“I’m still in disbelief with the news of being voted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Being drafted by and then playing for the Blue Jays has always meant so much to me and my family. I’m truly honoured, humbled and speechless right now.”
After being selected in the ninth round of the major league draft by the Blue Jays in 1977, Jesse Barfield would spend parts of five seasons in the minors before making his major league debut on September 3, 1981. Just three days later, he’d belt his first big league home run – a two-run shot off Chicago White Sox left-hander Britt Burns in the fifth inning of a Blue Jays’ 3-2 win at Comiskey Park.
Starting in 1982, Barfield became the club’s regular right fielder and he not only showcased power at the plate, but one of the greatest throwing arms in big league history from right field. On April 24, 1982, he became the first Blue Jay to hit a pinch-hit grand slam when he did so in the bottom of the eighth inning at Exhibition Stadium off Boston Red Sox left-hander Tom Burgmeier. It was one of his 18 home runs that season, which helped him earn Blue Jays Rookie of the Year honours.
For an encore, Barfield clubbed 27 home runs in 1983, his first of six 20-home run seasons. Two years later, the right-handed hitting slugger helped lead the Blue Jays to their first American League East title when he had 27 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 22 outfield assists. This made him just the second player (Willie Mays was the first in 1955) in big league history to have at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 20 outfield assists in the same campaign. His 22 outfield assists remain a Blue Jays’ single-season record. For his efforts, he was voted Blue Jays Player of the Year.
Barfield followed that up by setting a then-franchise-record with 40 home runs in 1986. That season, he also became the first Blue Jay to lead the American League in home runs. He also finished second in slugging percentage (.559) and extra-base hits (77) and third in OPS (.927). His performance earned him his first All-Star selection and a Silver Slugger Award. For his outstanding defence in right field, he also received his first of two consecutive Gold Glove awards and for the second straight year, he was voted Blue Jays Player of the Year.
As mentioned, Barfield’s throwing arm is widely recognized as one of the greatest in major league history. In his nine seasons with the Blue Jays, he topped American League outfielders in assists four times (1985 to 1987, 1989) and right fielders in putouts three times (1985 to 1987).
In total, in his parts of nine seasons with the Blue Jays, Barfield played 1,032 games and ranks in the club’s all-time top 10 in several statistical categories, including fourth in WAR (29.5), seventh in home runs (179) and ninth in total bases (1,672) and RBIs (527).
On April 30, 1989, Barfield was traded to the New York Yankees for left-hander Al Leiter. He’d play parts of four more seasons with the Bronx Bombers and again lead AL outfielders in assists in 1990. He completed his big league career with 241 home runs, an .802 OPS, a 39.4 WAR and 162 outfield assists.
Barfield continues to represent the Blue Jays at youth camps and JaysCare Foundation functions across Canada.