They had their differences, but Ernie Whitt has come to appreciate how difficult Roy Hartsfield’s job was during the Toronto Blue Jays’ formative years.
Hartsfield, who managed the Blue Jays for their first three seasons, passed away on Saturday at the age of 85.
“Roy was put into a situation where you knew that you were going to lose,” recalled Whitt in a phone interview on Friday. “The organization had a game plan that they were going to build from within . . . It was just a very young organization and his hands were pretty much tied for what he could do.”
Whitt participated in three training camps under Hartsfield, and would make his Blue Jays debut on May 29, 1977. He would suit up for 23 big league games that season and two more in 1978.
“There were some disappointments when Roy kept sending me down out of Spring Training, but overall he was a good, laid back type of manager,” reflected Whitt, who would play parts of 13 seasons in Toronto. “He was very old school. I wouldn’t say that he was a player’s manager. I think he enjoyed the older players a little bit better than the younger players.”
Whitt distinctly remembers the Southern drawl that the Georgia-born Hartsfield spoke with.
“He enjoyed telling war stories with the Southern drawl that he had and the Southern wit,” recalled Whitt.
Whitt’s biggest difference of opinion with Hartsfield came when he was sent to the minors after Spring Training in 1979. But though he sometimes disagreed with Hartsfield’s decisions, Whitt says the Jays’ three consecutive, 100-loss seasons from 1977 to 1979 were not the manager’s fault.
“It was the personnel that he was given,” said Whitt. “The organization had a game plan and they stuck to it. It was good for the organization, but bad for the manager.”
Whitt, who after a successful 15-year playing career has managed the Canadian National Team, as well as in the Blue Jays and Phillies organizations, hadn’t seen Hartsfield since 1979.
“He was always low profile. That was Roy. He had that country charm and he was never one for spotlights. That’s the way that he was when he managed and even when he got out of managing, he kind of got back to his roots and enjoyed a nice, quiet life,” said Whitt.
According to a 1997 Toronto Star story, Hartsfield lived in a three-storey house on a golf course in East Ellijay, Ga., in retirement. Fittingly he passed away in a town called Ball Ground in his home state.