TORONTO – Tom Cheek. Tony Fernandez. Joe Carter. George Bell. Dave Stieb. Cito Gaston. Pat Gillick. Paul Beeston. Roberto Alomar.
As of Sunday afternoon, approximately 1pm, Carlos Delgado will join those esteemed names on the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence.
It's time. More than four years after playing in his last major league game and almost nine years after concluding his tenure in Toronto, Delgado, the club's all-time leader in several offensive categories, will be recognized for his achievements.
He wasn't sure the day would come.
"This was a surprise," said Delgado. "I would say that I played the game to try to win, to go out there and do the best that I can with my abilities. I was not into awards or recognition. Having said that, I can say that when I got that phone call from Mr. Beeston, I was super excited. I look up at that Level of Excellence and you see some great names, some great ball players and some great icons of the Toronto Blue Jays history. So I'm completely honoured and flattered."
Delgado's 336 home runs, 1,058 RBI, 827 walks, 889 runs, 2,786 total bases, 343 doubles, .949 OPS are all franchise marks. A two-time All-Star in 2000 and 2003, Delgado won three Silver Slugger Awards and was the winner of the Hank Aaron Award and Sporting News Player of the Year Award in 2000.
The accolades are there but Delgado isn't held in the same esteem as Alomar, Carter, Fernandez and others who played in the heyday of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It's likely because he was the face of teams which, even if they won more than they lost, didn't make the playoffs.
"It was always tough," said Delgado. "But I want to believe you play it out on the field. We played against some of the great Yankees' teams in the late-90s, early-2000s. Boston always had great teams. We had our chances. We didn't have the deep pockets that they had. If you look at it on paper, they probably had better squads than us, but I believe this is about execution. Sometimes we made a push and fell short at the end."
He played with some good ones. Delgado broke in as Alomar's and Carter's time in Toronto was ending. He remains good friends with Shawn Green and watched as Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay came into their own.
On a personal note, his four-home run game against Tampa Bay on September 25, 2003 stands out as a highlight.
He remembers signing as an amateur free agent in 1988. Only 16 years old, Delgado was assigned to the Blue Jays' Class-A affiliate in St. Catharines. He chose Toronto, there were other teams interested, because of the organization's history with Latin American players.
George Bell, Tony Fernandez and Manny Lee were among a strong Caribbean contingent that called Toronto home.
"My dad had a big influence in this," said Delgado. "They had a good relationship, they always showed a good relationship toward the Latino players... We thought that was going to be important because you wanted to be treated fairly and they always did. It's great to represent Puerto Rico. It's great to represent Latin America. In Latin America, in the Caribbean, there's such a rich baseball tradition and we're very proud about that. Since you're like two years old, you've got a bat and a ball in your hands."
Delgado, like many others, didn't author his own exit from the game. Early in the 2009 season, only 27 home runs shy of 500 for his career, he underwent what was thought to be routine hip surgery. There were bone spurs that needed removal and a labrum tear to be sewn up.
Despite a 10-12 week rehabilitation period, Delgado didn't return. Then he needed another hip surgery. Then another. Suddenly, unplanned, his career was over.
He isn't bitter.
"It was easier to swallow because I just couldn't play," said Delgado. "Even if I wanted to play, physically I couldn't play. I couldn't perform at this level. I think it would have been a lot harder if I rehabbed, was good to go and didn't get a job. That would have been devastating, but it didn't work to the point where eight months ago, I had to go in for a total hip replacement. So I have a brand new one with a 20-year warranty, so we'll see how that goes. It would have been great to get 500 home runs, it would have been a nice round number. It just didn't work out, things happen for a reason but I can always look back and say I did everything that I could."
Spending most of his time in Puerto Rico, he shoots down rumours of an interest in political office and is hesitant to comment on the current state of the Blue Jays. He doesn't get to see many games but is aware of the club's record, has heard about the unfulfilled expectations and understands the frustration.
"I usually don't but I'm going to give them some advice," said Delgado. "Second half, just take it one game at a time. Don't start looking at the standings. Don't start trying to figure out how many games you need to win to make it to the playoffs. Just go out, have fun. But they have to play it out. Obviously they've found out that good players on paper don't win championships. You have to figure out a way to gel. You have to figure out a way to pick each other up."
"No panic but there's got to be a sense of urgency," he added.
On the subject of leadership, and there was no doubt the Jays' clubhouse belonged to Delgado after the departures of the early-1990's stars, he believes being a unifying force is an important role.
"Because you hit .300, it doesn't make you a leader," he said. "It helps, because it's easier to earn the respect from your teammates when your performance is better. Having said that, it's not necessary. It's important for a leader to be accountable, be a guy that's a standup guy, good times and bad times, and is always willing to go the extra mile, is always willing to share some of his knowledge."
Delgado will be remembered as a man who, whether or not one agreed with his stance, stood on principle. He quietly declined to stand for renditions of "God Bless America" in 2003 after the United States began a military campaign in Iraq. For that, he was booed at Yankee Stadium.
Delgado's on-field accomplishments as a Blue Jay shouldn't be diminished because the teams he led didn't have the same success as those which preceded his era. His numbers speak for themselves. Delgado is one of the Blue Jays' all-time greats.
He will be recognized as such on Sunday.