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Happy Birthday Otto Velez

It’s bubble-gum. Not a snowball outfielder Otto Velez is chewing during the Toronto Blue Jays first Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Former Blue Jays player Otto Velez turns 70 today.

The Jays picked Otto up in the major league expansion draft in 1976 from the Yankees. That first year the Jays were awful, finishing with a 54-107 record and didn’t get much better in the years Otto was with the team. But he was pretty good (at least with the bat). In 1977 Otto hit .256/.366/.458 with 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 120 games. He had a good eye at the plate leading the team in walks. He mostly played right field that year, and he was, well, terrible as a RFer. Rob Neyer says that Velez was the worst defensive right fielder in team history, and I can’t argue that. He had little range and no arm at all. But the team had a 38 year old Ron Fairly and a handful of other guys that really couldn’t field, so there wasn’t room at DH. A typical right-handed slugger, he crushed lefties, hitting them at a .318/.420/.527 rate.

In 1978, the Jays weren’t any better, but Velez still hit quite well, batting .266/.380/.448 with 9 homers and 38 RBI in 91 games. They split his playing time between the left and right fields. He also DHed some and played one game at first. He continued to crush LHP, hitting .302/.421/.560 against them.

In 1979 he hit .288/.396/.529 in 99 games with 15 home runs and 48 RBI. He again played mostly left and right field, DHed in 9 games, and played first 6 times. Fangraphs has 1979 as Otto’s best season, giving him a 2.8 WAR. Otto had a reverse split that year.

1980 saw Velez become a full-time DH (about time), playing 97 games as a DH and 3 at first base. He set career highs in home runs (20), runs (54) and tied his high for RBI (62). Otto hit .269/.365/.487 and an OPS+ of 127 his 4th straight year with the Jays with an OPS+ over 120. On May 4th, he hit four home runs in a doubleheader against Cleveland, hitting one of each type, solo, two-run, three-run, and grand slam.

1981, the strike year, Velez had a poor season batting .213/.363/.404. When he was a young player, he had old player skills, and, turning 30, those skills diminished quickly. 1982 he played in just 28 games, hitting just .192. He was replaced at DH by Dave Revering and a cast of thousands. After the 1982 season, the Jays released him, and he signed with Cleveland. Velez played just 10 games, and that was the end of his major league career at 32.

The early Jays were a pretty poor group. Velez was one of the few reasonable players they had. He was a pretty good DH type; he could take a walk and had good power.

It’s also Brian Wolfe’s birthday. He’s 40. Wolfe pitched out of the Jays’ pen for parts of 3 seasons. In 2007 he had a 2.98 ERA in 38 games. 2008 he had a 2.45 ERA in 20 games. 2009 wasn’t as good, 8.22 ERA in 14 games, which was the end of his career.

And former Jay’ catcher of the future’ Guillermo Quiroz turns 39 today. He played 29 games for the Jays over 2004 and 2005. Since then, he has bounced around playing for the Mariners, Rangers, Orioles (where he played in 56 games in 2009, his career-high), back to the Mariners, Red Sox, Giants, and Cleveland. In 9 seasons, he’s played 148 games, hitting .199/.256/.277.

Happy birthday to all three.