Following the submission of this piece, Robbie Ray signed a five-year, $115 million contract with the Seattle Mariners where he has pitched for the 2022 MLB season.
The Toronto Blue Jays found a diamond in the rough when they signed left-handed hurler Robbie Ray in advance of the 2021 season. After acquiring the struggling starting pitcher in a late-August 2020 trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Jays opted to re-sign Ray to a one-year, $8 million deal after seemingly impressing management in his final five games of the year with Toronto.
That contract proved to be one of the best deals, dollar value-wise, in all of baseball through the 2021 season. Ray, 30, enjoyed a career year with the Blue Jays, where he went 13-7 in 32 starts, posting a 2.84 earned runs average and an MLB-leading 248 strikeouts in 193.1 innings.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, and I knew that I was going to have to put in the work if I was going to improve,” Ray said of his productive 2021 campaign. “I knew it was going to be a long and hard road, but I knew I was ready for it. I only expect the best out of myself going forward so I knew I just had to put my nose to the grind and just go for it.”
In receiving 29 of a possible 30 first-place votes from the membership of the Baseball Writers Association of America, Ray was deemed the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner in mid-November, beating out finalists Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees) and Lance Lynn (Chicago White Sox).
Ray is just the fourth player in team history to earn the prestigious award. Incredibly, it was the first Cy Young Award for a Blue Jays pitcher since the late Roy Halladay took the title in 2003. (Pat Hentgen in 1996 and Roger Clemens in both 1997 and 1998).
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank God for giving me the ability to play this game that I love to play,” Ray said in the opening sentence of his virtual acceptance speech on MLB Network. “I’d like to thank my family, my kids, my wife, thank everybody for supporting me throughout this tough season. I’d like to thank my teammates for being my supporting cast during the year. I’d like to thank the baseball writers as well for voting for me. This is a huge honour and I am very thankful for that. I’d also like to congratulate Gerrit and Lance for spectacular years. To even be mentioned in the same sentence as them is humbling, for sure.”
The award is even more impressive considering that that 2020 was the worst statistical season of his MLB career. In 2020, Ray led the Majors in walks, going 2-5 with a 6.62 ERA. After that season, Ray rediscovered his game and put together an astonishing turnaround. But it didn’t come easily . Ray operated under an intensive workout regimen that saw the strike-throwing ace hit the gym twice a day for the duration of the off-season.
“Immediately when this offseason started I went straight to the gym,” Ray reflected. “I would drop the kids off at school at 7:30 AM and then immediately get in the gym. My wife would get so mad at me because late at night when she is wanting to watch Netflix I’d be heading to the gym again. So we’d put the kids down for bed and again I’m back at the gym, and she’s like ‘wait, we’ve got a Netflix show we have to watch together’, but it was all about the sacrifice.”
Having just completed his eighth season in the Majors, Ray knows he has become not only a better pitcher but a better person over the course of his career. Dating back to a clubhouse incident with outfielder Steven Souza Jr. in 2012, Ray was able to change his daily outlook on life, and in turn, he became the God-fearing man he is today.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way I was acting,” Ray told Sportsnet’s David Singh in an interview on his conversion to Christianity. “So, I can’t imagine God was very pleased with me. It was kind of a reset to be able to sit down and be like, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this all for Your glory. And it’s not going to be for me.’”
From his daily off-field habits to an enhanced training regimen, Ray began living life as a child of God. Looking back upon the man he was caused the now Cy Young winner to let out a little chuckle.
“I wasn’t a very good teammate and I wasn’t a very good person,” he said of his past. “Going home, I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the next year; I was feeling down about myself after that year. In that offseason I came to Christ and my life just changed ever since that day. I knew no matter what, I was going to use that talent that God had given me for His glory and ultimately that has just been what I have been doing ever since.”
As one of the veteran players on a young and talented Toronto team, Ray took on a familiar role for the Blue Jays in 2021.
“For me, walking into a clubhouse there was always that guy I could go to and ask a question if I needed an answer,” he said of his time as a youngster. “It seemed that when I got over to Toronto, those questions were being asked of me. So I knew that coming into that situation, I had to be ready to give an educated answer to the questions the younger guys had; it made me a better teammate.”
On a highly faith-led team, Ray was able to demonstrate his Christian beliefs amongst a bevy of other believers – Vladdy Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette to name a couple. But going forward, he knows the job is not yet complete and the work has only just begun.
“It’s still a process, just as far as being a better person every day,” Ray said. “For me, the process starts every morning when you wake up. How are you going to treat today? How am I going to get better today? How am I going to be a better person? How can I help someone today? For me that’s something that I look forward to.”