Damaso Garcia would have been 67 today.
He was born in Moca, Dominica Republic. As a young man, he was more into soccer than baseball. He was captain of the Dominican Republic’s national football (soccer) team at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974. The Yankees signed him as an amateur free agent in 1975.
Damaso got up to the majors for a few games in 1978 and 1979, but the Yankees had Willie Randolph, and Garcia wasn’t going to move him off second base. So the Yankees traded him, Chris Chambliss and Paul Mirabella to the Jays for Tom Underwood, Rick Cerone and Ted Wilborn, a trade that worked out well for both teams. The Jays quickly moved Chambliss to the Atlanta Braves.
The Jays had the unimpressive paring of future Boston Celtic star Danny Ainge and Canadian Dave McKay at second base, so Garcia was an upgrade. Damaso had an OK rookie season with the Jays, hitting .278/.296/.381. Well, maybe not so OK when you add that he stole 13 bases but was caught 13 times and hit into 14 double plays. Damaso did hit 30 doubles. He finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting, getting three first-place votes. It was a very thin rookie class that year. Joe Charboneau won the award, and he wasn’t a great player.
Garcia had a poor strike-shortened 1981 season, hitting .252/.277/.304, with steals in 13 of 16 attempts. 1982 was his first good season, the best of his career. He hit .310/.338/.399. He set career highs in runs (89), doubles (32) and stolen bases (54, second best in the AL). It added up to a 4.6 bWAR, the only time he was over 2 in his career in bWAR. He became the first Jay to steal 50 bases. He’d have been a good player if he had learned to take a walk. But, as he said, “I don’t like to walk, and I don’t like to bunt.” I’m with him on the second part. The first part should disqualify you from batting leadoff. Can you imagine a leadoff hitter saying that today? At the time, most players from the Dominican didn’t like to walk. The line was, ‘You couldn’t walk off the island.’ Taking a base on balls was seen as less than masculine or something.
He was voted the Silver Slugger award as the best-hitting AL second baseman and received some MVP votes. At that time, the Jays had several promising young players who would get them into the playoffs, with Willie Upshaw, Alfredo Griffin, Lloyd Moesby, Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Jim Clancy and Dave Stieb.
1983 had an almost similar batting line, .307/.336/.390, as in 1982. He stole a few fewer bases (31) but was proving himself to be a decent middle infielder, though maybe illustrating his biggest weakness, he drew his career high in walks that year, with a whopping 24.
1984 saw Damaso’s number fall off some. He hit .284/.310/.374 with 46 steals. He had a huge left/right split, hitting .354 against lefties but .255 against righties. He was always much better vs LHP. He made the All-Star team. Can you imagine a leadoff hitter with a .310 on-base percentage making the All-Star team today? We had three players on the All-Star team that year. Dave Stieb started the game for the AL, and Alfredo Griffin made the team, mostly because he travelled to the game with Garcia, and when Alan Trammell was injured, well, Griffin was there.
In 1985, Garcia made the All-Star team again. Why? I don’t know. He hit a big .282/.302/.377 with 28 steals but was caught 15 times and scored 70 runs. He also received 2 MVP votes. The best news about 1985 for the Jays was that we made the playoffs for the first time that season. Garcia led off in all 7 games of our series loss to the Royals, hitting .233/.303/.367 with 4 runs, 4 doubles and 3 walks.
1986 was his last year with the team. He hit much the same as always (.281/.306/.375), but while he always had a bit of a grumpy personality, he struck a new high in temper tantrums. Upset at being removed from the leadoff spot, that his friend Alfredo Griffin was traded in the offseason and that Garcia had a bad game, he had a little bonfire with some bats and his uniform in the clubhouse.
After the season, the Jays traded Garcia to Atlanta with Luis Leal for Craig McMurtry. The trade did nothing for either team. Garcia missed the 1987 season and played terribly in his few games in 1988. Before the 1989 season, the Expos signed him as a free agent and hit much like he always had in 80 games, .281/.306/.375, with 9 steals and 6 times caught. After that season, the Yankees signed him as a free agent, but he didn’t make the team, and he retired after 11 seasons.
Damaso had all the tools to be an excellent player. He was good defensively, but his refusal to take coaching or, you know, a walk limited him. In his New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James listed him as the 101st-best second baseman in baseball history.’ That was several years ago. I’d imagine he would have fallen some since.
I like Ernie Whitt’s quote, “When he was healthy and wanted to play, he was the best second baseman in the game. But there were days when (he) simply didn’t want to play”.
After he retired, he had double vision issues and was found to have a brain tumour. When it was removed, he was told he had six months to live. But he recovered.
Damaso passed away on April 15th, 2020, from cancer at the age of 63.
Roberto Osuna turns 29 today.
He played three and a half seasons with the Blue Jays. He had a 2.87 ERA in 221 relief appearances and had 104 saves (he’s third in Jays’ history).
You will remember the circumstances of his leaving the team: he beat up the mother of his child and was arrested, but ultimately, the woman decided not to press charges. After a 75-game suspension, the Jays traded him to that refuge for disgraced baseball players Houston for Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez.
Roberto had two good seasons with the Astros, but then, in 2020, he had arm troubles. Tommy John surgery was recommended, but he decided to go with “rest and rehab, “ so the Astros released him at the end of the 2020 season.
Over the last couple of years, he’s pitched in Mexico and Japan.