My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• There are those in the Canadian baseball community that believe Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.) needed a dose of humility. Well, he got one on Tuesday when he struck out four times on 12 pitches in his second game with the Oakland A’s. In that contest, 11 of the 12 pitches that Texas Rangers hurlers threw to the sparkplug third baseman were sliders and curves. To Lawrie’s credit, he rebounded to register three hits on Wednesday and has continued to make highlight-reel plays on defence.
• I finally watched Knuckleball! (Thank you to Adam Cornish for loaning me his DVD), the documentary that tells the story of the beguiling pitch and the small group of pitchers who have perfected it. One of the most interesting revelations in the film came from Charlie Hough, who shared that he had been pigeonholed as a reliever until he was asked to make a start for the Texas Rangers in place of injured right-hander Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) on August 26, 1980 at Exhibition Stadium. Hough proceeded to throw the first shutout of his big league career, holding the Blue Jays to five hits and striking out seven. That game proved to be a turning point in Hough’s career and he eventually won more than 150 games as a starting pitcher.
• One of the best baseball books you’ll read this year is Bill Pennington’s biography on Billy Martin, called Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius. One of the many fascinating revelations about the volatile-yet-successful Martin in the book is that when he was the manager of the Detroit Tigers, he was the one who made the risky, outside-the-box decision to anoint Toronto-born southpaw John Hiller, who had missed the 1972 season because of a massive heart attack, as the Tigers’ closer in 1973. Hiller, 29 at the time, rewarded Martin by posting a 1.44 ERA and recording a then-major league record 38 saves. Hiller was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
• And Hiller wasn’t the only Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer whose career received a boost from Martin. When hired by the Texas Rangers in September 1973, Martin originally served as both the general manager and dugout boss. On October 25 of that year, in his first move as GM, Martin swapped third baseman Bill Madlock to the Chicago Cubs for Fergie Jenkins. Jenkins, who had dropped to 14 wins in 1973 after six consecutive 20-win campaigns with the Cubs, proceeded to win a career-best 25 games for the Rangers in 1974.
• Former Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia was released by the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. The 29-year-old backstop didn’t make the big league club out of spring training, but he was expected to report to the O’s triple-A affiliate in Norfolk. The right-handed hitting receiver, who suited up for the Jays from 2010 to 2013, batted .177 with 10 home runs in 63 games with the Rangers last season.
• Blue Jays’ 2010 first-round pick Deck McGuire has signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-6 right-hander pitched parts of five seasons in the Blue Jays’ system until he was dealt to the Oakland A’s on July 24 last year. McGuire posted an ugly 8.05 ERA in seven appearances with the A’s Triple-A Sacramento River Cats before he was released. He’ll reportedly start the 2015 campaign with the Dodgers’ Double-A Tulsa Drillers.
• Former Blue Jay and Canadian citizen Mark Teahen, who retired last September, has opened a wine bar in Scottsdale, Ariz., called the Sorso Wine Room. The grand opening was held on Tuesday. For more details, you can visit the bar’s website.
• This week’s trivia question: With the NHL’s Ottawa Senators making a tremendous late-season run to earn a playoff berth, it got me thinking about Ottawa-born major leaguers. By my records, Doug Frobel is the only Ottawa native to belt a home run in the big leagues. There have also been two Ottawa-born pitchers that have recorded wins in the major leagues. Can you name them? I realize this is a tough question, so the prize this week will be a copy of Chip Martin’s excellent new book, The Tecumsehs of the International Association, (a $40 value). I reviewed this book earlier this year. Please provide your answers in the “Comments” section below. The first to provide the correct answer will win the book.