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Happy Birthday John McDonald, Jim Acker, Paul Spoljaric

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Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images

John McDonald turns 47 today.

John McDonald had a pretty terrific career for a guy with a lifetime .233/.273/.323 slash line. How do you play 16 years with a bat like that? Well, for one thing, you have to be pretty amazing defensively. Several years ago, I asked Brian Butterfield about Mac.

Last year in Seattle, we watched fielding practice in Seattle before the game, and John McDonald is out there to the very end. That’s why he’s so good at it?

That’s exactly right. He’s the best I’ve ever been around. I’ve told this to several people in the game, he has the best work ethic and gets himself into the right position better than any infield that I’ve ever had, and I’ve been blessed to be around some great ones. And it’s not a mistake for me when he makes a play in the hole that brings the house down. I don’t get as excited because it’s something I expect from him because it’s something he’s rehearsed so many times. He’s rehearsed going into the hole and getting the ball in the air as quickly as he can. He rehearses it. He rehearses it at game speed. When you look at him after he is done taking ground balls, he’s got a lather, he’s tired, and he practices defense quickly at game speed the way you should. He’s the best.

I watched McDonald take infield practice several times. I always enjoyed watching him practice, he goes so hard at it, and he makes sure he throws every ball straight over the top, not sidearm, not 3/4. He was a great defensive player, not because he was gifted with great talent (though John has that), but he also worked hard.

That was part of why we liked him so much. We got the feeling we could be McDonald if we did all that work. Course, none of us are going to do that much work, but still.

Anyway, he played seven seasons for us and was a big fan favorite, even though he was never a regular. We do tend to like the backups. It is harder to blame them for losing.

The other reason he has had such a long career, despite his bat, is that he is a good guy. Everyone seems to like him. When you see a player with a career that lasts longer than you would expect from his numbers, he is generally a good guy. It is a pretty good life lesson; you want to stay a long time in a career, be a good guy. I mean, skill is good too, but being someone that everyone likes? That can never hurt. He could get a coaching or manager job if he wanted one. It is a life lesson.

When Cito Gaston was here, he worked on Mac on his batting and had him going all-out pull. And it worked for a bit. He hit 6 home runs in 152 at-bats. I watched him in batting practice, pulling balls down the right-field line, over and over. He had a great month, hitting .382/.417/.765 with 3 home runs, in 34 at-bats, in August of that year of 2010. After a bit, pitchers saw what he was doing and started giving him pitches harder to pull. In September, he hit .200/.222/.300. I still think it wasn’t a bad idea for Mac. The 6 home runs he hit were the most he hit in his career. In time, I believe that Cito would have helped him figure out what to do with the outside pitches.

I was less thrilled with Cito using McDonald in the outfield. That didn’t work so well.

His Father’s Day home run is one of my all-time favorite Blue Jays memories.

Happy Birthday, John.


Jim Acker turns 63 today.

Acker was a reliever for the Blue Jays from 1983 to July 1986 and then again from 1989 to 1991. If he could have played there one more year, he would have had a World Series ring.

Acker was a first-round draft pick (#21 overall) for the Braves in 1980. We picked him up in the Rule 5 draft before the 1983 season.

As a Rule 5 pick, he stayed on the Blue Jays roster for the 1983 season, but he was one of our better pitchers as a 24-year-old rookie. He had a 5-1 record and a 4.33 ERA in 38 games, 5 stars. In 1984 he battled some injuries, got into 32 games, 3 starts with a 4.38 ERA.

In 1985 we had a closer by committee thing, and Acker had a good season, with a 7-2 record (our relievers got a lot of wins that year, Dennis Lamp went 11-0), a 3.23 ERA, and 10 saves in 61 games.

We made it to the playoffs for the first time that year. Jim pitched in 2 games, 6 innings, allowed 2 hits, no walks with 5 strikeouts. Then, in July of 1986, we traded him back to Atlanta for right-handed starter Joe Johnson. Johnson would make 29 starts for us over the next two seasons, going 10-7 with a 4.42 ERA.

He played for the Braves until August 24, 1989, when they traded him back to the Jays for Francisco Cabrera and Tony Castillo. Cabrera would play the hero in the 1992 NLCS, getting the series-winning hit in the 9th inning of the 7th game. Happily, the Braves would go on to lose to the Jays in the World Series.

Acker did an excellent job for us down the 1989 season stretch, with a 1.59 ERA in 14 games, 28.1 innings, helping us make it to the playoffs again. Unfortunately, we lost out to the A’s in the ALCS, but Acker had a good series pitching in all 5 games, with a 1.42 ERA in 6.1 innings, allowing 4 hits, 1 walk with 4 strikeouts.

Jim had a good 1990 season, with a 3.82 ERA in 59 games and 91.2 innings. 1991 wasn’t as good, 5.20 ERA in 54 games, 88.1 innings. We made the playoffs again, losing out to the Twins in the ALCS. Jim pitched in 1 game.

After the season, he signed with the Mariners. He pitched in 17 games, which was the end of his MLB career.

He played ten seasons in the majors. 467 games, 32 stars. He had a 4.45 ERA, 33-49 record, and 30 saves. 7 of those seasons were with the Blue Jays. He wasn’t a strikeout pitcher, averaging just 4.8 per 9 innings, but then it was a different time, and he wasn’t a one-inning reliever like we see these days. Instead, pitchers looked for contact to keep their pitch counts down.

Happy Birthday Jim. I hope it is a good one.


Paul Spoljaric turns 51 today.

Paul was a left-handed reliever for the Blue Jays. He was born in Kelowna, BC (a beautiful town). He was an amateur free agent signing. Back in the day, Canadians weren’t part of the draft in 1989.

Paul made the team out of spring training in 1994, got rocked in two appearances, and wasn’t seen again until 1996. Things went better. He had a 3.08 ERA in 28 games.

He was having a good 1997 season, had a 3.19 ERA in 37 games when The Jays traded Paul and Mike Timlin to the Mariners for Jose Cruz Jr. The Mariners were in a pennant race, and their bullpen needed help. They had taken Cruz in the first round of the 1992 draft, number 3 overall. Timlin and Spoljaric did help them to the playoffs, but they lost out in the ALDS. Cruz would go on to hit 122 homers for the Blue Jays over six seasons. I’m sure it was the best trade Ash made for the Blue Jays, but that’s without checking.

Paul had a terrible 1998 season, 6.48 ERA for the Mariners. They traded him to the Phillies before the 1999 season. In May of that year, the Jays traded to get him back, sending Robert Person to the Phillies. Person’s biggest claim to fame was that he came from the Mets for John Olerud in a one-for-one deal in which we sent cash along to the Mets.

Paul would pitch in 37 games, making 2 starts, for us in 1999 with a 4.65 ERA.

After the season, the Jays traded Paul and Pat Hentgen to the Cardinals for Alberto Castillo, Matt DeWitt, and Lance Painter. Not a deal that moved the needle for us. Paul was released by the Cards before the 2000 season and signed with the Royals. He pitched in 13 games for them, and that was the end of his major league career.

He played six seasons in the majors, 4 with the Jays, and got into 104 games with a 4.31 ERA and 4 saves. In total, he played 195 games, 12 starts, 5.52 ERA.

Happy Birthday Paul.


Moises Sierra turns 33 today.

Moises was an outfield prospect for us. He was called up at the end of July 2012 and played in 49 games, with a .224/.274/.374 line.

He again got a call up in August of 2013 and hit much better, .290/.369/.458 in 35 games.

That bought him a job out of spring training in 2014. He didn’t hit much at all in 13 games in April. Then, he was DFAed and taken by the White Sox off waivers. He played in 83 games, hitting .276/.311/.417.

After that, he bounced from team to team. He played 27 games for the Nationals in 2018, hitting .167/.217/.204.

He played parts of 4 seasons in the majors, hit .235/.287/.362 with 9 home runs in 207 games.

Unfortunately, most of my memories of Moises involve misadventures in the outfield. If his defense was better, someone would have given him enough at-bats to show whether or not he could become a major league regular.

He played a season in Japan and has been playing in Mexico for the last two seasons.

Happy Birthday, Moises.


Kevin Millar turns 49 today.

Millar played his last season in the majors for the Jays. The Jays brought in for veteran presence. But when you hit .223/.311/.363 in 78 games. When you are a first baseman/DH, and you hit like that, it doesn’t matter how great a guy you are in the clubhouse. Then after he left the team, we found out that most of his veteran presence was telling everyone how great it was when he was with the Red Sox.

He wasn’t a favorite of mine. There are few Blue Jays players that I actively hated when they played with the team. Millar was one of them.

Kevin played 12 seasons in the majors, with the Marlins (5 seasons), Red Sox (3), Orioles (3), and Blue Jays. In 1427 games, he hit .274/.358/.452 with 170 home runs and a 14.2 bWAR (-0.7 of that with the Jays).

He has a World Series ring from the 2004 season with the Red Sox, and he was a big part of their comeback from down 3-0 in the ALCS that year. In the ninth inning of game 4, down a run, Kevin worked a walk-off Mariano Rivera. Dave Robert pinch ran, stole second, and, well, the rest is history.

Millar is on the MLB Network now, and I haven’t warmed up to him there either.

Happy Birthday, Kevin.