If the wild card existed in 1983, the Jays may have been in the playoffs for 11 straight years. How were they so successful? What are the lessons for today?
1983 to 1993 represented the Golden Age of baseball for the Blue Jays. During those 11 years, the Jays went to the playoffs five times winning the World Series back to back in 1992-1993. Had the wildcard existed, the Jays would have been in the playoffs 11 years in a row.
Back in the day, there existed only 2 divisions in the American League. The East and the West. 14 teams in total with 7 in each division. It was a grind. 162 games, one winner. No wild card. 6 teams to beat. To make it to the playoffs, one had to win the division.
Before the wild card existed many teams were effectively out of contention by mid-July. For those near the bottom of the standings midsummer, not only did the team drastically have to improve to have a chance of winning the division, they had to vault so many teams to do so. The decision was easy. Sell. Sell whatever you could.
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The trade deadline represented the best opportunity for struggling teams to improve (or save money), and trade they did. Veterans were often shipped out for prospects or for young controllable players. For the fans of those teams, the dawn of August meant the days watching meaningful baseball officially ended.
There was one team that rarely sold: The Blue Jays. They were almost always in contention. Pat Gillick, the Blue Jays GM at the time, was nicknamed Stand Pat by fans. Pat had assembled one of the best farm systems in all of baseball in the 80s and early 90s. Pat hoarded his young talent. When he did trade, he targeted controllable talent (Fernandez and McGriff for Carter and Alomar). Two trades stand out as exemptions: The acquisition of David Cone in 1992 and the trade for Rickey Henderson in 1993. Both years the Jays won the World Series.
In 1994, the American League was broken up into three divisions, the East, the West, and the Central, and one wildcard playoff spot was added. In 2011, a second wildcard team would be allowed to compete for the postseason.
With the creation of the wildcard, everyone benefited. Lesser lights had a better chance of making the playoffs. The fans became more engaged as their team remained in the hunt longer. Owners were rewarded with more bums in the seats. Salaries skyrocketed.
This article is a revisionist look at 1983-1993 assuming the wildcard existed. It will explore each Jays team, where they would have finished if a wild card existed, and in the end, examine how those teams were built, how they evolved into world champions and the similarities of today’s Jays. The conclusions are simple: The 1983-1993 Jays were simply excellent. They were the model franchise for sustained success.
Before we examine the makeup of these teams let’s look at the team records themselves and how they would have finished in the world of the wildcard. To do so, I started with this basic rule. Since there were only two divisions back then, I assumed there to be 2 division winners and 3 wildcards as opposed to the 3 division winners and 2 wildcard spots that we have today.