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Blue Jays Birthdays: Aikens, Oliver, Merryweather

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

Al Oliver turns 77 today

Oliver spent his last MLB season with the Blue Jays. The Jays picked him up from the Dodgers for Lee Matuszek in July 1985.

At the time of the trade, the Jays were in first place, 3.5 games up on the Tigers. The Jays were platooning at a few positions, including DH. Matuszek and Jeff Burroughs were the lefty/righty DH platoon. Matuszek wasn’t cutting it, hitting .212/.259/.318, not that Oliver was doing that much better for the Dodgers (.253/.294/.316). But Oliver had the track record of being a “Professional Hitter”. He was older (38), Matuszek was 30.

Since there was no DH in the NL, Oliver was pretty much just a pinch-hitter for the Dodgers, while Matuszek could play first or left field (not that his bat was good enough for those spots).

Oliver played in 61 games, hitting .251/.282/.374 with 5 home runs. But he did much better in our seven-game playoff loss to the Royals, hitting .375/.444/.500. And he had the game-winning, walk-off hit against Dan Quisenberry in game two and the game-winning hit, against off Quisenberry in the top of the ninth in game four. That put us up 3 games to 1.

Quisenbetter wasn’t great against lefty batters, and Oliver had his number. After game four, the Royals came up with a plan to get our lefty batters out of the game before Quisenberry would come in (starting a RHP, then replacing him early in the game with a LHP, prompting Bobby Cox to bring in the right-handed hitting halves of the platoons (Oliver was very visibly angry in the Jays dugout after being pulled in game seven, knowing he wouldn’t get the chance to hit against Quisenberry again). The Royals won the series in seven games.

Anyway, that series was the end of Oliver’s 18-year MLB career. He played for seven teams. His first ten seasons were with the Pirates, and then he had two seasons with my Expos (hitting .331/.392/.514 for them in 1982 and making the All-Star team both seasons). He made seven All-Star teams and received MVP votes ten times.

He ended up with 2743 hits. Oliver felt he could have continued playing baseball after the 1985 season, but that was the year that baseball owners colluded to bring down player salaries by refusing to sign free agents. He felt he was robbed of the chance of getting to 3000 hits (and likely making the Hall). I doubt that’s true. He hadn’t been a valuable MLB player for the last two or three seasons of his career and he was 38 in 1985.

He played in 2368 games, hitting .303/.344/.451 with 219 home runs and a 43.6 bWAR. He did not have a Hall of Fame career (he was a one-and-done in the Writers’ vote, getting on 4.3% of the ballots), but a sure thing member of the Hall of Very Good.

Happy Birthday, Al. I was a big fan.

Willie Mays Aikens turns 69 today

Aikens played with the Jays for two seasons (well, one season plus 12 games). He was a left-handed hitting DH in 1984 and the first couple of weeks of 1985. In 105, he hit .205/.298/.378 with 12 home runs. The Jays released him in May of 1985 (and then re-signed him to a minor league contract. He played 105 games in Triple-A, hitting .311/.416/.496 for Syracuse). He played in the minors for the Mets in 1986 and spent a few years in the Mexican League.

Aikens came to the Jays in a trade from the Royals for Jorge Orta, where he played for four years. He had two seasons with the Angels before that. Career, he hit .271/.354/.455 with 110 home runs in 774 games.

The Royals, back in those days, had several players who had problems with cocaine. Aikens was one of those players. He and a few others were questioned, and Jerry Martin, Willie Wilson and Vida Blue were sentenced to three months in prison. Aikens also received a one-year suspension from baseball but was reinstated in May of 1984.

That wasn’t the end of his drug issues. He was arrested and convicted for selling in 1994. He got a 20-year sentence. Released in 2012, it sounds like he’s turned his life around. He worked as a coach in the Royals system and is a special assistant with the team.

Happy Birthday, Willie.

Julian Merryweather is 32 today

I don’t need to tell you about his time with the Jays. He threw all of 52.2 innings over three seasons with the Blue Jays.

Taken from us by the Cubs back in January, he had a very good season (of course), putting up a 3.50 ERA in 72.0 innings with 5 wins and 2 saves. Sigh.

I am glad to see him stay healthy enough to show what he could do.

Happy Birthday, Julian.

Pat Kelly turns 56 today

Kelly played his last MLB season with the Jays. He hit .267/318/.483, with 6 home runs, in 37 games, playing mostly second base back in 1999.

He was signed as a free agent a couple of weeks into the season and was released on June 9th. There must be a story because a middle infielder hitting that well isn’t generally released mid-season.

Kelly played nine seasons in the MLB, seven with the Yankees. He hit .249/.307/.369 with 36 home runs in 681 games.

In 1995, he married Rebecca Pontifex from Australia and moved there after his career. He coached the national team and was GM for the Adelaide Bite.

Happy Birthday, Pat.