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Happy Birthday Ken Huckaby

Toronto Blue Jays’ catcher Ken Huckaby (L) puts th Photo credit should read JOHN G. MABANGLO/AFP via Getty Images

Former Blue Jays catcher Ken Huckaby turns 53 today.

Ken was a 22-round pick by the Dodgers in the 1991 draft. He was in the Dodgers system for seven seasons, making it to Triple-A. Then he bounced from the Mariners, Yankees, and Diamondbacks and finally landed with the Jays.

Out 2002 season started with Tom Wilson (not the hockey player nor the member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings) sharing the catcher’s job with Darren Fletcher, but Fletcher was having a lousy year and retired in the middle of it. Huckaby played in 88 games, the most he had in his six seasons. It was more than half his career total of 161 games.

Ken hit .245/.270/.308 with 3 home runs and 22 RBI.

The following season, Huckaby only got into five games. One of them was opening day against the Yankees, likely the only game most of us remember because he injured Derek Jeter.

With Jeter on first, Jason Giambi hit a ground ball to our pitcher, Roy Halladay. Doc threw over to Carlos Delgado to get the out, but with the shift on for Giambi, no one was covering third, and Jeter decided to try to get there. Huckaby went to cover third, and he, Jeter and the throw from Delgado got there about the same time. Ken, trying to catch the ball and block Jeter simultaneously, fell on Derek.

Jeter rolled around on the ground in obvious pain and ended up with a separated shoulder. The understanding people they are, Yankees fans called Huckaby a dirty player. Ken felt terrible about the whole thing. The rest comes from a story by Scott Miller on SportsLine (you’ll have to trust me; the page has been removed).

Huckaby, asked to explain himself over and over for the next couple of days, finally accepted the invitation of a Toronto radio broadcaster to broker a meeting with Jeter. So, before the final game of that series in Toronto, Huckaby took a deep breath and made the awkward walk from the home clubhouse down to Skydome’s visitors clubhouse.

Huckaby shook Jeter’s hand, and then he said his piece. “I said, ‘I hope you’re all right. I didn’t know where the base was when I was looking for the throw,’” Huckaby says. “I told him, ‘It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t know where I was on the field. It was just unfortunate we were at the same place at the same time.’”

Huckaby says the words were heartfelt. The guy genuinely felt bad, and the fact that the play sidelined Jeter for so long made it worse.

Jeter’s reaction?

“He stonefaced me,” Huckaby says. “He just stared at me. He didn’t say one word.”

What do you say to that? Huckaby finished, and then there wasn’t much to do except turn around and leave before the frostbite got him. Upset? You bet.

“I was upset at how unreceptive he was,” Huckaby says.

That Jeter is a swell guy, isn’t he?

Derek ended up missing 36 games.

You can see the play here (try not to gag when you are told that Jeter is one of the best baserunners in all of baseball):

After the 2003 season, Huckaby signed with the Rangers. Then, mid-season, he went to the Orioles off waivers. From there, he was released and signed again by the Rangers.

Before the 2005 season, the Jays signed him again, and he got into 35 games for us, hitting .207/.250/.253.

After that, he went to the Red Sox (playing five games for them), then the Dodgers and Royals.

He was a coach and manager in the Jays’ minor league system from 2013 to 2020.

Happy Birthday, Ken. I hope it is a good one.