A World Series watershed
Rob Butler reflects on a high point in his baseball career, 20 years later
Rob Butler can still see Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Joe Carter’s home run producing swing in Game 6 of the 1993 Worl d Series against t he Philadelphia Phillies on Oct. 23.
The then 23-year-old Rob, whose father Phillip is from Butlerville, was the fourth outfielder for the Blue Jays at the time.
From his spot on the bench, Rob can remember watching the at-bat unfold.
Facing a count of two balls and two strikes, Carter was facing Phil l ies closer Mitch Williams, who had closed out 43 games in the regular season.
It was a classic moment in Canadian sports history and Rob had a front row seat along the third base line.
Rob now lives in Toronto, Ont. with his four-year-old son Elijah and runs the Home Run Baseball Academy with his brother Rich, as well as coaches the Ontario Prospects elite travel team.
“For someone who was on the bench and watching that at-bat, it was very surreal and kind of slow motion,” said Rob. “You’re so nervous and anxious because we were still losing … we were hoping that something would happen.”
Toronto was trailing 6-5 when Carter stepped to the plate. Five pitches later, the Jays were back-toback World Series champions.
“I can still see him taking the swing, and then it instantly sped up to chaos.”
Rob was one of the first on the field as the ball crossed the left field fence at the Skydome in Toronto.
“I literally felt like I was jumping up in slow motion and then I was going way too fast for myself. I didn’t know what to do anymore,” he said. “You’re bouncing around everywhere and grab someone with a white shirt on and give them a big hug.”
The World Series was the second championship for the franchise, and Rob was the first Canadian-born player to win a World Series with the Blue Jays.
Thrill not gone
It has been two decades since the Jays captured the ‘93 title, and it has something that still helps Butler in his new career as a baseball instructor with the organization he and his brother Rich built.
“I don’t think it has even ended yet,” Rob said of the high of winning the World Series. “We’re still living off that … it gets talked about every day. It has not gone away.”
He does not mind talking about an event that happened that long ago.
“I appreciate that I got the chance to do that,” said Butler. “I always felt everything lined up for me to be able to do that. I don’t know why.”
Coming to NL
Butler’s World Series experience did not stop at the Toronto city boundaries. Both Rob and Rich tried to make a secret trip to Newfoundland to visit their grandparents, Philip and Mildred Butler. However, things did not go as planned.
“We didn’t want to overwhelm our grandparents because we wanted to spend time with them,” said Rob.
But when the Butlers got off the plane in St.. John’s they were greeted by some 500 fans. There was a parade planned and the brothers even squeezed in an appearance at the Trinity Conception Square in Carbonear.
“We signed autographs for six hours,” he said. “There must have been 1,000 people in my grandmother’s living room.
“It ended up being special and fun.”
In the minors
Rob signed as an amateur free agent with the Blue Jays on Sept. 24, 1990. His first taste of pro ball came with the class short-season A St. Catherines Blue Jays of the New YorkPennsylvania League in 1991.
With St. Catherines, Rob hit .338 with seven home runs, 45 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases. The next season, he was in class advanced A ball with the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League along with future Blue Jays Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado.
Again, he tore up minor league pitching to the tune of .358, with four home runs and 41 RBIs.
The following summer, Rob jumped to AA ball and headed to camp with the AAA Syracuse Chiefs of the International League. He appeared in 55 games with the Chiefs, hitting a respectable .284 with one home run and 14 RBIs. However, Rob played stellar defence with the club, posting a fielding percentage of .989 with only one error.
The AA team in Knoxville that Rob jumped featured his brother Rich, Green, Delgado and future Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez, as well as future major league hurlers Tim Crabtree, Steve Karsay and Paul Spoljaric.
It was with the Chiefs that Rob got the call all minor leaguers hope will come.
Prior to his call- up, Rob had missed three weeks due to a hamstring injury.
“I never thought I was going to get called up that year anyway, because I was slated to be in AA and I was coming up with Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado. We were coming up together and I never thought I would
“I always felt everything lined up for me to be able to do that. I don’t know why.”
— Rob Butler
be skipping any levels,” he said.
Rob had been back for a week and the Chiefs were playing a doubleheader at home.
Syracuse manager Nick Leyva gave Rob the second game off in order to ease the transition coming back from injury. He had no idea the Blue Jays would come calling until the fourth inning when the Chiefs flashed the call-up on the big screen for all to see.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to go down,” said Rob. “The tradition of the game for 100 years is that no one knows but the manager and he calls you in after the game and he’s the one who tells you first.
“There’s a big roar in the crowd and nothing is even happening in the game, so I’m wondering what everyone is cheering about and the players are pointing at the scoreboard. Nick Leyva, who is mad, is trying to yell at them to take it off.”
Wednesday ( June 12) will mark the 20-year anniversary of Rob’s big league debut against the Detroit Tigers in Detroit Stadium. The then 23-year-old Rob started in left field in the game, and made quite the first impression on his new club.
Chasing after a fly ball in foul territory, Rob tripped over the bullpen mound, nose-diving into the dirt.
“I got up and the first person look- ing at me is (Blue Jays catcher) Pat Borders, from behind the plate, shaking his head and just laughing at me,” he said.
Rob remembers being uncharacteristically nervous at the start of the game.
“There was 48,000 people there, and at that time Detroit and Toronto had a great rivalry for years, and there were a lot of Canadians that went to Tiger Stadium,” he said. “There were so many Canadian f lags in the crowd.”
Prior to the start of the game, Rob remembers looking around the locker room and seeing the likes of Joe Carter, Devon White and Paul Molitor.
“They’re all guys I had idolized for years,” he said.
That game Rob picked up his first major league hit off Tom Bolton in his fourth at-bat.
“I hit a ball over the head of (Tigers’ shortstop) Alan Trammell for an infield single,” he said. “I gave the ball to my dad.”
Rob would appear in 17 regular season games with the Jays before tearing a ligament in his thumb sliding into second base on a steal attempt. He missed most of the reg- ular season, but returned for the playoffs and the World Series, seeing limited action.
He had two at-bats in the World Series, registering a pinch-hit single off Curt Shilling in Game 5. However, he reached base in Game 4 on a fielder’s choice and later scored on a single by Jays centre fielder Devon White.
That was the high point of his career, which sputtered along for several more seasons, including a trade to Philadelphia in December 1994.
He retired from professional baseball in 1999.
For his career, Rob hit .243 and drove in 21 runs. His best statistical season came in 1997 when he got into 43 games with the Philadelphia Phillies and hit .292 with 13 RBIs. He had a career fielding percentage of .982.
Rich has started laying down roots in the Conception Bay North region with Butler Baseball running its first camp last summer in Upper Island Cove.
It is something Rob hopes to be a part of one of these days.
“We were hoping our baseball program would do something in Newfoundland,” said Rob.
Rob Butler won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. This summer marks the 20th anniversary of that win.
Rob Butler is now one of the coaches of the Ontario Prospects elite travel team, which he started with his brother Rich.