Blue Jays Flashback: Ernie Whitt

The good times just keep on rolling in with our man Kevin Glew. Next up on our trip down nostalgia lane is the one and only Ernie Whitt. Take it away, Kevin.

Ernie Whitt

Ernie Whitt can’t recall what year the “Er-nie! Er-nie! Er-nie!” chants started when he walked to the plate at Exhibition Stadium, but the legendary Toronto Blue Jays catcher sure appreciated them.

“I enjoyed it when the fans did it,” said Whitt in a recent phone interview.


Most long-time Blue Jays fans will tell you that those “Er-nie!” chants were part of the fabric of theExhibition Stadium experience in the 1980s. They were also a testament to the popularity of the hardworking catcher.

Accommodating and friendly, Whitt was a productive and stabilising force for the franchise that he helped transform into a contender.

“I really didn’t know that much about Toronto at all, other than they were an expansion team,” recalled Whitt about how he felt being selected by the Blue Jays in the 1976 expansion draft. “I didn’t know anything about the city. But the one thing I was happy about was that I knew they didn’t have Carlton Fisk in front of me.”

Born in Detroit in 1952, Whitt grew up a short bus ride from Tiger Stadium. He played his first game as a catcher when he was seven, and not surprisingly, his favourite player was Tigers backstop Bill Freehan.

After attending tryout camps in his home city, he thought he’d be drafted by the Tigers, but it was the Boston Red Sox who selected him in the 15th round in 1972.

Whitt worked his way through the Red Sox minor league ranks to make his major league debut on September 12, 1976. He played eight games with the Red Sox, backing up Carlton Fisk, before he was taken by the Blue Jays in the expansion draft.

The determined catcher suited up for a combined 25 games with the Blue Jays in 1977 and 1978 before spending the 1979 season in Triple-A.

Fortunately for Whitt, the Blue Jays replaced manager Roy Hartsfield with Bobby Mattick prior to the 1980 season and Mattick told Whitt he’d be one of his main catchers.

“I was disappointed about not really getting the opportunity when Roy Hartsfield was there as the manager,” said Whitt. “But Bobby came in and gave me a chance because he had seen me play in the minor leagues. Hartsfield had never really seen me play.”

Whitt was a regular behind the plate for the Blue Jays for the next two seasons, but he enjoyed a breakout campaign when Bobby Cox took over as skipper in 1982. That season, Whitt batted .261 and belted 11 home runs – his first of eight consecutive double-digit home run campaigns.

“Bobby Cox was my favourite manager to play for,” said Whitt.

From there, Whitt developed into one of the American League’s top catchers. He was a consistent power threat at the plate who rarely struck out and he regularly ranked near the top among backstops in many defensive categories.

In 1985, Whitt set a career-high with 19 home runs and was selected to the All-Star Game.

He also helped the Blue Jays clinch their first American League East title.

“It was definitely the highlight at that time in my career because we were so close in 1984,” said Whitt of that first division title.

And that was just one of many highlights for Whitt with the Blue Jays in the mid-to-late 80s.

On September 14, 1987, the Blue Jays clubbed a major league record 10 home runs in a game in an 18-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Exhibition Stadium. Whitt homered a team-leading three times in that contest.

“It was something I’ll always remember,” said Whitt. “Records are meant to be broken. It hasn’t been broken yet, but I’m sure that it will. We’re enjoying it while we’re still holding the record.”

That same year, Whitt, who had equaled his career-high of 19 home runs, fractured two ribs while sliding into second base attempting to break up a double play in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on September 29. Heading into the contest, the Blue Jays had a 2 1⁄2 game lead atop the American League East. After Whitt’s injury, the Blue Jays lost their remaining four games and the division title to the Tigers.

“The doctors were trying to prepare me to play, but I just couldn’t do it,” said Whitt. “It was very disappointing.”

The Blue Jays claimed their second division title in 1989 and fittingly, it was a then 37-year-old Whitt – the last original Blue Jay – who caught the American League East clinching pitch when Tom Henke struck out Orioles pinch-hitter Larry Sheets in the ninth inning on the second-last day of the season.

Following that campaign, Whitt was dealt to the Atlanta Braves. He played with the Braves for one season before finishing with the Orioles in 1991.

Whitt returned to the Blue Jays as a roving catching instructor in 1997 before becoming their big league bench coach from 2005 to 2007 and first base coach in 2008.

In 1999, Whitt also became the manager of Canada’s senior national team and he continues in that role today. Under Whitt, the national squad has brought home six international medals, including golds at the Pan Am Games in 2011 and 2015.

From 2009 to 2020, Whitt served as a roving catching instructor in the Philadelphia Phillies organization. In Canada, however, Whitt will always be remembered as a Blue Jay, one who still ranks sixth on the club’s all-time list in games (1,218) and 10th in home runs (131). In recent years, he has started participating in Blue Jays alumni events.

“I probably do four or five a year with them,” said Whitt. “But it’s always great because it’s with other alumni. It’s great just to see them and catch up.”

And you can bet that at some point during those alumni events an “Er-nie! Er-nie! Er-nie!” chant inevitably breaks out.



Who is your favourite Blue Jays player from yesteryear? Fred McGriff? Dave Stieb? Jesse Barfield? All have featured in our Blue Jays Flashback series, with plenty more to come.