KING.
Barfield was my guy, then, if you’d asked me for a favorite. He was speed and, at least for that season, power. He was a salve to the sting of the ’85 ALCS loss in seven games to those same Royals. He was Ms. Delvillano’s favorite. She told me so.
Things end, invariably. That winter I accidentally hit Ms. Delvillano in the face with a snowball, and the ensuing week-long detention, which I’d briefly envisioned to be just me and her, alone in the portable, talking baseball, was instead silent and chilly. As the school year wrapped over into the ’87 season it was Bell, not Barfield, who provided the team’s pulse, while Barfield sunk back toward his career numbers. By the time I’d finished the 5th grade that June the Jays were in first; they’d eventually wind up thirty games over .500 but finish a disappointing second, two games back of the Tigers. They were a middle of the pack club in ’88 before storming back to a division title in ’89, but that was a feat done with a different outfield unit. The Jays’ vaunted trio met its demise when Barfield was dealt to the Yanks for Al Leiter early that season. Junior Felix took over in right.
Bell was a Cub for a season, in ’91, then took the Dan Ryan Expressway to the South Side, spending his last two years with the White Sox. Moseby left as a free agent after ’89 and wound up in Detroit. Barfield and Shaker reunited in Japan, improbably, playing in ’93 for the Yomiuri Giants. The Blue Jays were winning titles then, but it was at the SkyDome, not the Ex, and everything about them was different. They’d become big free agent spenders while attracting four million fans to a state of the art facility. It was the nineties, and I was in high school. Nothing was ever the same again.
Andrew Forbes’s work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, and has appeared inThe Feathertale Review, Found Press, PRISM International, The New Quarterly, Scrivener Creative Review, This Magazine, Hobart, The Puritan, All Lit Up, The Classical, The Cauldron, Eephus, and Vice Sports. His first book, the story collection What You Need, was shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and named a finalist for the Trillium Book Prize.The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essaysis his second book. Forbes lives in Peterborough, Ontario.