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Happy Birthday John Mayberry, Sr. and Alex Rios

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It is John Mayberry's 66th birthday

Mayberry was drafted in the 1st round (6th pick overall) in the 1967 amateur draft. The number 1 pick that year was by the Yankees, Ron Blomberg, so the Astros could have done a lot worse. The only players picked in the first round that were clearly better than John were Ted Simmons and Bobby Grich.

John was a big, left-handed slugging first baseman. He is listed at 6'3" 230 pounds, but I would guess by the time he made it to the  Jays, he was likely heavier than that. He made the majors as a September call-up in 1968 as a 19 year old, though he only got 9 at bats that month and no hits. The next season he was also a September call-up getting only 4 at bats and still no hits. After 2 more seasons as part-timer he was traded to the Royals where he became a full time first baseman there for 6 seasons.

His first 4 seasons as a Royal he was great, including 2 years as an All-Star and a 2nd place finish in the 1975 AL MVP. He received MVP votes in 3 other seasons with the Royals. His best season he had 34 home runs, 119 walks, and 106 RBI. He hit .291/.416/.547. His last 2 years with the Royals his stats fell to earth with a thump. In 1976 he hit .232 and 1977 he hit .230. There might have been a reason for that.

To understand what happened, well you have to understand a little about baseball, and the world in general, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80's. Over the last roughly 15 years baseball's (and other sports') biggest problem/scandal has been performance enhancing drugs. Back then the scandal was non-performance enhancing drugs.

To be fair baseball wasn't the only place where the drugs were a problem. Cocaine was the drug of choice for the financially well off throughout society. For a time it was close to socially acceptable as alcohol. Time Magazine had a cover story saying it was the in thing, without any suggestion that there could be a downside.

In the 1977 AL Playoffs the Royals were up 2 games to 1. The 4th game started early on a Sunday and manager Whitey Herzog allowed his players to skip batting practice the night before to let them get a good night's sleep. As Whitey tells it:

"Mayberry dragged in real late, but I put him on first base anyway, which was my big mistake". Mayberry had a bad game, dropping pop-ups and striking out. Herzog asked him what was wrong. "The man couldn't even talk and I knew what was wrong....It must have been a hell of a party".

Herzog insisted the Royals get rid of him and they did, selling him to the Jays.

A few years later Whitey would make the same sort of trade as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Keith Hernandez was a terrific first baseman, but Whitey publicly stated that he didn't like Keith's work ethic. It came out later he had the same sort of drug problem and Whitey didn't want him influencing the younger players on his team. So he traded Hernandez to the Mets, for far too little. He might have been right to have worries; two of the Met's young superstars damaged their careers' and their lives' through drug use, though it would be a leap to assign blame to Hernandez.

At the time, it was hard to believe that the Royals would give up Mayberry for next to nothing. But as time went on the drug problem in baseball became better known and in a lot of cases managers and teams had turned a blind eye to it. Whitey was about the only manager that took a proactive approach.

Anyway, Mayberry joined the Jays in their second season. There were a pretty terrible team, finishing  59 and 102 record. Mayberry had some good seasons with the Jays, though he never again was as good as he was his first years with the Royals.

In 1979 John played in 137 games, hit .274/.372/.461 with 21 homers and 74 RBI. And in 1980 he hit .248/.349/.473 with 30 home runs, 6th most in the AL and 82 RBI. So he was a very productive player for the Jays, if not quite a superstar.

In the strike season of 1981 Mayberry played in 94 of Toronto's 106 games. He hit .248/.360/.452 with 17 home runs, 7th in the AL. Every full season he had with the Jays his OPS+ was over 100, with scores of 108, 124, 119 and 128.

In 1982 he played 17 games mostly as a DH, as Willie Upshaw took over as a first baseman for the Jays, hitting .273/.405/.455, and on May 5th he was traded to the Yankees for Dave Revering, Tom Dodd and Jeff Reynolds. None of the 3 of them played much for the Jays, though Dodd was traded back the Yankees after the '82 season along with Dale Murray for Dave Collins, Fred McGriff, Mike Morgan and cash. One great trade.

I was pretty young when he played for the Jays but my memory of him was a smiling, happy, big man. I'm sure he it wouldn't have easy to happy, when he was traded the Royals were one of the best teams in the AL and he was traded to what was the worst team in the league. When he was left the Jays he held the team career records for homers and RBI. And although he was a slow base runner he was pretty good defensively at first base.

His son, John, Jr. played in 15 games for the Jays last year, he signed with the Mets this winter . Mayberry was ranked as the 49th best first baseman in ever in Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract. I'd imagine he has dropped a few spots since that book was published. Mayberry worked as a coach in the Jays system for 5 year after his playing career was over.

Happy birthday John. Hope it is a good one.

It's also Alex Rios birthday. He turns 34 today.

Alex played 6 seasons with the Jays and was pretty good. He came in 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2004 and improving from there. He made the All-Star games in 2006 and 2007.

Before the 2008 season, the Jays signed Alex to a 7-year, $70 million contract. In 2008 he was pretty, hitting .291/.337/.461. 2009 didn't go as well, by August he was hitting .261/.317/.427 and the Jays weren't all that happy with him. He was put on waivers and the White Sox claimed him. After a few days of deciding what to do, the Jays let the White Sox take him and his contract. He didn't hit any better for Chicago, going .199/.229/.301 in 41 games with him.

Alex played with the White Sox until they traded him to the Rangers in 2013. This winter he signed with the Royals as a free agent.

In an 11 year career, Alex has a .278/.323/.439 slash line with 165 home runs and 244 stolen bases.

Happy Birthday Alex. Hope it is a good.

It is also my cousin Nicola's birthday, but I'm not going to write 1000 words about her. Happy birthday Nicola.