Last chance to see Carlos?

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

The first time we saw Carlos Delgado was in the spring of 1989. He was a mighty presence, striding into the Englebert Complex in Dunedin, Fla., with a major-league frame, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing more than 200 pounds. He was just 16.

We had no idea the impact he would have on the Blue Jays.

And now?

Well, the best slugger in franchise history has maybe seven home dates left in a Jays uniform. Seven days to see Delgado, who is in the final year of his four-year, $68-million US contract.

Will he stay? Will he go?

"It's all business, I understand," Delgado said before last night's game at the SkyDome. "My only priority is finishing strong the final 17 games, then go home for a rest and see what happens."

The Jays say that they will talk contract with Delgado at the end of the season.

"I hate to talk like I'm leaving," Delgado said. "It doesn't make any sense to speculate."

There will be bidders for Delgado. You can't walk by a scout or a general manager without him asking about Delgado.

Is he healthy? As a horse.

Is he a leader? He leads by example.

Is he a good guy? Every father should hope his son has the same qualities.

Why didn't he waive his no-trade? Because, from July 30 until opening day the following year, he didn't want to play for three teams -- the Jays, Team A as a hired gun and Team B as an off-season signing.

Does he want to stay here? Athletes in the free-agent era are knocked for jumping from one club to another for an extra dollar. This guy was knocked for wanting to stay with his team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Rod Sox showed an interest in Delgado at the trade deadline. The Seattle Mariners, the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Mets could be suitors in the off-season.

If Delgado doesn't want to look to the free-agent season two weeks after the World Series, what about looking to the past?

"I walked in that first spring," he said of '89. "There was George Bell, Jesse Barfield and Rance Mulliniks."

What he recalls most is doing pick-up drills and running under the tutelage of bullpen coach John Sullivan along with Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders and minor-leaguers Randy Knorr and Carlos Diaz.

Delgado was signed on Oct. 9, 1988 by the Jays' Latin scout Epy Guerrero.

"Epy asked me to go over to Puerto Rico to look at him," then general manager Pat Gillick said. "At the time we were afraid that, come December, they would include Puerto Rico in the amateur draft (which baseball did)."

Gillick and Guerrero made an offer to Delgado and his father, Carlos. Delgado phoned Luis Rosa of the Texas Rangers, who was also interested.

"Rosa tried to talk him out of signing," Gillick remembered.

But the Jays gave Delgado a $94,000 US signing bonus. And when he reached Dunedin, he told manager Jimy Williams: "We have a young catcher coming in for a week, he has more power than Fred McGriff."

Delgado, now 32, has 333 career homers and 1,046 RBIs. McGriff, by the time he turned 32 in 1996, had totalled 264 homers and 742 RBIs.

Delgado has put up better numbers than Joe Carter or George Bell or any other Jay during his career. Unlike Carter and Bell, he has never played in a post-season game.

The emergence of budget-conscious Interbrew SA is one reason he never reached the playoffs. Then Rogers Communications opened the purse strings for one season -- 2001-- the year Delgado was re-signed.

All of this, and how many years did he have someone to protect him in the batting order?

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SWING KINGS

Blue Jays' power-hitting career leaders:

HOME RUNS

333 Carlos Delgado

203 Joe Carter

202 George Bell

179 Jesse Barfield

149 Lloyd Moseby

RBIS

1,046 Carlos Delgado

740 George Bell

736 Joe Carter

651 Lloyd Moseby

613 Tony Fernandez


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