Danny Ainge Baseball: The Toronto Blue Jay
He was an NBA champion two times as a player. He made the All-Star game, too. He is also known as one of the most successful general managers in all of professional basketball. His name is Daniel Ray Ainge. And from 1979-1981, he had nothing to do with basketball.
That’s right, folks. Ainge, unbeknownst to many, played three years for the Blue Jays, spending four total years with the organization. Would you believe that Ainge is one of 13 to play in both MLB and the NBA? Crazy.
Starting in the Minors
After being selected by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 1977 Amateur Draft, his journey began. He would spend the entirety of his first year with the Syracuse Nationals. Still just a teenager; he was still figuring things out. His time during the season was split between second base and shortstop, and he had some good moments but wasn’t very consistent.
Ainge came to the plate for 389 at-bats, adding 89 hits. He knocked out four home runs and drove 30 runs in. He wasn’t too great in the base-stealing category, going just 4-7. For a kid right out of high school, this wasn’t bad at all. By the way, he was also playing basketball at BYU while he was a Jays organization member. Talk about a weird situation.
After that first year, Danny Ainge, the Toronto Blue Jay, was officially born. He got consistent repetition with the Major-League club in 1978.
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Off to the Big Leagues
Because of his commitments to BYU, Ainge obviously couldn’t be an everyday player for the Jays. How many people were taking college classes, playing Division-I basketball, and also starting games in Major League Baseball in 1979? Probably just one. Ainge is certainly something of an anomaly.
In 87 appearances and 308 at-bats, he knocked out his professional career’s only two home runs. He stole a base successfully in his only attempt. He batted a semi-respectable .237, still not even 21 years old yet. He drew 12 walks and scored 26 runs.
Over the next two years, Ainge would have some nice moments but wasn’t going to be able to be an everyday player. He batted .243 in 1980, accumulating 27 hits in 111 at-bats. Six of them were doubles, while he added 20 singles and a triple. He knocked in four runs and managed to steal three more bases.
And in 1981, Ainge got a lot of opportunities. He appeared in 86 games. He sort of forgot how to hit, racking up 46 hits in 246 at-bats, good for a .187 average. Six of them were doubles, and two were triples. He drove in 14 runs while going 8-13 on stolen base attempts. You can also enjoy a video of him snagging a liner at third base by clicking here.
Ainge decided he wanted to leave baseball after that third year. He had an opportunity to play for the Boston Celtics. The problem was, he signed a legally binding contract with the Jays. This would have to be settled in court.
Toronto would learn one lesson. You don’t just defy Red Auerbach’s wishes. Trying to dissuade NBA GMs by sending a letter saying they’d be “wasting” a pick by taking Ainge was one of their initial tactics. It’s a crazy story. Check this out from the SI Vault, written by Anthony Cotton. The full story is a juicy one.
In Conclusion: Danny Ainge’s Twenties Were Strange
Danny Ainge has lived an interesting life. He was a college basketball player at the same time he was also a Blue Jay, partaking in MLB. His biggest career decision had to be voted on by a jury. He won two NBA championships. He is the GM of one of the greatest franchises in sports history. And he even made a very brief cameo in Space Jam.
What a life. Some even suspect Ainge to be behind the mysterious Janos Twitter account, which features Celtics contest primarily.
He continues to try and make trades for the Celtics to this day. With the trade deadline approaching, moves have to be made. But one thing is for certain. When Danny Ainge came to the plate, the defense was yelling, “EASY OUT!”
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