The roar that greets Carlos Delgado when he arrives for enshrinement on the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence this Sunday could well be loud enough to shake Toronto’s lakefront dome to its foundations. 

In truth, it ought to be at least that loud and maybe even a few decibels more, given the calibre of slugger being celebrated, and the quality of man as well.

Other offensive talents have written their name large in Blue Jays lore, guys like Alomar and Carter, Bell and Bautista. But no one else boasts a resume that compares to Delgado’s, a treasure chest of statistical achievement headlined by his eight straight 30+ home run seasons in Toronto colours, and the only four-homer game in club history.

He broke in at the end of the glory years, with a pair of fleeting appearances in the final days of 1993. By the time he left as a free agent after 2004, Delgado had comprehensively rewritten the Blue Jays record book, leaving town as the franchise leader in 10 different offensive categories. You have to wonder whether he’ll ever be dethroned in any of them, from doubles, homers and RBIs to runs, total bases and, perhaps most tellingly, intentional walks.

But the strength of his relationship with Blue Jays fans goes well beyond the numbers. What elevates Delgado is his All-Star personality, high-wattage smile and MVP moral fibre. It’s the way he embraced and integrated himself into Toronto as a cultured citizen and team ambassador, enjoying the city’s opera, jazz and theatre offerings, or riding his bicycle to home games and interacting with well-wishers along the way. It’s the enthusiasm and effort he brought to learning English as a minor leaguer, so he could better interact with those around him.

On and off the field, joy was almost always in abundance with Delgado. Even if big league baseball didn’t bring him countless championship rings or a single World Series berth, he was a positive force who always shared his smile and happiness with teammates, opponents, umpires, even total strangers. Back in his brief stint as Jays manager, Buck Martinez once spoke about the ‘aura’ around his star first baseman, the way he carried himself as a team leader, the air of success he’d had even as a newly-signed 18-year-old, an inevitability of select character and special achievement.

Delgado announced his prolific slugging talents to Toronto fans at the start of the 1994 season, smashing eight home runs in his first 14 games, two of them off the old Hard Rock Café in right field. That ridiculously powerful debut proved something of a false dawn, however, and a lengthy slump followed before he was demoted to the minors for another few months of seasoning. They’d be the last he’d really need.

Carlos-Delgado_rookiecard.jpgFormer Jays coach Cookie Rojas once paid Delgado the ultimate tribute, but it was one that had nothing to do with his baseball abilities. Rojas had been a close friend of legendary Puerto Rican star Roberto Clemente, who died delivering earthquake relief supplies to Nicaragua. In Delgado, Rojas said, he saw the same “stature… the same dignity and the same pride” his countryman Clemente had before him, a shining light to other Latin players.

Those qualities were most on display in Delgado’s opposition to U.S. Navy weapons testing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, and later his quiet sit-down protest against the playing of ‘God Bless America’ in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks and subsequent wars. Comfortable and certain in his beliefs, Delgado had no problem ruffling feathers by speaking out, enduring boos in New York and openly calling the invasion of Iraq “the stupidest war ever.”

More than any tape measure home run, more than any game-winning hit, that laudable virtue and character defined Delgado, differentiating him from other superb athletes who don’t have anything else to share. Carlos Delgado’s brilliant baseball career demands obvious admiration and respect. The man behind it deserves even more.

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