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.