Last week the Blue Jays were trying very hard to play down their pursuit of the Tigers. Utility man Rick Leach, who started spring training with Detroit, politely begged off any comparison between the two teams, except to say, "It's unbelievable what the Tigers have done so far, but I'm happy to be right where I am."
First baseman Willie Upshaw said, "Are they for real? I've been asked that question a lot, and I'm getting sort of tired of answering it."
Said Martinez, "There are, after all, several weeks left in the season."
Centerfielder Lloyd Moseby (showing remarkable foresight): "The papers have started calling us, 'the frustrated Jays.' How can we be frustrated playing this well? CAN IT LAST? should be the headline in the papers. What will happen when the Tigers fall into a rut? We have to maintain stability till then. There's more pressure on them. As soon as they lose three in a row, the headlines will say TIGERS FALL."
Catcher Ernie Whitt, who grew up in Detroit, said, "There's still a little bit of me that's a Tiger fan. If we can't win it, I'd like them to. They're tough this year. But they're a lot like we are, with the same type of balanced lineup. Truthfully, I think our pitching is a little deeper than their pitching is."
The Blue Jays are eight years old, the same age the Mets were when they became the only expansion team to win a World Series, in 1969. Toronto was built with patience, foresight and players forgotten by the Yankees and other teams, and the man most responsible is the son of a county sheriff and silent screen actress Thelma Daniels, a former lefthander for Earl Weaver who toyed with the idea of becoming an FBI agent before he ended up deciphering scouting reports.
Pat Gillick, 46, is the Blue Jays' vice-president for all baseball operations. He graduated from USC when he was 20, pitched there on teams for which Ron Fairly and Don Buford played, bounced all over the Orioles' farm system with Dave McNally and Steve Dalkowski and ended his career with Weaver in Elmira in '63. Along the way Gillick acquired the nickname Yellow Pages, because of his photographic memory. In 1962 Weaver told a writer, "I don't think there's a line in
The Sporting News
he doesn't read and remember. His memory is fantastic. I Would have to say he knows more about ballplayers all over the country, from Class D to the majors, than anybody I have ever met."
Gillick got his first front-office job at the age of 26, with Houston, where he helped sign or draft J.R. Richard, Nate Colbert, John Mayberry, Doug Rader, Bob Watson and Cesar Cede�o. After he'd spent 11 years with the Astros, Tal Smith, then the executive vice-president of the Yankees, brought him to New York, where he helped engineer the trades that brought Willie Randolph (for Doc Medich) and Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa (for Bobby Bonds). After two years with the Yanks he was hired to build the expansion Blue Jays.
"Our first priority was a good scouting system," says Gillick, "and we have one that I'm very proud of. We had to use every means at our disposal, the amateur draft and the major league draft, and that's where the scouts come into play." Two years ago Gillick hired Cox to manage, and Cox seems to have the right mixture of patience and firmness for the young Jays.
The major league draft is held annually on the first day of baseball's winter meetings, and it elicits all sorts of giggles from outsiders. Most teams simply ignore it. It works this way: A team can draft any player with more than three years' experience not protected on the 40-man roster of another team, for $25,000—but the drafting team must keep that player on its 25-man roster for the next season.