There have been two Ed Spragues in major-league baseball, father and son. The Ed Sprague we focus on here is the son, a two-time World Series champion with the 1992 and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays. Primarily a third baseman, he played in more than 1,000 games – 888 of them for Toronto – over an 11-year stretch. He played for five other teams in his final four years, including two stints in one year for the San Diego Padres.
Most notably, Sprague is the only major leaguer to have been on two World Series-winning teams in the majors and also win the College World Series (twice, with Stanford in 1987 and 1988) and a Gold Medal in the Olympic Games (at Seoul, South Korea, in 1988).1 His wife, Kristen Babb-Sprague, holds an Olympic Gold Medal, too, in synchronized swimming at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. The two married in February 1991.
His father, Edward Nelson Sprague Sr., was a right-handed pitcher who pitched in parts of eight seasons for four different ballclubs from 1968 to 1976. His career wrapped up a little more than a month before Ed Junior turned 9 years old. He had pitched in 198 games with a record of 17-23 (3.84 ERA).2
Ed Junior – who will simply be called Ed Sprague throughout this biography, except when necessary to distinguish him from his father – was born on July 25, 1967, in Castro Valley, California, about 15 miles from Oakland. His mother, Raelene, and father divorced when Ed was around 12 years old. Ed has a 15-year-younger brother, Dennis.
Around 1979 Ed Senior became a baseball magnate, part-owner and president of the Stockton Ports minor-league baseball team, and the family moved there. His wife – Ed Junior’s stepmother, Michele – had a successful career in property development and owned the Lodi Crushers for a couple of years, a collegiate wood-bat team.3
Ed Junior was right-handed and grew to 6-feet-2, listed at 215 pounds. He attended St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, some 60 miles from Castro Valley.
He grew up around baseball, and he started baseball early. “I was 4 years old. My father lied about my age and got me into a T-Ball league.”4 He added, “Of course, when you’re that young, you just let kids play a little bit. But he coached me in Little League, following his playing career.”5
He spent some of his earliest years in big-league clubhouses. “I’ve got a lot of fond memories of Pete Rose and Joe Morgan when he was with Cincinnati. Johnny Bench. And Robin Yount, when he was with Milwaukee.”6
After moving to Stockton, Ed helped out at the ballpark. “I did a little bit of everything – I was batboy, clubhouse kid. I got the bullpens when I got a little older. I did a number of jobs there, but – yeah – I was a clubhouse rat.”7
The Boston Red Sox selected Sprague out of St. Mary’s in the June 1985 draft but he chose not to sign and to enroll at Stanford University. He excelled at Stanford, the team not only winning the CWS (Sprague drove in the final game-winning run in 1987) but also playing in tournaments such as the 1987 Pan-American Games. It was there that he met his future wife, Kristen Babb.8
Sprague was the first-round pick of the Blue Jays, the 25th overall selection in the June 1988 draft.
Wayne Morgan was the area scout who followed and recommended Sprague to the Blue Jays. It was GM Pat Gillick who secured the actual signature. “He actually signed me in the Chicago airport. I was in between flights.”9
Sprague’s pro career started in 1989 with a full season split between Class-A Dunedin (52 games, batting .219) and the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs (86 games, batting .208). He played winter ball in Venezuela for the Cardenales de Lara.
He put in a full 142-game season at Syracuse in 1990, upping his batting average to .239 (.293 on-base percentage), with 20 homers and 75 runs batted in. Most of his games were at third base, though he worked nine games at first base and caught in six.
Sprague started 1991 with Syracuse as well, but after driving in 25 runs in 23 games, batting .364, he was elevated to the majors after third baseman Kelly Gruber was hurt. He debuted on May 7. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout, and collected his first base hit four days later, a single between third and short. He came around to score, for his first time crossing the plate. On the 12th, also at SkyDome against the White Sox, he got his first RBIs, two of them, on singles in the second and fourth innings, both off Greg Hibbard. The Blue Jays won, 4-2. Sprague’s first homer was off Hibbard, too, on May 18 at Comiskey Park, a two-run homer in a 7-2 Jays win. Through May 21, he was batting .522. That, of course, didn’t last.
Ed Senior was on the scouting staff of the Baltimore Orioles at the time. When the O’s called him for a report on his son, he says, he told them, “Throw him fastballs right down the middle. Big, fat fastballs.”10
Ed Junior enjoyed a solid first season – 35 games at third base, 22 at first, with two stints catching, filling in for Kelly Gruber at third and John Olerud at first base. Sprague finished the season with a .275 average (.361 OBP) and 20 RBIs. The Blue Jays finished first in the AL East, but lost to the Twins in the ALCS, one win to Minnesota’s four. Sprague was on the roster but did not play.11 He returned to Venezuela, to Lara, to continue to work on converting to the role of catcher.12
The Blue Jays went all the way in 1992, winning the division, the ALCS over Oakland, and the World Series over the Atlanta Braves. Sprague spent most of the year with Triple-A Syracuse again, as in 1991 often being used as catcher, joining the team in the same utility role as of July 31. He drove in 50 runs in 100 games for the Chiefs. After joining the Blue Jays, he appeared in 22 of the remaining 61 games, more often than not as catcher (in 15 games). In early September, pitcher Todd Stottlemyre had won three games in a row and credited Sprague: “He’s had as much to do with my last three wins as I have.”13 He hit .234 with seven RBIs, three of them on a home run off Mike Trombley that beat Minnesota, 4-2, on September 6, that bumped the Jays from a half-game lead in the division to 1½. They never dropped back.
Sprague pinch-hit five times in the postseason, 1-for-2 in both the ALCS and the World Series, with an intentional walk mixed in. Batting in the top of the ninth for reliever Duane Ward in Game Two of the World Series, at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, with the Blue Jays trailing 4-3, Sprague – “a reserve catcher pinch-hitting for the Blue Jays” – faced Jeff Reardon, who at the time held the record for the most saves in baseball history – and still does.14 Sprague swung at the first pitch and homered into the left-field seats, winning the game, 5-4, after Tom Henke shut the door on the Braves in the bottom of the inning. Sprague said, “I’ve dreamed about it as a kid. Every kid dreams about it. But having it come true, that’s a different story.”15
It was only the third time in World Series history that a pinch-hit home run had given the batter’s team a lead. The first was Dusty Rhodes, who hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game One of the 1954 World Series. Kirk Gibson’s Game One home run the 1988 World Series was the second.
In the bottom of the ninth in Game Three, the score tied 2-2 and runners on second and third with one out, the Braves brought on left-hander Mike Stanton to relieve Mark Wohlers and pitch to left-handed batter John Olerud. Jays manager Cito Gaston countered by having Sprague pinch-hit. Stanton walked Sprague intentionally, loading the bases to pitch to Candy Maldonado, who singled deep to right-center to win the game. The Blue Jays won Game Four and then Game Six – both by one run – and thus the World Series.
After the season Kelly Gruber was traded to the Angels, opening up third base. Sprague played his first full major-league season in 1993 as the team’s regular third baseman, appearing in 150 games.16 His 73 RBIs ranked fifth on the team. He hit .260 (.310 OBP). The Blue Jays finished seven games ahead of the Yankees in the AL East, then won the ALCS in six games against the White Sox and repeated as world champions, beating the Philadelphia Phillies, four games to two. Sprague had four hits in Game One of the ALCS, including a triple, driving in two runs. He hit .286 in the ALCS with four RBIs, but had only one hit in the World Series. With no DH for the games in the National League park, Paul Molitorplayed third base for most of the three Philly games. Sprague drove in two runs, both with sacrifice flies, one in Game Three and one in Game Six.
The 1994 season was shortened by a strike, but Sprague played in 109 of the 115 games. It was a year he dipped a bit across the board. At one point he endured an 0-for-35 stretch, but then homered on June 1. He hit .240 with 44 RBIs, and 11 home runs. Sprague was player rep for the Blue Jays.
The 1995 season started late, with all teams playing 144 games. Sprague drove in two runs in the first game and five more – thanks to his first grand slam – in the second. He played in every game, batting .244. His 74 RBI total was second on the Blue Jays, just shy of Joe Carter’s 76. The team finished in last place. A fair amount of trade talk mentioned Sprague but nothing came of it. Indeed, he signed a new three-year contract with the team in January.
The 1996 Blue Jays played a full 162-game schedule and Sprague appeared in all but three games. The Jays finished fourth. Sprague drove in 101 runs, only six behind Carter. He out-homered Carter, 36 to 30. He hit .247 (.325 OBP). The home-run and RBI totals were both career highs. In December the Blue Jays signed three-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens to a contract. Clemens said, “Joe Carter and Ed Sprague have two championship rings here. I want to be part of one of those banners.”17
Though Clemens led the majors in wins both in 1997 and 1998, Toronto finished last again in 1997. Sprague’s offensedropped across the board in 1997: .228/14/44 in 138 games. His last game was September 3; coming off a 225-consecutive-games streak, an MRI revealed a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He had it surgically repaired.18
Looking back on Sprague’s 1996 season, we see it was an outlier in home-run totals. He hit 18 homers in 1995, 36 in 1996, and 14 in 1997. One can understand that injuries hampered him badly in 1997, but why had his homers doubled the year before? Indeed, in that one season he hit almost 24 percent of his 152 career home runs. He says that major-league baseballs had been hardened in the wake of the 1994-95 work stoppage and that home-run totals in both leagues had increased.
Tim Johnson was the new manager for the Blue Jays in 1998. Sprague played steadily – in 105 of the team’s first 111 games, his average at .238. He’d already exceeded his home-run and RBI totals from the year before, but Toronto was in fourth place, not far from third. Sprague was seen as underperforming, and with too many strikeouts. Knowing that he was to become a free agent after the season, and that they could cut payroll in the meantime, the team made a move with an eye toward the future. Sprague was traded on July 31 to the Oakland Athletics for right-handed relief pitcher Scott Rivette of the Double-A Southern League Huntsville Stars.19 Sprague played most of August for the Athletics but only seven games in September. One report in late August noted that he had committed four errors in a five-game stretch and said he “just keeps looking like a man in a fog.”20 He hit just .149 in 87 at-bats. The Athletics declined to exercise their option for 1999.
Sprague signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and had a good year in 1999. The Pirates were looking for someone to play third base for a year, until Aramis Ramirez was ready, and they got good production. One highlight came on May 5. The Giants were in Pittsburgh. Sprague homered to tie the game in the eighth inning, then won it in the 12th with an RBI single to center. After 938 regular-season games, he had his first walk-off hit. “I never did it before. I’ve had hits in the top of an inning, but never in the last at-bat when it ended a game.”21
In 137 games, Sprague had his second-highest RBI total: 81. He hit .267 with 22 homers and was named to the 1999 National League All-Star team.22 He had started the year strong on offense, hitting over .300 into early June, but suffering a spate of defensive errors, 11 in his first 29 games. Both reverted closer to his norm, but by season’s end Sprague’s .352 on-base percentage was his best of any full season in the majors. He led the National League in getting hit by pitchers – 17 times. Back in 1995, he had led the American League in the same statistic, being hit 15 times. His 1999 season ended on September 19 due to a left broken hand, hit by a Pete Harnisch pitch.
The year 2000 brought another trade and Sprague signed twice during the year as a free agent with the San Diego Padres. Before spring training, he signed with the Padres. In 53 games he hit .274, playing first base as a backup to Ryan Kleskomore than any other position. He homered 10 times and drove in 25 runs. At the end of June, the Padres traded him to the Boston Red Sox for two prospects – infielder Cesar Saba and right-handed pitcher Dennis Tankersley.23 The Red Sox needed a third baseman who would be more solid than a struggling Wilton Veras.
It didn’t work out as well as both parties had hoped. In 33 games for Boston, Sprague played in July and the first half of August, hitting .216 with 9 runs batted in. His two-run homer in Oakland on July 28 won that game, 4-1. But on August 23, the Red Sox released him. Eight days later, he signed with the Padres again. Pinch-hitting most of the time, he got into 20 more games, batting .225 and driving in a couple more runs.
Sprague became a Seattle Mariner for 2001 and was used in 45 games, pinch-hitting (mostly against left-handed pitchers) and playing left field, third base, and first base, with three games starting as DH. He hit .298 with a .374 on-base percentage, both the highest figures of his career, but only in limited action.
There was one more season in Sprague’s years as a player – in 2002 he signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers and played in Triple A for the Oklahoma RedHawks (Pacific Coast League), batting .268 but never getting summoned to the majors.
Sprague then went into coaching and for the 12 years from 2004 through 2015, he was head coach for the University of the Pacific, based in Stockton, California, a Division I NCAA baseball team. That job ended, and Sprague found new work quickly. “I made one call – to Grady Fuson, who pretty much told me to call Billy Beane. They hired me and I kind of went from there.”24
He returned to work in pro ball in February 2016, becoming the assistant director of player development and coordinator of on field analytics for the Oakland Athletics in 2018. In October 2019, he became director of player development.
Baseball still runs in the family. The Spragues have four children – Payton, Jed, Paris, and Johnny. Payton, Ed Junior’s daughter, spent nearly five years, through most of 2021, working for the Oakland Athletics, becoming the team’s partnership marketing manager. She then moved to New York City and a position as sports manager, rights holders for Nielsen Sports. Jed attended St. Mary’s of Stockton, as had his father. A first baseman, he played under his father at the University of the Pacific and then transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 37th round of the 2014 draft, but did not sign. He is a growth account executive with Twilio, a San Francisco-based cloud communication platform.
Sprague’s position as director of player development is, quite obviously, an extremely important one. Asked to summarize the work for the Athletics, he explained, “I oversee all of our minor-league players – 180 domestically and 35 internationally. About 65-70 staff.”25 He doesn’t travel with the big-league club, “but I travel throughout all our minor-league system.”
How long might he continue? “I enjoy it right now. I like what’s going on and I love the organization. We’ll see what happens.
“I’ve been fortunate. Baseball’s been pretty much my whole life. From the time I was born, and growing up in it. When I retired, I coached in college. Now I’m back in the pro game. I guess I’ve never really gotten out of baseball since the time I was born.”26
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 Baseball was deemed a “demonstration sport” in the 1988 Olympics.
2 He said of himself, “I was a journeyman. I was never very impressive in my big-league career. I really don’t know how I stayed in the big leagues as long as I did. I guess I just tricked some people into letting me stick around.” Marty York, “A Successful Outing for Jr. Would Make Father’s Day,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 15, 1991: A12. Of his father, Ed said, “He’s been the main influence on my life, obviously. He never forced me to play ball, but he always was there when I need him.”
3 When the team lost its major-league affiliation with the Chicago Cubs before the 1985 season, Michele Sprague sold the team. A story in the Los Angeles Times featured a photograph of her. Jerry Crowe, “The Town That Lost Its Team,” Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1985: v_b1.
4 Paul Patton, “Jays’ First Pick a Third Sacker,” Globe and Mail, June 2, 1988: A22.
5 Author interview with Ed Sprague Jr. on January 13, 2022, hereafter “Sprague interview.”
6 Sprague interview.
7 Sprague interview.
8 The two were housed in the same dormitory in Indianapolis. An article discussed their “gold-medal marriage”– see Tim Larimer, “His and Hers,” The Sporting News, August 17, 1992: 15. Larimer says, “He invited her to a baseball game. She found it boring. She introduced him to synchronized swimming. He thought it silly.” Sprague majored in economics, and completed three years of college before turning to professional baseball.
9 Sprague interview. He reportedly received a $100,000 signing bonus.
10 Marty York, “A Successful Outing for Jr. Would Make Father’s Day.”
11 Ed Sprague Sr. had been with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1972 World Series but was not used.
12 Neil MacCarl, “Toronto Blue Jays,” The Sporting News, October 14, 1991: 26. The following spring, it was reported that “[t]he Blue Jays seem convinced that Ed Sprague is their catcher of the future.” Peter Pascarelli, “Piniella Should ‘Really Like This Club,’” The Sporting News, March 30, 1992: 13.
13 Tribune wires, “Blue Jays’ 1-2 Punch KO’s Twins,” Chicago Tribune, September 7, 1992: 9.
14 The phrase was Mark Newman’s. See “Ninth-Inning Homer Gives Toronto Home-Field Advantage,” The Sporting News, October 26, 1992: 10. Reardon had 357 saves.
15 Newman. He said he hadn’t seen the ball land. “I looked up right into the lights. All I saw was Deion’s back and I knew it was gone.” He was referring to left fielder Deion Sanders. Joey Reeves, “More Limelight for Spragues with Home Run,” Chicago Tribune, October 19, 1992: A9. For further perspective on the perhaps-unlikely hero, see Jim Murray, “Another Masked Man Is Turned into a Hero,” Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1992: OCC1.
16 He was, at times, challenged in fielding, not surprising in that the organization was inconsistent in its training him for catcher as well as third base, and occasionally first base. “The biggest thing you want is to separate your offence and your defence,” Sprague said. “I’m going to make my mistakes in the field, no question. But Cito has talked to me about all this. He said, ‘Whatever happens defensively, don’t let it affect your offence.’” Marty York, “Sprague Lets Bat Do the Talking,” Globe and Mail, April 10, 1993: A14.
17 Jeff Jacobs, “Two World Titles, and No Duquette,” Hartford Courant, December 14, 1996: C1.
18 In a 2008 interview, he acknowledged having taken over-the-counter androstenedione in 1998 while rehabbing from his 1997 shoulder injury. CBC Sports, “Former Jay Ed Sprague Took Steroids: Report,” CBC.ca. April 11, 2008. https://www.cbc.ca/sports/baseball/former-jay-ed-sprague-took-steroids-report-1.720564. Accessed December 6, 2021. See also Mark Zwolinski, “Glory Jay Admits to Steroid Use,” Toronto Star, April 11, 2008: S1.
19 Rivette joined the Jays team in the Southern League. He never did make it to the majors.
20 Steve Kettmann, “Oakland,” The Sporting News, August 24, 1998: 26.
21 Alan Robinson, “Giants Fall in 12 Innings to Pirates,” Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel, May 6, 1999: 13. The walkoff hit won his 938th game.
22 In his lone at-bat, he grounded out.
23 Tankersley pitched in 25 games for San Diego, during parts of three seasons, 2002-2004, with a 1-10 record (7.61 ERA). Saba didn’t make it to the majors.
24 Sprague interview.
25 Sprague interview.
26 Sprague interview.