It is John Mayberry’s 74th birthday.
Mayberry was drafted in the 1st round (6th pick overall) in the 1967 amateur draft. The number 1 pick that year was by the Yankees, Ron Blomberg, so the Astros could have done much worse. Ted Simmons and Bobby Grich were the only players picked in the first round who were clearly better than John.
John was a big, left-handed slugging first baseman. He is listed at 6’3” and 230 pounds, but by the time he made it to the Jays, he was heavier than that. John made the majors as a September call-up in 1968 as a 19-year-old, though he only got 9 at-bats that month and no hits. The following season he was also a September call-up getting only 4 at-bats and still no hits. Then, after two more seasons as a part-timer, he was traded to the Royals, where he became a full-time first baseman for six seasons.
In Mayberry’s first four seasons as a Royal he was great, including two years as an All-Star and a 2nd place finish in the 1975 AL MVP. He received MVP votes in four of his six seasons with the Royals. In his best season, he had 34 home runs, 119 walks, and 106 RBI. He hit .291/.416/.547. His stats fell to earth in his last two years with the Royals with a thump. In 1976 he hit .232, and in 1977 he hit .230. There might have been a reason for that.
To understand what happened, you have to understand a little about baseball and the world in general in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. In the 1990s and 2000s, baseball’s (and other sports’) biggest problem/scandal was performance-enhancing drugs. In the 70s and 80s, it was non-performance-enhancing drugs.
Baseball wasn’t the only place where drugs were a problem. Cocaine was the drug of choice for the financially well-off throughout society. Time Magazine had a cover story saying it was the in thing, without suggesting that there could be a downside.
In the 1977 AL Playoffs, the Royals were up 2 games to 1. The fourth game started early on a Sunday and manager Whitey Herzog allowed his players to skip batting practice the night before to let them get a good night’s sleep. As Whitey tells it:
“ Mayberry dragged in real late, but I put him on first base anyway, which was my big mistake”. Mayberry had a bad game, dropping pop-ups and striking out. Herzog asked him what was wrong. “The man couldn’t even talk, and I knew what was wrong....It must have been a hell of a party”.
Herzog insisted the Royals get rid of him, and they did, selling him to the Jays.
A few years later Whitey would make the same sort of trade as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Keith Hernandez was a terrific first baseman, but Whitey publicly stated that he didn’t like Keith’s work ethic. It came out later that Keith had the same drug problem, and Whitey didn’t want him influencing the younger players on his team. So he traded Hernandez to the Mets for almost nothing. He might have been right to have worried; two of the Met’s young superstars damaged their careers and lives through drug use, though it would be a leap to assign blame to Hernandez.
At the time, it was hard to believe that the Royals would give up Mayberry. But as time passed, the drug problem in baseball became better known, and in many cases, managers and teams had turned a blind eye to it. Whitey was about the only manager that took a proactive approach.
Anyway, Mayberry joined the Jays in their second season. They were a pretty terrible team, finishing 59 and 102 record. Mayberry had some nice seasons with the Jays, though he never again was as good as he was in his first years with the Royals. I don’t know if we can totally blame his decline on drugs. He was a big guy who got bigger as he aged. And he was slow and got slower.
In 1979 John played in 137 games, hit .274/.372/.461 with 21 homers and 74 RBI. And in 1980, he hit .248/.349/.473 with 30 home runs, 6th most in the AL and 82 RBI. So he was a very productive player for the Jays, if not quite a superstar.
In the strike season of 1981, Mayberry played in 94 of Toronto’s 106 games. He hit .248/.360/.452 with 17 home runs, 7th in the AL. Every full season he had with the Jays, his OPS+ was over 100, with scores of 108, 124, 119 and 128.
In 1982 he played 17 games, mainly as a DH, as Willie Upshaw took over as a first baseman for the Jays, hitting .273/.405/.455, and on May 5th, he was traded to the Yankees for Dave Revering, Tom Dodd, and Jeff Reynolds. None of the 3 of them played much for the Jays, though Dodd was traded back to the Yankees after the ‘82 season along with Dale Murray for Dave Collins, Fred McGriff, Mike Morgan, and cash. That was a great trade.
I was pretty young when he played for the Jays but my memory of him was a smiling, happy, big man. He was great in interviews and seemed to take to the role of trying to sell baseball to the people of Toronto and Canada. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy to be happy. When he was traded the Royals were one of the best teams in the AL and the Jays were one of the worst teams in the league.
At the time of the trade to the Yankees, John held the Jays’ career records for homers and RBI.
Mayberry was ranked as the 49th best first baseman in Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract. He should have dropped a few spots since that book was published. He worked as a coach in the Jays system for five years after his playing career was over. His son, John, Jr. played in 15 games for the Jays in 2014.
Happy birthday John. I hope it is a good one.
It’s also Alex Rios birthday. He turns 41 today.
Alex played six seasons with the Jays and was pretty good. He came in 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2004 and improved from there. He made the All-Star games in 2006 and 2007.
Before the 2008 season, the Jays signed Alex to a 7-year, $70 million contract. It looked like it would be a good deal in that first year. He hit .291/.337/.461. 2009 didn’t go as well. By August, he was hitting .261/.317/.427, and the Jays weren’t happy with him. He was put on waivers, and the White Sox claimed him. After a few days of trying to work out a deal with the White Sox, the Jays let them take him and his contract. He didn’t hit any better for Chicago, going .199/.229/.301 in 41 games with him.
Alex played with the White Sox until they traded him to the Rangers in the middle of the 2013 season. He was perfectly average for his year and a half with the Rangers, hitting .280/.312/.414.
In 2015 he earned himself a World Series ring, playing right field for the Royals. He had an excellent ALCS series against us, hitting .368/.368/.526 with a home run and 3 RBI. I’m going to try not to hold that against him. He wasn’t as good in the World Series, hitting just .133/.133/.133 in 15 at-bats.
2015 turned out to be his last season in the MLB. In a 12-year career, Alex has a .277/.321/.434 line with 165 home runs and 244 stolen bases.
Happy birthday Alex.
It is also my cousin Nicola’s birthday, happy birthday, Nicola.