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Top 40 All-Time Blue Jays: #37 Willie Upshaw

Willie Upshaw was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1975 in the 5th round of the amateur draft. He was drafted by the expansion Blue Jays in 1977 in the Rule 5 draft, but did not take over full time at a position until 1982, replacing John Mayberry, who had hit well in his time as the Jays first basemen.

Willie Upshaw 1978, 1980-1987

In his first season as a full timer, he set the Blue Jays record for extra-base hits in a season with 53. Of course, this was in the sixth year of the franchise's existence, so the record was broken in the very next season, which was also Upshaw's best overall in his career. Upshaw hit .306/.373/.515 with 60 extra-base hits and an OPS+ of 136. Upshaw had some other good seasons, posting OPS+ of 119 and 112 in 1984 and 1985 respectively. 1985 was also the year that Toronto made the League Championship series, losing to Kansas City in seven games. Upshaw hit only .231/.286/.308 in the series with only one run driven in, which seemed to signal the end of his run as an effective run producer in a way.

Upshaw was a below average offensive first basemen after that point, but the team was reluctant to part with him, as Baseball Library points out:

The Blue Jays were deterred from getting rid of him by his penchant for hitting well in spring training and the early season, and because Upshaw was highly respected and popular. But the emergence of Fred McGriff led to Upshaw's 1988 trade to the Indians, where he was disappointing as their full-time first baseman.

Upshaw only hit .245/.330/.369 in his one and only season with the Cleveland Indians, playing in 149 games. He was out of major league baseball at age 31 after a promising first few major league seasons of above average offense.

A few interesting tidbits on Upshaw:

  • Upshaw had four multi-homer games in his career, hitting two in each of those contests. They were his only hits in all four games.
  • Upshaw had five games with four hits, with none after 1985.
  • The best of those four hit games had to be May 28th, 1978. Upshaw went 4/5 with a homerun, a walk, and two runs. The other top game was July 9, 1985, when Upshaw was 4/5 with a triple, two walks and one intentional walk. Sounds like a busy day, considering he had eight plate appearances.