LAKELAND, Fla. — Lloyd Moseby pulled on the gray Tigers pants. Then came the Tigers shirt, which he buttoned from the top. Finally, the Tigers cap, navy blue with the olde English “D.” He slid it on and gave it a tug. If clothes make the man, then Moseby was a new one — Mr. Detroit — and you had to smile and shake your head. Or maybe you don’t remember the autumn of 1987?
Moseby was the enemy then. A member of the Toronto Blue Jays. They were holding perch atop the American League East, there were three games left in the season, and all they needed was one win to clinch at least a tie for the title. Here they came into Detroit, like Tyson coming into Tokyo, loaded with talent, smelling the playoff money, and whack, whack, whack, they lost all three games. All three? By one run each time. The Tigers were leaping into each others’ arms even as the Jays boarded the bus for another long winter.
Collapse City. And it was not the first time. Two years earlier, Toronto was a game from the World Series and dropped three in a row to Kansas City. Last year, the Blue Jays reached the playoffs again, only to be stomped by Oakland. They may be the most gifted team in baseball for half a decade, and yet this is the sad truth: To play for the Blue Jays is to live with the word
“choke” tattooed across your batting helmet. And Lloyd Moseby had played more games as a Blue Jay than anyone.
Now he fingered his new cap and looked toward the ceiling of the clubhouse. He allowed a smile, and then he sighed.
“Their problems,” he said, “are not my problems anymore.” Moseby wants to play every day
Some play for money. Some play for fame. And some, like Lloyd Moseby — who seems too nice to even buck a trend — accept what fate gives them until enough is enough. Which is partly why the all-time Toronto leader in games, hits, runs and at-bats is now wearing a Detroit uniform.
“It’s time for me to reap some rewards,” he said Sunday. “It’s time to make up for some of the things that didn’t come my way earlier.
“At this point in my career, it’s not about money or popularity. It’s about championships. That’s the only thing I want.”
Him, and everybody in the room. Of course, some might question the wisdom
— if you really want a championship — of going from a team that at least won the division to a team that finished dead last. It’s a pretty valid question. Moseby was a free agent this past winter, and obviously the Detroit money had something to do with it. So did a chance to play the outfield every day. “I actually could have signed with Oakland (last year’s World Series champions),” he said. “But to play DH or every other day isn’t the way I want to win it. No. I want to be a part of it.”
And so he is here, among his old enemies, ready to fight for the other side now. It has to be funny, suiting up alongside the guys who, for many years, wore the black hats. He can still remember, vividly, the faces of the Tigers on that final Sunday in 1987: Frank Tanana running off the mound, throwing his arms up. Darrell Evans, catching the final out, jumping like a 20-year-old. Sparky Anderson, clapping his hands together and racing out to greet his soldiers.
“We learned a big lesson from the Tigers that day,” Moseby said. “We learned that it’s not enough to think you can win; you have to do it.”
He surveyed the clubhouse. Tanana was in the far corner. Jack Morris was nearby. Alan Trammell was reading a newspaper. “Matter of fact,” Moseby mused,
“some of the people who taught us those lessons are right here in this room.” But are happy endings ahead?
And now Moseby, 30, is one of them. His attitude has never been less than splendid. His form is still there, even if his numbers have dipped the last two seasons. He is traditionally a good Crunch Time player (.313 in the playoffs against Oakland), even if his Toronto teammates were not.
I asked Moseby to explain the Blue Jays mystery. After all, the team had marquee names everywhere: Bell, Barfield, Fernandez in the field. Stieb, Key, Henke on the mound. “Overconfidence,” he said, as if he’d answered this a thousand times in his head. “It wasn’t choking. We actually looked at our own roster and figured we could waltz to the playoffs. I honestly believe that, statistically, we were the best team in baseball the last four years. But we couldn’t do it in September and October. Then the media began expecting us to choke. They said, ‘Now what?’ It starts to weigh on your mind. The only way out of that situation up there is for Toronto to win the World Series. Not just get there — win it.”
In Detroit, Moseby can expect a different wave of emotion. Despite the recent slump, Tigers fans still secretly hear the echoes of 1984 and 1987. They begin each April as eternal optimists, searching for a way the team can win it, instead of lose it.
Which is fine by Moseby. Although he will always be “a Blue Jay at heart”
— 10 years with one team are not easily forgotten — there will be no sympathy in their showdowns.
“In fact, I hope this year ends just like it did in 1987. Only this time, I can look at their faces and see what others saw in mine.”
He took his glove and jogged off to the bus. The uniform, like the circumstances, seemed crisp and new.