“Anyone who tells himself he can win a pennant with an expansion team is just spitting into a gale.” – Toronto Blue Jays Manager (1977-1979) Roy Hartsfield
Roy Hartsfield was a second baseman for the Boston Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays’ first ever manager. Hartsfield played for 3 seasons for the Braves (1950-52) before being traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers and sent to the minors. He then became a coach at the major league level before moving to the PCL as skipper for the Spokane Indians and Hawaii Islanders.
After winning consecutive division championships in the PCL, Hartsfield was offered a coaching job with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968. Peter Bavasi, the Blue Jays first-ever GM, hired Hartsfield after having worked with him in the Dodgers organization.
Peter Bavasi has been enamoured with Hartsfield since they were together in 1965 at the Dodgers’ Texas League farm team in Albuquerque. Hartsfield was the dugout manager and Bavasi was the team’s business manager. Bavasi often listened to Hartsfield conduct dugout seminars for his players during games.
“Roy Hartsfield,” Peter once said to his father, Buzzy Bavasi (Dodgers VP), “is the best manager in baseball.”
Roy Hartsfield was a quiet and patient type of manager, the same type that Buzzy Bavasi had in Walter Alston with the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers. “They’re steady – they’re men for all seasons.”
Hartsfield managed the Jays from 1977-1979, compiling a record of 166-318 (.343) in 484 games. The expansion Jays finished last in the American League East Division each season under Hartsfield’s leadership.
In the first year with the Blue Jays, Hartsfield said:
“I was enthused, quite happy about the way we competed. We lost a lot of games, but we were in a lot of games. It was kind of thrilling for me. But in the last year, it was sort of like a holding pattern. We didn’t see a great deal of improvement in the ball club because we didn’t make any changes. You were waiting for something to happen, but it didn’t happen.”
Hartsfield’s managerial career was unremarkable for the most part save for a Cito Gaston-style mutiny near the end of the season in 1979.
Relief pitcher Tom Buskey stated that Roy Hartsfield should be replaced and veteran players such as Tom Underwood, Roy Howell and Rick Bosetti agreed. They felt that Hartsfield was catering to younger players while ignoring the veterans. Ernie Whitt on the other hand complained Hartsfield saw no potential in him by splitting most of the catching duties between Alan Ashby and Rick Cerone.
Players were also livid when at the same time Peter Bavasi made this remark to a reporter: “I would never let my daughter date a Blue Jays player.”
“How do you think our wives feel about that remark?” said Howell, the team player representative. “They married one.”
Hartsfield was let go at the conclusion of the 1979 season and succeeded by Bobby Mattick. The managerial career highlight for Hartsfield in an otherwise dismal 3 years at the helm of the Blue Jays was being named to the coaching staff of the 1979 All-Star team.
“After I was finished, I asked myself if I would do that again or would I want to get an established club,” said Roy Hartsfield, the first manager of the team that is now the World Series champion. “No matter what people in baseball say, you’re judged on what your team does, whatever kind of team it is.”
“Like all expansion clubs, you sort of went out expecting to get beat everyday and we almost did,” said Hartsfield, 67, who lives 85 miles north of Atlanta. “Yet it was very, very interesting as well as being frustrating at times.”
Below you will see highlights of the Blue Jays first ever Spring Training in Dunedin as well as some trials and tribulations experienced by the Roy Hartsfield-led Blue Jays:
“When you’re in on the ground floor of something new, you’d like to be around in some capacity to reap some benefits. They don’t keep the first manager around. That’s not a kick at anybody. That’s just the way it unfortunately happens.”