Nobody looked better in baby blue; Whitt enters Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Pinch hitting in The 500 Level today is Jess Bechard. Just trying to keep the streak alive, even it if is with a bloop single to left…looks like a line drive in the boxscore.

Let’s turn back the clock for a moment shall we, to when baby blue uniforms weren’t just for Friday nights and when a mustache was a prerequisite to be in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation (see Stieb, Dave; Clancy, Jim; Alexander, Doyle). To when Don Chevrier called the games on CTV alongside Fergie Olver, and Blue Jays Banter was a Saturday afternoon staple.

This weekend Blue Jays fans have a chance to revisit the beginning of the glory days of the franchise as Ernie Whitt is inducted iErnie Whitt 1989 Donruss #591 Auto3nto the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ontario. To honour the greatest catcher in franchise history, The 500 Level tips its cap to Whitt, and offers this look at the career of a man who has meant more to baseball in Canada than many realize.

Whitt became a mainstay with the Blue Jays in 1980, after seeing limited action in 1977 and 1978, and appeared in 1,218 games for Toronto. He was a part of many firsts for the organization, having been behind the plate the day the Jays clinched the team’s first American League East crown (Oct. 5, 1985) and for the first pitch at what was then rightfully called SkyDome (June 5, 1989). Before his tenure as a player in Toronto was over, Whitt added another division title to his resume and logged 131 home runs with that oddly long swing, the batting helmet with no ear flaps and a batting glove on only his top hand.

Of those 131 round trippers, The 500 Level remembers three in particular, all of which came on a cool September night in 1987 (Sept. 14) at Exhibition Stadium as part of a team-record 10 home runs in an 18-3 win over Baltimore. Somehow we knew something good would happen when “Er-nie, Er-nie, Er-nie” finished a swing by dropping to his back knee. When he was traded from Toronto following the 1989 season, he was the last original Blue Jay from the team’s inaugural campaign in 1977.

We also fondly remember his autobiography, Catch: A Major League Life, in which, Whitt called veteran umpire Joe Brinkman “incompetent”. What fan doesn’t want to take a jab at an umpire now and again?

He spent the 1990 and 1991 seasons in Atlanta and Baltimore, respectively, before hanging up his spikes, but his impact on Canadian baseball didn’t end. Just eight years after his retirement, Whitt put Canadian baseball on the international map as he managed Team Canada to a third-place finish at the 1999 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg. That team’s improbable run launched Stubby Clapp into a “cult hero” for his Ozzie Smith-like flips on his way to second base. Clapp will undoubtedly join Whitt in St. Marys someday.

Since 1999, Whitt has managed Canada in two Olympic Games (2004, 2008) and two World Baseball Classics. The 2004 Olympic squad finished fourth, which remains this country’s best finish in an Olympic competition.

Whitt is currently the manager of the Single-A Clearwater Threshers, a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, after being let go as a member of the Blue Jays coaching staff last season, along with manager John Gibbons. At the time, not promoting Whitt to manage the Jays was seen by The 500 Level as an act of treason (he was Mr. Blue Jay for crying out loud), but we have since softened our position. Who better to lead the club than the man who led them to two World Series titles? You just can’t argue with Cito.

So today we salute Ernie Whitt, a Hall of Famer, something most of us knew all along.

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