SI Vault
 
The Blue Jay Way
Steve Wulf
November 02, 1992
Toronto's world title was a product of good ol' Canadian know-how
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 02, 1992

The Blue Jay Way

Toronto's world title was a product of good ol' Canadian know-how

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

For the record, Jimmy Key got the win in the Toronto Blue Jays' 4-3 squeaker over the Atlanta Braves in the sixth and deciding game of the World Series, but the victory really belonged to patience, loyalty, generosity, respect for elders—aw, heck, to truth, justice and the Canadian way. As Blue Jay president Paul Beeston said in accepting the Series trophy, "This is really a tremendous evening for everybody in the organization."

One for all, and all for the first Toronto world championship. The Blue Jay blueprint for success should be followed closely by the expansion Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies, not to mention the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. "There is no better organization in baseball," said champagne-soaked Toronto closer Tom Henke. "I can be a free agent, but I'd love to come back if they'll have me. The Blue Jays have been unbelievably good to me over the years, but they're that way with everybody. They take care of their people."

Said Gordon Lakey, Toronto's American League scout, "You're talking to a man who went to the University of Texas, so I know a little bit about loyalty. The Longhorns take a backseat to the Blue Jays. The Jays do their best for you, and consequently we do our best for them. I don't think there's anyone in this organization who's looking to go elsewhere or who's looking to climb over someone else. I get misty just thinking about how lucky I am to be part of this."

The Atlanta Braves are also a first-class organization, but, and this seems funny to say, no other club in baseball has the front-office continuity of the Blue Jays. That starts with John Labatt Ltd., the brewery that owns and oversees the club yet seldom interferes in its operation. The first Blue Jay employee hired by Labatt's, back on May 10, 1976, was Beeston, who was then just an accountant. General manager Pat Gillick came a few months later, and he now leads all baseball general managers in continuous service by some seven years. (Over the years he has had to deal with five different general managers of the other 77 expansion club, the Seattle Mariners.) Gillick's assistant, Gord Ash, worked his way up from ticket seller. Toronto has had only one public relations director, Howard Starkman. The first player taken by the Jays in the '77 expansion draft, Bob Bailor, is now the team's first base coach. Like the United States Supreme Court, Toronto apparently offers jobs for life.

No other club is quite as generous as the Jays, and we're not just talking about their player payroll, which is among the top three in baseball. Toronto chartered two planes to take all their full-time employees—groundskeepers, bookkeepers, scoreboard keepers—to Atlanta, and then put them up in a swell hotel.

No other club sweats so hard over the details. Beeston made sure that the SkyDome luxury box used by Atlanta's executives was festooned with tomahawks and other Brave paraphernalia. "We wanted them to feel at home," says Beeston. "It's no fun cheering in a hostile environment. Of course, we did put up that picture of Jane Fonda in her Blue Jays shirt."

With that, Beeston laughs his trademark laugh, an infectious guffaw of such magnitude that everyone within 50 yards of him is forced to smile. With his over-the-top affability, his Louisville Slugger of a cigar and his refusal to wear socks, Beeston is often thought of as just a character. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Beast, as he is known around baseball, has become one of the game's movers and shakers; his name has been bandied about for both baseball and NHL commissioner. Says Don McDougall, the former Labatt's executive who was on the Blue Jays' original board of directors, " Paul Beeston is the heart of the Blue Jays. And Pat Gillick is the head."

When McDougall and the rest of the Jays' board were looking for their first player personnel director, their choices came down to Gillick, then player development and scouting coordinator with the New York Yankees, and John Claiborne, an assistant general manager with the Red Sox. The directors were more impressed with Claiborne than with the shy Gillick, but Peter Bavasi, who was then Toronto's general manager, wanted Gillick. The board deferred to Bavasi, who later admitted that he favored Gillick because Neil MacCarl, the longtime baseball writer for The Toronto Star, liked him better. Wrong reason, but the right man.

"In one of our first meetings with Pat he asked us what our idea of success would be," says McDougall. "None of us could answer. Then he said, 'If your idea of success is a contending team year after year, I can do that. But it will take 10 years.' We were aghast. You mean we can't win today with Doug Ault and Bob Bailor? Pat was wrong, as it turned out. It only took him eight years."

By 1984 the Jays were contenders. But it took them another eight years and a few blown division races and unsuccessful championship series to make it to the World Series. To get them over the top Beeston and Gillick went out and got free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield in a 24-hour shopping spree last December. Then in August, Gillick traded two prospects to the Mets for David Cone.

Continue Story
1 2