Jesse Lee Barfield | RF | 1981-1989
Jessie Barfield was born on October 29, 1959, in Joliet, Illinois. He is the father of former San Diego and Cleveland infielder Josh Barfield and Jeremy Barfield, who was drafted by the Oakland A’s and played for the Vancouver Canadians at one point. The Jays drafted Jesse in the 9th round of the 1977 amateur draft out of Joliet Central High School. 1977 was the first year that Toronto and Seattle were in the amateur draft and got the last two picks of each round, MLB being so kind to folks that paid extravagant expansion fees. None of the Jays’ 6 choices before him made it to the majors.
Jesse rose quickly thru the Jays’ system and was a September call up in 1981 at age 21, and got the first 2 home runs of his career. The following year he made the Jays right out of spring training playing 139 games, hitting 18 homers, and hitting .246/.323/.426. He received one Rookie of the Year vote. 15 of those 18 home runs were against lefty pitchers (second in the AL vs. lefties), but as his career went on, he learned to hit right-handers better. In 1983 his power took a major step forward, hitting 27 home runs in 128 games, but the rest of his numbers didn’t improve much. Barfield hit just .253, and his on-base was .296, but with a slugging average of .510, his OPS+ was 112. He only had 68 RBI with the 27 homers.
In 1984 George Bell came up to the Jays and made the outfield pretty crowded. We had Bell, Lloyd Moesby, Dave Collins, and Barfield. Manager Bobby Cox used a complicated platoon system Bell in LF, Moesby in CF and Barfield in RF against left-handers. Against righties, Collins played LF, Bell played in RF, and Jessie sat. Despite that, Jesse’s game took a big step forward. His walk rate almost doubled from poor to decent, and his batting average came up. He hit .284/.357/.466 for an OPS+ of 123.
1985 was the first season that Bell, Moesby, and Barfield played the entire season together. They played together thru the 1988 season and were the best outfield of the time and the best outfield that the Jays have ever had (perhaps Gurriel, Springer, and Hernandez will rival them). All three had excellent arms, but Jesse the best outfield arm in baseball, likely as strong an arm as anyone that ever played the game. And accurate, not only did he have great power, but he’d hit his targets. People tell many stories about Jesse’s arm. One is that he could stand at the plate and throw the ball over the center-field wall. I remember him catch a line drive on a bounce, throw to first, and get the batter out. Barfield led the AL in assists three years in a row (1985 to 87) which was more remarkable because teams didn’t run on Barfield’s arm. He also had 8 outfield double plays in 1985 (and 21 from 1985-1987), better than most teams would get in a season.
Barfield and Moesby also had excellent range in the outfield, and Bell had average range for the first few years of his career, but that dissolved along with the cartilage in his knees. Barfield won the Gold Glove in 1986 and 1987. And, of course, they each were great offensive outfielders.
Anyway, in 1985, Barfield’s offense took a big step forward. He set new career highs in games (155), at-bats (539), runs (94), doubles (34), triples (9), tied in homers (27), RBI (84), stolen bases (22) (the only time in his career he finished in double figures in stolen bases), BA (.289), OBP (.369), SLG (.536). Add in 22 outfield assists, and he had a terrific year and finished 7th in the MVP voting. The Jays had a good year, too, finishing first in the AL East. We lost out to the Royals in the ALCS in 7 games. Barfield had an excellent series hitting .280/.357/.440 with a homer and 4 RBI.
In 1986 he had the best year of his career with the bat hitting 40 home runs, scoring 107, and driving in 108. With a batting line of .289/.368/.559 he won the Silver Slugger award and came in 5th in the MVP voting. He was 3rd in the OPS league at .927, 5th in runs scored, first in the league in homers, 5th in RBI. And he made the All-Star team. By bWAR, it was the best season of his career at 7.6 (the third-best number for a hitter in Jays’ history).
He took a step back in 1987 but still hit 28 home runs, drove in 84, and scored 89 runs hitting .263/.331/.458. With his fantastic arm and great range in the field, he won his second consecutive Gold Glove. In 1988 he declined slightly with the bat, finishing with 18 homers and battering just .244/.302/.425.
In 1989 Jesse started the season with the Jays, but there was a hot prospect the Jays thought was ready to play in the majors, Junior Felix. So Barfield was traded to the Yankees for Al Leiter. The trade didn’t work out too well for either team. Leiter spent most of his time with the Jays on the disabled list (one of a number of times we traded for damaged goods), and Junior Felix wasn’t the player the Jays hoped he’d be. Barfield wasn’t terrible for the Yankees; from when he was traded to them at the end of April 1989 when he finished with them in 1992 he hit 62 home runs but hit in the low .240’s. In his last season, he hit just .137 in 95 at-bats in an injury-filled year.
Jesse played in Japan in 1993 but hit just .215. He went to spring training with the Astros in 1996, but injuries kept him from making the team, and he was out of baseball.
I remember him as a happy player, always seemed to have a big smile, good looking, and of course, I remember that arm. I always wondered what he could have done as a pitcher. He was a big guy, a free swinger. He struck out a lot and was never a high batting average hitter, but with his power and defense, he was a good outfield, and for a few seasons, he was great. He was a streaky hitter and could go into slumps, but wouldn’t let the slump affect his defense. He had a nice 12-year career finishing with 241 home runs, a .256 batting average, 716 RBI, and an impressive 162 outfield assists.
Rob Neyer ranked him as our best right fielder in his Big Book of Baseball Lineups (pre-Bautista). Bill James had him as the 67th best right fielder in major league history and said he had the best outfield arm of the 80’s ‘by far’.
For a couple of years, he worked as a color man on CBC’s Jay’s broadcasts.
I consider the Barfield, Moseby and Bell outfield one of the things that helped make me a baseball fan. Watching them become a strong outfield brought me deeper into the game. I spent time comparing them to some of the other great outfields in baseball history. They weren’t the best, I thought that the Tigers’ outfield of Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and Bobby Veach was likely the best of all time, but you could make a case that Bell, Moseby and Barfield could be in the top 10 or so.
I have a signed ball from him. He seemed like the nicest guy, coming out from behind his table to shake hands with me (remember shaking hands?). He has one of the most pleasant Twitter accounts out there too.
Jesse Barfield’s place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 4th, 29.5
Defensive War: 2nd, 9.5
Batting Average: 26th, .265
On Base %: 25th, .334
Slugging %: 9th, .483
OPS: 11th, .817
Games: 11th, 1032
Runs: 11th, 530
Hits: 13th, 919
Home Runs: 7th, 179
RBI: 9th, 527
Walks: 12th, 342
Strikeouts: 4th, 855