The baseball season has concluded yet another month, which should substantiate some of the sustained performances that we have seen so far. While there are several storylines for the Toronto Blue Jays including the litany of injuries to the pitching staff, and the development of rising stars Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie, it seems like the memory that will stick most for the 2012 season is the incredible power displayed by outfielder Jose Bautista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion.
We have certainly enjoyed some powerful pairings before in Major League Baseball history. Babe Ruth teamed with Lou Gehrig for several seasons. Roger Maris made history while batting next to Mickey Mantle. More recently, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder posted some impressive power figures with the Brewers.
Less remembered is that the Blue Jays have enjoyed some dynamic duos over the last 35 years. While the names may surprise you, you’ll notice that the franchise has certainly enjoyed its fair share of sluggers over the last few decades.
In the 1980s George Bell and Jesse Barfield burst onto the scene. It looked like Bell would be a Hall of Famer early in his career as he posted four straight seasons with 25 or more home runs and a .275 or better average. His 1987 MVP campaign was one of the greatest seasons in franchise history, and though in hindsight we wish he drew more walks, he was as good as it gets for several years.
Jesse Barfield didn’t just have a rocket for an arm in the outfield, but he also blasted 25 or more home runs on four occasions for the Blue Jays including a career-best 40 in 1986. Bell and Barfield were the original Killer B’s and boasted the best power duo in the first half of the franchise’s history.
1986: George Bell (31) and Jesse Barfield (40) swatted 71 HR
1987: George Bell (47) and Jesse Barfield (28) belted 75 HR
In the late 1990s, the steroid era was in full swing and Jose Canseco offered one last hurrah with the Blue Jays in 1998. In the meantime, a classier slugger was developed in the system named Carlos Delgado. A very different hitter than the less powerful John Olerud, who starred at first base earlier in the decade, Delgado blasted 30 or more homers in his last seven seasons with the Blue Jays. Delgado is just 27 home runs shy of 500 round-trippers and while playing in the steroid era certainly limited his time in the spotlight, he has a shot at making the Hall of Fame.
Shawn Green also was developed in the Blue Jays farm system, and while he enjoyed two seasons with 35-plus home runs, his move to Los Angeles at his first crack at free agency curtailed his Blue Jays legacy.
1998: Jose Canseco (46) and Carlos Delgado (38) combined for 84 HR
1999: Shawn Green (42) and Carlos Delgado (44) belted 86 HR
In the early 2000s, the power numbers continued to soar in Major League Baseball. The Blue Jays were very much involved in the power era, however, aside from Delgado the sluggers seemed to come and go. Tony Batista entertained with a funky batting stance and Jose Cruz Jr. teased Blue Jays fans with his vast potential in 2001.
2000: Tony Batista (41) and Carlos Delgado (41) swatted 82 HR
2001: Carlos Delgado (39) and Jose Cruz Jr. (34) teamed up for 73 HR
Soon another franchise player burst on the scene with the Blue Jays as Vernon Wells developed into a five-tool talent with solid power. Though he is often remembered for his lucrative contract and great expectations that were not fulfilled, Wells did contribute with three all-star appearances and three Gold Glove awards.
2003: Carlos Delgado (42) and Vernon Wells (33) blasted 77 HR
2006: Troy Glaus (38) and Vernon Wells (32) combine for 70 HR
In the latter part of the decade, the franchise was looking for a footing and seemed to get it when a couple of prospects enjoyed banner seasons in 2009. Similar to Wells, second baseman Aaron Hill was a first round pick and in 2009 he made the all-star team and garnered some MVP consideration with 36 home runs and a .286 average. Unfortunately, his numbers took a nosedive and he was dealt to Arizona for Kelly Johnson last season.
Adam Lind offered similar promise with 35 home runs, 114 RBI, and a .305 average. However, a combination of injuries and batting woes has kept him from making any all-star teams and even led to a temporary demotion to the minor leagues this season.
2009: Aaron Hill (36) and Adam Lind (35) surprised with 71 HR
Finally, in 2010 Jose Bautista went from utility player to arguably the best hitter in the American League. He slammed 87 home runs over the last two seasons while drawing 100 or more walks each season. After a slow start this season, Bautista is again back on top, as he back on pace for 50-plus home runs, 120-plus RBI, and 100-plus walks.
The big question for the Blue Jays is whether Bautista would gain some support in the lineup. This season Edwin Encarnacion has stepped up to play the role of Robin to Bautista’s Batman. Though he has teased with some power stretches in the past, he has never quite sustained a level of high performance like he has this season. For instance, last season Encarnacion only had one month with at least five home runs, and the year before he reached that benchmark in two months. This season, Encarnacion has blasted at least five home runs in all three months and is currently on pace to surpass 40 home runs.
2010: Jose Bautista (54) and Vernon Wells (31) belted 85 HR
The greatest power display by two Blue Jays teammates occurred in 1999 when Green and Delgado each surpassed 40 home runs and finished with 86 combined. With Bautista and Encarnacion on pace to surpass 90, their power has offered Blue Jays fans something to cheer about while providing memories that should last decades more.
Which is your favourite power duo in Blue Jays history?