Flashback Friday: The Ballad of Danny Ainge
|Courtesy of Sports Illustrated|
Blue Jays fans know all too well how John Farrell leveraged his way into a job with the Red Sox, but did you know that there was another man before him who pioneered the art of jumping ship from Toronto to Boston?
For this week’s Flashback Friday, we take a look back at the ballad of Danny Ainge.
Ainge was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 1977 amateur draft as just a fresh-faced 18 year old senior from North HS in Eugene Oregon.
Not unlike many professional athletes, Danny Ainge didn’t limit himself to just one sport; he was an all-American baseball, football, and basketball player. He was the 70’s version of A.C. Slater; any sport Ainge played turned to gold.
Since Danny Ainge was a multi-faceted and multi-talented athlete, obviously he was pulled in many different directions throughout high school and college. Although the Toronto Blue Jays initially drafted him, Ainge pursued basketball at Brigham Young University.
It’s hard to fathom, but he actually juggled both a professional baseball and college basketball career at the same time.
Ainge made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays on May 21st 1979. Danny was just barely 20 years old and he was already playing in professional baseball. Mind you, he was playing professional baseball while still in college. Talk about multi-tasking.
Perhaps it was a case of too much too soon; The Blue Jays fast-tracked Danny Ainge to the majors, as he was playing with the big league club less than two years after he was drafted. Ainge was immediately shipped to Triple A, where he collected just over 500 plate appearances before gaining everyday at bats with the Blue Jays.
|Via Basketball Marswheel|
Pat Gillick deemed Danny Ainge as the next Brooks Robinson, and the Blue Jays had plans to hand the reigns over to him as their everyday third baseman. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out that way.
Ainge struggled at the hot corner and batted a paltry .187 during the 1981 season with the Blue Jays. I guess that was when Danny decided it was time to jump ship to basketball.
On September 21st 1981, after less than three years with the Blue Jays and a total of 211 games, Danny Ainge voluntarily retired from baseball. But as the door to his baseball career closed, a window of opportunity opened in professional basketball.
There was just one problem; Danny Ainge still had a binding three-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. However, that didn’t stop the Boston Celtics from selecting him in the 1981 NBA draft.
It’s interesting to note that the seed for this entire shift was planted years before Danny Ainge officially decided to abandon the Blue Jays. Here is what he said about his baseball future in March of 1980:
“I’ve failed at things before. I think I’ve failed at baseball the last three years. I’ve set goals for myself, and I haven’t come close to them. If I keep failing for a certain period of time, I’ll definitely try something else. Basketball? Probably.”
At that point, the Blue Jays front office was essentially fighting a losing battle, but they weren’t going to go down without a fight. They attempted to convince NBA teams to not waste a pick on Ainge by writing letters to them reiterating that Danny was fully entrenched in a professional baseball career.
And thus began the long and drawn out legal battle over the rights of Danny Ainge between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Celtics. The Blue Jays contested that Ainge still had a binding contract with the team, while the Celtics countered that Ainge wasn’t interesting in playing baseball anymore.
So the Blue Jays front office was in a situation that was very similar to the John Farrell debacle; they had somebody under team control that obviously didn’t want to be there, and with another organization interested in their services.
The jury ruled that Ainge’s contract was still binding, and the Boston Celtics were forced to buy it out. It was never officially disclosed what the actual dollar amount was, but the figure was reportedly somewhere in the $500,000 dollar range.
Here’s Danny Ainge speaking personally about his brief time in Toronto, and his desire which lead him to choosing basketball over baseball.
There really are a lot of parallels between the Danny Ainge and the John Farrell situations, and I actually found that writing this post was somewhat cathartic and taught me a very valuable lesson; life is too damn short to keep doing something you don’t want to.
Rather than meddle as a failed baseball prospect, Danny Ainge took fate into his own hands and instead switched to basketball. Since then, he’s won two NBA rings as a player, and one as General Manager of the Boston Celtics … a position he still holds to this day.
All things considered, one can’t really fault Danny Ainge for following his dreams. It’s just unfortunate the Blue Jays got the raw end of the deal.
Info courtesy of Sports Illustrated