For Fans, By Fans

Jays Listed: Top Ten Fan Favorites

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What’s a fan favorite you may be asking? Let’s startout by telling you what it’s not. It’s not big superstars like Roberto Alomar or Carlos Delgado. It’s not big sluggers like Jose Bautista or George Bell. It’s not Cy Young winners like Roy Halladay or Pat Hentgen. Sure, those players were big fan favorites when they were in Toronto, but it’s not the kind of player we’re talking about.

The fan favorites we’re going to countdown aren’t All-Stars. They might not even be everyday players. They don’t lead the team in home runs, or RBI, or strikeouts or wins. Despite this, they make a connection with the fans for some reason. Maybe it’s the way the play the game or their work ethic. Maybe the  way they’ve overcome obstacles to make it to the Majors, or spent a long time in the minors before finally getting the call and surprising everyone. You don’t have to be a superstar for the fans to get behind you and these 10 guys are proof. This list may be a little subjective, so if you think I missed anyone, or someone is more deserving let me know in the comments section. Here we go…

 

10.Reed Johnson

Reed Johnson was selected by the Blue Jays in the 17th round of the 1999 Draft. He arrived in Toronto in 2003, manning all three outfield positions throughout the season, spent mainly in a platoon with Frank Catalonotto. He put up some solid offensive numbers for a rookie, hitting .294 with a .353 OBP and a .780 OPS while hitting 10 home runs with 52 RBI and a 102 OPS+. His best season with the Jays came in 2006 when he posted a slash line of .319/.390/.479 with 12 homers, 49 RBI and a 4.8 WAR. He also was a solid defender, posting a 1.4 defensive WAR that season.

Johnson never hit for a lot of power, but he could get on base in more ways than one, and he always played hard making him a fan favorite during his years with the Jays. Johnson also had a willingness to “take one for the team.” Johnson was hit by pitches a lot. In his rookie season his was hit by a pitch 20 times and he topped that in 2006 when he took 21 bean balls. Twice while with the Jays he was hit three times in a single game. Twice! In his five seasons with the Jays Johnson was hit 80 times. That’s second in franchise history behind Carlos Delgado’s 122. Of course Delgado had nearly three times as many at bats in a Jays uniform as Johnson.

9. Joe Inglett

Joe Inglett was surprisingly drafted in the eighth round by the Cleveland Indians in the 2000 Draft. After finally making it to the Majors with the Indians in 2006 after six years in the minors the Blue Jays selected him off waivers late in the 2007 season.

His Toronto career really began in 2008 when as an uber utility man he appeared in 109 games. If Toronto needed someone to fill in somewhere on the field Inglett was the go-to-guy. In 2008 Inglett played every position except first base and catcher. He did not pitch if you were wondering. Not only could Inglett play anywhere on the field he put together a pretty solid season at the plate for a guy who didn’t know if or where he might be playing on a regular basis. That season he hit .297 with a .355 OBP and a .762 OPS. He also had 39 RBI and a 2.6 WAR.

Despite his success as a utility man in 2008 Inglett started 2009 in the minors and only played 36 games with the Blue Jays. After the season he was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers, before getting taken off waivers again by the Brewers. Inglett crossed pitcher off his list of position as well with Milwaukee, when he took the mound in a blowout in 2010.

8. Jesse Carlson

Carlson spent a long seven years in the minors before finally getting his break with the Blue Jays in 2007. That was actually his second go-around with Toronto. Carlson was drafted by the Tigers in the 15th round in the 2002 Draft. He was released by Detroit less than a year later and latched on with Houston. After a short stint in the Astros minor league system the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent in 2004. A year later he was gone again, signing on with the Rangers. His stay with the Rangers was also a short one, as he landed by with the Blue Jays in 2007.

He finally made his Major League debut on April 10, 2008. He entered the game in the 12th inning with the bases loaded and two out and struck out Daric Barton, the only batter he faced, on three pitches. Less than a week later on April 16 Carlson made Jays fans happy again when he once again enter the game in extra innings with the bases loaded, wth none out. Carlson went on to strikeout the side getting Adam Melhuse looking and Marlon Byrd and Daniel Murphy both swinging. Carlson pitched three innings in the 14 inning affair, allowing no runs on one hit with four strikeouts.

Carlson would finish the 2008 season with a 7-2 record, a 2.25 ERA an a .103 WHIP. For one season at least he was most Jays fans favorite reliever.

7. Jose Molina

After winning a World Series with the Angels and spending three seasons with the Yankees Molina landed in Toronto as a free agent in 2010. He would spend two seasons with the Jays as the backup catcher, helping tutor some of the Jays younger pitchers and also providing a veteran presence for J.P. Arencibia to learn from.

In 2010 Molina posted a .681 OPS, one of the best of his career, only to top it the following season. That year he had a .757 OPS while hitting .281 with 15 RBI. Not bad numbers for 56 games and 142 at bats. Also in 2011 Molina record the third triple of his career and first in seven years. If you’ve ever seen Molina run then you know how impressive it was for him to leg out a triple and how funny it was to his teammates cracking up in the dugout.

One of the major things that made Molina a fan favorite was his attitude. He always looked like he was having fun no matter if he was behind the plate or in the dugout on an off-day. He still does when he suits up for Tampa Bay and the Jays take on the Rays.

6. Jesse Litsch

Jesse Litsch got exposure to the Major Leagues really early as the bat boy for the Tampa Bay Rays. A few years later he was Drafted by the Blue Jays in the 24th round of the 2004 Draft.

After three years toiling away in the minors he made his Toronto debut on May 15, 2007 against the Orioles. And what a debut it was. Filling in for Roy Halladay Litsch went 8 2-3 innings, allowing only one run on four hits. He would finish the season with a 7-9 record, a 3.81 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.

At 6′ 1” and a stout 235 pounds with red hair and sometimes a red beard, Litsch doesn’t look like your usual athlete, which made him even more of a fan favorite when he succeeded. In 2008 Litsch was a reliable member of the Toronto rotation, going 13-9 with a 3.58 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He pitched two complete-game shutouts and also set a new franchise record by going 38 innings without issuing a walk.

Injuries have derailed Litsch’s career lately. He had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and had a hard time reestablishing himself in the Toronto rotation after his return. Litsch is currently on the DL after developing a potentially career-threatening infection in his shoulder brought on by a plasma injection to help heal the injured shoulder.Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Jesse Litsch.

5. Mike Huff

Mike Huff was drafted by the Dodgers in the 16th round of the 1985 Draft. After shorts stints with the Dodgers and the Indians Huff found a home with the White Sox, where he was a fourth outfielder for four seasons. Before the 1994 season he was traded to Toronto for Domingo Martinez. Huff would spend the next three seasons in Toronto as a fourth outfielder, while Martinez would never play a single game for Chicago. That’s a win for us I think.

Huff’s best season with the Jays was his first in 1994. That season he played in 80 games and hit .304 with a .392 OBP and a .842 OPS. Those were by-far the best numbers of his career and it earned him a new contract with the Jays after the season.

Huff was one of those players that didn’t have much power (well none really), wasn’t fast and he had no real flash, but you couldn’t help but cheer for him. Maybe it was his hustle, or his determination to make a difference for the Jays any way he could. Huff saw action at all three outfield spots with the Jays and even an odd three games at third base in 1996. Most Jays fans may not even remember, but he was one of my fan favorites during his short time in Toronto.

4. Craig Grebeck

The word “scrappy” is probably the best way to describe Grebeck. If you’ve got a better word to describe a 5′ 7” 160 pound infielder let me know what it is.

Grebeck signed on with the Blue Jays as a free agent in 2008. As a backup infielder that season Grebeck saw action in 102 games, including 83 starts. He hit .256 that season with a .327 OBP and a 0.8 WAR. The following season Grebeck only appeared in 34 games due to injury, but he was highly effective at the plate with a .363 average, a .443 OBP and a .868 OPS. He likely wouldn’t have maintained those numbers over a full season, but it was definitely fun while it lasted that season. Especially for young baseball players under six feet that had their own dreams of making the Majors one day.

3. Mookie Wilson

This song describes why Mookie Wilson was a fan favorite perfectly. You know a player is a fan favorite when a few fans take the time to write and record a song about him.

Wilson was traded to the Jays from the Mets in 1989 in exchange for Jeff Musselman an Mike Brady. Mookie immediately made an impact with the Jays hitting .298 with 12 steals and 32 runs scored in only 54 games. Despite playing less than half the season in Toronto in ’89 Wilson still garnered an AL MVP vote.

Mookie’s name alone would have been enough to make him a fan favorite, but he also had flash making a number of sparkling plays in the field and also igniting the Jays offense on many occasions, stealing 23 bases and scoring 81 runs.

2. Frank Catalonotto

Frank Catalonotto recently released a memoir entitled Hustle & Heart. Those words readily described Catalonotto long before the Blue Jays used it as a team slogan last season.

Catalonotto arrived in Toronto via free agency in 2003.  Catalonotto may not have had a ton of power or speed on the base paths, but he played the game smart and he could hit. As the book title says he also had a strong work ethic and played the game hard which fans noticed causing them to take an immediate shining to him.

During his four seasons in Toronto Catalonotto posted a slash line of .299/.361/.445. He also had a 5.9 WAR (equivalent to his WAR in five seasons with Texas). He also delivered one of the most memorable single game performances in Blue Jays history when he went 6-6 against the White Sox. He’ still the only Blue Jays to ever record six hits in a single game, a record that will be hard for any player to match, let alone top.

1. John McDonald

Could No. 1 on this list be anyone other than Johnny Mac?

John McDonald was traded to Toronto from Cleveland after the 2004 season in exchange for Tom Mastny. In 2005 McDonald backed up Russ Adams at short and hit .297 and posted a .977 fielding percentage in 37 games. McDonald was actually traded to the Tigers in July and finished out the season in Detroit, but he was back in Toronto before long.

In November the Tigers sent McDonald back to Toronto. Adams began the season at short again for the Jays, but it wasn’t long before McDonald was handed the job. He would play in 103 games that season and show off the impressive defensive skills that would help make him a fan favorite in Toronto.

The 2007 season was arguably McDonald’s best in Toronto. He once again began the season as the backup shortstop, this time behind Royce Clayton. The addition of Clayton was supposed to add some more offense at short, but after Clayton struggled at the plate he was released and McDonald took over the starting job again. That season McDonald appeared in a career-high 123 games and he posted a phenomenal 2.7 defensive WAR. He also had a .982 fielding percentage at short and there was talk that McDonald could be inline for the gold glove. Instead it went to Orlando Cabrera.

In seven seasons with Toronto, of which he played in more than 100 games only twice, McDonald compiled a defensive WAR of 7.2. That alone is impressive for a backup player that saw action at second, short, third and even in left on occasion.

Johnny Mac wasn’t a fan favorite just because of his sparkling glove work. McDonald was another one of those guys that played the game the way it was supposed to be played. He always gave it his all and it showed. The most telling factor of how popular McDonald was while with the Jays is that he won an online fan vote for most popular player on a team that also boasted Roy Halladay.

Honorable Mentions:
Gregg Zaun
Alfredo Griffin
Charlie O’Brien
Nelson Liriano
Alberto Castillo
Otto Velez

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