By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
It was 40 years ago yesterday that first baseman John Mayberry was named the captain of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I felt like the club needed a leader and that’s why I appointed Big John,” Blue Jays manager Bobby Mattick told reporters at the time. “He was the only one to consider.”
The title was merely a formality.
Ask almost any Blue Jay from the late 70s and early 80s who was the leader in the clubhouse in those days and they’ll say Mayberry.
In March 1981, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Detroit native was entering his fourth season with the Blue Jays and was coming off a campaign in which he set single-season franchise records in home runs (30), RBIs (82) and walks (77).
A jovial fatherly type, Big John shared his wisdom and offered encouragement in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. But he also worked very hard on his hitting and fielding, and when the game started, he was serious about winning, even though the Blue Jays were rarely victorious in those days.
He had come to the Blue Jays from the Kansas City Royals, a 1969 expansion club that had developed into perennial contenders in the American League West, and had helped them advance to the American League Championship Series in 1976 and 1977.
The veteran slugger was sold to the Blue Jays three days before Opening Day in 1978 and in total, he’d play parts of five seasons in Toronto and belt 92 home runs. And he was sad to leave when he was dealt to the New York Yankees on May 5, 1982.
“Toronto was a very good organization to me and I think the players were the best bunch of guys I ever played with,” Mayberry told reporters before he headed to the Yankees.
As far as I can tell, Mayberry is the only captain ever named by the Blue Jays, but that’s just one interesting fact about “Big John.”
Here are five more things you should know about him:
-Mayberry was selected in the first round (sixth overall) by the Houston Astros in the 1967 MLB draft. Pat Gillick was the Astros’ assistant farm director when the club scouted, drafted and signed the Detroit native. Mayberry, who doubled as a pitcher at the University of Michigan prior to his pro career, spent five seasons in the Astros’ organization and appeared in 105 big league games with the club.
-Mayberry was traded to the Kansas City Royals on December 2, 1971. As a Royal, he was selected to two All-Star games (1973, 1974) and he’d club 20 or more home runs in five of six seasons. He also topped the American League in walks (122) and on-base percentage (.417) in 1973. And in 1975 – on a team that also included Hall of Famers George Brett and Harmon Killebrew – it was Mayberry that served as the primary clean-up hitter. That year, he set a career-high with 34 home runs and batted .291 with 106 RBIs to finish second to Fred Lynn in the American League MVP voting.
-Mayberry had two, three-home run games during his major league career — both came before he joined the Blue Jays but both had Canadian connections. On July 1, 1975 (Canada Day no less), he belted three solo home runs for the Royals off Texas Rangers pitcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) at Arlington Stadium. But the Royals still lost 5-4. Jenkins, who lasted 8 2/3 innings, picked up the win. Mayberry’s second, three-home run outburst came as a Royal against the Blue Jays on June 1, 1977 at Exhibition Stadium. He homered off three different Blue Jays pitchers – Jerry Johnson, Mike Willis and Tom Bruno – and drove in five runs in the Royals’ 11-3 victory.
-Mayberry had four-hit games on back-to-back Opening Days for the Blue Jays in 1979 and 1980. On Opening Day in 1979, he went 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the Blue Jays’ 11-2 loss to the Royals at Royals Stadium. The next year, he went 4-for-5 with two home runs and three RBIs in the Blue Jays’ 8-6 Opening Day loss to the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome. In all, in five Opening Days with the Blue Jays, Mayberry was 10-for-16, good for a .625 batting average.
-When his son, also named John, joined the Blue Jays for 15 games in 2014, John Sr. and John Jr. became the first father and son combo to have played for the Blue Jays. They have since been joined by Steve and Jason Grilli.