Friday marked the end of an era in Toronto, as Josh Donaldson – 2015 American League MVP and one of the most valuable players to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform – was traded to the Cleveland Indians along with a reported $2.7 million for a player to be named later.
It was a sad ending to Donaldson’s impressive tenure in Toronto which spanned four seasons and included some of the most prolific campaigns ever produced by a Blue Jay.
From 2015-17, only baseball’s golden boy Mike Trout produced more fWAR than Donaldson, but statistical player value was just one of the many reasons he was so important to the Canadian nation.
Donaldson also helped energize a playoff-starved fanbase who salivated for meaningful baseball to happen north of the border for the first time since winning World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.
JD added swagger to a club already oozing it courtesy of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but was missing that extra middle-of-the-order bat needed to take them to the postseason.
He also … brought the rain.
With Donaldson forced to trade his Canadian garbs in exchange for a ticket to The Rock and Roll Capital of the World, let’s remember six of his finest moments with the Blue Jays.
Get your umbrellas ready.
The dive: June 24, 2015
Three months into his first season with the Blue Jays, Donaldson had already won over fans in Toronto thanks to his hitting and home-run prowess, but on this June afternoon, it was his defense that wowed those in attendance at Tropicana Field.
With teammate Marco Estrada authoring a perfect game into the eighth inning, Donaldson tracked a pop-up from David DeJesus into foul territory towards the seats down the third base line and courageously dove head-first into the stands to make an awe-inspiring grab.
Estrada, unfortunately, lost the perfect game against the next batter, but Donaldson’s leap of faith will forever be remembered as one of the franchise’s best and was also responsible for one of his most legendary tweets.
The bare hand: August 13, 2015
It’s August. Donaldson has already leaped into the stands to keep a perfect game in tact, he’s a month removed from his second consecutive All-Star appearance, and he’s in contention for an MVP while playing for the first-place Blue Jays.
So, what does he do next? He dazzles a jam-packed crowd of nearly 47,000 inside the Rogers Centre on a Thursday afternoon, making what appears to be an impossible throw after bare-handing a slow roller from Billy Butler of the A’s deep behind third base.
“I have never seen a third baseman so comfortable fielding ground balls bare-handed as Josh Donaldson,” Buck Martinez said on the broadcast after Donaldson’s remarkable play.
Oh, how right Buck was.
The tag: September 27, 2015
Dives into the stands. Bare-handed plays. A cannon for an arm. Home runs aplenty. Donaldson was doing it all in Toronto.
On a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon in September, however, Donaldson’s baseball IQ and on-field awareness almost single-handedly saved his team a run during an important game as they tried to fend off the New York Yankees in the pennant race.
With Tampa up a run in the eighth, Mikie Mahtook on third, and none out, Donaldson fielded a grounder from Evan Longoria and alertly dove back to the bag at the hot corner to nab Mahtook who had moved toward home on contact before trying to retreat to third.
The heads-up play from Donaldson prevented the run from scoring, which turned out to be crucial because the Blue Jays rallied to tie things in the bottom half and ultimately won by a run in the ninth.
The MVP: November 19, 2015
Winning an MVP has proven to be no small feat for the Blue Jays.
George Bell had been the only player in the franchise’s history to earn the prestigious award (1987), before Donaldson arrived and won it in his first season with the club in 2015.
‘The Bringer of Rain’ earned 23 first-place votes and 385 vote points to beat Trout and third-place finisher Lorenzo Cain after he hit 41 home runs, drove in an AL-best 123 runs, and posted a .939 OPS.
The approach: August 16, 2016
“If you’re 10 years old and your coach says ‘Get on top of the ball,’ tell him no.
“(Because) in the big leagues, these things they call ground balls are outs.” — Josh Donaldson
In one of the most informative guest appearances ever featured on MLB Network, Donaldson provided clarity on how he became such an impactful hitter after going over his plate approach with former big-leaguer Mark DeRosa.
During the discussion, Donaldson provided insight on the rubber-band effect, effortless bat speed, shoulder plane, and how it’s all in the hips, while also reminding kids with their sights set on becoming major leaguers of one important lesson.
“They don’t pay you for ground balls … They pay you for homers.”
The slide: October 9, 2016
The 2016 season featured some bad blood between the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers.
After Jose Bautista orchestrated the batflip heard ’round the world during Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS en route to a series win, Texas second baseman Rougned Odor got some revenge after punching Joey Bats in the face during a heated exchange the following year.
It was only fitting that the two would square off again in the 2016 playoffs.
With the Rangers down two games to none and their season on the line, it was Donaldson’s star that shined brightest for the Blue Jays against their adversaries in the crucial contest.
With some families sitting down to digest their Canadian Thanksgiving dinners, the Blue Jays and Rangers were knotted at six runs apiece in the 10th inning.
Donaldson stood at second base and ended up making Toronto’s play of the year with a head-first slide into home following a Russell Martin slow ground ball towards short and a series of miscues by the Rangers in the field, securing the series for the Blue Jays.
Like his dive into the stands in 2015, Donaldson took a risk and it paid off big as the home crowd at Rogers Centre erupted while he was swarmed by his teammates.
His hustle. His heart. His willingness to just go for it when it mattered most. This is what Toronto is going to miss about Josh Donaldson.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images and MLB.com)
(Videos courtesy: MLB.com and YouTube)