My weekly observations about stories around the baseball world from a Canadian perspective (Please follow me on Twitter: @kevinglewsports):
– Today seems like an appropriate day to remember “Luscious Luke” Easter, a hulking, six-foot-four, 240-pound slugger who became the 11th African-American to compete in the big leagues when he debuted with the Cleveland Indians on August 11, 1949. Known for clubbing tape-measure homers – including a 477-foot blast that was the longest ever recorded at Municipal Stadium – Easter, due to segregation, didn’t make his big league debut until he was 34. After three seasons in which he never walloped less than 27 homers for the Indians, Easter, hobbled by knee and ankle injuries, was released, but he continued to belt moonshot round-trippers in the International League (IL) for the Ottawa Athletics in 1954. Later he starred with the IL’s Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings. A jovial, easygoing man who never refused an autograph request, Easter was once approached by a fan who told him that he saw him hit his longest home run, to which Easter responded, “If it came down, it wasn’t my longest.” Sadly, Easter was murdered in a bank parking lot in Euclid, Ohio on March 29, 1979.
– In reading Brodie Snyder’s 1979 book, “The Year the Expos Almost Won the Pennant,” over the past few weeks, I learned that Andre Dawson batted leadoff for the Expos for 50 games at the start of the 1979 season. As speedy as The Hawk was in his prime, it’s difficult for me to imagine him at the top of the order. He was moved down to the No. 3 spot in the Expos order on June 13, 1979.
– Speaking of the Expos, I’ve been remiss in acknowledging Blue Jays infielder Maicer Izturis’s short tenure with Montreal in 2004. When Izturis, who hit .206 in 32 games with the Expos, plays his first regular season contest for the Jays (likely on Tuesday), he will become the 79th player to have suited up in a big league game for both the Expos and the Blue Jays.
– And while I’m on the topic of still active, former Montreal Expos, it hasn’t been a good spring for them. Miguel Batista, Juan Rivera and Endy Chavez have all been released (though Chavez recently signed with the Mariners) and Guillermo Mota, Carl Pavano and Livan Hernandez haven’t been able to land big league contracts. By my count, that leaves just eight former Expos on big league rosters to start the 2013 season: Jamey Carroll (Twins), Luis Ayala (Orioles), Izturis (Blue Jays), Bartolo Colon (A’s), Bruce Chen (Royals), Scott Downs (Angels), Jon Rauch (Marlins) and Ted Lilly (Dodgers).
– The recent trade of Vernon Wells to the Yankees also got me thinking about how many former St. Catharines Stompers players are still active in the big leagues. It appears as though there are three: Wells, who played with the Stompers alongside current Phillies third baseman Michael Young in 1997, as well as Braves outfielder Reed Johnson, who played in St. Catharines in 1999. This number could rise to four if infielder Cesar Izturis, who also suited up with the Stompers in 1997, can crack the Reds’ Opening Day roster. Also, Eddie Rodriguez, who managed the Stompers in 1999, is the third base coach of the Kansas City Royals.
– In doing research for my blog entry on the 25th anniversary of George Bell’s three-home run, Opening Day performance on April 4, 1988, I discovered that Shannon Stewart was an outstanding Opening Day hitter. In all, he was in the lineup on eight Opening Days for the Jays, but he was at his best in the four season openers between 2000 and 2003 when he rapped out nine hits in 17 at bats, including three homers.
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Expo numbers are getting smaller. Let’s hope for Expo and Blue Jays Shawn Hill makes it up during the season with the Tigers. It’s a tough rotation to crack, but someone will get hurt!
Thanks for the comment, Scott. Yes, unfortunately, former Expos are a dying breed. I’m hoping Hill will get another big league opportunity as well.
From Devon Teeple:
I love the Shannon Stewart reference and of course the St. Catharines Stompers reference. It was great to have the “Baby Jays” in our city.
Thanks, Devon. I always thought Stewart was underrated. And it would be great to get the Stompers back.