By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
It was a dramatic and fitting end for the Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium.
Thirty-two years ago today, on an 0-and-1 count in the bottom of the 10th inning, George Bell belted a fastball from Chicago White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen into the left field bleachers for a two-run home run to give the Blue Jays a 7-5 walk-off victory.
Bell, the only Blue Jay to have won the American League MVP Award, raised his arms triumphantly on the way to first base as the baseball faithful roared one last time at Exhibition Stadium, although if you watch the video below the crowd is somewhat subdued.
They must have been feeling sentimental that day. Yes, the stadium was known for its blustery winds, bone-chilling temperatures, baffling seating configuration and countless seagulls, but it was also the home of their beloved Blue Jays for more than 12 seasons.
Many of the 46,120 in an attendance had watched the Blue Jays evolve from a hapless, young 100-loss club into perennial contenders. So, yes, the stadium may have been the “Mistake by the Lake” but it was their “Mistake by the Lake.” And even with its drawbacks, it would be comfier than what was to come — the state-of-the-art SkyDome the Blue Jays would be moving into in a week’s time.
And Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script for that final game at Exhibition Stadium. The Blue Jays were pitted against the Chicago White Sox — the same team they battled in the snow in their very first game at the stadium on April 7, 1977.
The last game was a Sunday afternoon match-up and the weather was sunny and pleasant. It seems Mother Nature saved her final Exhibition Stadium fury for the previous game when winds rose to 65 kilometres an hour in a 5-3 White Sox win.
It seems perfect that Dave Stieb, the Blue Jays best pitcher from that era, got the start and went seven innings before handing the ball to fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Duane Ward. Left-hander David Wells followed, but it was another Blue Jays legend and Canadian ball hall inductee Tom Henke that would record the final four outs to pick up the win.
And fittingly the Blue Jays lineup was chock full of players the club’s longtime fans associate with Exhibition Stadium. On top of Bell hitting cleanup, Tony Fernandez batted second, Kelly Gruber, who went 4-for-4, hit third, Fred McGriff fifth, Pat Borders (as DH) sixth and Lloyd Moseby seventh.
Moseby, a 1978 first-round pick in his final season with the Blue Jays, clubbed a two-run home run off White Sox lefty Jerry Reuss in the sixth inning.
And it was clear that the significance of the game was not lost on then Blue Jays interim manager Cito Gaston. He sent Rance Mulliniks, a Blue Jay since 1982, in to pinch-hit for Borders in the eighth and Ernie Whitt, the only player left from the 1977 expansion draft, in to pinch hit for catcher Bob Brenly in the ninth. Whitt was greeted with a standing ovation.
“It was nice getting an ovation,” Whitt told reporters after the game. “I have a lot of memories here nobody can take away from me.”
Fun Facts About the Last Game at Exhibition Stadium:
Starting pitcher: Dave Stieb
Starting opposing pitcher: Steve Rosenberg
Winning pitcher: Tom Henke
Losing pitcher: Bobby Thigpen
Last hit: George Bell, with the walk-off home run in the 10th
Last pitch thrown: Bobby Thigpen fastball that Bell hit over the fence in the 10th
Last opposition hit: Steve Lyons, single over Tom Henke in the 10th
Last strikeout by a Blue Jays pitcher: Tom Henke struck out Dan Pasqua in the 10th
Canadian on Blue Jays roster: Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.). You can see him the celebration photo above.
Attendance: 46,220 – Seventh largest crowd in Exhibition Stadium history