Chris Mizzoni is a good friend of mine, works with Vintage Sports Images, and really knows his stuff. Below is a blog post on the Blue Jays and their amazing comeback to make the post season in 1989.
This season’s Toronto Blue Jays are a disappointment, to say the very least. After reaching the post season in each of the last two years, another playoff appearance was expected in 2017. However, as of this writing, that seems like an extreme long shot. Through April, after 25 games, the Jays have won only 8. There is, however, some precedence for the Blue Jays to turn it around and make a push for the playoffs. It happened in 1989, after a similar start to the season.
Formed in 1977, the Jays first made the playoffs in 1985 (back when finishing first in your division was the only way – there were no wildcard spots). In 1987 and 1988, they finished each season two games behind the leader – and then came 1989. Under manager Jimy Williams, the Jays got out of the gates to a pathetic 12-24 record. The low point was a Sunday afternoon game, on May 14, that turned out to be a 13-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins. It also proved to be the last Jays game managed by Jimy Williams, as he was replaced by Cito Gaston soon after the game.
Gaston had been Toronto’s hitting instructor since 1982, before reluctantly assuming the manager’s responsibilities. Despite their 12-24 record, the Jays sat only six games behind A.L. East leaders, Boston and Cleveland. Gaston immediately led them to five wins in his first six games.
On Sunday, June 4, Toronto won a game in Boston that may have been the turning point of the season. They were behind by a score of 10-0 entering the 7th inning, but tied the game in the bottom of the 9th on a grand slam by catcher Ernie Whitt. The Jays won the game on a two-run homerun in the 12th inning by rookie Junior Felix to cap the improbable comeback. The win raised Gaston’s record to 11-7, but the Jays had still slipped to eight games behind the suddenly hot Baltimore Orioles.
The very next day, June 5, the Blue Jays opened the brand new SkyDome (a game I attended). Although they lost the first two games at the state-of-the-art facility, buoyed by 48,000 fans every night, the Jays finally climbed back to the .500 mark on June 23. After going 12-24 under Williams, they had now gone 24-12 under Gaston.
It took the Jays until the very last day of August to finally reach first place; a 5-1 win over the White Sox lifted them to a 72-62 mark and they tied with Baltimore for top spot. At this point, they were in the midst of a 22-5 run that pretty much locked up the division title. Toronto ended up winning the American League East by two games over Baltimore and would lose to the powerhouse Oakland A’s in the A.L. Championship Series.
So, as the current Blue Jays sit, mired in the poorest start in franchise history, can they replicate the comeback of 1989? A few large factors are much different now than they were 28 years ago. Firstly, the Jays do not have a brand new stadium to move into, midway through the year. I firmly believe this helped to turn around their fortunes. After starting the year 7-10 at Exhibition Stadium, the Jays went 39-25 at SkyDome. Secondly, the deficit the Jays have this time around is larger. As of May 1, Toronto sits 8.5 games behind division-leading New York. The one saving grace may be the Wild Card spot, which did not exist those many years ago. The Blue Jays sit 6 games out of the second Wild Card – the exact same amount they were out of first, in 1989. Could they possibly do it again?