In the fall of 1959, shortly after the Los Angeles Dodgers had given a second baseman from Selma, Calif. named Bobby Cox $40,000 to sign, three other bonus babies were popping out in other parts of the hemisphere. On Oct. 21, George Antonio Bell came into the world in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. On Oct. 29, Jesse Lee Barfield was born in Joliet, Ill. And on Nov. 5 in Portland, Ark., Lloyd Anthony Moseby was delivered.
Now, in the spring of 1985, these three big, strapping lads, born within 16 days of each other, form the Toronto outfield. They are also three of the big reasons why, as of Sunday, the Blue Jays had the best record in baseball, 28-14, and were working on a seven-game winning streak.
Their manager, one Bobby Cox, has them three games ahead of the Tigers and 4½ in front of the Orioles in the American League East, which is funny because at this time last year the Jays were 28-14 and 7½ games behind the Tigers. "Detroit's still got a great club," says reliever Bill Caudill, another important reason Toronto is on top. "But they're human. Last year they weren't human."
The Blue Jays themselves aren't getting any superhuman efforts, but they do have a he-ain't-heavy-he's-my-teammate attack. In their latest winning streak the heroes have been rightfielder Barfield, whose Grand Slam breakfasts have fueled an American League-high 16-game hitting streak, and catcher Ernie Whitt, who had back to back, three-RBI, one-homer games, in 7-6 and 10-7 victories over Cleveland last Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, Barfield's homer in the ninth gave Toronto a 6-5 victory over the Indians.
In a previous seven-game winning streak, from April 24 to May 1, first baseman Willie Upshaw carried the load with three homers and six RBIs. He then fell into a slump from which he awoke Thursday night, when his ninth-inning, two-out, two-run single beat the Indians 6-5. Earlier in the week Toronto swept its three-game series with the White Sox by a total score of 20-4 (6-1, 4-3, 10-0).
The Blue Jay offense is so well balanced that while no hitter has more than 25 RBIs, five players have driven in at least 20. The team has a .305 batting average with runners in scoring position, which is 40 points higher than its overall mark. The pitching staff has been similarly cooperative. No pitcher has more than five wins, but four have won at least four. With nine saves, Caudill has done the job he was asked to do, yet Jim Acker has given the Blue Jays a totally unexpected lift by earning six saves.
But it's the outfield that makes the Blue Jays special. "One of the best young outfields in the game," says Cox. "All three of them can throw, run and hit with power, and they're all only 25."
The eldest, leftfielder Bell, is hitting .277 with eight homers and 23 RBIs, and he hasn't really started hitting. He hasn't really started talking, either, because he's upset with Toronto's print media. He thinks they think his stats last year—.292, 26 HRs, 88 RBIs and 11 stolen bases-were a fluke, so he won't speak for pub until he's convinced they're convinced. "Maybe next year," he says of his next speaking engagement. Until then, he will, yes, let his bat do his talking.
Rightfielder Barfield, who was half of a platoon with Dave Collins last year, has already justified the trade of Collins to Oakland to get Caudill. (The other Blue Jay traded was shortstop Alfredo Griffin, but he isn't overly missed because his replacement, Tony Fernandez, has the range of a Texas cattleman.) Barfield has a .288 average, 10 dingers, 24 ribbies and an untold number of Grand Slams. Those are the $2.69 breakfast specials served by the Denny's restaurant chain. "I get teased about it a lot," says Barfield, "but I love the pancakes." He gets two of those, along with two scrambled eggs, two bacon strips and two sausage links. It leaves him fulfilled and with $41.31 in daily meal money.
Centerfielder Moseby, the youngest of the trio, has started slowly (.261, four home runs, 17 runs batted in), but as Cox says, "When I watch Mo, I feel I'm watching a .300 hitter." Moseby himself says, "I feel good. I don't worry about Lloyd Moseby. I can do more than one or two things on the field to win a game." He has 13 stolen bases and won this accolade from Cleveland manager Pat Corrales: "With that guy in centerfield anything in the outfield can be caught."
Moseby wasn't always such an accomplished fielder, though. "He used to be brutal in the Instructional League," says Barfield. "We still tease him about it. We had to be out on the field about 9:30 or 10, but he'd be out there at 8:30, up with the chickens, with a bazooka machine, taking grounders, flies, sliding to catch the ball. To see him in 1978 and see him now.... He's a Gold Glove now, no question about it."
In point of fact, all three play well in the field. Bell leads the league in assists with seven, while Barfield has five. On Thursday night his throw to the plate after a single to right caught Brett Butler, trying to score from second, 20 feet up the line. Butler was run back to third, where he met another Cleveland runner, Julio Franco, coming in from second base. Says Barfield with a laugh, "[Cleveland pitcher] Neal Heaton told me, 'I don't know what happened. They told the guys in the meeting not to run on you, and the guy runs on you.' "
Upshaw hit a two-run homer on Sunday to give the Jays an early 2-0 lead, which should cheer him up. At one point over the weekend he was batting .229, and he sat in front of his locker, staring into space. Then he blurted out, "One of these days I'm gonna find me a hole four times." Moseby answered his friend by hitting three different notes on the one word, "You?"—meaning, of course, "What about me?"
Moseby and Upshaw aren't all that worried. They ventured to a novelty store in Cleveland on Friday and purchased some gag gifts. They bought rookie Louis Thornton some mints that would turn his mouth blue when he sucked them—if he sucked them. According to Moseby, "Willie asked him, 'Lou, you eat breakfast?' Lou says no. You know how rookies are always asking for stuff. So we gave him a mint, and nothing happened. He was so hungry he ate it instead of sucking on it." Toronto's version of the Mink-mans of Saturday Night Live did succeed in getting relief pitcher Ron Musselman to smoke an exploding cigarette Saturday morning. The Blue Jays are indeed loose—fairly soon after the cigarette, Musselman pitched four innings of excellent relief to earn the victory.
Caudill, something of a prankster himself, has remained relatively quiet this spring, although he did get a broadcaster with a cream pie. Along with his highly developed sense of humor, Caudill brought from Oakland a 90-plus mph fastball he can spot. In a few outings that spot too often was the middle of the plate, hence his three losses against four wins and a 4.38 ERA. Still, there are those nine saves. As Caudill says, "No save is overrated. Now, Lloyd Moseby—he's overrated." Moseby, who is sitting nearby, merely smiles.
On a more serious note, Caudill says, "I came from a club that won on occasion. This club is expected to win. I was putting too many demands on myself. I was trying to make every pitch too perfect. Then I realized that it wasn't what I could do that got me here but what I've done in the past. Now I'm getting more comfortable."
Whereas the Blue Jays of the past have had no relief—Caudill is two saves away from the Toronto single-season record held by Dale Murray—this team has a pen of plenty. Gary Lavelle, from the left side and the Left Coast (Giants), is 2-0 with three saves and a 2.37 ERA. Acker has his six, and Dennis Lamp, a bust last year, is 4-0 with an ERA of 2.43.
"The addition of Caudill and Lavelle took a lot of pressure off the guys already in the bullpen," says Whitt, who still shares the catching with Buck Martinez. "Pressure situations were something Lamp wasn't used to. He's in the ideal role for him now: long relief, spot starter. He's throwing more than just his sinker. Acker's got a slider this year and a changeup, too. Before, all he threw was his sinker. Batters are coming up to the plate and saying, 'When did he start throwing that?' "
Another thing the Blue Jays have never had before is a strong lefthanded starter, but they may have found one in Jimmy Key, who is 3-2 and is in the elite of American League starters with a 2.70 ERA. In fact, before Key broke the skein, Toronto had gone 614 games without a win from a southpaw starter.
Caudill is happy to be the team's savior, as long as you're not spelling it with a capital S. He's miffed because a Canadian magazine headlined a feature on him with the quote I COULD STRIKE OUT GOD IF I HAD THE CHANCE.
"I didn't say it," he maintains. "I was asked if there were any hitters who intimidated me, and I said, no, that I'd throw a strike to God if he came up. Even though he'd probably hit it." Pause. "I didn't say how far he'd hit it."
That's O.K. Moseby would probably catch it, anyway.