‘Winning ain’t given to you’: Blue Jays greats on growing pains of losing


Toronto Blue Jays Outfielder’s George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Jessie Barfield, March 1987. (Preston Stroup / AP)

GORMLEY, Ont. — Lloyd Moseby heard Marcus Stroman’s recent comments and was reminded of his own past.

The retired Blue Jays outfielder spent plenty of time on losing Toronto clubs in the early 1980s that also happened to feature Dave Stieb, one of the American League’s best hurlers.

"Stieb was pitching and he was frustrated because the offence sucked," Moseby recalls during a recent golf tournament hosted by fellow Blue Jays alumnus Roberto Alomar. "If you look at Stieb’s [numbers], he should’ve had two Cy Youngs. Easily. But we couldn’t win for him."

In those days, of course, numbers such as ERA didn’t matter as much as wins when it came to award voting for pitchers. And so Stieb often suffered — his 4.4 WAR in 1981 by Baseball Reference standards was third best in the AL, despite the Blue Jays owning the worst record in the league.

It’s not a stretch from where Stroman stands now. He is 3-8 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.6 WAR on a Blue Jays team that’s desperately struggling offensively and sports the third-worst win percentage in baseball. That, in part, prompted him to voice his frustration after a loss in Colorado earlier this month.

"I work extremely hard every single day," Stroman said.

"I hold myself to an extremely high level and we’re losing — a lot — so it’s not fun. This is not fun. It’s not a fun atmosphere. I’m a winner. I hate losing. I can’t put that into words enough. It’s tough."

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The reality for the Blue Jays (24-43) is that things may not get much better this season, especially if Stroman and other veterans are traded ahead of the July 31 deadline. The franchise is very much in danger of losing 100 games for the first time since 1979, when it went 53-109.

Alfredo Griffin was a first-year player on that club and recalls the pain of trudging through such a campaign. "I went through it as a rookie," Griffin says. "I lost 100 games and what I learned from that is, ‘I’m not going to lose 100 more, because I’m not a loser.’"

The shortstop fared well, winning Rookie of the Year honours, but says at times the constant losing would result in himself and other young players "going in circles." He says it was veterans such as then-39-year-old Rico Carty and 30-year-old John Mayberry who were constantly reassuring teammates that things weren’t always going to be like this.

"Nobody knows how to get out of the circles except the older guys," adds Griffin. "They guide you and take you the right way."

In the same way that Carty, Mayberry and Otto Velez helped that 1979 team, veterans such as Justin Smoak and Freddy Galvis are integral to the 2019 Blue Jays, which boast a collection of promising, yet largely inexperienced, youngsters including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

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Whether it’s pointing out the tendencies of an opposing pitcher, or showing a young player how to behave in certain situations, veterans need to act almost as father figures, according to former slugger George Bell.

"It’s like when you’re raising your kids at home — you discipline your kid," says Bell, who broke in with the ’81 Blue Jays and blossomed into the AL MVP in 1987. "A lot of things you have got to pick from the old guys. They give you some opportunities to learn the game.

"It’s like when you’re going to school," he continues. "You don’t expect to be great until you find out you can be great together with the rest of the guys out there. Because somebody helped you with this and somebody said something to you. Then, you take something from everybody and you put it together and become successful like they are."

Back in Bell’s early days, though, it wasn’t just the grizzled veterans with years of major-league experience leading the way. In some cases, it was young players with just a few seasons of big-league service time under their belt.

For outfielder Jesse Barfield, a rookie in 1982, Moseby was the teammate who showed him the ropes. The two are the same age, but by the beginning of that season, 22-year-old Moseby already had 214 MLB games on his resume.

"Lloyd was there before me," says Barfield, who led the AL with 40 homers in 1986. "One thing I liked about Lloyd was that he was consistent. That rubbed off on me. You honestly couldn’t tell if he was 0-for-12 or 7-for-12. He kept the same demeanour and that’s hard to do in this game.

"That taught me that you have to stay ahead of the game by staying in the moment, and he was excellent at that."

One parallel between those early Blue Jays teams and the current iteration is that relatively inexperienced players such as Guerrero Jr. and Biggio are soon going to need to be setting examples like Moseby. And the hope is that the team’s young core, with more promising players set to spring up from the minors, will eventually grow together into a contender, just as the Blue Jays did in 1984 and ’85, when the organization reached the playoffs for the first time.

"Believe me, we ended up turning that thing around when Bell and Barfield came up, and good things started to happen," says Moseby. "This one year is going to be a great learning experience for young guys [on the 2019 club]. After that, they gotta pick it up and learn to fight."

In that regard, Stroman’s harsh words are OK by Moseby, because they illustrate a desire to fight. And that’s not exactly a bad thing when the losses are steadily piling up.

"He has a reason to say that," says Moseby. "[But] if Marcus is saying losing sucks, he has to now make those young players believe this sucks: ‘Listen dude, winning ain’t given to you. Winning ain’t a thing that was handed down.’"

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