The Baseball Posts: The Most Badass Play In Blue Jays History

It was 1985. The Blue Jays had only been around for eight years and they'd been terrible for most of that time. But now they had finally built an exciting core of talented young players. Dave Stieb led the league in ERA that year. They had Jimmy Key and Tom Henke and Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez and Kelly Gruber. The Jays outfield was one of the best in the game: Lloyd Moseby, George Bell and Jesse Barfield. And in July, halfway through the season, they found themselves in first place. The best team in the American League.

Buck Martinez was on that team too. These days he's on TV — one of the Jays' play-by-play guys. A decade ago, he was their manager. But all the way back in 1985, he was Toronto's back-up catcher. And on July 9, when the Jays were in Seattle playing the Mariners at the Kingdome, Martinez was behind the plate. That's the day he made the most badass play in Blue Jays history.

It was the third inning. Neither team had scored yet, but the Mariners were at the plate with a man on second and one out. A hit, it seemed, would score a run. And that's exactly what the Mariners got: a single to right field.

Thing is, Jesse Barfield happened to play right field for the Toronto Blue Jays. And Jesse Barfield had one of the greatest arms in the entire history of the sport. As the ball skipped toward him across the turf, he saw the Mariner who'd been on second — a guy named Phil Bradley — rounding third and heading for the plate. Barfield grabbed the ball and launched a rocket toward home. It arrived in plenty of time. Martinez caught it and blocked the plate, bracing himself as Bradley bore down on him.

The collision was brutal. They usually are on plays like that — they're the rare moments when baseball becomes a full-on contact sport — but this one was especially crazy. Bradley hit Martinez at full speed and just absolutely levelled him, leaving the Jays catcher flat on his back on the ground. Martinez couldn't get up. His right fibula was broken. His ankle was dislocated. His season was over. A week later, he'd be having surgery to piece his leg back together.

Buck Martinez and Phil Bradley
Somehow, though, he'd managed to hold on to the ball. Bradley was out.

And the play wasn't over yet. While all of that was happening at home plate, the other Mariner — the guy who'd hit the single, Gorman Thomas — was still running. He was on his way to third base by then. And while Martinez was lying on the ground in pain, he realized what was happening. He fired a quick throw down to third, but — understandably — the throw wasn't very good. The ball sailed into left field while Thomas just kept on running. Bradley might have been out, but with Thomas on his way home, it looked like the Mariners were going to score after all.

The ball was headed toward George Bell. He was the Jays left fielder. And while he was a great hitter, he did not have one of the best arms in baseball. In fact, he was pretty terrible defensively. But on this particular day, he came up huge. His throw was perfect. Martinez still couldn't move, lying there with his broken leg, but he didn't need to. Bell's throw hit him square in the glove and it got there before the runner did. As Thomas tried to avoid him, Martinez spun around and tagged him on the leg. Thomas was out too. It was, incredibly, a double play. The inning was over.

When the medics loaded Martinez onto a stretcher, Bell insisted on helping to carry him off the field. And Thomas, who was friends with the catcher, waited with him until the ambulance arrived. The Jays third base coach, Jimy Williams, told Martinez it was the greatest play he'd ever seen.

The Blue Jays went on to win that game. And a whole lot more of them that season. They finished with 99 wins, the most they've ever had. They finished in first place, made the playoffs for the first time, and very nearly made it to the World Series — losing the American League Championship in seven games. It was the beginning of a new era for the Jays. And just a few years later, they'd be winning it all.

I'd actually somehow never heard about any of this until it came up on Mike Wilner's postgame show on the Fan590 last weekend. A lot of the details were filled in thanks to this post on Mop Up Duty, the Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers, and, of course, Wikipedia.

The Baseball Posts are series of posts about, um, well, baseball. You'll find them all here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


Lyndon said...

I remember begging my parents to stay up late to watch this game. I'm glad they did, because after seeing this play and I've been a life long Blue Jay fan ever since :)

If you watch baseball long enough, you're bound to see the same thing over and over again. But I've never seen a play quite like this!!

B. said...

Great play, but why couldn't Bradley have hit Martinez in the jaw or head instead? That way, we wouldn't be listening to him mispronounce players' names or filling every moment with his pointless drivel.

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