Rob Ducey

Rob Ducey

This article was written by Mark Davis

Rob DuceyDuring orientation week of Rob Ducey’s Grade 12 summer school English class, the teacher went around the room asking students what profession they wanted to pursue upon graduation. Some replied doctors, while others answered lawyers and dentists. When it was Ducey’s turn to speak, he said, “I want to be a major-league baseball player.” His response was greeted with a roar of laughter from his teacher and classmates.1 Simply put, playing professional baseball was not considered a realistic option for young Canadian boys in the early 1980s. That moment ignited a spark inside Ducey and led to a 40-year professional baseball career that saw him play 13 major-league seasons, earn a World Series ring, represent Team Canada at the Olympics, and coach in five countries at both the professional and amateur levels.

Robert Thomas Ducey was born May 24, 1965 in Toronto. His biological parents placed him for adoption, and he was soon adopted by Leo and Anita Ducey of Toronto. Rob was the youngest and only son of the couple’s five children. Leo left the family before Rob was 5 years old, leaving Anita as a single mother.2 To support Rob and her four daughters, Anita worked as an administrative assistant in the Duceys’ hometown of Cambridge, Ontario.3 Rob’s birth mother was English and his birth father Trinidadian, which led Anita to emphasize to Rob the importance of hard work. “She didn’t want me just to settle for anything, because of the fact that she knew I would be a non-Caucasian in a Caucasian world, I had to do better than average.”4

As a young boy Ducey’s favorite sport was fast-pitch softball and he dreamed of one day playing for the Cambridge Gores of the local men’s softball league.5 He excelled in sports, especially wrestling, during his youth in Cambridge.6 A representative from the Cambridge Terriers of the Junior Intercounty Baseball League took notice of the 15-year-old Ducey and invited him to a tryout. He soon made the team and played his first summer of organized baseball, in addition to his first love, softball.7 Ducey initially found baseball boring compared to softball and considered not returning to the Terriers the next season. Convinced of his potential, Terriers general manager Ed Heather encouraged him to give baseball a fair chance. Ducey proceeded to serve as the catcher for the Terriers’ 15-16-year-old team, the center fielder for the 17-21-year-old squad, and the backup catcher for the 21 and over team. “It was a crash course in baseball,” he said. “I played with my age group and playing with the older players helped speed up the process.”8

Ducey’s pursuit of baseball also led Ed Heather to meet Ducey’s mother, Anita. The couple were married when Ducey was 17.9 Known as “Mr. Baseball” throughout Cambridge, Heather was highly regarded for identifying baseball talent.10 One of his many baseball roles included serving as a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays between 1992 and 2003, for which he was recognized as the organization’s Canadian scout of the year in 1997.11 Of his stepson, Heather commented, “Rob had natural ability. He liked to play, and worked hard at it. He had great instincts for the game, something that can’t be taught.”12

As Canadian players were not yet eligible for the major-league draft, after finishing high school Ducey left Cambridge on a baseball scholarship to Seminole Community College in Florida. The increased scouting exposure led Ducey to receive serious interest from three major-league teams, the Blue Jays, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago Cubs.13 He signed with the Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent in May 1984 and soon made his professional debut with the Medicine Hat Blue Jays of the Rookie Pioneer League. He played 63 games for Medicine Hat, batting .302 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs, good enough to receive the team’s MVP award.14

Ducey’s strong play continued the next year in Class A with the Florence Blue Jays, where he had 13 home runs and 86 RBIs in 134 games. This prompted the Blue Jays to invite Ducey to their instructional league in September 1985.15 His stay at instructional camp was short-lived, however, as minor-league director Bobby Mattick sent Ducey home early after his wrestling skills unintentionally injured fellow prospect Greg David during some clubhouse horseplay.16

Ducey continued to ascend the minor-league ladder and began the 1986 season with the Ventura County Gulls of the Class-A California League, where he hit .337 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in 47 games. His hot start earned him the Blue Jays minor-league player of the month for April.17 In June he was promoted to Double-A Knoxville and continued his strong play, leading GM Pat Gillick to comment, “I’d say he’s got the best chance of all our rookies to make the big league club.”18

Ducey’s dominance during the 1986 season also led to his receiving the annual James “Tip” O’Neill Award from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The award, named in honor of one of Canada’s first baseball stars, is presented to “the Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.”19

Ducey’s family baseball connections further deepened when he met his future wife, Yanitza, while playing winter ball in Venezuela in 1986. As pageant queen of the local baseball team, Yanitza was attending the league’s all-star banquet and met Ducey while breaking up an argument between him and her mother over Ducey not making a play in the field the previous game.20 Ducey and Yanitza married in 1987 and have two sons, Thomas and Aaron, and a daughter, Jenaka.

Ducey arrived at his first big-league spring training in 1987 and quickly received praise from the Blue Jays coaching staff. Hitting coach Cito Gaston commented, “He reminds me a lot of Lou Whitaker. … He’s a gamer and an all-round player right now. I guess the big thing is just how much playing time can manager Jimy Williams give him?”21 Gaston was referring to a possible outfield logjam due to the Blue Jays incumbent outfield trio of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield, who together formed “the best outfield in Blue Jays history.”22 In what would become a familiar pattern, the Blue Jays believed Ducey was best suited playing every day and assigned him to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs on the last day of spring training.23 

After spending April in Syracuse, Ducey was called up to the Blue Jays and made his major-league debut on May 1 at home against the Texas Rangers. As circumstances had it, Ducey was already in Toronto to receive his Tip O’Neill Award when news came of his promotion.24 He was the starting left fielder and batted eighth for the Blue Jays in a 3-2 win. He received three standing ovations from the Exhibition Stadium crowd during the game. The first occurred in the third inning when he flied out to center field, and the second and third ovations took place after his RBI single and stolen base in the fifth inning.25 Despite the memorable start to his major-league career, Ducey had only 36 plate appearances in May and was soon sent back to Triple A. He returned to the Blue Jays in September and became part of major-league history by hitting his first big-league home run in an 18-3 rout at home against the Baltimore Orioles on September 14. Ducey’s seventh-inning pinch-hit homer was the eighth of a record 10 home runs for the Blue Jays in the game. He was using a bat borrowed from teammate Jesse Barfield, which was sent to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.26 

The Blue Jays’ 1988 spring training brought a new outfield dynamic and the potential for Ducey to secure a big-league starting job. Shortly before players and catchers reported to camp, GM Gillick announced that George Bell would play the majority of games that season as the designated hitter, with Lloyd Moseby moving from center field to left.27 For the first time in five seasons, the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starting lineup would not feature Bell, Moseby, and Barfield patrolling the outfield. Competition for the starting center-field role was primarily between Ducey and fellow outfield prospect Sil Campusano. Both players performed well in March but Campusano posted better offensive numbers and was named the starting center fielder, while Ducey was sent outright to Syracuse.28

Disappointed with not making the Blue Jays, Ducey initially struggled in Triple A. Further compounding his troubles was instruction from the Blue Jays coaching staff to change his uppercut batting style to one more conducive to making contact.29 In June Blue Jays vice president Bobby Mattick visited Syracuse and informed Ducey that he could return to his former swing.30 His production improved and he went on to bat .256 with 7 home runs and 42 RBIs with the Chiefs before being called up on August 2. He made 63 plate appearances in 27 games for Toronto down the stretch.

Ducey’s development continued to evolve as he posted the best offensive numbers of all Blue Jays outfielders during spring training in 1989.31 His Grapefruit League performance was perhaps best summarized in the Toronto Star: “SUPER DUCEY: He Hits. He Runs. He Fields. He Makes Things Happen. He Should Play Every Day.”32 For the first time in his career, Ducey went north with the team for Opening Day. But he played in only 41 games for the Blue Jays during the season, in large part due to a freak injury he suffered while shagging fly balls in batting practice on June 9 at the newly opened SkyDome. Unbeknownst to Ducey, the door to the right-field visitors’ bullpen was closed but not latched. While leaping against the wall to make a catch, he flew through the bullpen door and landed awkwardly on the concrete floor, hyperextending his right knee, partially tearing a ligament.33 Ducey was placed on the disabled list and was not reactivated until September 2.34 The injury proved to be the turning point of his career, because his knee never recovered to 100 percent. “It was a very, very serious injury. I don’t think people realized what that did to me because I kept quiet about it,” he said. “But it basically turned me into a player with a lot of upside into a journeyman kind of player.”35 Ducey sued the Blue Jays and SkyDome for negligence as a result of the incident and the parties reached an out-of-court settlement in 1997.36

The 1990 major-league lockout resulted in an abbreviated spring training that featured competition for the right-field job between Ducey, Junior Felix, and Glenallen Hill.37 In the end Ducey was the odd man out and was again assigned to Syracuse. He initially met the news with frustration: “Possibly, if I’d got a whole spring in – and there was competition ­– I might’ve made it.”38 Ducey spent nearly the entire season in Triple A but was called up to the Blue Jays in September. He made 62 plate appearances in 19 games, batting .302 with 16 hits and 7 RBIs as the Jays finished two games behind the Boston Red Sox for the East Division title.

The offseason acquisitions of All-Star outfielders Joe Carter and Devon White, combined with a growing list of promising outfield prospects meant that Ducey, about to turn 26, was destined to start the 1991 season in Triple A once again. He was called up to the Jays on June 29 and remained for the rest of the season, appearing in 39 games in a supporting role.39

The 1992 spring training began Ducey’s sixth season with the Blue Jays. He was out of minor-league options, and the Blue Jays had to risk exposing Ducey to waivers should they send him to Syracuse.40 Ducey made the 25-man roster but saw limited game action until his first start on May 27 versus the Milwaukee Brewers. Ducey kept loose between playing time by serving as one of the Jays’ bullpen catchers and also saw game action as the catcher during a May exhibition game in Winnipeg.41 He appeared in only 23 games for the Jays before being traded with Greg Myers to the California Angels on July 30 for reliever Mark Eichhorn. He played in 31 games for the Angels down the stretch, but did not see as much game action as anticipated. “The problem I have here is the same I had in Toronto, which is that they have guys they want to play ahead of me, and I’m caught in the middle again,” he complained.42 In recognition of his efforts with Toronto, the Blue Jays awarded Ducey a World Series ring and his former teammates voted him a percentage of their postseason playoff bonus.43

Now a free agent, Ducey signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers in 1993 and was assigned to the Pacific Coast League Oklahoma City 89ers at the end of spring training. He batted .303 in 105 games and was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game in Albuquerque. He was called up to the Rangers on August 29 and continued his strong play for the remainder of the season. Ducey re-signed with the Rangers on a one-year contract and made the Opening Day roster in 1994. However, following a 5-11 start to the season, the Rangers demoted Ducey and teammate James Hurst to Oklahoma City in what manager Kevin Kennedy conceded was an effort to send a message to his struggling team.44 Ducey made the most of the opportunity to play every day at Triple A, hitting 17 home runs with 65 RBIs for the 89ers, and was named to his second consecutive All-Star Game. The strike-shortened major-league season meant that Ducey did not receive what would likely have been a September call-up with the Rangers. General manager Tom Grieve, however, decided to promote Ducey and teammate David Hulse to the big-league club after the strike began, as this meant Ducey – now on a major-league contract – was not paid the remainder of his salary.45 The Players Association filed a default notice with the league on behalf of Ducey and 17 other players over the move. The owners responded by paying nine players and waiving the remaining ones, including Ducey, which made him a free agent.46

Disappointed with the situation in Texas and determined to seek an opportunity to play every day, Ducey signed a two-year contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japan Pacific League. He hit a combined 51 home runs and 120 RBIs in 1995 and 1996, in what were the best offensive seasons of his professional career. Ducey hit eight leadoff home runs during the 1996 season, tying the league record.47 He continued to play the game hard and made Canadian sports headlines in 1995 when he was fined after a game against the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks for crashing into the catcher while trying to score, and then punching the catcher after being hit by a pitch in his next at-bat.48

Ducey returned to North America and spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons as a reserve outfielder with the Seattle Mariners. He batted a combined .258 with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 401 plate appearances over the two-year span. The local media took an interest in Ducey’s strong reserve play, at one point referring to him as “Ken Griffey’s stunt double”49 and declared him the 1997 Mariners’ Unsung Player of the Year.50 He received praise from his manager, Lou Piniella, who commented, “I like what Rob Ducey brings to the party.”51

After his successful stint with Seattle, Ducey signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played well in 1999 as the fourth outfielder, batting .261 and posting a career-best 8 home runs and 33 RBIs. Ducey also delivered many clutch hits while pinch-hitting late in games, earning the approval of manager Terry Francona.52 The Phillies rewarded Ducey with a two-year extension, the first multiyear contract of his major-league career.53

The 2000 season could be described as one of the most tumultuous of Ducey’s career. On July 2 at home against the Pirates, he had a career-high five RBIs and two home runs in a 9-1 win. Three weeks later, the Phillies traded Ducey to the Blue Jays to make room on the roster for newcomers they received in the trade of Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks.54 Ducey’s return to Toronto was short-lived, however; he played just five games with the Blue Jays before being traded back to the Phillies to complete an earlier trade with Toronto for Mickey Morandini. Manager Jim Fregosi lamented losing Ducey’s versatility off the bench, but explained that a hand injury to second baseman Homer Bush meant that Toronto was forced to look for additional help to support its playoff push.55

Ducey played his final major-league season in 2001. He batted .222 with one home run and four RBIs in 30 games for the Phillies before being released in early June.56 A few days later, he signed as a free agent with the Montreal Expos. Ducey quickly made a positive impression on Expos manager Jeff Torborg: “I didn’t realize he had that kind of power. … We thought of him as a pinch-hitter and part-time outfielder. He’s been outstanding.”57 Despite the strong start as an Expo, Ducey’s season came to an end on July 22 in Atlanta when he attempted to scale the left-field wall at Turner Field to catch a fly off the bat of Brian Jordan. The ball carried over the fence and Ducey’s right spike lodged into the wall’s padding as he went for the catch, fully rupturing his Achilles tendon.58

In 2002 Ducey reported to spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals with his Achilles only 80 percent healed.59 He was cut midway through March and accepted an invitation from longtime friend and former Blue Jays prospect Kash Beauchamp to play independent baseball and serve as hitting coach with the Adirondack Lumberjacks of the Northern League. Ducey played 16 games with the Lumberjacks before knee issues and complications from his Achilles injury led him to retire as a player from professional baseball.60

With his playing career now over, Ducey continued his passion for the game through coaching and scouting. He has coached in three major-league organizations (New York Yankees, Montreal Expos, Philadelphia Phillies), the Mexican League (Delfines de Ciudad Del Carmen), the Chinese Professional Baseball League (Fubon Guardians), and the Dominican Republic (SFX Academy). He was also a scout for the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. As of 2022 Ducey was head of the baseball program at Bishop McLaughlin High School in Spring Hill, Florida. 

Since retiring from the majors, Ducey has been an active contributor to the growth of amateur baseball in Canada. He briefly came out of retirement to play for Team Canada in the 2004 Olympics, and also coached for the senior men’s teams at the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the 2008 Olympics, and the inaugural Premier 12 tournament.61 He has also worked extensively with the junior national men’s team at its instructional facility in Dunedin, Florida.62

On June 29, 2013 – 32 years after he took his stepfather’s advice to give baseball a chance – Ducey was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with fellow players George Bell and Tim Raines, former Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek, and former minor-league owner Nat Bailey.63 Reflecting upon his career on induction day, Ducey spoke of his decision to remain in baseball. “I do think about it, the ‘what ifs.’ I have to believe that if I would have hung it up, I wouldn’t be … in this position that I am in now.”64


The author would like to thank Rob Ducey for taking the time to discuss his career and respond to the author’s questions during telephone conversations on January 6 and February 5, 2022.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball Reference, Retrosheet, and the Rob Ducey National Baseball Hall of Fame media file.




1 Canadian Baseball Network Podcast, “Episode 17 – Rob Ducey,” (accessed January 16, 2022).

2 George Gamester, “Cookie Lover ‘Hollow Leg’ Hot-Dogged It into Baseball,” Toronto Star, May 7, 1987: A2.

3 Gamester.

4 Ken Berger (Associated Press), “While His Mother Fights for Her Life, Rob Ducey Fights to Make the Phillies,” Hazleton (Pennsylvania) Standard-Speaker, March 5, 1999: 27.

5 Canadian Baseball Network Podcast, “Episode 17 – Rob Ducey.”

6 Author’s telephone conversation with Rob Ducey, February 5, 2022.

7 Canadian Baseball Network Podcast, “Episode 17 – Rob Ducey.”

8 Tony Reid, “Card Back Q&A: Rob Ducey Talks Playing Softball, High School Wrestling and Beauty Pageant Wife,” (accessed January 12, 2022).

9 Greg Mercer, “As a Canadian, Ducey Had a Snowball’s Chance of Making It in Baseball,” Waterloo Region (Ontario) Record, June 18, 2013, (accessed January 25, 2022).

10 Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, “Ed Heather,” (accessed January 24, 2022).

11 Terriers Baseball, “Staff – Ed Heather,” (accessed January 25, 2022).

12 Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, “Rob Ducey,” (accessed January 24, 2022).

13 Rob Ducey telephone conversation, January 6, 2022.

14 Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, “Rob Ducey.”

15 Garth Woolsey, “Lavelle Gets Tips on Screwball from Tiger Master,” Toronto Star, September 12, 1985: H3.

16 Larry Millson, “Ducey’s Attitude Impresses Jay Bosses,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 28, 1987: C1.

17 Allan Ryan, “Ducey, Young Stars of April,” Toronto Star, May 6, 1986: B3.

18 John Robertson, “Jays Going to Break Up That Old Gang,” Toronto Star, November 20, 1986: H1.

19 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, “The James ‘Tip’ O’Neill Award,” (accessed January 14, 2022).

20 Tony Reid, “Card Back Q&A: Rob Ducey Talks Playing Softball, High School Wrestling and Beauty Pageant Wife.”

21 Allan Ryan, “Confident Ducey Makes Strong Bid as Fifth Outfielder,” Toronto Star, March 22, 1987: G4.

22 Daneil Venn, “Blue Jays Bashers Back Together,” (accessed January 14, 2022).

23 Larry Millson, “Best outfield Still Intact; Ducey Gone,” Globe and Mail, April 1, 1987: D2.

24 Larry Millson, “Blue Jays Promote Homebrew Ducey,” Globe and Mail, April 30, 1987: C10.

25 Canadian Baseball Network Podcast, “Episode 17 – Rob Ducey.”

26 Allan Ryan, “Two Blue Jay ‘Home Run’ Bats Going to Baseball Hall of Fame,” Toronto Star, September 16, 1987: B3.

27 Neil MacCarl, “Bell Move May Be Break Rob Ducey Needs,” Toronto Star, February 27, 1988: B9.

28 Allan Ryan, “Ducey Lost in Shuffle as Jays Slash Roster,” Toronto Star, March 31, 1988: C1.

29 Marty York, “Jays Charged with Error in Ducey’s Case,” Globe and Mail, June 3, 1988.

30 York, “Jays Charged with Error in Ducey’s Case.”

31 John Robertson, “Hustling Ducey Deserves a Spot in Daily Lineup,” Toronto Star, March 31, 1989: C2.

32 Robertson, “Hustling Ducey Deserves a Spot in Daily Lineup.”

33 Allan Ryan, “Ducey Hits The Skids and Ends Up DL,” Toronto Star, June 10, 1989: B3.

34 “Ducey rejoins Jays Gimpy Knee and All,” Toronto Star, September 3, 1989: G2.

35 Marty York, “Ducey Settles Lawsuit Against Jays, SkyDome,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1998: S2.

36 York, “Ducey Settles Lawsuit Against Jays, SkyDome.”

37 Tom Slater, “Ducey Making Case for Roster Spot,” Toronto Star, March 29, 1990: D6.

38 Allan Ryan, “Ducey Gets Chop as Jays Cut Four,” Toronto Star, April 4, 1990: F1.

39 Neil Campbell, “Deal Leaves Jay Outfield with a Familiar Ring to It; Candiotti Makes Debut; Bell, Ducey Get Call from Syracuse,” Globe and Mail, June 29, 1991: A16.

40 Rosie DiManno, “Three Canadian Boys Trying to Live All-American Dream,” Toronto Star, March 6, 1992: B4.

41 Neil Campbell, “Gaston Shuffles Blue Jay Lineup/Alomar, Winfield Rest; Ducey Makes First Start of Season,” Globe and Mail, May 28, 1992: C8.

42 “Ball Clubs Trim Expenses by Cutting Minor Budgets,” Toronto Star, September 23, 1992: D2.

43 Rob Ducey telephone conversation, January 6, 2022.

44 Simon Gonzalez, “Rangers Deliver Message,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 26, 1994: 29.

45 T.R. Sullivan, “Rangers Recall Outfielders Ducey, Hulse from 89ers,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 2, 1994: 53.

46 “Baseball talks Expected to Resume: Royals Hire Boone,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram: October 8, 1994: 62.

47 Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, “Rob Ducey.”

48 Canadian Press, “Baseball – Rob Ducey Fined,” Globe and Mail, September 19, 1995: C6.

49 Mike Digiovanna (Los Angeles Times), “No Griffey Proves No Problem for M’s,” Bellingham (Washington) Herald, June 17, 1997: 13.

50 Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame, “Rob Ducey.”

51 Larry LaRue, “Spring Training Report,” Tacoma News Tribune, March 12, 1998: 28.

52 Jim Salisbury, “Topps Deals Bad Hand to Card-Less Ducey,” National Post (Toronto), March 22, 2000: 40.

53 Jim Salisbury, “Arm Is Tired, but Byrd Says He Won’t Quit,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 21, 1999: 35.

54 Bob Brookover, “In 4-for-1 Swap, Schilling Is Sent West to Arizona,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 2000: 43.

55 Allan Ryan, “Ducey Aced Out by Blue Jays; Outfielder Goes Back to Philadelphia in Deal for Morandini,” Toronto Star, August 8, 2000: C2.

56 Bob Brookover, “Vallant Called Up; Ducey Let Go,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 7, 2001: 57.

57 Stephanie Myles, “Expos Story,” Montreal Gazette, June 27, 2001: 11.

58 Stephanie Myles, “Ducey’s Done for Season,” Montreal Gazette, July 23, 2011: 31.

59 Jim Seip, “Lumberjacks Sign Major League Veteran,” Glens Falls (New York) Post-Star, April 4, 2002: 13.

60 Seip.

61 Baseball Canada, “Baseball Canada Announces Roster for Inaugural Premier12,” (accessed January 26, 2022).

62 Baseball Canada, “Baseball Canada Announces Fall Instructional Camp Invitees,” (accessed January 26, 2022).

63 “Ducey Makes Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame,” Waterloo Region (Ontario) Record (accessed January 26, 2022).

64 Canadian Baseball Network Podcast, “Episode 17 – Rob Ducey.”

Full Name

Robert Thomas Ducey


May 24, 1965 at Toronto, ON (CAN)

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