My weekly look at some Canadian baseball stories:
– It’s become an annual tradition on this blog to pay tribute to “Luscious Luke” Easter on 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, Easter was known for clubbing tape-measure homers – including a 477-foot blast that was the longest ever recorded at Municipal Stadium. Unfortunately due to segregation, Easter 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 case you missed it, Surrey, B.C., native Adam Loewen was signed to a minor league deal by the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday. Loewen was originally selected in the first round (fourth overall) by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2002 MLB amateur draft as a hard-throwing left-handed hurler. After toeing the rubber for parts of three seasons with the Orioles, the Canadian southpaw abandoned pitching after suffering a stress fracture to his pitching elbow. In 2008, Loewen signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and began working his way back up through the minors to make his big league debut as an outfielder in 2011. Loewen spent 2012 with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons in the New York Mets’ organization and split 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A in the Blue Jays organization. Jim Salisbury from CSNPhilly.com reports that Loewen will now attempt a comeback as a pitcher. The Canuck lefty has reported to Phillies’ extended spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
– On Friday, Burnaby, B.C., native Jim Adduci had his second, three-hit big league game for the Texas Rangers. The 28-year-old Canadian, who started in right field and batted sixth, went 3-for-5, scored two runs and knocked in a run in the Rangers’ 12-0 victory over the White Sox. Adduci is now 6-for-13 on the season for a .462 batting average.
– One of my favourite ballplayers to follow on Twitter is Mark Teahen, who was born in Redlands, Calif., but maintains a Canadian citizenship. His self-deprecating sense of humor always makes me laugh. After being released by the San Francisco Giants on March 19 (the third time he has been released by a big league club in under a year), Teahen tweeted, “Thanks to recent success/experience with getting released, today I was prepared and went with the ‘You can’t fire me, I quit!’ line.'” He has since signed with the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League.
– Whenever the Toronto Blue Jays play the Cleveland Indians, I always think of Ron Taylor’s first big league start. Taylor, who is now the Blue Jays team doctor, was signed as an amateur free agent by the Indians in 1956 and after six years in their minor league system, he made his big league debut when he started against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 11, 1962. In that contest, Taylor pitched 10 scoreless innings, before allowing four runs to the Red Sox in the bottom of the 11th to take the loss. I’ve searched every baseball statistical site I can think of to determine if this is a record for most innings pitched in a player’s first big league game, but I’ve been unable to verify this. For good measure, Taylor also had two hits in four at bats in that game.
– It was 18 years ago today that Windsor, Ont.-raised Hank Biasatti passed away at the age of 74. To this day, Biasatti remains the only Canadian to play both professional baseball and professional basketball. To read more about Biasatti, you can visit my Cooperstowners in Canada Facebook page.
– I’m reading Jonah Keri’s excellent new book, “Up, Up & Away: The Kid, The Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, The Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.” One particularly enjoyable passage describes just how good Rusty Staub was in his initial three seasons with the club from 1969 to 1971. I wasn’t born during Staub’s glory years and have often wondered why he’s held in such high esteem by Expos fans. But Keri notes that Staub’s 1969 campaign, in which he belted 29 homers and “drew 110 walks against just 61 strikeouts”, was the fourth-best hitting performance in the National League that season behind only Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente if you use OPS+ (an advanced metric that takes into account a player’s on-base and slugging ability, and also adjusts for park effects) as a measuring stick. Staub also apparently had a flair for the dramatic defensively in the outfield. Expos manager Gene Mauch once said that Staub “led the league in fantastic catches of routine fly balls.”
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