My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• 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 moon shot 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 young fan who told him that he saw him hit his longest home run, to which Easter winked and 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 a column published last night, Fox Sports scribe Jon Morosi noted that the average attendance for the four Toronto Blue Jays exhibition games in Montreal over the past two springs has been 48,223 per game. In comparison, the last four Tampa Bay Rays’ playoff contests have drawn an average of 31,902 fans to Tropicana Field.
• Toronto-born reliever Jesse Crain will begin the 2015 season in extended spring training with the Chicago White Sox. The Canadian right-hander, who has not pitched in a big league game since June 29, 2013 due to a shoulder injury, had thrown batting practice in early March before experiencing soreness in his shoulder. After being completely shut down for a two-week stretch, he played long toss at 120 feet this past Monday, but there’s no timetable for his return. Crain, who has posted a 3.05 ERA in 532 major league games, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in January.
• Former Blue Jay Dustin McGowan was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday after registering a 6.75 ERA in eight innings this spring. But the oft-injured right-hander, who pitched parts of seven seasons with the Jays, wasn’t out of work long. The Philadelphia Phillies signed him yesterday and reports indicate that he’ll be part of the club’s big league bullpen to start the season.
• Speaking of ex-Blue Jays, outfielder Reed Johnson was cut by the Miami Marlins on Monday, but was signed to a minor league deal by the Washington Nationals on the same day. The sparkplug outfielder hit leadoff for the Jays from 2003 to 2007, but has served as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter in recent years. Last season, the 38-year-old Johnson batted .235 in 113 games for the Marlins.
• Canadian right-hander Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.) has cleared waivers and has been assigned to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The 6-foot-7 right-hander, who was out of minor league options, posted a 4.15 ERA in seven appearances this spring. The 26-year-old spent most of 2014 in Triple-A and struck out 65 in 55 innings, but he also walked 39 batters. He has enjoyed stints with the Phillies in each of the past three seasons and has posted a 6.13 ERA in 45 appearances.
• If you’ve ever wanted to own a 1992 or 1993 Toronto Blue Jays World Series ring, this is the week you can starting bidding on one. Gene Tenace, the Blue Jays bench coach on those teams, has decided to sell some of the awards and memorabilia from his baseball career. SCP Auctions in Laguna Niguel, Calif., will be in charge of the sale which will take place starting on Wednesday and extend until April 25. You can read more about the auction here. Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott also interviewed Tenace about his decision to sell his memorabilia, and you can read the resulting article here.
• This week’s trivia question: Who was the last Montreal Expos player to hit a home run in a regular season game at Olympic Stadium? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Topps “Expos Future Stars” Tim Raines rookie card.