46 Years Ago Today
The Blue Jays played their first-ever game: on April 7, 1977, at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto. If you are old enough to remember Exhibition Stadium, you’ll remember it was a terrible place to watch a baseball game. The Argonauts played their CFL games there, so the seats faced the 55-yard line, not the diamond. You had to turn your head to watch the play. They made some improvements there as time passed, but Skydome was a vast improvement.
It was cold. The official game temperature was 0 C, but there was wind and snow. So it would have seemed colder sitting in those stands. The Jays won the game 9-5, beating the White Sox. Jays’ starting pitcher, Bill Signer, didn’t have a good start, 4.1 innings, 10 hits, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts, but surprisingly, he only allowed 4 runs, 3 earned. He was at the end of a good 14-year career. He won 20 games for the Dodgers in 1969 but would finish with a 6.79 ERA in 1977, his last season. Jerry Johnson pitched 2.2 in relief and got the win. Pete Vuckovich pitched the final two innings for the save. He allowed one hit and one walk, with 3 strikeouts. Vuckovich would win the Cy Young Award in 1982 as a Brewer. He wasn’t a great choice. He had 18 wins with a 3.34 ERA. In 223.2 innings, he had 102 walks and 105 strikeouts. He had a 2.8 bWAR. Dave Stieb had the best bWAR (for pitchers) 7.6. Vuckovich wasn’t even in the top 10 for pitcher’s bWAR
On offence, Doug Ault hit two home runs and drove in 4, a surprising performance for a guy that only had 17 career homers in 256 major league games. Al Woods had a pinch-hit, 2-run homer. Woods played seven years with the Jays. He had a pretty good season in 1980, hitting .300/.364/.480 with 15 home runs. Other than that year, he was forgettable.
The Jays had 16 hits on the day, 3 each for Ault and second baseman Pedro Garcia. Two each for Dave McKay (the lone Canadian in the lineup), Otto Velez, and Rick Cerone. Velez and Cerone were the two best players in the lineup. Cerone played for 18 years and made it to the World Series, with the Yankees, in 1981. Velez played 11 seasons, mostly at DH, and, in 1980, hit 20 home runs for the Jays.
The Jays would only win 53 more games that year. However, they did have some other decent players: Ron Fairly led the team with 19 home runs and tied for the lead in RBI, with Ault, at 64. Alan Ashby caught 124 games. Roy Howell was a rookie and played 96 games, mostly at 3B. But, for the most part, we had many players that the other teams didn’t want.
Dave Lemanczyk led the staff with 13 wins (throwing 252 innings). Jerry Garvin, who would become a pretty good lefty reliever, won 10 games (losing 18) with a 4.19 ERA. Vuckovich led the team with 8 saves.
We’d finish last in the AL East for the first five years of our existence. Then, it would take until our 7th season to have our first winning season.