A Canadian TV interviewer approached Blue Jay pitching coach Al Widmar one day in spring training. "We'd like you to do an interview," said the reporter. "And then we'll do it in French. Then Latin. Then we'll send the German version to Bonn."
"In that case," said Widmar, "you'll have to get one of those—what do you call them—interlopers?"
Are the Blue Jays interlopers? A sixth-place, 78-84 team in 1982, they finished fourth last year with an 89-73 record as centerfielder Lloyd Moseby (.315, 18 homers, 81 RBIs), rightfielder Jesse Barfield (27 homers and 68 RBIs in 388 at bats) and first baseman Willie Upshaw (.306, 27, 104) became a Murderers' Row. Too much too soon? Hardly: Toronto will be the league's most-improved team for the second straight year.
The Blue Jays have upgraded themselves at three positions—and at little cost. For Jorge Orta, a .237-hitting DH-outfielder, they received Kansas City's Willie Aikens, who hit .302 with 23 homers and 72 runs batted in. For part-time outfielder Barry Bonnell, they picked up versatile Seattle pitcher Bryan Clark. And for nothing but money they got White Sox reliever Dennis Lamp, a free agent.
In a single week last August the Blue Jays lost six games in which they led or were tied entering the ninth or an extra inning. Enter Lamp, who had 15 saves in '83. The other new candidate for short man is lefthander Clark, who had a 3.94 ERA while pitching more than half his games in the cozy Seattle Kingdome.
"The key to effective relief," says Lamp, "is the keystone combination," and Toronto has one of the best in shortstop Alfredo Griffin and second baseman Damaso Garcia. Backing Dave Stieb (17-12), Jim Clancy (15-11) and Luis Leal (13-12) are fourth starter Doyle Alexander, who won his last seven decisions, and fifth starter Jim Gott (9-14), who "is so improved you wouldn't believe it," says Widmar; Gott has improved his control and developed an effective changeup. Third baseman Rance Mulliniks (10 homers, 49 RBIs in 364 at bats) and catcher Ernie Whitt (17 and 56 in 344) are dependable platoonees with Garth lorg and Buck Martinez, respectively. A possible problem is DH, where Cliff Johnson (.265, 22, 76) has a history of declining in his second year with a club. Should commissioner Bowie Kuhn terminate Aikens' drug-related suspension on May 15, however, the position will be stronger. And so will Toronto.
Blue Jay DHs produced only 29 extra-base hits and 56 RBIs in '82 but last year had 66 long hits (34 of them homers) and 113 RBIs. They were a vital part of a suddenly potent offense that was tops in the majors in batting (.277), first in the league in slugging percentage (.436), second in home runs (167) and third in scoring (795 runs).