Actually, it is the day after his birthday, but there was a bit of news yesterday and I decided to put this off for a day, but Damaso Garcia was a favorite of mine. Garcia turned 63 yesterday. .
Damaso was born in Moca, Dominica Republic. As a young man he was more into soccer than baseball, he was captain for the Dominican Republic’s national football (soccer) team at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974. He was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 1975.
Damaso got up to the majors for a few games in 1978 and 1979, but the Yankees had Willie Randolph and Garcia wasn’t going to move him off second base. So the Yankees traded him, Chris Chambliss and Paul Mirabella to the Jays for Tom Underwood, Rick Cerone and Ted Wilborn, a trade that worked out pretty well for both teams. The Jays quickly moved Chambliss to the Atlanta Braves.
The Jays had the very unimpressive paring of future Boston Celtic star Danny Ainge and Canadian Dave McKay at second base so Garcia was a big upgrade at the position. Damaso had an OK rookie season with the Jays, hitting .278/.296/.381. Well maybe not so OK, pretty poor really when you add in that he stole 13 bases but was caught 13 times and hit into 14 double plays. He did hit 30 doubles. He finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting, getting 3 first place votes. It was a very thin rookie class that year, Joe Charboneau won the award that year, and he wasn’t a great player.
Garcia had a poor strike shortened 1981 season, hitting .252/.277/.304, with steals in 13 of 16 attempts. 1982 was his first good season, the best of his career, he hit .310/.338/.399. He set career highs in runs (89), doubles (32) and stolen bases (54, second best in the AL). It added up to a 4.6 bWAR, the only time he was over 2 in his career in bWAR. He became the first Jay to steal 50 bases. If he would have learned to take a walk, he’d have been a heck of a player. But, as he said, “I don’t like to walk and I don’t like to bunt.” I’m with him on the second part, the first part should disqualify you from batting leadoff. Can you imagine a leadoff hitter saying that today? To be fair, at the time, most players from the Dominican didn’t like to walk. The line was ‘you couldn’t walk off the island’. Taking a base on ball was seen as, well, less than masculine.
He was voted the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting AL second basemen and he received some MVP votes. The Jays had a number of good young players at that time, a number of the pieces that would get them into the playoffs with Willie Upshaw, Alfredo Griffin, Lloyd Moesby, Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Jim Clancy and Dave Stieb they had some good players that would grow together to become a good team.
In 1983 had an almost equal batting line, .307/.336/.390, as in 1982. He stole a few less bases (31) but was proving himself to be a decent middle infielder, though maybe illustrating his biggest weakness, he drew his career high in walks that year, with a whopping 24.
1984 saw Damaso’s number fall off some, he hit .284/.310/.374 with 46 steals. He had a huge left/right split hitting .354 against lefties but .255 against righties. He he was always much better vs LHP. He made the All-Star team. Can you imagine a leadoff hitter with a .310 on base percentage making the All-Star team today? We had three players on the All-Star team that year, Dave Stieb started the game for the AL and Alfredo Griffin made the team, mostly because he traveled to the game with Garcia and when Alan Trammell was injured, well, Griffin was there.
In 1985, Garcia made the All-Star team again. Why? I don’t know, he hit a big .282/.302/.377 with 28 steals, but was caught 15 times, and scored 70 runs. He also received 2 MVP votes. The best news about 1985, for the Jays, was that we made the playoffs for the first time that season. Garcia lead off in all 7 games of our series loss to the Royals, hitting .233/.303/.367 with 4 runs, 4 doubles and 3 walks.
1986 was his last year with the team. He hit much the same as always (.281/.306/.375) but, while he always had a bit of a surly personality, he hit a new high in temper tantrums. Upset at being removed from the leadoff spot, that his friend Alfredo Griffin was traded in the offseason and that he had a bad game, had a little bonfire with some bats and his uniform in the clubhouse.
After the season Garcia was traded to Atlanta with Luis Leal for Craig McMutry. The trade didn’t do anything for either team. Garcia missed the 1987 season and played terrible in his few games in 1988. Before the 1989 season the Expos signed him as a free agent and hit much like he always had in 80 games, .281/.306/.375, with 9 steals and 6 times caught. After that season the Yankees signed him as a free agent but he didn’t make the team and he retired after 11 seasons.
Damaso had all the tools to be a really good player, he was good defensively but his refusal to take coaching or, you know, a walk, limited him. Bill James listed him as the 101st best second baseman in baseball history in his ‘New Historical Baseball Abstract’. That was several years ago, I’d imagine he would have fallen some since.
I like Ernie Whitt’s quote “When he was healthy and wanted to play he was the best second baseman in the game. But there were days when (he) simply didn’t want to play”.
A year after he retired he was found to have a malignant brain tumor. He had surgery and chemo and beat it.
Hope you had a great birthday Damaso.