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Are Blue Jays Closers Cursed?

One of the subplots in the cult classic flick Spinal Tap, a mockumentary about a fictional British rock band, was the curse that surrounded Spinal Tap drummers. The band went through 18 drummers, all of whom died or were presumed dead. One spontaneously combusted. Another exploded on stage. A third died in a bizarre gardening mishap.

There’s a similar hoodoo that seems to hover over closers for the Toronto Blue Jays. While none have died, many have figuratively exploded on the mound in a combustible pile of blown saves. And speaking of curses, there was one who became infamous for cursing profanity when things went south for him on the hill.

The news this week that Kirby Yates, the high-priced free-agent addition brought in this season to close games for the Blue Jays, is done for the year with an elbow injury, is adding another sad chapter to this legacy of letdown on the mound. It comes at a time when there is considerable hope of postseason baseball in Toronto. Certainly the oddsmakers of the sportsbooks you’ll find at were touting the Blue Jays as legitimate playoff contenders. Are they still that team without Yates out there to finish games? Or will his absence create too much of a hole to overcome?

Let’s take a look at some of the other closers who wrote epitaphs on the mound while with Toronto.

Joey McLaughlin

This is the fellow who began the curse. McLaughlin was Toronto’s closer in 1983, the first season in which the Jays were playoff contenders.

On the one hand, McLaughlin posted nine saves. On the other hand, McLaughlin suffered 11 blown saves. His mere presence warming up in the Blue Jays bullpen could set Toronto fans to booing.

McLaughlin was released by the Jays in 1984.

“Joey McLaughin”  by Wikimedia is licensed under CC BY 3.0 Dennis Lamp

With the Chicago White Sox in 1983, Lamp won seven games and saved 15 others as the ChiSox won the AL West pennant by a whopping 20-game margin. The Jays, emerging as contenders in the AL East and in need of a reliable closer, happily piled up the cash to sign Lamp as a free agent, giving him three years at $1.5 million.

Lamp didn’t light up Toronto’s life, but he certainly got lit up an awful lot on the mound. In his first season with the Blue Jays, he lost (eight) almost as many games as he saved (nine), while posting an ERA of 4.55 and serving up nine home runs.

Lamp spent two more seasons with the Jays and saved a total of just four games during the remainder of his Toronto tenure.

Bill Caudill

Caudill was considered an elite MLB closer when Toronto dealt to get him at the 1984 Winter Meetings. The Jays signed him to a five-year, $7 million deal. It was the biggest contract in franchise history at the time and wouldn’t prove to be money well spent.

It was rocky from the get go. Caudill blew two saves in April. Seven games into his Blue Jays tenure, Caudill’s earned-run average was 9.31. Manager Bobby Cox quickly lost faith in his supposed ace closer.

Caudill surrendered his spot to Tom Henke. He was released just prior to opening day in 1987. In total, Toronto paid him $6 million for 16 saves.

“Bill Caudill”  by sabr is licensed under CC BY 3.0 Roberto Osuna

The issues that led to Osuna’s departure from Toronto weren’t related to on-field problems. He was issued a 75-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.

The Jays traded him to Houston while he was still under suspension.

Ken Giles

To say that Giles was tightly wound would be akin to suggesting that Donald Trump sometimes stretches the truth. Exiting the mound one game after a particularly poor performance, Giles reared back and punched himself in the head.

He was known for unleashing profanity at opponents, teammates, even his manager. Giles underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020 and signed with the Seattle Mariners for this season.

Kirby Yates

Yates was diagnosed with a flexor-pronator strain and will likely need Tommy John surgery. He’s done for the season.

Yates earned all-star recognition in 2019 with the San Diego Padres, registering 41 saves and posting a 1.19 ERA. He signed a one-year, $5.5 million pact with Toronto in the offseason. He also underwent arm surgery last year for bone chips in his right elbow.

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