My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Happy belated 153rd birthday to one of Canada’s biggest baseball legends. James “Tip” O’Neill was born on May 25, 1861 in either Woodstock or Springfield, Ont. As a member of the American Association’s St. Louis Browns in 1887, O’Neill became Major League Baseball’s first Triple Crown winner. In that magical campaign, he set big league marks in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases. His batting average was an astounding .492 (walks were included as hits that season, but even without the walks, his average was .435, the second highest in big league history). When his playing days were over, he moved to Montreal where he helped secure an Eastern League franchise for the city. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame hands out the Tip O’Neill Award annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals. O’Neill was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously, as a member of its inaugural class, in 1983.
– After reading various media reports, my understanding was that when the Toronto Blue Jays inquired about Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija in the off-season that the Cubs asked for both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, the Jays’ top two pitching prospects, in return. But Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal revealed yesterday that the Cubs had, in fact, asked for right-hander Drew Hutchison and one of Sanchez or Stroman. Either way, if I was the Blue Jays GM, I still wouldn’t make that trade.
– I’m thoroughly enjoying legendary Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford’s memoirs, “Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter.” One of the things I wrestled with when I was attempting to become a baseball writer was the fact that I had never played the game at a professional level. I couldn’t possibly be qualified to evaluate a player’s performance if I had never played in the pros, could I? The best response I’ve heard to this question was by legendary baseball scribe Red Smith, which is shared in Deford’s book, “If that were true, then only dead men could write obituaries,” he said.
– In his memoirs, Deford also shares a conversation he had with Hall of Fame outfielder Richie Ashburn about Pete Rose. “I’ll tell you Pete Rose is the most obsessive person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Ashburn. “It doesn’t matter – baseball, women, gambling – he’s obsessed with whatever he’s involved with. He doesn’t drink, you know. Let me tell you, Frank. If Pete had a drink at lunch, he’d be an alcoholic by the time he went to bed.”
– Leo Marentette, who pitched for the Montreal Expos in 1969, passed away in Lambertville, Mich., on May 8 at the age of 73. Acquired on the eve of the Expos’ inaugural season, Marentette, originally signed by the Detroit Tigers, toed the rubber in three games with the Expos and posted a 6.75 ERA in 1969. He also spent 20 games with the Triple-A Vancouver Mounties that season and recorded a 2.03 ERA. He pitched with the Expos’ Triple-A affiliate in Winnipeg the following season before retiring. After his playing career, Marentette resided in Toledo, Ohio where he was employed as a dockworker with Roadway Express until 1999. He’s survived by his wife, Dawn, two children and two grandchildren.
– Melissa Couto’s weekly ThrowinSmoke column on the Canadian Baseball Network has become a must-read for me. If you’re looking for news and notes on Canadian players and the inside scoop on the Jays, you should check it out. Here’s her most recent column.