Blue Jays: An interview with former outfielder, Jesse Barfield

1988: Jesse Barfield of the Toronto Blue Jays slides into a base for a triple during a game. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport
1988: Jesse Barfield of the Toronto Blue Jays slides into a base for a triple during a game. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport /

I’d like to give a huge thank you to esse Barfield for taking the time to sit down with me and let me talk to him about his career and Blue Jays baseball. Without further ado, here is the interview:

What was your view of Blue Jays baseball like in the 80’s?

Well that’s easy. We all came up not really knowing how to win yet. There was an upcoming guy by the name of Bobby Cox, who took us guys that came from a school yard from Oakland, Illinois, and elsewhere. And he taught us how to win. He instilled a lot of confidence in us, surrounded us with great coaches like Cito Gaston, Jimmy Williams, John McLaren, Billy Smith, and John Sullivan. Pat Gillick was the general behind it all. They put together a winning formula and taught us how to play fundamental, sound baseball.

Bobby came in talking about winning the thing and we haven’t even gotten to .500. Next thing you know a couple years later, well in 1984 we almost had it. We were behind by a game and a half, or two games and we just ran out of gas down the stretch. The next year we won it all. Unfortunately not the World Series, but we won our division. We beat them out, and that showed that we were pretty serious about baseball at the time in Canada.

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You played for the “Killer B’s” outfield, which is one of the best outfields in Blue Jay history. How did it feel knowing you could trust the guys in centre and left?

Well any given day, offensively we could hurt you. We had great players all around, the whole infield, outfield, catchers. It was hard to pitch around anybody. Defensively, the trust was there tremendously. The pitcher has something to do with whether or not you’ll have a great day, because they were good too. But defensively we were great too. We took a lot of pride in our defence. Jimmy Williams taught us every position, he knew everything. Cito was the best batting coach I ever had. And we took pride the way we played and went about our game. It really showed on the field and we didn’t have to take a back seat to anybody. They had to play good sound fundamental baseball to beat us. We didn’t have to beat ourselves.

In 85′ you clinched the first playoff berth ever for Toronto. What was it like to know you just made history?

It was amazing because what they started, and all the hard work they put into us, and us putting in the hard work. That was just the pinnacle. It was the beginning of a great thing here in Toronto and in Canada. We were very proud of that.

You mentioned having Cito Gaston as your hitting coach. What was he like as a coach to you?

He’s amazing. I didn’t realize that he was Hank Aaron‘s roommate. He knew a lot about the game. His baseball IQ is off the charts, it’s amazing. We all had trust in him. I remember as a player I wanted to go look back at what I was doing because I didn’t feel comfortable. And Cito looked at me and said “hey man you gotta give it a chance to work for you,” and he told me that the organization sees progress. And when he said that, I knew that I needed to be listening to him. I’m glad I did, and it did work out.

When you were playing for the Blue Jays you won two Gold Glove Awards, and in 86′ you had 22 outfield assists. Why do you think they kept testing your arm?

You play 162 games, and in the course of each game you may get 3-4 chances to throw people out, and what most people see is those close plays that were bang, bang and had to be perfect. You have to go on those. Some of those balls to your left or right, you’re not going to get all those guys. Some you will. Those are the ones that you have to take a chance on, and I did. I didn’t get any cheap ones though.

How did you react when you were traded to the Yankees?

Well, the fact that I grew up with these guys, it was kind of bitter-sweet. I was benched the year before for a few games, that left a sour taste in my mouth. So I went in to talk to Jimmy Williams about it, who was the manager at the time. I knew the time was coming to a close for me in Toronto. The next year, the last day of April or close to it, I was batting .200 in April, but I was tied with Puckett for leading in home runs with five. He decided to bench me again. So I quietly called my agent and said, “It’s time I went”, and I told him not to use the media. I love Toronto, my teammates, the city and the fans. I told him to please do it quietly and get me out of here.

The next day I got to the ballpark, Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston and the rest of the guys were in. They let me know that I’ve been traded to New York. Now when I was told “New York” I thought, “Please do not be the Mets,” and he told me the Yankees. I was relieved. It was a great opportunity for me. They welcomed me with open arms and I had 3-4 good years there. I put together some decent times and some good seasons and I appreciate everything the Yankees did for me.

Looking at the Blue Jays now, is there anyone who catches your eye?

They’ve got some young guys in the minor leagues and they have some good guys in the bigs playing some good baseball. It never ceases to amaze me with the amount of young talent they have in the Dominican Republic, at their academies. You know when you trade certain guys, you can look around and say they have the guys to replace them. They have a surplus of talent.

You can look at their Hernandez’s, and all the guys behind him. It feels like it’s never ending. I did a draft a couple of years ago and we got Bo Bichette, they’re really good with getting our kids. Former major leaguers kids. I think it’s going to pay huge dividends. These guys are going to be tremendous talents for the team. Their fathers were huge talents and they grew up around the game. You’re not going to intimidate these guys, and because of that, there is a bright future for Toronto.

Next: Injury update: Stroman, Vladdy Jr, Pearce and more