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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #47 Damaso Garcia

Sports Contributor Archive 2019 Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Damaso Domingo Garcia Sanchez| 2B | 1980-1986

Damaso Garcia was born February 7, 1955, in Moca, Dominican Republic. As a young man, he was more into soccer than baseball. He was captain for the Dominican Republic’s national soccer team at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974. The Yankees signed him as an amateur free agent in 1975 as players from the Dominica Republic weren’t included in the amateur draft.

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. The Yankees traded him, Chris Chambliss and Paul Mirabella to the Blue 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 for Barry Bonnell, Joey McLaughlin, and Pat Rockett.

The Jays had the unimpressive paring of future Boston Celtics star Danny Ainge and Canadian Dave McKay at second base, so Garcia was a significant upgrade at the position. Damaso had an ok rookie season with the Jays, hitting .278/.296/.381. Well, maybe a little less than ok when you add in that he was caught stealing 13 times in 26 tries and hit into 14 double plays. He did hit 30 doubles. And he finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting, getting three first-place votes. It was a very slim rookie class that year, Joe Charboneau won the award, and he wasn’t great. But still, I can’t imagine a player with Garcia’s numbers getting votes today; we understand baseball stats much better now.

Garcia had even worse stats in the strike-shortened 1981 season, hitting .252/.277/.304, but he did learn to steal better, being successful 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). Fangraphs has 1982 as quickly his best season, crediting him with a 4.4 WAR (his next best was 2.5 in 84). He became the first Jay to steal 50 bases. If he had learned to take a few walks, 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.” Can you imagine a leadoff hitter saying that today? 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 balls was seen as less than masculine.

He got the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting AL second basemen, and he received some MVP votes. The Jays had several promising young players at that time, many 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 excellent players that would grow together to become a good team.

In 1983 had another pretty good year hitting .307/.336/.390. Damaso stole fewer 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, not exactly what you would like from a leadoff hitter.

1984 saw Damaso’s number fall off some. He hit .284/.310/.374 with 46 steals. He had a considerable left/right split hitting .354 against lefties but .255 against righties. He had a large split each season of his career. Damaso 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, Griffin was there, so they put him on the roster.

In 1985, Garcia made the All-Star team again. I’m not sure why. He hit a big .282/.302/.377 with 28 steals (but was caught 15 times, so we’d have been better off if he didn’t run) 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 leadoff 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 wore out his welcome. He hit much the same as always (.281/.306/.375). But, his often rather surly personality hit a new high in temper tantrums. He was upset at being removed from the leadoff spot, and they traded his friend Alfredo Griffin in the offseason. After a bad game, he had a little bonfire with some bats and his uniform in the clubhouse. It is one of those great stories that gave baseball some color. Those things don’t happen enough anymore.

After the season, Garcia was traded to Atlanta with Luis Leal for Craig McMurtry. The trade didn’t do anything for either team; Garcia was terrible in his few games with the Braves in 1988 after missing the whole 1987 season. Before the 1989 season, the Expos signed him as a free agent.. After that season, the Yankees signed him as a free agent, but he didn’t make the team, and he retired after 11 seasons in the majors at 35.

Garcia played 7 seasons with the Jays. He hit .288/.312/.377 with 32 home runs and 194 stolen bases. In his 11 year career, he hit .283/.309/.371 with 36 home runs and 203 steals.

Damaso had all the tools to be a 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’, but I’d imagine a few have passed him by on the list by now. And Rob Neyer lists him as the second-best 2B in Jay’s history, but that was a few years ago now, as well.

Ernie Whitt had a quote that summed him up “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”.

Garcia was an example of a type of player that you don’t see in today’s game. He had a pretty good batting average, .288 as a Blue Jay, but didn’t take enough walks, didn’t get on base much, and didn’t have any power (.377 SA). Add in that he stole bases at about a break-even rate (69%). Nowadays, we want players that get on base, or slug, or preferably both. There is no way you’d have a player like Garcia leading off now. Back then, middle infielders of this type were common (and there seemed to be a rule that they had to bat first or second in the order, managers would often sight ‘bat control’, whatever that might have been, if asked why a sub .300 OBP guy was batting second). That was baseball before Sabermetrics.

He is an interesting case. In 7 seasons with the Jays, he had two with negative bWAR values and then 4 others falling between 1 and 2. The outlier was a 4.6 in 1982. But it is sort of unfair to judge him by modern means. If his managers understood OBP they wouldn’t have had him lead off. If they understood what break-even was for stolen base percentage, they would have likely insisted on picking his spots better for steals.

It says a fair amount about the times that he was a two-time All-Star and neither was his ‘good’ year’ and he won a Silver Slugger in a season he had a .737 OPS. I guess it is fair to say it was a simpler time.

All that said, when he is going good, he was an exciting player and was a favorite of mine. He was pretty good defensively and, compared to the second basemen we had before him, Damaso was a big improvement. I remember him with a lot of affection. When you are young and learning about baseball sometimes it is less about the players that can help you win and more about the ones you find exciting. Often, in the past, when I have written about him, I’ll get an email telling me how great a player he was, and how I’ve maligned him, so I’m not the only one who remembers him fondly.

A year after he retired, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had surgery to remove it, and after chemo, they said he had 6 months to live, but he recovered with some minor troubles. He had a minor stroke in 2001.

Damaso passed away in April of 2020 at age 63. With all the death in 2020 it is easy to forget that we lost Garcia and Tony Fernandez.

Damaso Garcia’s place among Jay batting leaders:

bWAR: 33rd

Batting Average (>1500 PA) 7th .288

On Base Average (>1500 PA) 36th .312

Slugging Average (>1500 PA) 45th .377

Games 19th 902

At Bats 11th 3572

Runs 13th 453

Hits 9th 1028

Doubles 17th 172

RBI 29th 296

Stolen Bases 3rd 194

Caught Stealing 1st 86