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Top 50 All-Time Greatest Jays: #13 Jesse Barfield

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Jesse Lee Barfield | RF | 1981-1989

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Notable Accomplishments: All-Star 1986 Silver Slugger 1986 Gold Glove 1986, 1987

We've hit a knot of relatively equal guys, the next few players could be in any order really but then the actual order isn't all that important. We did the list on career value as a Jay, it would be interesting, sometime in the future, to re-do the list on player's peak value. That's if I ever get to the top of this list, but I digress.

Jessie Barfield was born October 29, 1959 in Joliet, Illinois. He is the father of former Padre and current Indian Josh Barfield and Jeremy Barfield who was drafted by the Oakland A's in last year's draft and played last year for the Vancouver Canadians. Jesse was drafted by the Jays in the 9th round of the 1977 amateur draft out of Joliet Central High School. 1977 was the first year that Toronto and Seattle were in the amateur draft and got the last two picks of each round, MLB being so nice to folks that paid extravagant expansion fees. None of the Jay's 6 choices before him made it to the majors.

Jesse rose quickly thru the Jay's system and was a September call up in 1981 at age 21 and got the first 2 home runs of his career. The next year he made the Jays right out of spring training playing 139 games, hitting 18 homers and had a hitting line of .246/.323/.426 and he received 1 Rookie of the Year vote. 15 of those 18 home runs were against lefty pitchers (2nd in the AL vs. lefties), but as his career went on he learned to hit right-handers better. In 1983 his power took a major step forward hitting 27 home runs in 128 games but the rest of his numbers didn't improve much, he hit just .253 and his on base was .296 but with a slugging average of .510 his OPS+ was 112. He only had 68 RBI with the 27 homers.

In 1984 George Bell came up to the Jays and made the outfield pretty crowded. We had Bell, Lloyd Moesby, Dave Collins and Barfield. Manager Bobby Cox used a complicated platoon system Bell in LF, Moesby in CF and Barfield in RF against left-handers, but against righties Collins played LF, Bell played in RF and Jessie sat. In spite of that Jesse's game took a big step forward. His walk rate almost doubled from poor to decent and his batting average came up. He hit .284/.357/.466 for an OPS+ of 123.

1985 was the first season that Bell, Moesby and Barfield played the full season together. They played together thru the 1988 season and were the best outfield of the time and the best outfield that the Jays have ever had (though I have high hopes for Snider, Wells and Rios). All three had excellent arms, but Jesse the best outfield arm in baseball, likely as strong an arm as anyone that ever played the game. And accurate, not only did he have great power but he'd hit his targets. There are lots of little stories about Jesse's arm, that he could stand at the plate and throw the ball over the center field wall. But the one I saw that I've never seen another outfielder do is catch a line drive on a bounce, throw to first and get the batter out at first. Barfield lead the AL in assists 3 years in a row (1985 to 87) which was more amazing because teams didn't run on Barfield's arm. He also had 8 outfield double plays in 1985 (and 21 from 1985-1987), better than most teams would get in a season.

Barfield and Moesby also had excellent range in the outfield and Bell had average range for the first few years of his career. Barfield won the Gold Glove in 1986 and 1987. And, of course, they each were great offensive outfielders. At the time some thought they might be the best outfield in baseball history but no, though they were the best outfield in baseball in the 80's.

Anyway in 1985 Barfield's offense took a big step forward. He set new career highs in games (155), at bats (539), runs (94), doubles (34), triples (9), tied in homers (27), RBI (84), stolen bases (22)(the only time in his career he finished in double figures in stolen bases), BA (.289), OBP (.369), SLG (.536). Add in 22 outfield assists and he had a terrific year and finished 7th in the MVP voting. The Jays had a good year too, finishing first in the AL East. We lost out to the Royals in the ALCS in 7 games. Barfield had a good series hitting .280/.357/.440 with a homer and 4 RBI.

In 1986 he had the best year of his career with the bat hitting 40 home runs, scoring 107 and driving in 108. With a batting line of .289/.368/.559 he won the Silver Slugger award and came in 5th in the MVP voting. He was 3rd in the league in OPS at .927, 5th in runs scored, first in the league in homer, 5th in RBI. And he made the All-Star team.

He took a step back in 1987 but still hit 28 home runs, drove in 84 and scored 89 run hitting .263/.331/.458. With his amazing arm and great range in the field he won his second consecutive Gold Glove. In 1988 he declined a little further with the bat finishing with 18 homers and battering just .244/.302/.425.

In 1989 Jesse started the season with the Jays but there was a hot prospect the Jays thought was ready to play in the majors, Junior Felix. So Barfield was traded to the Yankees for Al Leiter. The trade didn't work out too well for either team. Lieter spent most of his time with the Jays on the disabled list and Junior Felix wasn't the player the Jays hoped he'd be. Barfield wasn't terrible for the Yankees; from when he was traded to them at the end of April 1989 when he finished with them in 1992 he hit 62 home runs but hit in the low .240's and his last season he hit just .137 in 95 at bats in an injury filled year. He played Japan in 1993 but hit just .215. He went to spring training with the Astros in 1996 injuries kept him from making the team and he was out of baseball.

I remember him as a happy player, always seemed to have a big smile, good looking and of course, I remember that arm, I always wondered what he could have done as a pitcher. He was a big guy, a free swinger he struck out a lot and was never a high batting average hitter but with his power and defense he was a good outfield and for a few seasons he was great. He was a streaky hitter and could go into long slumps, but wouldn't let the slump affect his defense. He had a good 12 year career finishing with 241 home runs, a .256 batting average, 716 RBI and an amazing 162 outfield assists.

Rob Neyer ranked him as our best right fielder in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups. Bill James had him as the 67th best right fielder in major league history, as well as saying he had the best outfield arm of the 80's ‘by far'.

For the last couple of years he worked as a color man on CBC's Jay's broadcasts. I know it is all personal preference but I will not miss hearing his analysis now that CBC is no longer carrying Jay games.

Jesse Barfield's place among Blue Jay batting leaders:

Batting Average (>2000 PA) 17th .265
On Base % (>2000 PA) 15th .334
Slugging % (>2000 PA) 5th .483
OPS (>2000 PA) 6th .817
Games 10th 1032
At Bats 11th 3463
Runs 9th 530
Hits 10th 919
Home Runs 4th 179
RBI 7th 527
Walks 9th 342
Strikeouts 3rd 855
Run Created 9th 556