The other times the Blue Jays tried to turn the page on a 67-win season

The Blue Jays have been here before — actually, they’ve been here twice.

That is, just like this year, the Jays have tried to fly as far away as they could from a 67-win season on two prior occasions.

In 1981, the fifth-year Blue Jays hoped to improve on the 67-95 result of their 1980 season.

Back then, a lot of those hopes rested on the young talent the team was counting on to take the next step. Blue Jays president Peter Bavasi was publicly optimistic about the team’s potential.

Peter Bavasi believed fans had good things to look forward to when the Blue Jays took the field during the 1981 season. (Newsmagazine/CBC Archives)

“I think you’ll see a team that carries on with the spirit that was developed toward the end of last season, a certain confidence level that has been built up within the younger players on the club,” Bavasi told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning the day the team played its home opener on April 13, 1981.

Blue Jays GM Peter Bavasi speaks to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on April 13, 1981. 4:12

“They now realize that they’re Major League ballplayers and that on any given day, they can beat any other team in the league,” he added.

‘1981 is going to be a big year’

Willie Upshaw was among the young Blue Jays that the Toronto organization was counting to help the ballclub make progress during its 1981 season. (Jim Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Bavasi pointed to pitchers Dave Stieb and Jim Clancy, as well as position players Lloyd Moseby and Willie Upshaw, as examples of the confident young Blue Jays who were ready to help their team take flight. 

“They all have this feeling that 1981 is going to be a big year for the Blue Jays, just because last year was so much better than they had even expected,” said Bavasi, who’d previously served as the team’s first-ever general manager.

Toronto Blue Jays manager Bobby Mattick is seen kicking dirt on the shoes of an umpire during a game on April 19, 1981. It would end up being a rough season, following a season in which the team went 67-95. (Gary Hershorn/Canadian Press)

It was indeed a big year in the end, but not big in the way they wanted: It was a big flop. The Jays ended up with the worst overall record in baseball (37-69) during a strike-shortened season.

That 1981 campaign ended up being Bavasi’s last with the Blue Jays, as he would part ways with the club after the season ended.

The next time around

John Gibbons was managing the Blue Jays the last time the team was trying to put a 67-win season in the rear-view mirror. That was back in 2005. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Twenty-three years later, the Blue Jays (who by then had won the World Series twice, in 1992 and 1993) again managed to win just 67 games during their 2004 season.

The team’s performance was bad enough that Jays management fired manager Carlos Tosca two-thirds of the way through the season and replaced him with John Gibbons.

The Jays’ 2004 season actually contained one game less than usual, as a late-season match-up against the Rays was cancelled and not rescheduled. So it could have, in theory, improved to a 68-win season. We’ll never know.

An ‘exciting’ future?

In March 2005, Corey Koskie talks about his reasons for joining the Blue Jays. 1:04

During the off-season that followed, the Jays tried to make some upgrades — signing Canadian Corey Koskie as a free agent — in a bid to better the team’s on-field product in the year ahead. Toronto also saw homegrown star Carlos Delgado depart as a free agent.

When spring training rolled around in 2005, there was skepticism as to how far the Blue Jays could go after such a disappointing season. 

But players and team management were on message, telling the media that things were going to be getting better.

Before joining the Jays, Koskie had played for the Minnesota Twins, a team that had won its division three years in a row. Yet the Anola, Man.,-born ballplayer saw a chance to be part of something special as Toronto improved.

“I remember where I was when the Blue Jays won the World Series …  that was exciting,” said Koskie, who would end up being traded to Milwaukee after just one season in Toronto.

“I came up here because, hopefully in a couple of years, I’ll be a part of something like that.”

Wins and losses? Hard to say.

Ahead of the start of the 2005 MLB season, J.P. Ricciardi talks about what he thinks the Blue Jays can do. 1:11

“I think we’re going to have a good year,” said J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager, when speaking to CBC’s Canada Now about the team’s prospects for the 2005 season.

“From a standpoint of wins and losses, I don’t know what I can tell you. But I think from a standpoint of taking the next step to get to where we want to go, I think we’re going to be where we want to be.”

Canada Now‘s Diana Swain wanted to know when Jays fans would see the benefit of a planned boost in spending on the organization by its corporate ownership.

Better things to come?

The 2005 season saw the Blue Jays improve to a near-.500 record at season’s end. Outfielders Vernon Wells (left) and Frank Catalanotto (right) are seen in the photo above playing with the Jays in New York on Sept. 24, 2005. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

“I think next year more than this year,” Ricciardi responded.

It turned out to be an accurate prediction: The Jays would go 80-82 in 2005, but would go on to deliver an 87-75 season in 2006.

Unfortunately, the latter result was good, but not good enough to catch the New York Yankees who won 10 more games during the season and went to the playoffs.

The Blue Jays did not advance to the playoffs, extending their double-digit playoff drought by yet another year. 

J.P. Ricciardi’s prediction would turn out to be accurate: The Jays got close to .500 by the end of 2005, but put together a stronger season in 2006. In the photo above, John Gibbons is seen acknowledging fans, along with Blue Jays players, during the team’s last home game of the 2006 season. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

That 87-win total would be the high-water mark for Ricciardi, who would end up being let go by the Blue Jays at the end of the 2009 season.

The Blue Jays would not return to the playoffs until 2015. Their manager at the time was Gibbons, then in his second stint with the team.