My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• Having Lawrie and Lowrie on the same team in the same infield is a typo waiting to happen for a baseball writer. Fortunately for them, the Oakland A’s are reportedly looking to trade Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.). Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Lawrie is likely on the trading block after the A’s reacquired Jed Lowrie on Wednesday. Slusser writes that Lowrie will probably be the A’s starting second baseman in 2016, while Marcus Semien will remain the everyday shortstop. Lawrie split last season between second and third base, but the A’s have ex-Blue Jay Danny Valencia to man the hot corner. Lawrie, who will turn 26 in January, is coming off a season in which he set career-highs in games (149), home runs (16) and RBI (60), but his defence suffered from being shifted between positions.
• The Toronto Blue Jays continue their trend of signing Canadian left-handers to minor league deals. After landing Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) and Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) on minor league deals last off-season, the team inked Guelph, Ont., native Scott Diamond to a minor league deal, with an invite to big league spring training, on Wednesday. Diamond spent 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays’ triple-A Durham Bulls, where he posted a 3.71 ERA in 150-1/3 innings. The Canuck southpaw previously toed the rubber for the Minnesota Twins from 2011 to 2013.
• Happy 65th Birthday to the Toronto Blue Jays’ first star, Otto Velez. The right-handed hitting outfielder/DH batted .442 with five home runs and 18 RBI in April 1977, the first month in Blue Jays history, to earn himself American League Player of the Month honours. Velez finished 1977 with a .256 batting average and 16 home runs in 120 games. In all, he played parts of six seasons with the Blue Jays from 1977 to 1982.
• If you’re like me and you like to keep track of former Blue Jays, many of them changed teams this week. Right-hander Todd Redmond and utility infielder Steve Tolleson have signed minor league deals with the Baltimore Orioles, while Blue Jays’ 2010 first-round pick Deck McGuire has inked a minor league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Also, former Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia was released by the Tampa Bay Rays.
• Original Montreal Expo Dan McGinn turns 72 today. The left-handed pitcher posted a 7-10 record and a 3.94 ERA in 74 games with the Expos in the club’s inaugural season. He’s also the answer to a very tough trivia question: Who was the first Expos player to hit a home run for the club? McGinn’s home run off of Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in the fourth inning of the club’s first ever game, on April 8, 1969, was also the only home run the lefty would ever hit in his big league career.
• Fifteen years ago today, Cap-Pele, N.B., native Rheal Cormier signed a three-year, $2.9-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. In his third year of that deal, the southpaw reliever enjoyed his best big league season. In 2003, he posted a 8-0 record and a 1.70 ERA and allowed just 54 hits in 84-2/3 innings. In all, Cormier, who suited up with the Montreal Expos in 1996 and 1997, pitched in parts of 16 big league seasons and made 683 appearances (second-most by a Canadian). For his efforts, Cormier was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
• Speaking of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine will unveil the winner of its 2015 Jack Graney Award on Monday. This honour is handed out to a media member for their lifetime contributions to baseball in Canada. Also on Friday, the Hall will also announce its 2015 Tip O’Neill Award winner. This award is presented to the top Canadian player each year.
• Former Philadelphia Phillies manager Danny Ozark led his club to three consecutive National League East division titles from 1976 to 1978, but he became equally known for his malapropisms and misuse of words. One day when the Phillies were mired in a losing streak, a reporter asked him about his team’s morale. “Morale? It’s not a question of morality!” snapped Ozark.
• This week’s trivia question: Larry Walker won the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award a record nine times during his career? Three other Canadians have won the award at least three times. Can you name them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1990 Leaf Larry Walker rookie card.