By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Jesse Jefferson, a workhorse starting pitcher on the early Toronto Blue Jays teams, would’ve turned 72 today.
The underrated right-hander, who hailed from Midlothian, Va., passed away in 2011 after a courageous battle with prostate cancer. He was just 62.
Selected by the Blue Jays from the Chicago White Sox in the 1976 expansion draft, Jefferson was a mainstay on the club’s pitching staff from 1977 to 1980. Despite a 9-17 record, the 6-foot-3 righty posted a respectable 4.31 ERA and tossed 217 innings for the Blue Jays in 1977 and followed that up by throwing another 211 2/3 innings in 1978.
In all, in four campaigns with the Blue Jays, on teams that never won more than 67 games in a season, Jefferson collected 22 wins and threw 21 complete games in 91 starts.
He finished his nine-season big league career, which began with the Baltimore Orioles in 1973, with short tenures with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1980) and California Angels (1981).
Because those early Blue Jays teams were so hapless, Jefferson is not talked about enough in the club’s lore and a large percentage of the team’s current fans have probably never heard of him. So here are five things Blue Jays fans should know about him:
-In one six-start stretch between June 23 and July 17, 1977 – the Blue Jays’ inaugural campaign – Jefferson tossed five complete games. Despite his solid pitching, he finished with a 3-3 record during that stretch. The team lost 107 games that season.
-On May 23, 1978, Jefferson set a Blue Jays’ record (that still stands) by pitching a 12-inning complete game against the Boston Red Sox at Exhibition Stadium. The hard-throwing righty stifled the bats of Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk to lead the Blue Jays to a 2-1 victory.
-In 1978, Jefferson topped the Blue Jays in innings pitched (211 2/3), complete games (9) and shutouts (2). He finished the season with a 7-16 record and a 4.38 ERA in 31 appearances, including 30 starts.
-On May 16, 1980, Jefferson hurled an impressive 11-inning shutout against the Oakland A’s at Exhibition Stadium, defeating Mike Norris, who would win 22 games that season. Jefferson struck out a career-high 10 batters to lead the Blue Jays to a 1-0 win. According to SABR, with both Jefferson and Norris pitching into the 11th inning, this was the “longest shutout duel between African-American pitchers in major league history.”
-Jefferson’s MLB debut with the Baltimore Orioles on June 23, 1973 was one of the most impressive in big league history. Getting the start for the O’s, he hurled 10 innings and recorded the win in his club’s 2-1 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Jefferson, 24 at the time, limited the Sox lineup – which included Carlton Fisk and Reggie Smith – to seven hits. Jefferson is one of a select group of pitchers to toss 10 innings in their MLB debut. The record for most innings pitched in a big league debut is the 13 thrown by Pete Henning of the Federal League’s Kansas City Packers on April 17, 1914.