Matthew Taylor: The Blue Jays weren’t always a familiar opponent in Baltimore

The Orioles welcome a familiar opponent to Camden Yards for opening day. This will be the first of 19 games the O’s play against the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays, who are looking to break the longest playoff drought in the majors at 21 seasons.

Whether it’s the Dan Duquette saga from this past offseason, the “Cito Sucks” memories from the 1993 All-Star Game in Baltimore, or the pain of the 1989 season when Toronto provided the unfortunate answer to the question, “Why Not?,” O’s fans know a thing or two about the Blue Jays. That wasn’t always the case.

Toronto played its first game in Baltimore on June 24, 1977. One week after dropping two of three to the Orioles at home, the expansion Blue Jays made their first visit to Baltimore for a four-game set that included a Saturday doubleheader. The teams would split the four-game series as O’s fans played getting to know you with the new kid on the then seven-team American League East block.

At least one visitor’s name would be familiar to locals who followed the team closely. Those Charm City baseball fans who didn’t know the name before the weekend surely did afterward.

Blue Jays shortstop Bob Bailor had himself a series against the Orioles, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1969. After toiling in the minors of a loaded Orioles system, Bailor headed north to Toronto when the Blue Jays selected him with their first pick in the 1976 expansion draft.

“They were all good with the young guys,” Bailor said of the O’s veterans. “There was none of that looking over your shoulder - they went out of their way to help you. To this day, Brooks Robinson is probably the best guy I ever played with as far as personality and helping and doing all the right things.”

Bailor exacted a measure of revenge on his old team during his first game in Baltimore, going 4-for-4 in the Friday night opener. He added two additional multi-hit games in the series.

Bailor’s bat cooled off only briefly in the nightcap of the Saturday doubleheader, when he went 0-for-4 as the team’s designated hitter. It was the only game in which he didn’t bat leadoff and didn’t record at least two hits.

This wasn’t a case of Bailor saving his best for the Orioles during that expansion season. The 25-year-old led all rookies with a .310 average in 1977 and added five home runs, 32 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

“When I was leading the league for a while earlier in the season, I cut the averages out of the paper because I figured I’d never be ahead of Rod Carew again,” Bailor said.

Carew led the American League with a .388 batting average in 1977. Bailor’s .310 average left him just outside the top 10 for the category.

Visit Roar from 34 throughout the season for more Orioles-related history items.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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