By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
Lloyd Moseby considers himself Canadian.
That’s certainly not something the newly elected Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer would’ve anticipated growing up in Oakland, Calif., or even after the Toronto Blue Jays selected him second overall in the 1978 MLB draft.
“I was drafted out of high school in ’78 and the Blue Jays started in ’77, so I had zero knowledge about the Toronto Blue Jays,” explained Moseby during the 2018 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees conference call on Thursday.
“But I wasn’t disappointed. I was just happy to get drafted, but I didn’t know who the Toronto Blue Jays were . . . But that quickly changed when I went to Medicine Hat, Alberta [where the Blue Jays’ Rookie ball affiliate was located] and met one of the owners Bill Yuill, who embraced me. And from that point on, I’ve been a Canadian and I’ve loved it. I’ve loved Toronto. I’ve loved all the [Canadian] places that I’ve had stops in.”
Over his 12 professional seasons in the Blue Jays organization, Moseby evolved into one of the best outfielders in franchise history. So it’s fitting that this adopted Canuck will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June, alongside Montreal Expos superstar Pedro Martinez and Canada’s premier baseball historian Bill Humber. The trio with be honoured in a ceremony on the Hall of Fame grounds in St. Marys, Ont., on June 16.
It’s been a tremendous career on and around the diamond for the charismatic Moseby who once believed he’d make his living on a basketball court. Born in Portland, Ark., Moseby moved to Oakland and was an All-American hoops star in high school. In fact, it was his magic with a basketball that earned him his nickname “Shaker.”
“Growing up, I would tell my mom one of these days I’m going to be in the NBA and I’m going to get you out of here. And that was my dream . . . I was relentless. I dribbled everywhere. Everywhere I went I had a basketball . . . It was something that I was just obsessed with,” shared Moseby. “When I got drafted [by the Blue Jays], it was sweet, but it had a little bitterness to it because I knew I had to give up basketball.”
After his selection in the 1978 MLB draft, Moseby was off to the Blue Jays' Rookie Ball affiliate in Medicine Hat.
“Bill Yuill flew a helicopter into Calgary to pick me up and you got to understand . . . I had never been out of Oakland. And so to have somebody send a helicopter for me, it was unbelievable,” shared Moseby. “But my greatest memory [of Medicine Hat], I was staying at the Assiniboia Inn, which is a place in Medicine Hat that will go down in history. Anyway, I look out my window and I hear some noise and there were people with cows and horses in a parade. I thought, ‘What the hell!’ And that was a culture shock without a doubt. John McLaren, who was my manager, and today is one of my greatest friends in the world, had to settle me down . . . John still kids me about that.”
But that culture shock didn’t stop the talented youngster from excelling in Medicine Hat. In 67 games with the club, he batted .304 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. That performance propelled his quick ascent through the Blue Jays’ ranks and he would make his big league debut on May 24, 1980 at the tender age of 20.
“When I got to Toronto, we were awful. I mean, there’s no other way to say it,” said Moseby. “There were a lot of Rule 5 guys and we didn’t have a direction. Fortunately for us we had a great fan base. But what really stands out is the fight that we had. We had the young guys on the way. We had Barfield in the mix in the minor leagues. We had George Bell, who was with the Phillies, and we were fortunate enough to get him. So to see the growth for me was unbelievable. But if someone had been there in 1980, you would’ve sworn that there was no way that we were going to get better that quick.”
Moseby says the turning point for the club came when Bobby Cox was appointed manager prior to the 1982 season and the veteran bench boss instilled a winning culture in the clubhouse.
After struggling for three seasons, Moseby’s breakout campaign came in 1983, when he batted .315, socked 18 home runs, 31 doubles, seven triples and swiped 27 bases. He also topped American League centre fielders with 11 assists. For his efforts, Moseby became the first Blue Jays’ outfielder to win a Silver Slugger Award and was named the team’s Player of the Year. He was also selected to The Sporting News and Baseball America All-Star teams. Not coincidentally, the team also finished over .500 (89-73) for the first time.
For an encore, Moseby belted 18 home runs, led the American League in triples (15) and registered 39 stolen bases in 1984. He also ranked first among AL centre fielders with 470 putouts and his 7.3 WAR that season was second among AL position players to Cal Ripken Jr.
The 6-foot-3 centre fielder continued to be a force at the plate and on the basepaths in 1985 when he pounded out 18 more home runs and swiped 37 bases to help the Blue Jays capture their first division title.
“1985 was a special year, it was something where Bobby Cox sat down with us in spring training and told us, ‘We’re a great team, but it’s time for you guys to start believing that,’” recalled Moseby. “Then everybody started digging down deep and figuring out what it was going to take for us to win for real, not just going out and winning ball games and coming up short, but to go out and win and raise a flag. The 1985 season we grew up a lot. And we started to believe we were somebody rather than nobodies.”
After winning a franchise record 99 games during the regular season, the Blue Jays came within one victory of advancing to the World Series, losing the American League Championship Series in seven games to the eventual World Champion Kansas City Royals. But the future of the club appeared to be bright, especially for their young outfield, of Moseby in centre, George Bell in left and Jesse Barfield in right, that was widely being hailed as the best in baseball. Bell was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 and Moseby believes that Barfield deserves to be honoured as well.
“He was just a tremendous player,” said Moseby of Barfield. “He had an Ellis Valentine type arm and Ellis was incredible. I mean, I loved Ellis Valentine. He was my guy in Montreal at the time. So when I saw Barfield coming up with an arm like that and, oh my goodness, Jesse could flat out hit. So I know that he’s going to make it (to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) one day.”
After his first taste of postseason action in 1985, Moseby continued to showcase a potent combination of power and speed, registering back-to-back 20-home run, 30-stolen base seasons in 1986 and 1987 and in 1986, he was selected to the American League All-Star team. In 1989, he helped the club win their second division title.
In all, Moseby played 10 seasons with the Blue Jays and he ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in several statistical categories, including first in stolen bases (255), second in triples (60), third in at bats (5,124) and walks (547) and fourth in games (1,392), runs (768), hits (1,319) and doubles (242).
“I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen us go from the laughing stocks of the American League to teams that didn’t want to come and play us,” said Moseby. “It was a tremendous time we had going from the cellar to one of the greatest teams in the 1980s who didn’t win, of course, but we had a lot of fun.”
Moseby suited up for two seasons with the Detroit Tigers in 1990 and 1991 to finish off his 12-year major league career, before spending his last two pro campaigns with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.
Following his playing career, Moseby served as a coach for the Blue Jays’ Short-Season class-A St. Catharines Stompers and the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, before becoming the Blue Jays’ first base coach in 1998 and 1999. Since 2009, he has worked in an ambassador’s role with the club, representing the team in charitable events and serving as an instructor with the Blue Jays Baseball Academy at various kids events across the country including the Honda Super Camps and Instructional Clinics and Tournament 12.
“I just love Toronto,” said Moseby. “It’s like home to me now.”