June 2, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Two-time World Series-winning Toronto Blue Jays coach John Sullivan has died at the age of 82.
Bob Elliott, of the Canadian Baseball Network, was the first to report Sullivan’s passing.
According to Elliott, Sullivan died in Dansville, N.Y. on Thursday night.
Sullivan, who coached for the Blue Jays from 1982 to 1993, returned to Toronto last August for the 30th anniversary celebration of the Blue Jays’ first World Series-winning squad.
“RIP Sully, you will be missed,” tweeted former Blue Jays right-hander Todd Stottlemyre on Friday. “I will always cherish our time together.”
“A wonderful man and such a great sense of humor,” wrote DeWillis. “Super baseball man. RIP Sully.”
Born on January 3, 1941 in Somerville, N.J., Sullivan was signed as an amateur free agent by the Detroit Tigers prior to the 1959 season. The left-handed hitting catcher would spend parts of five seasons in the Tigers’ minor league ranks before receiving his first big league call-up in September 1963. He’d play three games for the Tigers that month and two more with them the following year.
After hitting .267 with two home runs in 34 games for the Tigers in 1965, he’d spend the 1966 campaign with the triple-A Vancouver Mounties. Playing under Mickey Vernon on Canada’s West Coast, he’d bat a career best .328 with five home runs in 83 games.
On November 28, 1966, he was selected by the New York Mets in the Rule 5 draft. He’d hit .218 in a career-high 65 contests with the Mets before completing his major league playing career with a 12-game stint with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1968.
Following his playing career, Sullivan became a successful manager in the Kansas City Royals organization for six seasons from 1973 to 1978. In four of those campaigns, his teams won league championships.
Impressed by Sullivan’s minor league resume, Bobby Cox added him to the Atlanta Braves coaching staff in 1980.
Sullivan then followed Cox to the Blue Jays where he served as the club’s first base coach in 1982 and 1983, before becoming the club’s bullpen coach from 1984 until 1993. Sullivan was like a second father to many of the Blue Jays’ key relievers during the most successful stretch in the club’s history. Between 1985 and 1993, the Blue Jays won five division titles and two World Series.
And it was Sullivan who retrieved the ball that Joe Carter hit into the Blue Jays’ bullpen at SkyDome for his World Series-winning home run in 1993. Rather than keep the ball for himself (and it would be worth tens of thousands of dollars today) or give it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame who were asking about it after the game, Sullivan made sure Carter got the ball.
“I had stashed it in my locker because I wanted Joe to have it, and then he could decide what to do with it,” Sullivan told the Rochester Business Journal in 2013. “Once things died down in the clubhouse, I called Joe over and told him I had something for him. When I gave him the ball, he was all smiles.”
Sullivan retired as a major league coach after that season and began as a volunteer coach at a high school near his home in Dansville, N.Y. He continued in that position for more than two decades.
In 2011, Sullivan returned to Canada to speak at Tom Henke’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. The tough-as-nails coach broke down while telling the crowd that Henke was the type of guy he’d want his daughter to marry.
Even in his latter years, Sullivan continued to be an armchair manager while watching big league games on TV.
“It’s funny. I’ll say something to my wife about how so-and-so is probably going to throw such-and-such a pitch, and then the announcers will say the same thing, and she’ll start laughing,” Sullivan told the Rochester Business Journal in 2013. “I can’t help it, but I guess I enjoy managing the games from my living room.”