Dave Stieb just never could seem to get the recognition he so richly deserved.
I mean, life is tough for a pitcher (and his record) coming up as an early draft pick of an expansion team, though there is at least one advantage.
To wit, the Toronto Blue Jays took the righty out of Southern Illinois University in the fifth round of the 1978 June draft, hardly a lofty slot or auspicious beginning to a pro career.
But thanks to Stieb’s sparkling 12-2 record in three minor league stops, and especially thanks to the Jays paucity of Big League talent, the youngster was in Toronto to stay by June of 1979.
And he won, too, going 8-8 that first summer, 12-15 in 1980, and an impressive 11-10 in the strike-torn 1981 season for a Blue Jays club that managed just 37 victories in all.
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In fact, if you fast forward to the end of the decade and look back, you’ll see that Stieb posted 140 wins — second most in the 1980s, behind only Jack Morris’s 162.
Now, 22 wins is a big gap, but only 2+ per year, and Stieb outpaced Morris in WAR for the decade by a whopping 17.3 wins (45.2 to 27.9).
Yet Morris is heralded as a great and has a plaque in Cooperstown, while Stieb barely sniffed a Hall of Fame vote in his one year on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Yeah, yeah, Morris had the postseason runs that really elevated his profile, but Stieb was just as good or better over the course of their careers. Their Baseball Reference pages are fun to study, especially that bit about where they rank among baseball’s best starting pitchers of all-time.
But enough of that.
Stieb also had some tough luck when it came to nailing down big moments, three times losing a no-hitter late before finally slamming the door shut on Toronto’s first no-no in 1980.
And he didn’t do himself many favors in the Jays’ first two ALCS appearances, racking up a 1-3 record with a 4.26 ERA as Toronto dumped both the 1985 and 1989 AL pennants.
Still, this was a great pitcher, one of the best in the game, even if hardly anyone ever spoke of Stieb in those terms.
He was too steady, too unflashy, too tucked away up there in Toronto.
And the ignominy continued on into the cardboard world.
Exhibit A — the 1986 Drake’s Big Hitters and Super Pitchers panel that Stieb shares with … Ron Guidry and Nolan Ryan.
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How was anyone going to notice Mr. Steady there at the end of a panel with Louisiana Lightning and The Ryan Express? For heaven’s sake, here you had a guy who could unfurl a monster season like he was Sandy Koufax and another guy who would unveil himself as a downright diamond deity within a few years.
Stieb’s Drake’s card is fun and not all that plentiful, and, when cut out from the other two, it probably seems pretty substantial.
But … don’t you have to wonder if Stieb and Jerry Koosman secretly get together once in awhile, just to pat each other on the back?
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