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Today we continue down our path of discovering the fan favourite at each position throughout Blue Jays’ history, today landing on first base. The Blue Jays have been pretty fortunate with having some very good first basemen throughout their history, and while none of them landed themselves in the Hall of Fame, a few of them are borderline and may yet someday get a call from the Veteran’s Committee.
Please note that for the purposes of these polls, Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind are considered Designated Hitters, and are not a part of this poll.
Willie Upshaw (1978-1987)
Upshaw came to the Blue Jays as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Yankees prior to the 1978 season, and while he didn’t get much for playing time the first couple years, by 1982 he established himself as the Jays’ full time first baseman. Across 925 games from ‘82-’87, Upshaw hit .271/.342/.439 with 106 home runs and 14.5 WAR. He picked up MVP votes in ‘83 and ‘84, and was a big part of the team for their first playoff run in 1985. He had just a .593 OPS in that ‘85 ALCS, the only time he made the playoffs in his career.
A fun little tidbit from Upshaw’s career - he is 4th all time in Jays’ history with 42 triples, sitting behind Tony Fernandez, Lloyd Moseby and Alfredo Griffin. I’m thinking Exhibition Stadium played up for triples more than Skydome.
Fred McGriff (1986-1990)
The Crime Dog took over for Upshaw at first base, interestingly also coming over from the Yankees, but in McGriff’s case it was a trade that brought him over. It took a couple years for McGriff to establish himself, but once Upshaw moved on to Cleveland, McGriff took off, putting up great numbers from ‘88-’90. In those 3 seasons, he hit .283/.392/.535 (158 OPS+) with 105 home runs and 18.0 WAR. He led the league in home runs in 1989, earning himself a 6th place finish in the MVP voting. He received votes in ‘88 and ‘90 as well.
Of course, one of the most memorable things about McGriff was the trade that sent him and fellow fan favourite Tony Fernandez to San Diego in exchange for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. But that really sells short the amazing run McGriff had with the Jays, a 3 year stretch that was one of the best in team history.
John Olerud (1989-1996)
One of the reasons the Jays were able to move on from McGriff was the presence of John Olerud. Olerud immediately took over first base in 1991 and never looked back. In his 920 career games, Olerud hit .293/.395/.471 with 109 home runs, but it was his 1993 season that stands out above everything else. That season, he won the batting title while hitting .363/.473/.599, the first two marks leading the league. He also led the league in doubles and intentional walks that season, and helped the team to their second consecutive World Series title while finishing 3rd in MVP voting.
Carlos Delgado (1993-2004)
Immediately following Olerud’s departure prior to the 1997 season Carlos Delgado took the reins of the first base position. Delgado spent ‘96 as the primary DH, but with Olerud gone, that began a 7 year run for Delgado at that position. In 1423 career games with the Jays, Delgado holds the team record for home runs (336), RBI (1058), runs (889), doubles (343) and walks (827).
He also has the Blue Jays’ only 4 home run game, establishing that mark in his MVP runner up season in 2003. A two time all star, Delgado also has three Silver Slugger awards in his trophy case.
Lyle Overbay (2006-2010)
After Delgado left, the Blue Jays for the first time in over 20 years were facing a hole at the first base position. Eric Hinske filled the position for a year, but the Jays quickly went out and picked up doubles monster Lyle Overbay prior to the 2006 season. Overbay wasn’t much of a power hitter, but over 723 career games with the Jays, he did hit .268/.350/.446 with an impressive 180 doubles to just 83 home runs. He provided the Jays with 12.4 WAR over his 5 seasons, but it never felt like it was enough for Jays’ fans.
His best game as a Blue Jay came in August 2010, went he went 4-5 with a pair of home runs and 7 RBI, helping the Jays to a 16-2 win in Fenway Park.
Justin Smoak (2015-2019)
Justin Smoak came over to the Jays, and certainly wasn’t a fan favourite out of the gates. He struggled in his first two seasons, and then inexplicably got himself a 2 year, $8.5m extension with an option for a third year in the middle of rough 2016 season. That extension proved to be worth it for the Jays, as Smoak finally had the breakout everyone was waiting for in 2017. He ended up hitting 38 home runs with a 133 wRC+, and even earned his way to the all star game.
So please cast your vote for who was your favourite first baseman in history. It doesn’t have to be one of the ones listed here either. If it’s someone else, let us know in the comments, and always remember that 1B>1B.
Who is your favourite First Baseman in Blue Jays’ history (keeping in mind Encarnacion and Lind will be under DH)?
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