Moseby saw Tigers, Blue Jays rivalry from both sides

Center fielder Lloyd Moseby bats for the Detroit Tigers in 1991.

Center fielder Lloyd Moseby bats for the Detroit Tigers in 1991.

In the 1980s the two best teams in the American League East were separated by 370 miles and the Detroit River. The Tigers of Detroit and the Blue Jays of Toronto combined for three division titles between 1984 and 1987, and their rosters were filled with some of the most exciting young stars in the game in the 1980s.

Lloyd Moseby advanced through the Toronto organization and starred for them for a decade, teaming with two other talented young stars to give the Jays the best outfield in baseball. Moseby spent his final two seasons with the Tigers, switching uniforms to a hated rival.

Moseby was born in Arkansas but he grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in California, a standout in several sports. With the second overall selection in the 1978 amateur draft Toronto nabbed Moseby, a trim-waisted, muscular young outfielder. At Oakland High, Moseby was a busy young man: playing football, baseball, basketball, and also finding time to put on a singlet to run track. Even at a young age, Lloyd stood out among his peers. His legs were thick and muscular, his arms were strong and his shoulders broad. He looked like he could do almost anything athletically. His nicknames “Shakes” or “The Shaker” stemmed from his ability to get away from defenders on the basketball court.

As an expansion team, the Blue Jays were anxious to feed their big league club with a steady diet of young players from their farm system, built through the draft. By 1981 some of those prospects were starting to bubble up. Many of them were from Latin American, where the Jays had doubled their efforts to find cheap talent. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin (originally drafted by the Indians), second baseman Damaso Garcia, and pitcher Luis Leal were among them. But the big prizes were left fielder George Bell, from the Dominican, and Jesse Barfield, a tall, powerful slugger from Chicago. In ’81 the trio played together in the majors for the first time. By 1984 the trio were dazzling fans and opponents with their play.

That was the same season the Tigers ran off to a hot start and put a stranglehold on the division race. But, even though Detroit held what seemed to be an insurmountable lead only six weeks into the season, the Blue Jays were playing great baseball too. On June 6th, after Leal defeated Dan Petry at Tiger Stadium, the Jays actually pulled within 3 1/2 of first. But Detroit soon buried Toronto and cruised to the division title, pennant and World Series title.

Moseby earned four MVP votes in ’84, having hit .280 with 18 homers, 92 runs batted in, 97 runs scored, and a league leading 15 triples. He led the AL with 15 triples. In 1985 he helped the Jays win their first pennant, showing off his blend of speed and power. Moseby averaged 34 stolen bases and 18 home runs between 1984 and 1988.

When I looked up Moseby’s page on baseball-reference for this article, I was surprised to see that he never won a Gold Glove Award. One had to see Moseby play center field to understand how great he was. Because he was so quick, he could play extremely shallow, the shallowest center field of any player in the game during the 1980s. With a quick first step and an uncanny ability to read the ball off the bat, Moseby rarely missed fly balls hit over his head. He was an expert at cruising back on the artificial turf of Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.

Of teh three Blue Jay outfielders, Moseby was the least appreciated and lesser known. In addition to his lack of Gold Glove hardware, Moseby was an All-Star only once, and he was overshadowed by the flare and personality of his outfield running mates. Bell hit high, towering home runs and was controversial. Barfield had the best throwing arm of any outfielder in baseball, and maybe of all-time, with apologies to Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline. Barfield won a home run title, and Bell won an MVP Award. Moseby was the steady understated star between them.

Unlike the Tigers, the Blue Jays didn’t win a World Series in the 1980s. In ’87 the two teams fought one of the best pennant races in baseball history. (Yes, I know it wasn’t actually a pennant race, but you know what I mean). The Tigers erased a four game deficit with eight games to play and won the division title on the final day of the season at Tiger Stadium, completing a sweep of the Jays, winning all the contests by a single run. It was the peak of the Detroit/Toronto rivalry.

Unfortunately for Moseby, by the time the Jaus had retooled their club and won not one, but two World Series, he was gone. By the late 1980s, Devon White was ready to take over in center field, and Toronto felt that Lloyd was an old 30. Moseby signed a free agent deal with Detroit and was welcomed by his former rivals.

“He can go get them as well as any [ballplayer], and in this ballpark [Tiger Stadium] that’s what you need,” manager Sparky Anderson said as the 1990 season got underway. Detroit was desperate for a replacement for Chet Lemon, who had broken down after a long stretch with the club.

Moseby played 122 games for Sparly in 1990, hitting .248 with 14 home runs. He got off to a great start as a Tiger, hitting .333 in his fort month and adding six homers in May, but he cooled. He enjoyed being in the Detroit clubhouse, reuniting with former teammate Cecil Fielder and striking up friendships with Lou Whitaker and Tony Phillips. In 1991 he suffered two injuries that sidelined him for stretches in April and August, and he ended up playing in fewer than 75 games. At the end of the season he was a free agent but no big league club offered the 31-year old a contract. His career was over after just twelve seasons.

Frustrated by the lack of offers in the States, Moseby played two seasons in Japan before retiring from the game in 1994. For two seasons later in the 1990s, Moseby served as a coach with the Blue Jays. He was later inducted into the Blue Jay Hall of Fame and has maintained a connection with the franchise. He’s still a popular figure in Toronto.

Moseby played 1,588 games, scoring 869 runs, collecting 1,494 hits, 273 doubles, 66 triples, hitting 169 homers, driving in 737 runs, and stealing 280 bases while batting .257 with a .746 OPS.