#CardCorner: 1987 Fleer Dave Stieb
But Dave Stieb finally found some fortune at the end of a stretch of dominance that might have been the best of his era.
Born July 22, 1957, in Santa Ana, Calif., Stieb made his mark as a hitter as an amateur. After playing two seasons for San Jose City College, Stieb transferred to Southern Illinois University. During his junior season in 1978, Stieb hit .394 as the Salukis center fielder – earning a place on the Sporting News All-American team.
Hall of Fame Online Store
Official Hall of Fame Apparel
Hall of Fame Members receive 10% off and FREE standard shipping on all Hall of Fame online store purchases.
“When I first started sandlot ball, I wanted to be a pitcher,” Stieb told the Canadian Press. “Actually, both my older brother Steve (who played three seasons in the Braves system as a catcher) and I wanted to pitch but my father wouldn’t let us. We were only seven or eight and he was the coach and he didn’t want us to wreck our arms trying to throw curves at that age.”
Stieb worked only 17 innings on the mound for SIU in 1978, all in relief – going 2-0 with three saves and a 2.04 ERA. It was the first time that Stieb had thrown a competitive pitch at any level. But the Blue Jays took a chance on him in the fifth round of the 1978 MLB Draft, and Stieb decided to sign for a reported bonus of $32,000 – future Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, then with the Blue Jays organization, helped convince him to sign – despite the fact that Salukis coach Richard Jones was planning to move him to the mound the following season.
“When we first tried him as a pitcher (in 1978), he’d throw the ball at the knees,” Jones told the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale, Ill. “He was one of the few players I’ve ever told he’d get an enormous bonus if he had waited another year.”
Stieb signed with the Blue Jays on the condition that he be allowed to both pitch and play the field, and Toronto sent him to Class A Dunedin of the Florida State League. After hitting .192 in 99 at-bats and going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four starts on the mound, Stieb’s destiny was clear.
In 1979, Stieb returned to Dunedin and went 5-0 with a 4.24 ERA in eight starts. The Blue Jays then promoted him all the way to Triple-A Syracuse, where he went 5-2 with a 2.12 ERA in seven games.
Desperate for pitching, the Blue Jays – who had debuted as an expansion team in 1977 – brought Stieb to Toronto in late June. Between college and the minor leagues, Stieb had 36 pitching appearances at any level to his credit when he debuted for the Blue Jays on June 29, 1979, against the soon-to-be American League champion Orioles.
“You can’t afford to make a mistake, such as misplacing the ball,” Stieb told the Southern Illinoisan of facing big league hitters. “But I’m doing what I want to do. (It’s) just a matter of mastering what I already know.”
“It’s disappointing, but I’ve been through it before,” Stieb told the AP. “I was a little less nervous this time because of the other times.”
Softening the blow was the overall play of the Blue Jays, who rallied to win the AL East that year after Cito Gaston replaced Jimy Williams as manager in May. Stieb finished the season at 17-8 with a 3.35 ERA but was outdueled by Oakland’s Dave Stewart in two ALCS matchups as the Athletics advanced to the World Series. Stieb, however, had reestablished himself as one of the game’s top pitchers.
In 1990, Stieb posted a career-high in wins, going 18-6 with a 2.93 ERA and finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. And on Sept. 2, Stieb finally got his no-hitter – blanking the Indians when Jerry Browne lined out to right to end the game.
“The thing that makes (Stieb) so tough is he has a hard slider that doesn’t break a whole lot, another slider that breaks a foot or more, and a curve,” Cleveland’s Tom Brookens told the Akron Beacon Journal. “Stieb’s slider probably breaks more that anybody’s I’ve ever seen.”
But despite Stieb’s excellent season, Toronto finished second in the AL East – and Gillick decided a major shakeup was in order.
On Dec. 5, 1990, Gillick traded Tony Fernández and Fred McGriff – two franchise cornerstones – to the Padres in exchange for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. In that moment, the Blue Jays’ championship dreams were put into motion.
Stieb, however, would play only a minor role for the team that he pulled from the bottom of the AL standings.
Stieb started the 1991 season with a 4-3 record and 3.17 ERA in nine starts. But shoulder tendinitis hampered him in late May after he landed awkwardly on his pitching shoulder after a play at first base against the Athletics on May 22. After being scratched from a June 1 start against the Yankees a few minutes before first pitch, he did not appear again that season – sidelined by the sore shoulder and later a back injury.
The Blue Jays won the AL East that season before losing to Minnesota in the ALCS. Stieb, who by this time was Toronto’s all-time leader in wins, starts, innings pitched and complete games, returned in 1992 but was largely ineffective, going 4-6 with a 5.04 ERA due in part to elbow issues. The Blue Jays finally got over the hump by beating the Athletics in the ALCS, but Stieb – who hadn’t pitched since Aug. 8 – was left off the World Series roster.
Toronto defeated Atlanta for the title, however, and Stieb – who was in uniform in the dugout despite not being eligible to play – celebrated the victory.
Stieb and Toronto parted ways after the season, with the now-35-year-old right-hander signing a one-year deal with the White Sox. But after going 1-3 with a 6.04 ERA in four starts, Stieb was released.
His career seemingly over, Stieb served as a Spring Training instructor for the Blue Jays – and in 1998, with his arm rested from four years of inactivity, Stieb convinced Toronto’s front office to give him one last shot. He appeared in 19 games that season, mostly in relief – going 1-2 with two saves and a 4.83 ERA.
“If I don’t make it,” Stieb told the AP while working his way back to Toronto in the minor leagues that spring, “it’s not the end of the world.”
In February of 1999, Stieb officially retired. His final numbers: A record of 176-137, with a 3.44 ERA, 103 complete games and 30 shutouts. Though he never won 20 games – the standard of greatness for pitchers in his era – Stieb compiled a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 56.4, the vast majority of which (54.0) came from 1980-90.
In those 11 seasons, only Roger Clemens – with a WAR of 45.9 – came within 15 points of Stieb’s WAR.
In any conversation about the best pitchers of the 1980s, Dave Stieb plays a prominent part.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum