Baseball is probably one of the furthest things from everyone’s minds right now, but for a brief 5 minute break, let’s take a look at Designated Hitters of Blue Jays’ past, and you can tell us who your favourite was.
Cliff Johnson (1983-1986)
Johnson made his way to Toronto in the twilight of his career, but still managed to put up some respectable numbers over his ages 35-38 seasons. In 400 platooning games as a Blue Jay, he hit .273/.372/.466 with 54 home runs and 58 doubles, giving the Jays a strong right handed bat in the middle of their emerging lineup.
After the ‘84 season, Johnson left as a free agent and signed with the Rangers, but his time there didn’t last long. The Jays struck an August trade to bring him back to Toronto to help them into the first postseason in franchise history. And the Jays were rewarded, as Johnson went 7-19 with a pair of doubles and RBI in their ALCS loss to the Royals.
The big power bat and presence of Johnson was a great asset for the Jays, whether in the starting lineup or coming off the bench. At the time of his retirement, his 21 career pinch hit home runs was a Major League best, a record that held up until a man further down this list came along.
Johnson also holds the distinction of being the only Blue Jay to ever wear 00 in a game. Interestingly during the 1985 season, his DH platoon mate, Al Oliver, was the only Blue Jay to ever wear 0, giving the Jays a DH platoon of 0 and 00.
Dave Winfield (1992)
The history of full time Designated Hitters for the Blue Jays is stuffed with a bunch of 1-2 season guys nearing the end of their careers (Jose Canseco, Frank Thomas, the aforementioned Al Oliver, etc), making it a bit hard rounding out the whole 6 person field. But the choice to go with Winfield, despite him spending only one season in Toronto, made sense. The Hall of Famer had a great season, and helped the Jays to their first World Series Championship, and the only one of his fantastic career.
Winfield hit .290/.377/.491 in 1992, finishing 5th place in the MVP voting thanks to 26 home runs and 108 RBI in the heart of a great lineup. Once the Jays were in the playoffs, the 40 year old turned in a great ALCS against Oakland, hitting .250/.357/.542 with a pair of home runs and scored an impressive 7 runs. He didn’t fare nearly as well in the World Series, but will forever live in Blue Jays infamy for that World Series. In the top of the 11th inning of Game 6, Winfield laced a 2 run double, giving the Jays the 4-2 lead, which was enough for the Jays to hold on and get their first World Series Championship.
Paul Molitor (1993-1995)
Following in Dave Winfield’s footsteps - an MVP candidate, World Series hero and eventual Hall of Famer - was a tough feat, but Molitor somehow managed to meet and exceed the bar that was set before him. In 1993, the future Hall of Famer finished second in MVP voting, and picked up the World Series MVP award by going 12-24 with a pair of doubles, triples and home runs, driving in 8 and scoring 10 times.
Through his entire tenure with Toronto, he hit .315/.387/.484 with 51 home runs, 11 triples and 98 doubles, while stealing 54 bases, an impressive total for a guy in his age 36-38 seasons.
While his 1994 and 1995 seasons were also good, he will always be remembered for his 1993 season in Toronto. He collected a league leading 211 hits in the heart of the legendary WAMCO batting order, finishing second in batting average at .332 (behind teammate John Olerud at .363, and ahead of teammate Roberto Alomar at .326). He picked up his 3rd of 4 silver sluggers that year, and also made the All Star team for the 6th time in his career.
His World Series MVP award was capped off by an amazing Game 6, where he fell a double shy of hitting for the cycle, and set up Joe Carter’s heroics.
Matt Stairs (2007-2008)
As one of the best Canadians to ever play the game, Blue Jay fans got the opportunity to see Stairs play for the Jays for a couple of seasons. Stairs, who started his career in Montreal, spent time with 12 different teams. In that time, he put together a good career, hitting .262/.356/.477 across over 6000 PA. He hit 265 home runs, and as I alluded to before, he holds the Major League record with 23 coming as a pinch hitter.
Stairs spent parts of two seasons in Toronto, picking up a little more than a season’s worth of plate appearances at 773. He hit .270/.356/.476, launched 32 home runs and drove in 108 runs.
In 2012, Stairs was enshrined in the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame. In 2015, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame echoed that honour.
Adam Lind (2006-2014)
The longest tenured player on this list, Lind is also the only one on this list who was drafted by the Blue Jays. Lind made his debut in 2006 as a left fielder, but by the time his breakout 2009 season came, he was pretty much just a DH. He eventually moved into the infield to get some time at 1B, but he still logged more time as a DH than a first baseman in Blue Jay blue, and that’s why he’s on this list.
Across 953 games with Toronto, seeing more platoon time as his career moved on, Lind hit .273/.327/.466 with 146 home runs. Lind won a Silver Slugger award for his breakout 2009 season, when he hit .305 with 35 home runs and 46 doubles while driving in 114. He was never that great again, but he was still worth nearly 5 WAR over 2013 and 2014, value enough to bring back Marco Estrada prior to the 2015 season.
Lind had some great moments over his time here, and while he never got to experience the postseason, he was very enjoyable to watch. And that beard he developed in 2014 was ... a thing of beauty?
Edwin Encarnacion (2009-2016)
Encarnacion came over to the Blue Jays as part of the trade that sent Scott Rolen to the Reds, although EE was more of a throw in with the more exciting pieces being Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart.
Encarnacion struggled his first couple year with the Jays, enough to be exposed to waivers and claimed by the Athletics after the 2010 season. Luckily for the Jays, his winter in Oakland lasted less than a month, and he was back in the Jays organization before Christmas. His first season back wasn’t that encouraging either, and after hitting .272/.334/.453 with just 17 home runs in 2011, I’m sure there were thoughts about letting him go again.
But the Jays gave him one more chance, and he rewarded the organization handsomely. From 2012 through 2016, EE hit .272/.367/.544, averaging 39 home runs and 110 RBI per season over those 5 years. He helped lead the Jays back to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, coming up with big hits and big games.
His biggest hit was unquestionably the walk off home run to give the Blue Jays the Wild Card win over the Orioles in 2016.
Who was your favourite Blue Jays’ DH?
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