No. 2 Kelly Gruber
Kelly Gruber was an athletic Texas kid with a dirty blonde mullet who admits he couldn’t even find Toronto on the map when the Blue Jays claimed him in the Rule 5 Draft in 1983 from the Cleveland Indians. But he turned out to be right at home for the burgeoning franchise.
Gruber became a fan favourite not because he was the best player in a star-studded Blue Jays lineup. It was because he played the hardest. Playing every game like it’s your last is an old cliche, but Gruber lived by it.
“I just made it a vow, and I played every pitch like it was my last,” he told Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford in a 2017 interview celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Blue Jays’ 1992 World Series title. “I think that at the very least, the people who pay these kinds of prices to come watch you play, they respected me because I was the dirtiest one coming off the field. I gave it my all.”
Gruber was the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle, doing so on a Sunday afternoon at Exhibition Stadium in April 1989 as the Blue Jays erased a six-run deficit to beat the Kansas City Royals. Gruber went 4-6 with six RBI, completing the historic feat with an eighth-inning single. He made his first All-Star team after that season, but it was the following year that Gruber seemed to be blossoming into a star.
Gruber’s 118 RBI in 1990 set a Blue Jays record for third basemen that stood for 25 years. His 31 home runs were also a franchise record at the time. He earned his second straight All-Star selection, finished fourth in MVP balloting, earned his only career Gold Glove Award, and was the American League Silver Slugger for third basemen.
Gruber was the starting third basemen on the 1992 world champions, and while he was only two-for-19 in the six-game series win over the Braves, battling injuries the entire year, he still made his mark. His home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 3 off Steve Avery tied the game 2-2 as the Blue Jays won the game in the ninth to go up 2-1 in the series.
He earned the ring, but Gruber’s time with the Blue Jays wouldn’t last much longer. He was traded to the Angels after the 1992 series and only played 18 more games in his career before retiring at the age of 31. The move, just a few weeks after helping the team win a championship, left some bitterness in Gruber, who didn’t return to Toronto for more than a decade.
Gruber’s time in Toronto didn’t end the way he would’ve wanted, but for a generation of Blue Jays fans, his flowing mullet and the dirt on his white jersey were symbols of a young franchise that developed into world champions.