The Chicago Cubs have been taking a lot of heat lately. First off, the fans ripped the Cubbies introduction of a fuzzy new kid-friendly mascot named "Clark". But the bigger target was the franchise's owners of the past four years, the Ricketts family. Under their stewardship, the Cubs have compiled a record of 273-375 and haven't come close to being a contender in any of the four seasons.
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein felt compelled over the weekend to defend the Ricketts, saying at the Cubs Fans' Convention in effect they were absorbing short term pain for long term gain. Epstein explained that the Ricketts had a long term plan that would ensure success for the organization. Last I looked, the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 and haven't been in a Fall Classic since 1945. That's not the point of this story though.
I decided to compare the Blue Jays record to that of the Cubs over the last four seasons. The Cubs are 273-375. That's an average of a little more than 65 victories per season. The Blue Jays are better but not by a significant amount. Their record from 2010 thru 2013 was 313-335. So the Jays averaged a bit more than 75 victories per season. That's 10 more per season over the four years, but still under .500 and still nowhere near a post-season position.
The Blue Jays' record of futility in nowhere near that of the Cubs, but just the same, they haven't been to the post-season since 1993, a stretch of 21 seasons. Over that span Kansas City is the only other Major League club that hasn't made the playoffs. The Blue Jays' record since Rogers acquired the club consists of five winning seasons, eight losing seasons and one .500 campaign. The Cubs may be breaking their fans' hearts, but the Blue Jays are hardly inspiring the planning of victory parades either.
The Days of Key
When the Dodgers signed their ace lefty Clayton Kershaw to that massive seven-year $215 million contract last week, it brought back memories of a veteran left-hander the Blue Jays had to make a decision on back in the off-season of 1992. Jimmy Key wasn't in the same talent class as Kershaw, but he will go down as one of the top pitchers in Blue Jays history. In nine seasons with the organization he went 116-81 with a 3.42 ERA.
Key was to become a free agent after the '92 season. He and his agent wanted at least a four-year contract. Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick had a steadfast policy at the time of giving no more than three years to starting pitchers.
So sure enough, Key left, signing a four-year deal with the Yankees. He was outstanding in his first two years in New York, and in fact led the American League in the strike-shortened 1994 season with a 17-4 mark and a 3.27 earned run average.
In 1995 though, he blew out his arm and missed almost the entire season. Key bounced back strongly in 1996 though, and actually outdueled Hall of Fame-elect Greg Maddux to beat Atlanta in the final game of the World Series. That would be his final game as a Yankee and earned him a second World Series ring. Jimmy Key would sign with Baltimore for 1997, where Gillick was now in charge and would finish out his career with the Orioles.
In an ideal world Key would have pitched his entire career in Toronto. I still distinctly remember three landmark starts in his career, that helped define the pitcher and the man he was.
On the final day of 1987 season at old Tiger Stadium, the Blue Jays had dropped six straight games and needed a victory on that last Sunday over the Tigers to force a tie-breaker with Detroit. Key engaged in an epic pitcher's duel with Detroit southpaw Frank Tanana. Detroit won the game 1-0 on Larry Herndon's home run that barely cleared the low fence in left. The Tigers went to the ALCS against Minnesota and the Blue Jays went home.
In 1991, the Jays were facing Minnesota in the American League Championship Series. The organization made the decision to go with knuckleballer Tom Candiotti in the opener at the Metrodome against Jack Morris. Many felt Key should have been given that start. Just being around Jimmy as long as I had been, I could see how angry if not crushed he was at the snub. Candiotti was horrid in that game and the Twins got the quick jump in the series.
Key finally did start in Game 3 with the series tied at a game apiece. Jimmy pitched six innings of two-run ball, but got saddled with a no-decision. The Twins ultimately won 3-2 in 10 innings on Mike Pagliarulo's homer off Mike Timlin. Minnesota would go on to take the series in five games. I said to myself after that series that resigning Key would be next to impossible after he was passed over for that Game 1 start.
To his credit, Jimmy put all that behind him and had a strong season in 1992. The game I will never forget was Game 4 of the World Series against Atlanta. Key was at his absolute best and went 7.2 innings against the Braves. When he walked off the mound towards the dugout, he received an incredible ovation and tipped his cap. I just felt at that moment, and I'm sure Jimmy did too, that it was his final performance as a Blue Jay.
As mentioned earlier, Key signed that four-year deal with the Yankees in the off-season, and the Jays took a fair amount of grief for letting him go.
To this day I can't remember any other Blue Jays player who ended his time in Toronto with a moment like that.
Drake did an incredible impression of Alex Rodriguez on Saturday Night Live. If they ever do a movie about this sordid tale, Drake can play A-Rod and actor/comedian/radio host Jay Thomas can play Anthony Bosch. Thomas played Carla's second husband, the hockey player Eddie Lebec on Cheers. His character died when he was run over by a Zamboni, and Thomas bares an uncanny resemblance to Bosch.
The Blue Jays' season opener at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays has an unusual starting time. They kick off the season at 4:10 in the afternoon in the opener of a four-game series on March 31.