The lantern-jawed presence of John Farrell was all over the television on Tuesday with live coverage of his coronation as the new manager of the Boston Red Sox when Paul Beeston chose to return a phone call.
The Toronto Blue Jays president and chief executive officer wanted no part in providing his take on the defection of his manager to an arch rival, stipulating that his general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, was the lone spokesperson on this matter.
Beeston was more than happy to express his thoughts on a slightly more upbeat topic – the 20th anniversary of the Blue Jays’ first World Series win, over the Atlanta Braves.
It is 20 years ago, Oct. 24, 1992, that Mike Timlin gathered up an attempted bunt single by Otis Nixon and then threw over to Joe Carter at first base for the final out to preserve a 4-3 Toronto victory and forever change the baseball landscape in Canada.
The Blue Jays took the Series, four games to two, marking the first time a team outside the U.S. border celebrated the championship of America’s pastime.
“There had been years of frustrations, years of being close, but never the golden ring,” Beeston said. “And then all of a sudden we got the golden ring and it was something that I don’t think any of us who were involved in will forget.”
It was an incredible period for baseball in Toronto and seems eons removed from the current state of the troubled organization that has not been able to make the playoffs since 1993, when the Blue Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies to win their second of back-to-back World Series titles.
After unsuccessful postseason appearances in 1985, 1989 and again in 1991, Toronto sports fans were thirsting for an opportunity to celebrate a championship in what had become a dry sporting town.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had not won in hockey since 1967 and the NBA birth of the Toronto Raptors was still a couple years away.
The Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup in 1991 but to many people the CFL was viewed as somehow second rate when compared to the fortunes of the hockey and baseball teams.
The Blue Jays moved into what was then called SkyDome in June of 1989, a facility with a retractable roof that at the time represented the cutting edge in stadium technology.
For three years running, beginning in 1991, the Blue Jays would attract more than four million fans, establishing attendance records in the process.
All that was missing was a championship to feed the frenzy.
Pat Gillick, the general manager at the time, took bold steps to help put the Blue Jays over the top.
He laid the groundwork following the 1990 season with a stunning trade, sending infielders Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the San Diego Padres for veteran slugger Joe Carter and the up-and-coming Roberto Alomar, a second baseman.
Then, heading into the 1992 season, Gillick signed free agent Jack Morris, who had a well-earned reputation as big-game pitcher.
Late in the 1992 season, Gillick traded for David Cone, a strikeout artist with the New York Mets, to help solidify the Blue Jays’ rotation heading into the postseason.
“Certainly after Cone came, that was an all-star type of pitching staff,” said Gord Ash, who was the Blue Jays assistant GM back in 1992. “We had guys like Jimmy Key and David Wells and Jack Morris. It was a pretty darn good pitching staff with [Tom] Henke and [Duane] Ward on the back end.”
With manager Cito Gaston providing a steadying influence, the Blue Jays captured their fourth playoff berth with a record of 96-66, the 96 wins a club record for most victories in a single season.
Awaiting the Blue Jays in the American League championship were the Oakland A’s, who had dispatched Toronto with relative ease in the final back in 1989.
This time, it was different, with Alomar stroking the key hit – a game-tying two-run home run off Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of Game 4.
The Blue Jays won, 7-6 in 11 innings, and eventually the ALCS in six games.
To many, Alomar’s hit is the biggest in franchise history, surpassing even the joyous walk-off home run Joe Carter launched the following year against Philadelphia that clinched Toronto its second World Series title.
“They’re both very special and very unique,” Ash said. “But I’m really a believer if Robbie doesn’t hit his, the second one might not have happened.”
In the 1992 World Series final against the Braves, veteran Dave Winfield provided the key hit in Game 6, a two-out double just inside the bag at third base in the 11th inning that provided Toronto with a 4-2 lead.
The Braves got one back in their half of the inning and with pinch-runner John Smoltz perched on third base, Timlin was brought in from the bullpen to get the final out in Nixon, who attempted to bunt his way aboard.
MEMORIES OF 1992
Some highlights of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1992 championship run:
Jack Morris: The Blue Jays signed the veteran right-hander as a free agent heading into the season. He made his 13th consecutive opening day start. Morris went 21-6, becoming Toronto’s first 20-game winner.
Dave Winfield: At 41, Winfield became the third-oldest player (trailing only Pete Rose and Enos Slaughter) with an extra-base hit in the World Series when he stroked a double that toppled the Atlanta Braves.
Roberto Alomar: Not a bad season from the future Hall of Fame second baseman. Alomar would lead the Blue Jays with a .310 batting average and a .405 on-base percentage. He finished third in the league in runs scored (105) and was among the leaders in stolen bases (49).
Dennis Eckersley: The sidearming reliever had recorded 51 saves during the regular season for the Oakland A’s, which made what transpired in the ALCS all that much sweeter. In Game 4, Eckersley struck out Ed Sprague to end the eighth inning, then fired an imaginary six-shooter into the Blue Jays dugout and pretended to blow smoke away from the barrel. The Jays got even in the ninth, when Alomar stroked a memorable two-run home run off Eckersley to send the game into extra innings where the Blue Jays later prevailed.
Devon White: He played outfield for the Blue Jays like he was floating on air – and never was it more apparent than in Game 3 of the World Series against Atlanta. White made one of the most memorable of catches in team history when he ran down a deep drive off the bat of David Justice and caromed off the centre field wall. (It was the start of what would have been only the second triple play in World Series history had umpire Bob Davidson noted the tag Kelly Gruber put on Braves runner Deion Sanders as he attempted to scamper back to second base.)