This team was better than most people realize. Though the Blue Jays were the laughing stock of the American League during their first few years of existence, they won three division titles, two pennants and two World Series in a three year span from 1991-1993. They were the first team outside the continental U.S. to be crowned champions of major league baseball. When it came time to reduce the size of this chapter, I cut Juan Guzman and Pat Borders loose. It was a tough decision as they were key members of both World Series squads. In the final analysis, I decided that their lifetime achievements were not quite as impressive as some of their teammates.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
NUMBER OF PENNANTS:2
NUMBER OF CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2
BEST RECORD: (96-66/ 1992)
HALL OF FAMERS: Roberto Alomar (2B), Dave Winfield (DH), Paul Molitor (DH), Rickey Henderson (OF)
Guzman was born in the Dominican Republic—a country that has produced several hundred major league players over the years. Guzman hailed from Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital and largest city.
The flame-throwing right-hander was originally drafted by the Dodgers in ‘85. It took him six years to reach the majors due to his poor control. The Dodgers gave up on him and he joined the Blue Jays farm system in ‘88. He averaged 11.9 walks per nine innings the following year. Guzman’s wildness would persist throughout his career though not to the extent of his minor league days.
Called to Toronto in June of ‘91, he started twenty-three games. After struggling in his first two outings, he won ten straight decisions. At the close of the regular season, his ERA stood at 2.99. He was on the mound for Toronto’s only win against Minnesota in the ALCS, lasting into the sixth inning while yielding just 2 runs on 4 hits. Teammate Joe Carter told reporters: “I’m just glad we got him when we did because he was the mainstay of our pitching staff. It’s hard to believe he was a rookie.”
Guzman had his best season in ‘92, posting a 16-5 record in twenty-eight starts with a 2.64 ERA. His WHIP average (walks plus hits per nine innings) was among the lowest in the AL. Additionally, he placed among the top three in winning percentage and strikeouts while pacing the circuit with a perfect fielding percentage. He received his first and only All-Star selection that year. In the ‘92 postseason, the Dominican native was a force to be reckoned with, allowing just 4 earned runs in twenty-one innings. In Game 3 of the World Series versus the Braves, he pitched eight strong innings, but ended up with a no-decision when a costly error by third baseman Kelly Gruber allowed the Braves to tie the score at 2. The ‘Jays won in the bottom of the ninth with Duane Ward being the pitcher of record.
Guzman was nicknamed “The Human Rain Delay” by fans in Toronto because he was one of the slowest workers in the majors. Though his lack of control made many batters uncomfortable, he was actually a fairly easy-going guy. He once posed for an Upper Deck baseball card wearing a giant fielder’s mitt.
Guzman had another good season in ‘93, leading the league with a .824 winning percentage (he posted a 14-3 record). He was virtually unhittable in the ALCS against the White Sox, winning both of his starts. Facing the Phillies in the Fall Classic, he had one good and one bad outing. He lost the better of the two when Toronto failed to score any runs for him in Game 5. Guzman rarely felt the stress of big games. He once commented that pressure to him was pitching in Santo Domingo and becoming a human target for over-zealous fans. “It really doesn’t bother me,” he said of playing in the postseason. “I’m never nervous.”
Guzman followed with two lackluster seasons in ‘94/’95. He bounced back the following year, posting the lowest ERA in the American League at 2.93. As recurring shoulder problems began to slow him down, the Blue Jays traded him to the Orioles in July of 1998. He played for three different clubs before falling from the major league ranks during the 2000 campaign. He attempted a comeback in 2001, but never progressed beyond the Triple-A level.
Borders lasted seventeen years in the majors, playing for nine different clubs and serving mostly as a back-up catcher. He gave his best seasons to the Blue Jays in the early-‘90s, enjoying a five-year stint as a first-stringer. Though his name gradually faded into obscurity, die-hard Toronto fans remember him as one of the best backstops in franchise history.
Borders attended Lake Wales High School in Florida and was the most successful of three alumni to appear in the majors. A sixth round pick in the ‘82 draft, he chose a professional baseball career over academic pursuits. He played for six minor league clubs at various levels before getting promoted in ‘88.
Borders served as back-up to Ernie Whitt in his first season with the ‘Jays, appearing in fifty-six games and compiling a .273 batting average. In 1990, he assumed full-time catching responsibilities. He enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons of his career, collecting 41 extra-base hits with a personal-high of 15 homers.
Borders was competent defensively, leading AL catchers in assists every year from ‘92-‘94. In that same span, he paced the circuit in passed balls, errors and stolen bases allowed once apiece. Despite his relative shortcomings, Borders was a skilled strategist behind the plate, coaxing some very good seasons out of his battery mates. From 1990 through 1993, no fewer than four Toronto starters finished with double digit win totals each year.
In the postseason, Borders raised his game to another level. In thirty October contests with the ‘Jays, he reached base safely forty times while fashioning a .321 batting average. His finest hour came when he hit .450 against the Braves in the ‘92 World Series. He was named MVP.
Borders became a nomad after the ‘94 slate, logging time with eight clubs in ten seasons. He wore three different uniforms in ‘96 alone. Even when he wasn’t a first-string catcher anymore, he maintained a passion for the game. Seattle manager Bob Melvin was impressed with Borders’ enthusiasm, commenting: “You can barely get him out of the ballpark when the game is over.” In 2000, Borders helped Team USA to a gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney.
An interesting claim to fame, Borders and Jamie Moyer became the oldest battery in major league history during a July 2005 contest. Both players were forty-two years-old at the time. It was Borders final major league game though he continued in the minors through 2006. He later became a coach for the Gulf Coast League Braves.