Remembering the ex-Blue Jays that passed away in 2021: Hartenstein, Johnson, Malave, Wahle

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Two former Toronto Blue Jays pitchers, a highly respected executive from the club’s early years and a beloved coach died in 2021.

As the end of the year approaches, let’s take a moment to remember them.

Elliott Wahle, the Toronto Blue Jays’ original administrator of player personnel, shown here second from the right, passed away on January 29 at the age of 69. He is pictured here at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in St. Marys, Ont., in 2018 with ex-Blue Jays (far left to right) Paul Hodgson (Marysville, N.B.), Lloyd Moseby and Willie Upshaw. Photo: Lisa Chisholm

Elliott Wahle, original administrator of player personal, January 29, age 69

Wahle, the Blue Jays’ original administrator of player personnel passed away on January 29 at the age of 69 after battling cancer. A New York native, Wahle was working as the Yankees assistant director of minor league operations when Pat Gillick was hired to be the Blue Jays vice-president of player personnel in August 1976. Gillick brought Wahle with him from the Yankees and named him the Blue Jays’ first administrator of player personnel.

The two worked together to identify talent and make selections in the 1976 American League expansion draft. In Wahle’s six years in the Blue Jays’ player personnel department, the club’s draft picks included Jesse Barfield, Dave Stieb and Lloyd Moseby. While Wahle was with the club, the Blue Jays picked up players like Willie Upshaw (1977) and George Bell (1980) in the Rule 5 draft.

In January 1983, Wahle resigned from his position with the Blue Jays. He later became a successful business executive in the private sector. Though he never worked in professional baseball after 1983, he settled in Toronto and never lost his passion for the game. In recent years, he was a regular at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s induction weekend in St. Marys, Ont.

To read my full obituary on Elliott Wahle, click here.

Chuck Hartenstein, pitcher, October 2, age 79

Hartenstein, a relief pitcher on the 1977 Blue Jays, passed away on October 2 at the age of 79 in Austin, Texas. After major league tenures with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox from 1965 to 1970, Hartenstein spent six seasons in the minors, the last two with the Pacific Coast League champion Hawaii Islanders, managed by new Blue Jays skipper Roy Hartsfield. It was Hartsfield who brought Hartenstein into the Blue Jays’ fold. The veteran right-hander was in the Blue Jays’ bullpen for their snowy first game at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977. In all, the friendly Texan would make 13 appearances for the Blue Jays that season.

Hartenstein was orignally signed by Chicago Cubs scout Billy Capps and he made his big league debut as a pinch runner on September 11, 1965, but he wouldn’t throw his first major league pitch until the following year. In 1967, he recorded 11 saves and posted a 3.08 ERA in 44 games and was one of the Cubs’ most reliable bullpen arms. He returned to pitch 28 games for the Cubs in 1968 before he was dealt to the Pirates the ensuing January. With the Bucs in 1969, he appeared in a career-high 56 contests and notched 10 saves. He split the 1970 campaign between the Pirates, Cardinals and Red Sox.

After his sole season with the Blue Jays,  Hartenstein served as a coach for the Blue Jays’ instructional league team before Cleveland hired him to be their big league pitching coach. Eight years later, he began serving in the same role with the Milwaukee Brewers for three seasons. Following his tenure with the Brewers, he became an advanced scout for the California Angels and then enjoyed part-time scouting stints with the Minnesota Twins and Oakland A’s.

To read my full obituary about Chuck Hartenstein, click here.

Jerry Johnson, pitcher, November 15, age 77

Johnson, who was the Blue Jays’ winning pitcher in their first-ever game, passed away on November 15 after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The veteran right-hander had already spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues when the Blue Jays acquired him from the San Diego Padres. In the Blue Jays’ first game, played in the snow at Exhibition Stadium, Johnson relieved starter Bill Singer with one out in the fifth inning and preserved the club’s 5-4 lead over the Chicago White Sox and went on to allow one run in 2 2/3 innings in the Blue Jays’ 9-5 win. In all, Johnson posted a 4.60 ERA and recorded five saves in 43 appearances for the Blue Jays in 1977.

The Florida native was initially signed by the New York Mets in 1962. Five years later, he was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the minor league draft. He’d toe the rubber for parts of two seasons with the Phillies prior to being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals. He made only seven relief appearances for the Cards before he was swapped to the San Francisco Giants. He enjoyed his finest big league season with the Giants in 1971, registering 12 wins and a 2.97 ERA while notching 18 saves in 67 relief appearances.

He pitched one more season with the Giants and then endured one-year stints with Cleveland and the Houston Astros, prior to signing with the San Diego Padres on February 20, 1975. After pitching primarily in middle relief for the Blue Jays in 1977, Johnson returned to the Blue Jays in 1978 but was released near the end of spring training.

To read my full obituary about Jerry Johnson, click here.

Omar Malave, former coach and longtime minor league manager, November 22, age 58

Malave, who spent more than three decades in the Blue Jays’ organization as a player, coach and manager, died unexpectedly in Dunedin, Fla.,  on November 22 at the age of 58. The Cumana, Ven., native was signed as an international free agent by the Blue Jays in 1980 and in nine seasons as a player, he developed into a useful utility man, who played every position except catcher. He made it as high as triple-A Syracuse in 1989 before retiring to join the Rookie Ball Medicine Hat Blue Jays as a coach in 1990.

He was named manager of the Blue Jays’ Gulf Coast League club in 1991 and that assignment began a stretch in which he would spend 24 of the next 25 seasons as a manager in the Blue Jays’ system. As a reward for his many years with the Blue Jays’ organization, Malave was elevated to the position of big league first base coach in 2010.

Malave returned to manage the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012 before spending 2013 as the Blue Jays’ coordinator of Latin American operations. He was back in the dugout in 2014 and 2015, managing the class-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays. This year, Malave managed the Algodoneros de Union Laguna of the Mexican League to a 31-33 record.

To read my full obituary about Omar Malave, click here.


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