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Today in Blue jays history: Jerry Garvin traded

Coming on the heels of Otto Velez and Alvis Woods, some of the final ties to the expansion era were broken

Toronto Blue Jays Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images

In early November 1976, Major League Baseball gathered in New York to conduct a couple important items of business. On November 4th, the free agent era was inaugurated with the first free agent reentry draft enshrined by the newly minted collective agreement.

A day later on November 5th, the American League gathered to stock its two new expansion franchises. Over five rounds, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners each took 30 players from the existing 12 franchises at a cost of $175,000 (USD).

To be charitable, it was quite the mixed bag of players, and many were not to have long tenures with their new teams. In fact, one of the new Blue Jays did not last the day. Shortly after the draft, the Jays flipped their first pick of the second round, pitcher Al Fitzmorris, to Cleveland for catcher Alan Ashby and Doug Howard.

A month later at the winter meetings, Rico Carty was sent back to Cleveland for a second of their young catchers, Rick Cerone, as well as outfielder John Lowenstein (who killed them for years with Baltimore as part of a highly effective left field platoon with Gary Roenicke). Though it was far from the end for the Jays on the Beeg Mon, whom they would (re-)acquire three separate times over the next few years.

By the time Spring Training rolled around a few months later, it was already down to 26, with Leon Hooten a further casualty by Opening Day. By the first anniversary of the draft at the beginning of the 1977-78 offseason, there were 23 left.

By the Blue Jays third opening day in April 1979, the proportion fell under half with just 14 of the expansion picks in the organization and just 12 (40%) on the 40-man major league roster.

The turnover continued the culling as the losses mounted but the organization slowly but steadily built depth. There was another halving over the next two years, with just 7 survivors by the fifth opening day in April 1981. Reliever Mike Willis was jettisoned over the course of that season, leaving six originals as the Bobby Cox era dawned in 1982.

Jim Clancy, Garth Iorg, and Ernie Whitt would become mainstays as the Jays became contenders over the next hald-decade. But there was one more changing of the guard to come with another halving of the expansion survivors that finally culminated 40 years ago today.

Otto Velez was perhaps one of the more improbable survivors, selected in the last round from the Yankees. Buried on the depth chart in New York, in bits of four seasons he only got the plate 303 times by age 26. He took advantage of the opportunity afforded by an expansion team, and though defensively limited, Otto the Swatto had legit pop and his 16 home runs were second on the 1977 Jays.

Beyond the offensive production in a lineup often otherwise bereft of it, Velez was notorious for a couple things. The first being late reporting to Spring Training every year with one reason or another (resolving tax matters, dentist appointment, etc). And the second constantly missing time for all manner muscle strains and pulls. The Jays had a deal worked out to send him back to the Yankees in June 1977, but at the last minute they got Cliff Johnson instead.

Largely platooned over his first three season under Roy Hartsfield, after a very strong 1979 new manager Bobby Mattick resolved to give him the chance to play everyday and Velez responded with a very strong first half. Unfortunately, his season came to a premature end in late August when hos cheek was fractured in a car accident on the way to the park.

He wasn’t the same hitter in 1981 (though scarcely alone; the entire team’s production plummeted), and with young prospects like Lloyd Moseby and acquisitions like Barry Bonnell in the outfield he was relegated to pinch hitting and some DHing for 1982. That didn’t take at all, and in August he was designated for assignment, and sent outright to AAA. To that point, he was the last Blue Jay to have been continuously on the major league roster from the beginning. In line for free agency anyway, in September he was formally released after initially refusing to report to Syracuse.

Outfielder Alvis Woods was selected in the second round, 15th overall, from Minnesota. The 1977 opening day leftfielder, he too was mostly platooned during the Hartsfield years. The lefty hitter posted decent offensive seasons in 1977 and 1979, but a very slow start in 1978 resulted in him being send down to AAA for three months.

Similar to Velez, Mattick committed to playing him everyday and he responded with a career season in 1980, hitting .300/.364/.480. Also similar to Velez, he suffered he missed the end of the season with a sderious injury, rupturing a calf muscle a few days before Velez in the last week of August 1980. And then he too slumped badly in 1981 and by 1982 had been passed by others in the outfield mix under Bobby Cox.

Unhappy with a part-time role, he demanded a trade after the season, as was actually a five year player’s right under the collective agreement at the time. On November 5th, the sixth anniversary of his joining the team, the Jays obliged and sent him to Oakland for Cliff Johnson.

While that worked out tremendously for the Jays, he didn’t make the A’s either and was released at end of Spring Training. In July he rejoined the organization in Syracuse, a regular there through the end of 1984.

That brings us to the final link cut 40 years ago. Jerry Garvin was the second player the Jays took in the expansion draft, after first grabbing Bob Bailor. A prototypical crafty lefty without big stuff, Garvin made the opening day rotation and got off to a quick start. He won his first five decisions (on a woeful team that won 107 games), though eventually finished 10-18 in 34 starts with a respectable 4.19 ERA in 244 innings.

He led the league in home runs in home runs allowed with 33, though also picked off 26 runners to set an unofficial MLB record. The more he went around the league though, the more hitters figured him out, His ERA peaked above 6.00 midseason, and by late-July was removed from the rotation (making a handful of spot starts in August).

For 1979 the Jays tried him converting the bullpen, and the initial results were promising but the unfamiliar role resulted in an elbow injury in May that ended up costing most of the season. He rebounded to post a 2.29 ERA in 82.2 innings in 1980, and had a solid 3.40 ERA in 1981.

But 1982 went pear shaped, victimized by his old nemesis the long ball. He struggled early, was bounced around roles, but nothing clicked and eventually Bobby Cox lost confidence. In mid-August, the Jays optioned him to Syracuse, and though he came back up in September barely pitched.

The writing was on the wall, and in December when a roster spot was needed to accommodate Gillick’s larceny of Dave Collins and Mike Morgan from the Yankees, Garvin was sent outright to AAA. A month later, 40 years ago today, on January 18th the Jays sold his contract to St. Louis where manager Whitey Herzog was interested in giving him a chance to make the reigning World Series champion’s bullpen,

Ironically, Garvin almost predicted it. No batter had antagonized Garvin more than Cliff Johnson with seven career long balls, When the Jays acquired Johnson for Woods, Garvin was quoted in the Toronto Star by Alison Gordon:

You’re kidding! It’s great to have him on the same team. Of course now I’ll probably get traded and have to pitch to him again.

Alas, he was only half right. He didn’t make the Cardinals, released before opening day in 1983, the end of his professional career and never again to face Johnson.

And thus, 40 years ago, the final major turnover of the expansion Blue Jays occurred as they emerged from the doldrums to contention.