Blue Jays Flashback: John Olerud

Fresh off the back of his Blue Jays Flashback of Jesse Barfield, Kevin Glew is back to take Bodog Sportsbook readers on a trip down memory lane as we take a look at the career of John Olerud.

Blue Jays Flashback: John Olerud

At the beginning of his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech on June 17, John Olerud poked fun at his lack of speed.

“The joke for slow baserunners like me is that you don’t time them with a stopwatch, you time them with a calendar,” said Olerud to the crowd’s amusement.


But the fact that the former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman was one of the slowest players in the majors made his flirtation with .400 until the last week of August in 1993 even more remarkable. Olerud certainly wasn’t legging out any infield singles.

And unlike Miami Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez, who has just two home runs but is batting close to .400 this season, Olerud belted 24 homers and a league-leading 54 doubles in 1993. He was also issued a Blue Jays’ franchise record 33 intentional walks.

“I just think I had great mechanics [that season]. I really had a good approach to the ball, especially on the inside pitch. I was really quick to the inside pitch,” said Olerud when asked about his success in 1993. “I was just seeing the ball really well and my mechanics were good. And it was just one of those years where everything just fell into place for me. It was a magical year for me.”

The sweet-swinging Olerud was hitting .391 as late as August 27 before finishing with a .363 batting average, which made him the first – and still only – Blue Jay to win an American League batting title.

“Up until that point, I hadn’t had a year where I hit over .300, so to be hitting .400, I was thrilled,” said Olerud. “During the seasons, there’s always ups and downs, good streaks and bad streaks, that sort of thing, so I just wanted to keep it going as long as possible.”

Third baseman Rance Mulliniks had a locker next to Olerud in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse from 1989 to 1992 and Olerud would later say he learned a lot from the veteran infielder.

“On occasion I would mention something to John that he might benefit from,” said Mulliniks. “It wasn’t something that was ongoing. John was so sound at the plate with his mechanics and his approach and plate discipline.”

From the first time Mulliniks saw Olerud in 1989, after the left-handed hitting first baseman was drafted and signed by the Blue Jays and promoted to the big leagues that September, Mulliniks knew Olerud was going to be a special hitter.

“It was obvious that John was a very good line drive hitter,” said Mulliniks. “He hit the ball all over the field from foul line to foul line.”

For many, Olerud is also an inspiration. Before his junior college season, he suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. He fought his way back to complete an outstanding collegiate career. The aneurysm surgery was also the reason Olerud wore a batting helmet on the field.

After hitting .265 with 14 home runs in 111 games in 1990, Olerud was an integral member of three consecutive Blue Jays’ division-winning squads and two World Series championship teams from 1991 to 1993. On top of batting .363 in 1993, Olerud also set a Blue Jays’ single-season record with a .473 on-base percentage (OBP).

And his quiet, laid back demeanor endeared him to fans and teammates.

“I didn’t compete with any of the bigger personalities,” said Olerud when asked what it was like in the Blue Jays clubhouse in 1992 and 1993. “It takes all kinds in the locker room and you need those loud guys, the funny guys that keep everybody loose and I feel like I was more the fly on the wall. I enjoyed it and it was fun to play with those guys.”

In all, Olerud suited up for parts of eight seasons with the Blue Jays and he ranks first in franchise history in OBP (.395).

In total, in his 17-year big league career, which also included tenures with the New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, the two-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner finished with a .295 batting average, a .398 OBP and 2,239 hits.

But longtime Canadian baseball fans remember him most for his flirtation with .400, 30 years ago. And as Arraez flirts with .400 with the Marlins, it brings back memories of Olerud vying for that elusive mark – one that hasn’t been achieved since Ted Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox in 1941.

So, does Olerud think any major leaguer will ever hit .400 in a season again?

“I think that it’s possible. I think it’s definitely going to be a challenge,” he said. “I think with all of the media attention you have now and the amount of time it has been since it’s happened, it’s going to get more and more intense as far as media scrutiny the closer you get to the end of the season. I think somebody will probably do it. But it’s going to take a special person.”