Blue Jays Flashback: Jesse Barfield
The Toronto Blue Jays boast a rich history in MLB. Kevin Glew takes us on a trip down memory lane with his nostalgic review of Jesse Barfield.
If anyone can attest to the strength of Jesse Barfield’s throwing arm, it’s Ernie Whitt.
The legendary catcher was Barfield’s Toronto Blue Jays teammate for parts of nine seasons and was the recipient of dozens of throws from the rifle-armed right-fielder.
“His throwing arm was way above normal,” said Whitt. “After his first year when he threw out so many baserunners at home or at second base or at third base when they challenged his arm, it finally set in for other teams that ‘Hey, we can’t run on this guy.’ . . . He always threw it on a line but it carried. He really had a tremendous arm.”
That throwing arm is one of the primary reasons Barfield will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., on June 17.
Barfield worked hard to strengthen his arm and hone his defensive skills, but he credits Blue Jays coaches for helping him.
“Jimy Williams, by far, was the best all-around coach we ever had,” said Barfield in a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call in February. “He knew every position, the nuances, the footwork, about throwing – this man was incredible. We would work day in and day out on footwork, pirouette moves, spinning.”
Whatever Williams taught him worked.
In his parts of nine seasons with the Blue Jays, Barfield led American League outfielders in assists four times, including setting a franchise record with 22 in 1985. He also topped right fielders in putouts three times and won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards in 1986 and 1987.
“Jesse’s arm was fun to watch,” said Brian Milner, a former Blue Jays catcher who played with Barfield in Double-A Knoxville in 1981. “His throws were just straight in a line and it was generally going to be in the air or the perfect one hop. He was just incredibly accurate. He was so graceful . . . He was smooth and fluid and the ball just kind of exploded out of his hand. And his ball would carry, carry and carry.”
Jeff DeWillis, another former Blue Jays catcher, remembers Barfield’s throws to home during drills before games.
“It was almost like he was going to hit the first baseman [cutoff man] in the head and the ball would just keep coming and it was on a line, too,” said DeWillis. “But it always looked so effortless . . . and I thought to myself, how does it stay in the air for that long on a line?”
Barfield, of course, was much more than his throwing arm. He was also an excellent hitter. In 1986, he topped the American League with 40 home runs, while also leading the league with 20 outfield assists. No American or National League player has led either circuit in both of those categories in the same season since.
A Slow Start
It wasn’t, however, always that easy on the diamond for Barfield. He was selected in the ninth round of the major league draft by the Blue Jays in 1977 and he toiled for parts of five seasons in the minors before making his major league debut on September 3, 1981.
Starting in 1982, Barfield was the Blue Jays’ regular right fielder. He belted 18 home runs that season, which earned him the Blue Jays Rookie of the Year award. He followed that up by clubbing 27 home runs in 1983.
Two years later, Barfield helped propel the Blue Jays to their first division title when he recorded 27 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 22 outfield assists. With that, he became only the second player (Willie Mays was the first in 1955) in major league history to register at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 20 outfield assists in a single season.
In total, in his parts of nine campaigns with the Blue Jays, Barfield suited up for 1,032 games and ranks in the club’s all-time top 10 in several statistical categories, including fourth in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) (29.5) and seventh in home runs (179).
Barfield was dealt to the New York Yankees for left-hander Al Leiter on April 30, 1989. He’d compete in parts of four more campaigns with the Yankees and again top American League outfielders in assists in 1990. He finished his big league career with 241 home runs and 162 outfield assists.
But Barfield is best remembered for his powerful throwing arm in Toronto, and for being part of what many consider to be the best outfield of the 1980s. And now he will finally have a plaque alongside his outfield mates – George Bell and Lloyd Moseby – in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Barfield in February about his Canadian ball hall induction. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”