In The Cards: 1996 Medicine Hat Blue Jays


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.

Small compared the team to the historically dreadful 1988 Medicine Hat Blue Jays before drawing a final conclusion.

“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 …

Former MLB outfielder Omar Moreno (top left) brought an impressive resume with him to southern Alberta, where he worked as the Baby Jays hitting coach. Moreno played 14 seasons in the big leagues, including eight with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he won a World Series ring in 1979. Through 1,382 games, he posted a career .252 batting average, scored 699 runs and produced 386 runs batted in (RBI). But he posed the biggest threat when he was on the base paths. Moreno led the National League in stolen bases in 1978 and 1979, when he swiped 71 bags and followed that up with another 77 thefts. No. 18 for the Pirates then set a club record for steals in 1980, when he racked up 96 stolen bases. The undrafted free agent, who was signed by Pittsburgh in 1969, totaled 487 career stolen bases, making him a top 50 player all-time in that category. Moreno only spent one season in Medicine Hat. He later returned to his home nation of Panama, where he and his wife, Sandra, operated the Omar Moreno Foundation, a youth baseball charity for underprivileged children. He was also named the Secretary of Sports by President Ricardo Martinelli in 2009.
Matthew Gourlay (middle left) was the youngest member of the team, arriving in The Gas City from Melbourne, Australia as a 16-year-old. The 6-foot-5 pitcher was scouted at a world under-16 tournament in Brazil and signed in July of 1995. “Good fastball, throws in the upper 80s, low 90s … good curveball, hard curveball,” was the scouting report from field manager Marty Pevey in the Medicine Hat News. The righthander appeared in 16 games, 13 of them starts, in 1996, logging 66.1 innings, the third most on the club. He managed to strike out 35 batters, but Gourlay struggled through much of the summer. He went 2-6 with an 8.41 earned run average (ERA) and issued eight wild pitches. Gourlay also led the squad in home runs surrendered (17) and balks (4). Despite the difficult campaign, Gourlay returned to Medicine Hat in 1997 and showed progress, dropping his ERA to 5.72 while reducing his bases on balls and homers. Gourlay stuck around for three more seasons of Single-A ball with the St. Catharines Stompers of the New York-Penn League and with the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League. More recently, Gourlay served as the coach of the Heathmont Baseball Club of the Melbourne Winter Baseball League in his home country.
Southpaw Clayton Andrews (top row on the left) was one of three pitchers from the staff to break through to the majors. He appeared in eight games for Medicine Hat and made four starts. Over his 25.2 innings of work in the Pioneer League, Andrews posted a 2-4 record and a 7.36 ERA, to go along with 14 Ks. Toronto’s third-round pick ended up playing 11 years of professional baseball and he was named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher in 1998. The Florida native’s call to The Show came in 2000, when he made eight appearances for the Blue Jays. With Toronto, he pitched 20.2 innings, struck out 12 batters and posted an unsightly 10.02 ERA. The pinnacle of his time in the majors was his lone victory, which came on May 28th at Comerica Park. Andrews hurled four hitless and scoreless frames of relief during the 12-7 win for the Jays. He played his final season with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League in 2007.
Salt Lake City’s David Bleazard (middle row on the right) was somewhat of an anomaly, in that he pitched really well for the Hat in 1996. The righty came out of the bullpen 20 times that summer and converted 10 saves over that stretch. The 22nd-round selection of the Blue Jays struck out 31 batters through 23.2 innings and he was one of only two pitchers to not surrender a fence-clearing bash during the season. It was Bleazard’s only pro stint as a closer – one that earned him a Pioneer League All-Star nod, as well as recognition as the club’s top pitcher. In the seasons that followed, he climbed the minor-league ranks as a starting pitcher. In 2001, Bleazard reached the Triple-A level with the Syracuse SkyChiefs, where he played in five games, going 0-2 with a 9.88 ERA.
Another player who put together a solid season was left fielder Lorenzo Bagley (pictured in the top row in the middle). The Florida product led the team in homers (13), RBI (46), runs (61) and on-base percentage (.404). He also finished second on the roster with 14 stolen bases. Bagley’s big bat helped him earn kudos as the Baby Jays most popular player when the team named its award winners at the end of the summer. The 16th-round draft pick continued roaming the outfield at the Single-A level until 1999. After that he left the Dunedin Blue Jays to play indy league ball with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. His skills were still evident in his last season of professional baseball. Bagley clobbered 21 home runs, 69 RBI, and 23 doubles during 116 games in 2000. He also stole 17 bases.
Right-handed pitcher Gary Glover was entering his third season of rookie-level ball when he came over from the Gulf Coast Blue Jays to Medicine Hat in 1996. It was a long Pioneer League season for Glover, who went 3-12 with a 7.75 ERA across 15 starts. The native of Cleveland, Ohio led the team in innings pitched (83.2) and complete games (two), but he was burned by the long ball and control issues. Glover gave up 14 round trippers and unleashed eight wild pitches. Despite his struggles, the 15th-round pick in the 1994 MLB amateur entry draft was on his way to a bright future. Glover ended up playing 10 MLB seasons with seven different teams. He made 47 starts and appeared in 263 games in the major leagues, putting together a 29-26 record with a 5.04 ERA. Glover struck out 324 batters during his 516.7 innings and collected three saves. The 6-foot-5 hurler also had success pitching in Japan and South Korea.
One of the major success stories to emerge from the team was pitching coach Bruce Walton (top left), who brought a decade of pro playing experience with him, including mound time in 27 MLB games. The Californian only spent one season in Medicine Hat before moving on to the Single-A Hagerstown Suns in 1997. Walton earned a promotion from there, serving as the minor-league pitching instructor between 1998 and 2002. Eight seasons as the bullpen coach in Toronto followed and he was the big club’s pitching coach from 2010 to 2012. In total, he spent 17 years tutoring minor league and major league pitchers for the Blue Jays. Since then, Walton has made Calgary his home and he has joined the Miami Marlins organization, where he works as the pitching coach of the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Two players from this batch realized their dreams of playing in the majors. Brian Bowles (bottom left) threw 39.2 innings out of the bullpen for Medicine Hat, going 2-2 with a 6.35 ERA and 29 Ks during his only Pioneer League season. The California product went on to make 24 relief appearances for Toronto between 2001 and 2003. The righty posted impressive MLB numbers with the Blue Jays: 30.7 innings, 25 strikeouts, 3.28 ERA and a 2-1 record. Bowles played his last pro season in 2007 with the Fresno Grizzlies of the Pacific Coast League. He later returned to his old stomping ground, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, where he was the head varsity baseball coach. Meanwhile, catcher Josh Phelps (bottom centre) was the only batter from the 1996 roster to break through to the bigs. The Alaska-born backstop played 59 games for Medicine Hat, batting .241 with five homers and 29 RBI. He was the Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He also earned American League (AL) Rookie of the Month honours in August and September of 2002. Phelps played 465 MLB games, the majority of them in a Blue Jays uniform. His career numbers included a .273 batting average, 64 home runs, 244 RBI and 198 runs.

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 with more information and to make arrangements.


Leave a Reply