Acid Flashback Friday: Billy Koch as Blue Jays Closer
Before there was Kevin Gregg, and before there was B.J. Ryan, the Toronto Blue Jays had another maligned closer in the 21st century.
For this week’s Acid Flashback Friday, we take a look back at Billy Koch’s tenure with the Blue Jays.
Koch was a product of the Gord Ash era and was drafted fourth overall in the 1996 draft. He quickly made his way up the minor league system after speeding through Dunedin in 1998 and being promoted to Triple A Syracuse.
He logged 25 innings with Syracuse in early 1999 before being summoned by the Blue Jays to make his big league debut on May 5th. Koch picked up a save in his second appearance ever in the majors by tossing two scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers.
The closer duties were very quickly passed over to Billy Koch as he took over for the previous ninth inning man, the veteran Graeme Lloyd.
The ball continued to roll from there for Billy Koch as he had a phenomenal rookie season with the Blue Jays, posting 31 saves with a 3.39 ERA. Accolades included finishing 7th in AL Rookie of the Year voting and Koch also set the franchise record for saves by a rookie.
The following two seasons, the save totals steadily increased with 33 in the year 2000 and 36 in 2001 under the watch of the Blue Jays.
However, under the direction of new General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays sold high on Billy Koch and traded their closer to the Oakland A’s for future Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske and Justin Miller.
Koch enjoyed success during his first season with the Oakland A’s converting 44 of 50 saves and picked up the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award. Billy bounced around from Oakland to Chicago, and then Florida before returning to the Blue Jays organization at the beginning of the 2005 season.
He signed a one-year deal with Toronto to the tune of $950,000 but he didn’t even crack the Opening Day roster after just four fairly dismal appearances in Spring Training.
Needless to say, Billy didn’t take the news very well and vowed to show up at Tropicana Field wielding 240 schoolchildren to cheer for the Tampa Bay Rays on the second day of the 2005 regular season. It just so happens Koch was living in Clearwater Florida at the time.
Apparently, Koch made good on his word by at least showing up to Tropicana Field on April 5th 2005, donning a Devil Rays Jersey with Aubrey Huff’s number and heckling his former teammates.
The guy wearing a Devil Rays cap and a Aubrey Huff jersey wouldn’t stop yelling. He was seated near the Blue Jays bullpen down the left-field line.
“Schoeneweis is a bum,” he howled. “Go Devil Rays.” Scott Schoeneweis, a left- handed reliever for the Blue Jays, was surprised a Tampa Bay fan would pick him out as a target.
“I can’t believe that they think I’m a bum here too,” Schoeneweis said was his initial reaction. When he saw the loud- mouthed culprit, Schoeneweis couldn’t stop laughing. A closer look revealed former Toronto closer Billy Koch was the man doing the yelling.
From what I remember of Billy Koch, he had great velocity and was definitely one of the elite power-pitching closers for a short period of time. J.P. Ricciardi made a smart move by trading Koch away at his highest possible value, and it worked temporarily by snagging Eric Hinske from the A’s organization.
And of course the other distinguishable trait of Billy Koch was his rat-tail like soul patch. Along with those god awful barb wire arm-band tattoos, it was the norm for the era.
Billy Koch proved that you don’t need to go outside the organization to find a great closer, and if you’re willing to go through the growing pains at first, it’s possible to mold a rookie into a ninth inning guy.