In his first season with Toronto, Garcia batted .278, stole 13 bases—he was also thrown out 13 times—and finished fourth in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year. Last year he was just finding his stroke when, on Aug. 21, a pitch by Ed Farmer of the White Sox broke his right hand, putting him out for the season. He finished the year at .252, again with 13 stolen bases, although he was caught only three times. Still, there was a nagging notion in the Blue Jays organization that Garcia wasn't living up to his potential.
A contract dispute at the start of this season awakened both parties. Garcia had made $80,000 for 1981. Over the winter, Gillick had gotten Garcia's verbal agreement to a two-year deal for roughly $150,000 per year. But Garcia felt he was on the verge of a big season and balked at committing himself for both '82 and '83. Gillick refused to give him a one-year deal, and Garcia, who had no agent, refused to accept his paychecks, which were coming at an arbitrary $90,000-a-season rate. Garcia is a man of principle, and he wanted to demonstrate that he would rather play on his terms than accept money to play on others'. He also realized he was in over his head. Third Baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, then with the Jays, put him in contact with his agent, Bill Goodstein, in New York.
"He genuinely sounded frantic," says Goodstein. "It was almost like open warfare between him and the Blue Jays. The team was afraid he'd jump the club. In May, we all sat down and talked it out. The club let him know they thought he had an attitude problem. Damo told them he wasn't being treated fairly. He handled it great, and we all left happy."
On May 31 Garcia got what he wanted, a one-year contract for $175,000, retroactive to the start of the season. But Garcia hadn't let the squabble affect his play. He had been moved to the leadoff spot from No. 8, which obviously suited him, and he was standing closer to the plate so he could hit the outside pitch to right. After the contract dispute was settled, he performed that much better. "They said a lot of things about me," says Garcia. "I told myself I have to prove myself. I just wanted to show them the kind of player I was."
Garcia has been so consistent at the plate this year that he has gone two games without a hit only once. At week's end he was working on a 15-game hitting streak, with a 17-game streak already behind him. He is 10 for 10 in steals of third. And he has been playing with a hyperextended left elbow since mid-May.
As for his fielding, Toronto Manager Bobby Cox claims he has the best arm of any second baseman he's ever seen. He hangs very tough in the pivot. Almost every Blue Jay has a favorite Garcia play. Garcia's own personal preference occurred in a game against Oakland. With the Blue Jays leading 3-2 in the ninth, Dan Meyer hit a slow bouncer behind the mound, and Garcia bare-handed it and threw to first in one motion. Since it happened against Billy Martin shortly before the All-Star Game, Toronto fans had hoped it would sway the manager to name Garcia to the team. Martin chose Kansas City's Frank White instead.
"I did not mind," says Garcia. "Dauer...Whitaker...there are a lot of good second basemen in the league. My time will come."