Do you remember that summer when a member of the Toronto Blue Jays led the American League in home runs for the first time?
It’s understandable if you don’t — I mean, the Blue Jays poofed into existence for the 1977 season, and flooded their record books with firsts.
That’s just what expansion teams do.
First game … first hit … first win … first hot dog sold.
That’s all ground-level, nitty-gritty stuff. Stuff that happens more or less right away.
Then comes the next tier, later on — first managerial change, first winning season, first playoff appearance, first player doing something big on a summer-long scale.
Those second-level things don’t have a timeline built in and depend a lot on the team’s ability to build (both talent evaluation and money available), competition, and some luck.
And those things don’t necessarily happen in a certain order.
Sometimes, circumstances conspire to thrust an individual player into the spotlight before the team itself is ready to do much — just look at Andres Galarraga for the 1993 Colorado Rockies in their first year.
And sometimes, a young team starts to gel quickly, driving toward collective glory even though no one player really, truly rings your bell.
Or Bell, as the case may be.
That’s how it was for the Blue Jays, who spent a few years as your typical expansion dreck before really starting to show some flashes with a cadre of exciting young players — Jorge Bell, Damaso Garcia, Dave Stieb, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby, Tom Henke.
Those guys and more made Toronto relevant fast — by expansion standards, at least — an they put together their first winning team in 1983.
Find Blue Jays Fire Safety cards on eBay (affiliate link)
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The next year, as if in answer to that success, The Toronto Sun and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs issued the first-ever Fire Safety Toronto Blue Jays set. That baby showcased all the young talent on-hand, set inside of Blue Jay blue borders, and gave local fans something extra to grab onto.
The Blue Jays were winners again in 1984, the same summer that Fire Safety set was gracing collections.
And then, in 1985, Toronto pushed through the heart of the tough old American League East to win their first division title. Sure, they bowed out to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, but those Royals went on to win the World Series — team of destiny (and Denkinger) and all that.
The Blue Jays had arrived, and they’d remain in contention for the next eight seasons, culminating with two Fall Classic titles of their own, in 1992 and 1993.
But before they made it back to October, there were some individual firsts to take care of.
In 1987, when the Jays battled the Detroit Tigers down to the wire, and when everyone and his brother and his dog were smashing home runs, it was none other than George Bell who took home the MVP hardware.
But before any of that — before the fireworks of the juiced ball or the juiced whatever, before the Doyle Alexander-John Smoltz trade doomed that ‘87 team — there was a lost 1986, when the Blue Jays posted a winning record but finished fourth in a crowded AL East.
Also lost that summer?
The forty baseballs that Barfield crashed over outfield fences all through the American League.
That was a big number back then, back before the launchpads opened all across the game. It was so big, in fact, that Barfield’s total led all of the Major Leagues, checking in three above National League leader Mike Schmidt’s 37 and five ahead of Dave Kingman’s second-place AL total in what would be Kong’s swan song in the Big Leagues.
By that point, Barfield had been a Blue Jays regular for five years, and one of the best rightfielders in the game all that time.
That stellar season was the first time Barfield hit over 30 homers … and also the last … but he turned in a 12-year career split between the Jays and the Yankees that just about any player would be proud to call his own.
And, he turned in a monumental Blue Jays first of his own, and was a key factor in many, many more.
Yes, including that 1984 Fire Safety set.
Oh, and who do you suppose lines up just in front of Barfield in that long-ago set?
Why, none other than Doyle Alexander.
Ain’t baseball grand?
Since we’re in the neighborhood of oddball 1984 cards, how about trying this lot on for (super) size?
It’s a full box of 1984 Topps Super cards, each of which is roughly the size of the Exhibition Stadium outfield.
Check out the full listing right here on eBay (affiliate link).
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