May 8, 2024

By Kevin Glew 

Cooperstowners in Canada 

Lloyd Moseby is Canadian. 

Maybe not on his birth certificate, but in his heart. 

That’s what the charismatic Californian and Toronto Blue Jays legend told me in a recent phone interview. 

And it would be difficult to argue with him. 

After all, no former Blue Jays player has maintained a longer association with the team. And it’s unlikely that any other ex-Jay has taught instructional clinics in 10 provinces and two territories in this country. 

Even Moseby’s longtime girlfriend, Julie, is Canadian and lives in London, Ont. 

“To me, Toronto is my home,” said Moseby. “I live in California because my kids and grandkids are here but when I step out of a plane at Pearson [Airport], I feel like I’m home.” 

Being “Canadian” isn’t something Moseby could’ve fathomed for himself when he was growing up. Born in Portland, Ark., in 1959, Moseby moved to Oakland when he was a child.  

His athletic talents were apparent at a young age, especially with a basketball in his hands. His nickname “Shaker” was given to him for his moves as an All-American point guard at Oakland High School. 

“I wanted to be just like Rick Barry,” said Moseby. “Basketball was my whole world. I never practiced baseball like I practiced basketball.” 

But while his hoops skills would earn him scholarship offers from colleges across the country, his combination of power and speed on the diamond began attracting the interest of major league scouts. And when he was selected second overall by the Blue Jays in the 1978 MLB draft, he couldn’t refuse the $60,000 signing bonus they dangled at him. 

“When I got drafted and they said $60,000, I thought that was like a couple billion,” said Moseby. 

Moseby’s parents worked hard to provide for him, but they struggled financially. So, when he signed with the Blue Jays, he was able to give back to his parents. 

An 18-year-old Moseby was sent to the Blue Jays’ Rookie Ball affiliate in Medicine Hat, Alta. He can remember team owner Bill Yuill sending a helicopter to pick him up in Calgary. 

“I thought I was big time then,” said Moseby. “I was like, ‘A helicopter! Oh, my goodness.’” 

To say Moseby experienced some culture shock after arriving in Medicine Hat would be an understatement. 

“I remember distinctly – and it could’ve been Canada Day – and they had cattle going down the middle of main street,” said Moseby.  

The young outfielder was also homesick. 

“My manager there was John McLaren. He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever met in my life,” said Moseby. “He let me call my mom and my dad every day [from his office phone in the clubhouse].” 

That helped him get settled and Moseby excelled, batting .304 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 67 games for the Rookie Ball club. 

He followed that up by hitting .332 with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 129 games for class-A Dunedin in 1979 and he was batting .322 in 37 contests with the triple-A Syracuse Chiefs the ensuing year when he was called up by the Blue Jays, along with Garth Iorg.   

To make it to the game in time for his major league debut on May 24, 1980, Moseby had some assistance. 

“After we landed at the airport, we got a police escort to the stadium,” recalled Moseby. “I literally put on my uniform and did a couple of sprints and I was in the lineup at DH.”  

Batting seventh against New York Yankees right-hander Luis Tiant, who had more than 200 big league wins, Moseby had a double and a single in four at bats in the Blue Jays’ 6-2 loss. 

The next day he faced legendary left-hander Tommy John. But that didn’t phase the left-handed hitting Moseby who took John deep for his first big league home run in the third inning and finished 3-for-5 with four RBIs in the Blue Jays’ 9-6 victory. 

After his hot start, however, Moseby struggled, and it took him a few years to learn how to be successful against big league pitching. He credits much of his improvement to Cito Gaston, who was hired as the Blue Jays hitting coach alongside manager Bobby Cox in 1982.   

“Cito just had that way of getting you to do the things [as a hitter] that maybe you don’t want to do at first,” explained Moseby. 

Moseby’s breakout campaign came in 1983 when he batted .315, socked 18 home runs and swiped 27 bases. For his efforts, he was voted the team’s Player of the Year. He was also named to The Sporting News All-Star team and became the first Blue Jays outfielder to win a Silver Slugger Award. Not coincidentally, the team also finished over .500 (89-73) for the first time. 

“That year, I started doing the things I should’ve been doing all along,” said Moseby. “I think I was just growing up at that point.” 

For an encore, Moseby topped the American League in triples (15) and registered 39 stolen bases in 1984. He also finished with a career-best 7.3 WAR. The only American League position player with a higher WAR that season was Cal Ripken Jr. 

Moseby continued to be a force in 1985 when he pounded 18 home runs and swiped 37 bases to help the Blue Jays capture their first division title. 

After winning a franchise record 99 games during the regular season, the Blue Jays were up 3-1 in their best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals before dropping the final three games.  

“George Brett, if I saw him in a mall today, I would tear his head off,” joked Moseby. 

Brett almost single-handedly defeated the Blue Jays in that series. In Game 3, Brett went 4-for-4 with two home runs and four runs to lead the Royals to a 6-5 win.  

Three games later, Brett belted another home run to propel his club to a 5-3 win at Exhibition Stadium. All of this set the stage for the wind-assisted three-run triple by Jim Sundberg off Dave Stieb in the sixth inning of Game 7 that served as a deathblow for the Blue Jays. 

“I’m still having therapy over that,” said Moseby. “That taught us that it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. And I remember crying, because we were so close to going to the World Series.” 

George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield. Photo: Toronto Blue Jays

That season was also the first full campaign that Moseby formed what many deemed to be the best young outfield in baseball with George Bell and Jesse Barfield. Moseby loves them like brothers but says there was some friendly competition between the three of them, especially between Bell and Barfield. 

“Those guys really made each other better though, and that was a good thing,” said Moseby. “And we’re all best of friends now.” 

After his first taste of postseason action in 1985, Moseby registered back-to-back 20-home run, 30-stolen base seasons and in 1986, he was selected to the American League All-Star team. 

The following campaign he set career highs with 26 home runs and 96 RBIs and swiped 39 bases, and the Blue Jays seemed to be cruising to a division title until the final week of the season when they lost their last seven games and AL East to the Detroit Tigers. 

“That last series in Detroit was one of the greatest series that wasn’t a playoff series because every game was a one-run game,” said Moseby, even though he is still haunted by it. 

The collapse at the end of that season inspired manager Jimy Williams and the front office to make big changes. Coming off his American League MVP award-winning season, Bell was told he would be the club’s primary DH in 1988, while youngster Sil Campusano would take over as the club’s centre fielder and Moseby would shift to left. 

Adding to the turmoil that spring was that Moseby’s closest friend Willie Upshaw was sold to Cleveland. With Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder rising through the club’s ranks, the Blue Jays felt it was time to move Upshaw. 

“That was almost unforgivable,” said Moseby, who remains close with Upshaw. “After Willie told me the news, I just walked into the clubhouse. I didn’t even play that day . . . I felt like they were taking away my family.” 

With all of this going on, the Blue Jays slumped to 87-75 in 1988.  

But the spring of 1989 proud to be even tougher for Moseby when his mother died.  

“Cito was really there for me when my mom died,” said Moseby. “He would say to me, ‘Your mom was very proud of you.’” 

When the Blue Jays got off to 12-24 start in 1989, Williams was fired, and Gaston was asked to replace him. Gaston initially didn’t want the job. 

“We went to Cito and said, ‘Hey man, not only are you going to take this job, I’ll kill you if you don’t take this job,’” joked Moseby. “That’s how much we loved him.” 

Gaston did take the job and he led the Blue Jays to a 77-49 record down the stretch to win the American League East. 

“What we came back from that year was almost impossible,” said Moseby. 

Following that season, Moseby knew his time with the Blue Jays was up and he signed a two-year, $3-million deal with the Tigers. He suited up for two campaigns with the Tigers before spending his last two pro seasons with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. 

Moseby still ranks in the top 10 in numerous all-time statistical categories for the Blue Jays, including first in stolen bases (255), second in triples (60) and fourth in hits (1,319). His numbers earned him election to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018. 

After hanging up his playing spikes, 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 at charitable events, season-ticket holder functions 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 the Canadian Futures Showcase. 

“I’ve played in the major leagues and that was great, but I think probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done in baseball was after I played and going around to every province in Canada,” said Moseby. “We have not only seen those kids love the game, but actually become really, really good players.” 

But his proudest role today is as grandpa. His oldest granddaughter is in her third year of university and his oldest grandson is 12. 

“The things I couldn’t do with my kids, I now do with my grandkids,” said Moseby. “They call me Papa and I can’t even describe the joy they give me. They think I’m a hero – not baseball-wise though. My oldest grandson I gave him all the information about my career and his favourite player is [Fernando] Tatis. But nothing makes me more happy than to see my grandkids happy.”  

It also makes him happy when he returns to Canada.  

“Toronto is just the greatest city, as far as the people and the fans,” said Moseby. “You just can’t get any better.” 

Spoken like a proud Canadian – and he is one.  

Just ask him. 

Lloyd Moseby, with emcee Annakin Slayd, at his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in St. Marys, Ont. in 2018. Photo: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

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