If you haven’t picked up on it yet, this blog is named for the great Ernie Whitt. The flashiest thing about Ernie Whitt may have been his mustache. A product of the 1980s, his mustache was a bit of a mix of traffic cop and Tom Sellick. Flashy or not, he was my favourite player growing up and remains my top Blue Jays of all-time.
Leo Ernest Whitt was born on June 13, 1952 in Detroit, Michigan. Drafted by the Boston Red Sox, he would go on to fame and great regard (in my eyes especially) when he was selected in the expansion draft by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1976.
In his 12 seasons with the Blue Jays he would go on to hit .253, be selected as an All-Star in 1985 and played in two American League Championship Series (1985 & 1989). He is regarded as the best catcher the Jays have ever had and his 131 home runs are 10th on the team’s all-time list.
Among the highlights of his playing career was hitting 3 home runs in a game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 14, 1987 which helped the team to hit 10 home runs in a game. That set a Major League record that still stands today.
Since his retirement following the 1991 season he has remained active in baseball and with baseball in Canada. He has served as the coach of the Canadian National team in the Olympics, World Championships, World Baseball Classic and Pan-am Games. In the 2005 season he returned to the Jays as bench coach and then first base coach before being let go mid-way through the 2008 season.Embed from Getty Images
Why he was my favourite player I’ll never really know. Somewhere along the way he became my guy on the team and if you asked 8 year old Dan what he wanted to be when he grew up, the answer was “Ernie Whitt”. I followed his every move. I became a back catcher with my house league team. His jersey number 12 became my favourite number and the number I wear when I play. I bought his book – Catch: A Major League Life – tried to read it but I was 8 and it was kind of over my head.
Perhaps the greatest thrill of my young life was when I wrote to the Toronto Blue Jays asking them for any promotional material or giveaways that they might have for a young fan. In my letter I included my prize position – a 1988 Topps Ernie Whitt baseball card and asked if there was any chance that he could sign it. My faith was rewarded a few months later when an envelope arrived in the mail from the team with my card signed by Ernie. That card is one of my most cherished possessions. It has always had a prominent place on my mantle whether in my dorm room at University or my first apartment in Toronto.
Then there was the time I almost met him but didn’t. A few years ago I was standing in the lobby of my office – it’s a public place in the heart of downtown Toronto waiting to meet a friend. I looked up and in front of me was the well-known mustache of my childhood hero. He was steps away from me, standing right in front of me.
What do I say? Do I have time to run up to my office get my bobblehead for him to sign? Do I ask him for a picture? These were all the questions that were going through my head as I watched him casually talk with his companions. These thoughts were going through my head as I watched him walk away and out of the building.
I had so much I wanted to say to him. So many questions. We were supposed to be best friends. I was the son he never had (he has two sons). But I blew it, my one chance to meet him slipped through my fingers. After he was gone I was filled with immediate regret and it took me a good 2 minutes before I really knew what happened.
I hope to get the chance to meet him again. Shake his hand, get a selfie, thank him for all the memories.
Who was your childhood hero or favourite Blue Jay growing up? Ever get the chance to meet them? What did you say? And did they live up to your expectations?