Grilli walking in father's footsteps with Blue Jays

By: Bob Elliott

Canadian Baseball Network

It’s tough to walk in your father’s footsteps.

It will be awfully difficult for new Blue Jays reliever Jason Grilli.

His pop, Steve Grilli introduces himself, when at NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse or in Toronto as the all-time Blue Jays earned run average leader.

Steve Grilli is a man from Northern New York who speaks the truth.

He just doesn’t always tell people that his Jays complete career consisted of 2 1/3 scoreless in one appearance against the 1979 Boston Red Sox.

The father now 67, pitched parts of four seasons in the majors. He is the co-owner of the "A Change of Pace" tavern in Syracuse and a broadcaster for the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. 

The son, now 39, is in his 14th season was acquired from the Atlanta Braves Tuesday for Ajax right-hander Sean Ratcliffe as the Canadian cleansing of the organization continues. Ratcliffe, 21, a former Ontario Blue Jay, was an 18th round selection scouted and signed by Jamie Lehman in 2013. He was 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in 22 games walking 16 and striking out 30 in 40 innings at class-A Vancouver last year.

To date Mark Shapiro had acquired by trade reliever Drew Storen, right-hander Arnold Leon and outfielder Darrell Ceciliani, both at triple-A Buffalo and Grilli.

Grilli had two saves in four opportunities, but is a much-needed experienced arm. There weren’t a lot of saves chances in the deep south as John Hart’s Under Construction Bravos We’re Going to Win in 2017 (er 2018, er 2019) won exactly one home game in 12 April contests and four in May heading into a 13th game tonight. They were 15-35 (.300 winning mark) going into Tuesday’s game.    

A year ago Grilli was 24-for-26 (92%) saving games for the Braves. He was with the 2010 Cleveland Indians with Shaprio before injuring his knee. 

This season he was 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA walking 13 and striking out 23 in 21 games.

Grilli has 76 career saves in 93 opportunities (82%), while Storen picked up his third save with the Jays Monday night and had 98 in 119 (also 82%). Roberto Osuna, the Jays closer has 11 saves going into Tuesday’s play this season and is 31-for-35 (89%).

Does Grilli have enough to be a bridge builder like Joe Biagini and Gavin Floyd to go from starter to Osuna? 

The Braves are paying $2,175,000 US, nearly 92% of Grilli’s $3.5-million contract this season. He has a $3 million team option for 2017 with a $250,000 buyout. The Jays are also responsible for Grilli’s games finished and appearances incentives.

More than five years ago, Grilli the father, was one of 872 retired major leaguers who played between 1947 and 1979 but did not play four full seasons to qualify for pension documented in Douglas Gladstone’s wonderful book “A Bitter Cup of Coffee.” 

Since 1980, major leaguers have needed one day of service credit for health benefits and 43 days of service to be eligible for a retirement allowance. 

Grilli’s Toronto ERA amounts to the same as his Player’s Association pension, despite the fact he played more than two years in the majors.

“I pitched 11 years in the minors, two in the majors, scouted five for the St. Louis Cardinals and what do I have to show for 18 years in baseball?” Grilli once told us. “Like Italians say: ‘stugots’ ... nothing.”

Grilli could spin a tale. Like pitching at class-A Rocky Mount (N.C.) Leafs in 1971. 

“There was a car dealership across from where we were stayed. We were so poor, making $500 a month, Freddie Holdsworth and me used to siphon gas out of the cars,” he said. “I hope that statue of limitations ran out too.

“Back then a big night out for us was McDonald’s.”

Grilli opened "A Change of Pace" 35 years ago on his own and it was a regular hang out of former Blue Jays executives, coaches and managers when Toronto had it’s affiliate based at MacArthur Stadium. Co-owner Bob Brazell jokes while the Anchor Bar in Buffalo invented chicken wings, the Change of Pace perfected them. 

The father’s hat is featured in Cooperstown as part of an exhibit. He was the losing pitcher when Rochester fell to Pawtucket 2-1 in 33 innings in 1981, a game with took eight hours and 25 minutes to play.

In his 2 1/3 innings pitching for the Jays on a Monday night at Exhibition Stadium Grilli came on in relief of the redoutable Dave Freisleben (making one of his two Toronto starts) in the third inning with two out and the Blue Jays trailing Boston 5-2. 

Grilli retired Tom Poquette to end the third; allowed a single to Butch Hobson in the fourth, Dwight Evans bunted the runner over, struck out Mike O’Berry and popped up Stan Papi in the fourth.

And in the fifth he retired Jack Brohamer on a fly ball, then Fred Lynn and future Hall of Famer Jim Rice on infield pop ups to end the fifth.

And Grilli the father never threw another pitch in the majors again.

His son’s next pitch will be in a Blue Jays uniform will be carrying on a family tradition, like John Mayberry and John Mayberry, Jr.