Until last year the Level of Excellence at SkyDome (there’s no Roger’s Centre at BackinBlue) was the highest honor the Toronto Blue Jays could bestow on a former player, manager or employee. That changed a bit last year after Roberto Alomar’s No. 12 was retired, but since it looks like Alomar is going to the last Blue Jay in Cooperstown for awhile the Level of Excellence remains the best way to honor Jays of the past going forward.
That being said whose name should go up next? I’ve stated in a previous Listed article that Carlos Delgado hands down should be the next name to join the likes of Alomar, Carter, Stieb, Fernandez, Gaston and Gillick. Since Delgado is the clear No.1 choice for the next name on the Level of Excellence this list should actually be called Top 5 Jays not named Carlos Delgado for the Level of Excellence. One note before the list, anyone still playing doesn’t qualify so you won’t find them here. So, no Roy Halladay or Vernon Wells yet. Here we go in no particular order…
Whitt was selected by Toronto in the Expansion Draft in 1976. He spent most of his first three years with Toronto in the minors but finally broke through in 1980, appearing in 106 games. He would spend the next nine years in Toronto, appearing in 1218 games, which ranks fifth in franchise history. Whitt was a fan-favorite throughout the 1980′s and put up solid numbers spending many seasons in a platoon situation with Buck Martinez. Whitt hit 15 or more home runs six times, with a career-high 19 homers twice in 1985 and 1987. During the 1985 season Whitt made his lone All-Star game appearance.
Despite being from Detroit, Michgian Whitt has become a major part of Canadian baseball since retiring in 1991. He has been coach of the Canadian National baseball team at many International events including the 2004 Summer Olympics, the 2006 World Baseball Classic and the 2011 Baseball World Cup where Canada won the bronze medal. Whitt also returned to the Jays in 2005 serving as bench coach and first base coach until 2008. Whitt was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
For his long tenure with the Jays, his impressive performance at and behind the plate, his great relationship with Toronto fans and his continued support of baseball in Canada Whitt is very deserving of the Level of Excellence.
Tom Henke was a mainstay in the Toronto bullpen for eight seasons. Toronto stole Henke from the Rangers in 1985 as a Free Agent compensation pick. After scuffling in the Rangers bullpen Henke came alive in Toronto. In his first season with the Jays Henke appeared in 28 games, notching 13 saves with a 2.03 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 40 innings. Henke finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting and also received a few MVP votes.
Henke would bring stability to the ninth inning as a dominant closer recording 30 or more saves four times with Toronto and registering an ERA under 3.00 seven times. His best ERA while with the Jays was under 2.00 in 1989 when he posted a 1.92 ERA. During the 1992 playoff run Henke recorded three saves in the ALCS and two more in the World Series. While with Toronto Henke saved 217 games, by far the most in franchise history. By comparison Duane Ward in second with 121 saves.
A fan favorite called “The Terminator,” Henke was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and would also be a deserving member of the Level of Excellence.
After spending nine seasons in Toronto Jimmy Key’s name is all over the Blue Jays record books. Key was drafted by Toronto in the third round of the 1982 draft. He made his Toronto debut in 1984 and became a mainstay in the rotation the following season. Over the next eight seasons Key would make at least 30 starts six times. While with the Jays Key was a two-time All-Star and finished second in CyYoung voting in 1987. During the 1992 World Series Key delivered a masterful performance in Game 4 picking up the win after allowing only one run in 7 2-3 innings and final tip of the cap to the Toronto faithful. Key also picked up the win in Game 6 after pitching in relief in extra innings.
Key appeared in 317 games for Toronto, eighth all time in franchise history. His 3.42 ERA with Toronto is third all-time in team history and his 116 wins as a Jay is fourth best. Key is also fourth in innings pitched, sixth in strikeouts and fourth in games started.
As a key member of the Jays for nearly a decade Jimmy Key easily belongs among the Blue Jays best on the Level of Excellence.
Hentgen was drafted by Toronto in the fifth round of the 1986 draft and would far exceed his draft expectations. Hentgen made his Toronto debut in 1991, but didn’t come into his own until 1993. That season Hentgen was an All-Star and helped Toronto win their second World Series by winning 19 games while posting a 3.87 ERA. In the World Series Hentgen won Game 3 after pitching a strong six innings, and limiting the Phillies to one run on five hits.
Hentgen’s best was yet to come though. In 1996 he became the first Toronto player to win the Cy Young Award. Hentgen won a career-best 20 games that season with a 3.22 ERA, 10 complete games and 177 strikeouts. Hentgen was traded to St. Louis in 2000, but returned to Toronto to finish his career in 2004. Hentgen’s time in Toronto wasn’t finished though as he became bullpen coach with the team in 2011. Forced to give up the job due to personal reasons after the season, Hentgen remains with the team as a Special Assistant to the Organization.
For his long tenure with the Jays and his contributions on and off the field Pat Hentgen deserves a spot on the Level of Excellence.
This is a combo because I think it would be appropriate to honor both Buck Martinez and John Cerutti on the same day.
For Buck Martinez you could say the Blue Jays have been his second home or that the he has the Blue Jays in his blood. Martinez was traded to Toronto at the start of the 1981 season. Prior to arriving in Toronto Buck had played for the Brewers and the Royals. Martinez was nothing to write home about at the plate, but he was a solid veteran catcher on a young and up-and-coming Toronto ball club in the early 80′s. Buck’s most memorable moment as a Jay came in 1985 when he broke his leg and dislocated his ankle in a collision at home plate with Seattle’s Phil Bradley. Despite suffering the injuries Martinez was able to fire the ball to third base to try and get Gorman Thomas, but his errant throw went into left field. Thomas tried to score, but George Bell hit Martinez with a strike and Martinez, broken leg and all, was able to tag Thomas out. The injuries were expected to be career ending, but Buck was able to return for one more season with the Jays in 1986 before retiring.
Buck wasn’t done with Toronto though. Following his retirement he became a radio analyst for the Jays and eventually became the first color analyist for TSN Blue Jays broadcasts. While with TSN Martinez would work with Fergie Oliver, Jim Hughson and Dan Shulman. He left the broadcast booth in 2000 to become Blue Jays manager. He lasted until part way through the 2002 season before being fired with an 80-82 record. Martinez left Toronto for a number of years, but was drawn back again in 2010 to man the Jays broadcast booth for Sportsnet as the play-by-play announcer.
If you’re not a long time Jays fan you may not know who John Cerutti is. The Jays drafted Cerutti in the first round of the 1981 draft. Cerutti made his debut with Toronto in 1985 and over the next six seasons appeared in 191 games, including 108 starts, compiling a 46-37 record with a 3.87 ERA. On June 7, 1989 Cerutti recorded the first win by a Blue Jay at the SkyDome.
Cerutti made his return to Toronto as a color analyst on CBC in 1997 working with Brian Williams. He spent five years at CBC before moving on to SportsNet as their first color analyst. On the final day of the 2004 season Cerutti failed to show up for a morning meeting prior to the game. He was found later that day in his hotel room having died suddenly due to a heart arrhythmia at the age of 44. Later that year the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writer’ Association of America gave Cerutti it’s annual Good Guy Award and honored him by renaming the award after him. Cerutti was a smart analyst and more importantly a good man and father and along with Martinez would be a befitting member of the Level of Excellence.
If you’re wondering where Jerry Howarth is I don’t think Howarth is done with his radio career just yet. When Howarth does decide to hang it up he should be inducted on to the Level of Excellence before his final game at SkyDome right next to his old friend Tom Cheek.
Are there other former Jays players or personnel that deserve the honor of being place on the Level of Excellence? Let us know what you think in the comments section.