The Blue Jays’ quirkiest lineup since 1994

We all have them, those players we reflect on and think “What on earth was he doing on that team?” Yet, we’re not filled with anger upon this reflection—we are filled with fond memories of these players. While they didn’t bring us wins or pennants or championships, they brought us memories and stories that will last us even longer.

Having spent far too much of my life watching Toronto Blue Jays baseball, here are a few players that I can’t help but smile about when I think back.

C – Charlie O’Brien, 1996-97.
O’Brien enjoyed two of his most productive seasons as a big leaguer while with the Jays, but it’s not his modest production that earns him a spot on this roster. O’Brien is an interesting case for a few reasons. First, the mullet flowing out of his helmet, which stuck around well after the mullet was deemed “cool,” made him one of the most recognizable players of the mid-’90s for the Jays. Second, O’Brien has the nice distinction of inventing the hockey style catcher’s mask in 1996 while a member of the Jays. Sporting his invention, he caught Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens during their back-to-back Cy Young seasons.

1B – Shea Hillenbrand, 2005-06.
Hillenbrand had a great debut season with the Jays in 2005 and looked like a great addition to an up-and-coming team in the AL East. Then, his second season happened. Hillenbrand had a year for the ages in multiple clashes with players, coaches and management. He was angry that he had playing time taken away from him by newcomers Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus, he was angry that the team didn’t formally congratulate him on the adoption of a baby girl, and he may or may not have fought manager John Gibbons after writing “This is a sinking ship” and “Play for yourselves” on the team whiteboard. He was traded shortly after.

2B – Craig Grebeck, 1998-2000.
There’s no real reason for Grebeck to be on this list beyond the fact that there were little things about him that still get me to this day. I’ll always remember his long hair flopping through the back of his cap, I’ll remember that he used to be the only guy on the team who didn’t wear batting gloves, I’ll remember how comically small he was next to Carlos Delgado, and I’ll remember that no matter how hard I tried I always seemed to get stuck with him on my team when I did a fantasy draft on Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest for the Nintendo 64. Thanks for the memories, Craig.

3B – Corey Koskie, 2005.
This one is a bit of a downer for me. Canadian baseball fans loved Koskie; he was our stopgap of love between Larry Walker and Justin Morneau, and when he signed with the Jays it was a great day for everyone. Koskie had a decent start with the Jays but ultimately broke his finger, which took him out of the lineup through the middle of the season. The Jays called Aaron Hill up to the big club to fill Koskie’s hole and the rest is history. Koskie came back to the Jays in a diminished role with Hill’s emergence and didn’t quite find the swing that landed him his big new contract. He was traded the next season before a concussion ended his career.

SS – Tony Batista, 1999-2001.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I don’t believe Batista ever played an extended amount of time at shortstop, but that’s where he played for the Diamondbacks before he was acquired so I’ll stick with that in the interests of fitting him in here. Batista was an interesting case for the Jays: For a season and a half he was a mini Barry Bonds, hitting every pitch he got over the fence. He had more than 60 home runs from when they acquired him at midseason in 1999 until the end of 2000. For whatever reason, Batista totally lost his swing his 2001 and was dealt at the deadline again. What most people will always remember is his wacky batting stance, which started off directly facing the pitcher before leaning over the plate.

LF – Russ Adams, 2004-09.
Some of you may recognize the name Russ Adams from your adventures in Moneyball. Adams was drafted out of the University of North Carolina by J.P. Ricciardi and the Jays after being coveted by Billy Beane and the A’s. Unfortunately for the Jays and Adams, he never quite stuck. He showed flashes of being an everyday-caliber player with his bat, but couldn’t stay consistent long enough to hang with the club. His defense was never big league quality, which resulted in constant shuffling through positions. Adams played at shortstop, second base and left field in his five season with the Blue Jays. He retired in 2011 as a member of the New York Mets.

CF – Jose Cruz Jr., 1997-2002.
You know those guys who were so maddeningly enigmatic that you’d do anything to have them shipped out of town but whose numbers were good enough that it is impossible to justify? For me, that was Jose Cruz Jr. He was a guy who would either give you two home runs or three strikeouts. He’d either throw a guy out or airmail it into row 23. He’d either drive you nuts on the field or sit on the bench trying. For a few years he was a nice complement to the Carlos Delgado-anchored middle of the batting order and hit 30 home runs twice for the Jays. He is the bridge in Blue Jays center field history between Devon White and Vernon Wells. He retired much more recently than anyone would have thought (2008).

RF – Jose Canseco, 1998.
Canseco’s season in Toronto was obviously chemically enhanced, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this because it was incredibly fun to watch at the time. The man who once held the record for longest home run ever hit inside the friendly confines of SkyDome came to the Jays in 1998 to resurrect his career in a sense after unsuccessful stops in Texas, Boston and Oakland. Upon his arrival in Toronto, Canseco was a smash (no pun intended) hit, with his spot in the batting order entrenched behind Delgado and Shawn Green. He hit 46 very impressive home runs and even stole 29 bases. For those wondering, Jose Canseco stealing a base looks like a boulder throwing itself down a baseline.

DH – Brad Fullmer, 2000-01.
Brad Fullmer was an interesting dude. He gave off a very menacing intensity when he was in that batter’s box and took what looked like some of the most angry swings you’ve ever. He had a very compact, closed batting stance and his bottom lip was always loaded with some of the biggest pieces of chewing tobacco you would deem possible. His best statistical season was his 2000 campaign with the Jays when he hit 32 home runs and had 104 RBI. That would be the extent of his offensive output; he never surpassed 20 home runs again. He was, however a member and unsung hero of sorts for the 2002 Champion Angels before they released him in 2003. He retired in 2005

For those Jays fans reading this, I hope you have some fond memories creeping in. For those non-Jays fans, I hope you’re thinking about your equivalent roster.

Look for my all-time quirky Jays rotation in the coming weeks.

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Comments

  1. Craig Burley said...

    Wow, other than Tony Batista (and leaving off Raul Mondesi and of course Edgardo Alfonzo’s Cold Half-Cup of Coffee) you couldn’t have given a list of more irritating and frustrating players. Far from bringing a smile to my face, that list made me want to punch something inanimate.

  2. Bob Rittner said...

    Does anyone know what happened to Brad Fullmer. At the time, I remember trying to find out why he retired so young. He had a poor BA his final season, but over the past few years he had seemed to be a decent hitter. While not so in his last season, he had usually been strong against RH pitchers.

    Why did he retire? Injury? Did nobody want to take a chance with him after one down year at age 29? He seemed like such a good buy low signing at the time.

  3. Chris Lund said...

    Craig – Yeah, that was part of it. I’ll acknowledge that there are some..ahem.. enigmas on this list. I do think it is laugh worthy though.

    Bob – There are a lot of sketchy reports on why Brad stopped for good. He took a year off in 2005 to heal but just never really came back.

    Jays Fan – Junior stopped playing for the Jays in 1990, the retroactive cutoff for this was the 94 lockout. I’m sure if I made a pre-94 list Felix would be in the mix, though it would be hard to pass on Pat Borders

  4. Grady said...

    Serious?  You mention Slugfest 64?  I was literally going to mention that game tomorrow on my own blog.  Thought this was an untapped resource.

  5. Señor Spielbergo said...

    “For whatever reason, Batista totally lost his swing his [sic] 2001”

    He was still a home run threat though. His HR numbers from 1999 through 2004: 31, 41, 25, 31, 26, 32.

  6. Bridgemaster said...

    Great post,

    Anything concerning Charlie Obrien is aces in my book. The only qualm I have with the piece – you didn’t do your bench. Mine would be:

    C – Alberto Castillo
    Wore all grey gear and threw the ball back to the pitcher harder than they threw it to him.

    IF – Jeff Frye
    Hit for the cycle when Kelly Gruber was in attendance

    OF – Matt Stairs
    In case of emergency use stairs, best pinch hitter in MLB history

    Of – Otis Nixon
    Crypt Keeper skinny, Usain Bolt fast, Rick Jameseque coke habit and while playing for the other team made the final out of the 1992 world series trying to bunt for a base hit (with a man on third no less)

  7. Chris Lund said...

    Bridgemaster,

    I’ll doing a bench, pitching rotation, etc in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

    Thanks for reading

    Señor Spielbergo,

    He always had a power stroke but one of the primary reasons the Jays shipped him out was he wasn’t producing at all. It might have been premature, but it was the motivating factor. He was an all-star in 2000 and really fell off the next season at the plate and in the field if I recall.

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