Greatest Teams Never To Win a World Series in the Past 30 Years-87 Blue Jays
Over the course of the year until next baseball season I will put up some of the best teams that have been forgotten in the past in part because they did not win the ultimate goal: a World Series. I used 30 years because that is when I really started following baseball. I followed it when I was about 5, but really got into it when I was 6 years old and have been that way ever since. So I am going to start off with the team that I first remember that I thought were a juggernaut in my first true year of following baseball: the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays.
For those that remembered the American League East in the 80's, it was probably the toughest division in baseball in a decade. You had so many teams that were ultra-competitive and did it with different styles and manners, though most of them relied on the power. In Baltimore, you had the Earl Weaver Orioles who lived and died off the 3-run homer. When the Red Sox were on, they couldn't be stopped with great pitching (Clemens, Bruce Hurst) and great hitting with a mix of average (Boggs, Greenwell) power (Evans, Rice). Detroit had the Bless You Boys going with just offense nearly everywhere in the lineup with timely pitching. Milwaukee had the Harvey's Wallbangers with home runs and offense all over the place. New York was fairly competitive in this time, but ask any Yankees fan they still consider it a dark time. The only team that struggled was the Indians, but 6 out of the 7 teams every year were considered a threat for the AL East it seemed.
Of course, I am missing the Toronto Blue Jays. Beginning in 1983 the Jays rid themselves of the "expansion" label as they drafted very well and produced a quality farm system with a mix of power, speed, average, and quality pitching. The Jays had the likes of George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, Ernie Whitt, Willie Upshaw, Tony Fernandez, etc. for hitters and then had Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, and Jim Clancy for a rotation and one of the most underrated closers of that era, Tom Henke. Add in the fact they had a Hall of Fame manager in Bobby Cox along the way and Toronto was a threat.
Unfortunately, it seemed like from 83-86 there was one team always better than the Jays in the AL East. Baltimore in 1983 was unstoppable as was Detroit in 1984. The Jays on the AL East in 85 but ran into a Royals team with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, etc. 1986 was another rough & tumble year for the East with Boston running away with the division.
In 1987 though, things started to change. Baltimore was very down. Boston suffered the World Series hangover. The Yankees were stout, but had glaring holes. Detroit was getting a year older and struggled massively out the gate, losing 19 of their first 30. So it really got down to the Jays, Yankees, and Brewers as Milwaukee started off blazing hot, winning 13 straight to start the year (20 of their first 23). However, for as Milwaukee was, they turned around and lost 18 of their next 20 (sound familiar Los Angeles?). So it then became a 2-team race with the Yankees and Blue Jays. But...out of nowhere came the Tigers and their offense, lighting it up. From the time of 11-19 to August 20, the Tigers went 60-28 to sneak ahead of both the Yankees and Blue Jays for first place. And for the month of August, it was a dogfight with the Yankees, Jays, and Tigers.
However, the Yankees started to slip in the standings, going 8-15 in the heart of August and with the Tigers and Jays not taking their foot off the gas, they were out so September arrived and the Jays and Tigers were battling the whole way.
When the final week arrived, Toronto and Detroit saw a lot of each other. 7 games in a total of an 11-day span between them starting in Toronto with a 4-game series. The Jays and Tigers kept on trading first place before that point and the Jays had a half-game lead on Detroit heading into the series. Toronto won the first 3 games of the series, all 3 separated by a run (including 2 walk-offs), giving the Jays a 3.5-game lead with a week left. The final game, the Jays had hoped to get the 4-game sweep, and lead 1-0 in the 9th, before Tom Henke gave up a home run to Kirk Gibson and then send it to extra innings where they battled back and forth (both teams scored in the 11th) before Detroit won in the 13th. While that series gave Toronto extra padding, it stung the Jays.
Toronto hosted Milwaukee after that and got swept by the Brewers before having a 3-game series to end the season in Detroit (who split a 4-game series at home with the lowly Orioles). So the Jays had a 1-game lead heading into the final series. And much like the previous series between the Tigers and Jays, the games were all decided by 1-run, but all went Detroit's way, including a classic pitcher's duel to end the year between Jimmy Key (who quite possibly should have won the Cy Young in 1987) and Frank Tanana (for those who don't know who Tanana was, he was Bartolo Colon before Bartolo Colon in the sense of he started his career being a flame-thrower and then hung around using "junk" pitches to win games-and it worked). Detroit won 1-0 on a home run by Larry Herndon, thus giving the Tigers the pennant and adding more heartbreak to Toronto.
SO WHY WAS THIS TEAM GREAT? They had a strong balance of offense as I mentioned. George Bell won MVP that year hitting .308 with 47 HR, Lloyd Moseby who was almost a 30-30 guy (26 HR, 39 SB, Tony Fernandez who was a havoc on the bases for opposing teams. And then you had Jesse Barfield again, hitting 28 HR. And Ernie Whitt had another quality season behind the plate and with the bat for Toronto. And I forgot to mention, the Jays had two DH's named Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder (granted they weren't the beasts they would be come a few years later, but were serviceable. They hit a combined 34 HR's that year for them And as I mentioned before Jimmy Key was a Cy Young candidate who probalby should have won it that year (led the AL in ERA and WHIP). Jim Clancy was solid for that time and then you had a bullpen that was pretty stout with Henke closing games, and Mark Eichorn who logged in plenty of innings to really help out. And honestly, I think the Jays had an overall better team than the Tigers, who had MAJOR issues in the bullpen outside of Mike Henneman and the rotation struggled outside of Jack Morris (and Doyle Alexander after he got traded). I don't know if Minnesota would have escaped Toronto had it been the Blue Jays playing them in the 87 ALCS.
SO WHAT WENT WRONG? Final week of the season doomed them, but the injuries of Fernandez and Whitt stung. Fernandez broke his elbow when Bill Madlock tried to break up a double play (reminiscent of Chase Utley and Ruben Tejada nearly 30 years later) I forgot to mention Bobby Cox left before the 1986 season to return to the Braves to run Atlanta's future. And Jimy Williams took over. Did that have anything to do with the Jays collapsing? Perhaps not, but what may have given the Tigers the edge down the stretch over the Blue Jays was that Detroit had been accustomed to winning late October games in 84 while Toronto didn't. And there may have been that "snakebit" vibe for the Blue Jays as well of coming so close and falling apart. They lost the final 7 games of their season. Had they won 2 of those, history changes and maybe we would have seen a MAJOR dynasty in Toronto. But I am thinking back to that first loss of that 7-game losing streak. It may have been the dooming one.
AFTERMATH: The Blue Jays organization did not get fazed by the season and remained persistent. But another snakebit year in 88 where it was Boston coming out of nowhere on Toronto and Detroit to win the AL East. The Jays won the division in 89 but got slammed by the Bash Brother Oakland Athletics. It would take more failures in 90 and 91 before the Jays finally succeeded and won the first of two World Championships. Only 8 Jays from the 87 team were on the 92 team including Key, Eichorn, and Henke. The likes of Bell, Barfield, and Moseby were long gone, but Toronto with being so competitive added key veterans like Dave Winfield, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, and Candy Maldonado. So the Jays remained competitive until the strike really ended the dynasty and Toronto has really never been the same since.
That's it for this week.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat