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Do you know us? We play at the site of the Canadian National Exhibition, which is what we have become. Our team is hounded by more TV stations than any other, and our logo is second only to the Maple Leaf in national recognition. But we're still greeted with quizzical looks south of the border. It's O.K. with us, though. Now that October's here—and in Octobers to come—you're going to see a lot more of us than you have ever seen of Alan Thicke.
The Toronto Blue Jays, owners of baseball's best record, do have an identity crisis. But it's nothing a credit-card commercial or a world championship won't cure. In 1985, their year of winning inconspicuously, the Blue Jays boast of no MVP or Cy Young candidates. The only household name in their history was Danny Ainge, who batted .220 in three seasons and now goes to his right for the Boston Celtics.
The Jays are just too damn consistent. They have held first place alone in the AL East since May 20, and since the All-Star break have never lost more than two in a row. Three threats by the Yanks—one in July, one in August, one in September—were methodically quashed. "We're consistent because we strive to be consistent," says third baseman Rance Mulliniks. "We just have good pitching and good players throughout the lineup." Not exactly charismatic. But the Jays aren't bothered. "It really doesn't matter to us how much publicity we get," says centerfielder Lloyd Moseby. "Our peers respect us. Teams that owned us in our Heckle and Jeckle days fear us now."
Toronto's transformation from cartoon screwups to prime-time players is the result of some intriguing work by general manager Pat Gillick, who personifies the team's effective, low-key style. The 48-year-old Gillick would rather glean another's knowledge than revel in his own, and his is formidable. While a minor league lefthander in the Orioles' chain, he earned the nickname Wolley Segap—which is Yellow Pages spelled backward—for his near total recall. The handle proved to be prophetic. Gillick has let his fingers do the walking through distant lands and rival organizations to find some incredible bargains. Six of Toronto's regulars, its winningest pitcher and its bullpen closer were stolen, figuratively speaking, from other teams. No other G.M. dials for information as often as Gillick.
Perhaps the best way to explain Toronto to those down under is by reviewing whence the Jays came. Toronto's imminent division title is founded on the usual suspects—speed, balance, pitching, defence (that's how they spell it up there). How the suspects were rounded up is the real Toronto story. Indeed, to the roster of organizational approaches must now be added another style, the Blue Jay Way. Eh?
LESSON 1: Manifest Destiny
Nine years ago, the franchise's founding fathers set forth a 108-page manual on how the team would be run, detailing personnel roles, objectives and philosophy. Corporate hokum? Maybe. But the Way was paved with this commitment to standards. "Though it's a business and a sport, it's really a business," Gillick says. "And when a guy goes to the ballpark every day—whether he's in the front office or out on the field—he has to know what to expect from us and what we expect from him."
Underlying this manifesto was concern for the individual. That's the touch of N.E. (Peter) Hardy, the Jays' chief executive officer. He visits all of Toronto's farm teams annually, offers financial counseling to players, throws elaborate family picnics for the Blue Jays and takes small groups of players and their wives out to dinner. "Anybody with that much authority who talks to you sincerely as an equal has to be a good person," says veteran first baseman Willie Upshaw. Relief pitcher Bill Caudill was undecided about signing with Toronto until he sensed the club's support from casual conversations with team secretaries and other people in the front office. Says Caudill, who has pitched with five other teams, "This is by far the classiest organization I've ever played for."
LESSON 2: Be a Good Scout
Two of the first people Gillick hired after joining Toronto in August of 1976 were super-scouts Bobby Mattick and Al LaMacchia, who had 77 years of professional experience between them. Even more significant than the Jays' company policy was the plan these three drafted in a Kansas City restaurant that first winter. "We decided to build a good farm system and to always try to get young players from other organizations," LaMacchia recalls. "Then we'd go for the best athletes in our draft." It sounds simple but it's nowhere near that easy. The Seattle Mariners, born in the same year and bred with basically the same philosophy, have yet to crack .500. Obviously, Toronto's trio has exhibited a fine eye for talent. They also love what they do. "I've been with a lot of organizations," says Mattick, 69, who managed the Jays in '80 and '81. "And a lot of them say they work hard. But they don't."