After spending parts of nine Major League seasons with the Blue Jays, Ernie Whitt was granted free agency for the first time in his career after the 1986 season.
His efforts at free agency were short lived, as he wound up re-signing with the Jays 24 years ago today on January 8th, 1987.
The Boston Red Sox selected Whitt in the 15th round of the 1972 draft, but his path to the Major Leagues was blocked by future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk. He was left unprotected during the expansion draft after the 1976 season, where he was plucked by the Blue Jays.
Whitt went on to play in only handfuls of games until he was finally given a regular opportunity at the Major League level in 1980, though he had to platoon at catcher with Rob Davis. The Jays picked up (current play-by-play announcer) Buck Martinez the following season in 1981, and Whitt had to platoon with him for the majority of the 1980s.
Whitt’s career started to take off in 1982 when Bobby Cox and Cito Gaston were hired as manager and hitting coach, respectively. Throughout Gaston’s entire tenure as hitting coach from 1982-1989, Whitt only had one season below a .245 batting average and he managed at least 11 HR, 42 RBI, and a .752 OPS in every season during that span.
In parts of 12 Major League seasons with the Blue Jays, Whitt appeared in 1218 games, finishing with a .253/.327/.420 line, 888 hits, 131 home runs, 518 RBI, and 403 walks. He ranks 4th on the Blue Jays all-time list in intentional walks (42), 5th in games played (1218), 7th in walks (403), home runs (131), and sacrifice flies (36), 8th in RBI (518), 9th in plate appearances (3977), and 10th in at-bats (3514) and total bases (1475).
An All-Star in 1985, Whitt was extremely popular among the Jays’ fan base. His long tenure with the Jays and career caught stealing percentage of 33 help him be considered by some to be the Jays’ best catcher of all-time.
Whitt promoted baseball in Canada a lot during his tenure in Toronto, and as a result he eventually became a Canadian citizen. He migrated to coaching in the Blue Jays organization in 1997, when he was a minor league catching instructor and manager from 1997 to 2004, before cracking a coaching position with the Major League club as bench coach from 2005-2007. He was named the Jays’ new first base coach after the 2007 season but was unfortunately part of the group that got fired when John Gibbons and his coaching staff were fired on June 20, 2008.
Whitt’s Canadian connection was also demonstrated at an international level, as he managed the Canadian national baseball team in a variety of tournaments including the 1999 Pan American Games, 2004 Beijing summer Olympics, and the 2006 World Baseball Classic.