They were a head-scratching bunch, the 1996 Medicine Hat Blue Jays.
Their play left much to be desired, as was made evident by a dismal 22-50 record. Yet despite what unfolded on the diamond, the rookie-level squad saw their attendance double from the previous season as they welcomed 41,942 fans to Athletic Park for an up-close view of how not to play baseball.
The Baby Jays scored a Pioneer League-worst 410 runs, and they gave up 641 scores, resulting in a run differential of negative 231. The average home crowd of 1,234 witnessed a pitching staff that strained their necks to watch opposing hitters launch 92 home runs during the campaign. Rivaling the frequency of long balls given up was the sight of wild pitches. Medicine Hat pitchers missed catcher’s mitts 90 times in 1996. Four hilltoppers recorded nine wild pitches each, while another quartet registered eight wild pitches apiece.
“On most nights, Jays’ players looked like they were light years from the majors. On some nights, they looked like they were a long way from the Pioneer League,” wrote Alan Small in the Sept. 6th, 1996 edition of the Medicine Hat News.
“So how does this season rate? In baseball terms, like this: Give the Hat Jays’ front-office crew a double in the gap for beefing up attendance numbers and the team’s players and coaches a close out at first for trying, but not succeeding. The Toronto Blue Jays’ scouting staff, the group that chose this poor team, well, they struck out looking.”
It wasn’t, of course, all bad. A few of the players did go on to play Major League Baseball (MLB), while others managed to post solid results in the minor leagues.
One of the interesting legacy items that emerged from the season was this team-issued set of baseball cards. Because these were made in-house, rather than through a company more accustomed to printing cardboard collectables, there are some unique features to this set. It is a rare commodity, but not necessarily a high-quality one. The card stock is flimsy and it gives the look and feel of a Polaroid picture, rather than anything you’d see from Topps or Upper Deck. The photography is dull on a couple of levels: one, the pictures are not particularly sharp and, two, the staged elbow-on-the-knee poses the players were put through are uninspiring. Add in some garish design choices – who doesn’t want to see a bright yellow name bar bleed into the background of that Blue Jays logo? – and you’ve got a product that resembles realtor advertising.
The back of the cards provide a mystery to the collector. There are no numbers on the back, so you have to hope that the 33 cards you have in your hands represent the full set. Another omission is the year. You have to look up the roster online to determine that. The card makers also make it clear that Prime Printing and CSC Collectables were sponsors of this endeavour (in the event that you missed their names in bold red print on the front of each card). There is some biographical information about each player, but no statistics.
So, how does this set of cards rate? In baseball terms, like this: Give Prime Printing and CSC Collectables a double in the gap for ensuring these cards exist at all, and the graphic designer a close out at first for trying but not succeeding. The photographer who chronicled this poor team, well, they struck out looking.
Alright, onto a closer look at the roster …
Thanks for looking through this set with us. We encourage you to leave a comment about the players and cards below.
We are currently developing an online digital archive of Alberta baseball card sets with our In The Cards series. If you have baseball cards you’d like to donate – or lend – to our cause, please email us at AlbertaDugoutStories@gmail.com with more information and to make arrangements.