Today marks the 40 year anniversary since the 1976 expansion draft, in which the Toronto Blue Jays organization secured the services of 30 players over a 7 hour period, 24 of whom would don the Blue Jays uniform during its inaugural 1977 season. I thought it would be interesting to take a little trip down memory lane. Overall, the expansion draft was a success for the Jays, despite the team losing over 100 games in 1977 as several key players were selected.
The first pick of the expansion draft saw the Seattle Mariners select outfielder Ruppert Jones who was inexplicably left unprotected by the Kansas City Royals, despite being called one of the organization's top three prospects by manager Whitey Herzog. Jones was originally drafted in the 3rd round of the 1973 amateur draft and made his major league debut in 1976 at 21 years of age. Rupe quickly became a fan favourite in Seattle, representing the Mariners in the 1977 all-star game while hitting 24 home runs and playing good CF. Jones had three productive seasons in Seattle, totalling 7.6 fWAR before being traded to the Yankees.
The second pick of the draft saw the Blue Jays select Baltimore Orioles utility man, the 24 year old Bob Bailor. Bailor played in 122 games for the 1977 Blue Jays and led the team in hits, stolen bases, runs scored and batting average. Bailor played primarily at SS (53 games) and CF (47 games) and was good defensively, getting 10 outfield assists in 1977. He would play for the Jays for four seasons, and while he didn’t have the impact that Ruppert Jones did in Seattle, he did put up a total of 1.3 fWAR for the Jays, including 1.5 fWAR during the 1977 season.
With the 4th overall pick, the Jays selected left handed pitcher Jerry Garvin from the Minnesota Twins. The 21 year old pitched 244.2 IP as a starter for the Jays in 1977 and by the end of April, had 4 wins to his name. He had a good rookie season overall where he put up 1.9 fWAR and 3.7 bWAR. He also collected 26 pickoffs during the 1977 season, which was an unofficial record at the time. Garvin went on to pitch for the Jays for 6 seasons, accumulating over 606 IP with a 20-41 record, 8 saves and 4.2 fWAR.
The sixth overall pick was Jim Clancy from the Texas Rangers, who was really the star of the draft. Interestingly, Clancy began his Blue Jays career by pitching for the Cleveland Indians AA affiliate (the Jersey City Indians) because the Blue Jays had not yet established minor league affiliates at all levels. Clancy didn’t get off to a great start in Toronto, pitching to a 5.05 ERA and a 4.62 FIP in 13 games in 1977, but he would go onto being one of the stars of the Blue Jays pitching staff for the earlier years of the organization, pitching over 2200 innings while appearing in 352 games (345 starts) and accumulating 27.9 fWAR and 30.8 bWAR for the Blue Jays between 1977 and 1988. Unfortunately for Clancy, he was injured and only pitched in one inning during the 1985 ALCS and was granted free agency prior to the 1989 season.
The other incredibly successful player that the Jays managed to nab in the expansion draft was Ernie Whitt, who was selected 34th overall from Boston. Whitt debuted in 1976, but with his path to the majors blocked by Carlton Fisk, the Red Sox left him unprotected. He only appeared in 25 games over his first three years in the Jays organization but in 1980, he made the team as a starter and he never looked back. Whitt would go on to catch for parts of 12 seasons with the Jays, accumulating 21.8 fWAR over that time with league average offense (including 131 HR with the Jays). Whitt was the primary catcher for the Jays during the 1985 and 1989 playoff years, and is probably the team’s best catcher. He was also the last player from the 1977 team to play for the Jays.
Other notable players selected by the Jays included:
- Rico Carty (10th overall): was later traded back to the Cleveland Indians but went on to play 2 years for the Jays afterward, accumulating 1.7 fWAR
- Al Fitzmorris (13th pick): who was traded to the Cleveland Indians the day of the draft for former Jays announcer, Alan Ashby
- Al Woods (14th overall): who put up 1.9 fWAR over 6 years
- Pete Vuckovich (19th): Vuckovich pitched in 53 games in 1977, including 8 starts and accumulated 2.2 fWAR and 2.9 rWAR. He threw the first shutout for the Jays and recorded the first save for the team. After the 1977 season, the Jays traded Vuckovich to the Cardinals for Victor Cruz and Tom Underwood. Vuckovich went on to have 5 very good seasons for the Cardinals and then the Brewers, including a Cy Young in 1982.
- Doug Ault (32nd): Doug Ault famously hit 2 HR in the first game for the Jays, and had a decent season for the Jays in 1977.
- Garth Iorg (41st): Iorg would play 9 seasons for the Jays between 1978 and 1987, mostly as a utility / platoon player. His best season came in 1985 where he put up a 122 wRC+ (compared to his career wRC+ of 71) and 1.9 fWAR
- Dave Lemanczyk (43rd): Dave played parts of 4 seasons for the Jays and accumulated 6.0 fWAR for the Jays. He went 13-16 in 34 starts in 1977 while only striking out 3.75K/9.
- Otto Velez (53rd): Otto played 6 seasons for the Jays and played mostly outfield and DH. Velez was terrible defensively, but put up some decent offensive numbers for the Jays, including 5 years of 120 or higher wRC+ while accumulating a total of 9.5 fWAR