My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• Remember 1997. That’s what I tell Toronto Blue Jays fans bemoaning the loss of David Price and the fact that the club appears to be headed into 2016 without a bona fide ace in their rotation. The Blue Jays started 1997 with not only the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen, but they also signed Roger Clemens (who proceeded to win the Cy Young Award that season). The Blue Jays finished that campaign with a 76-86 record. The point is, as the Kansas City Royals proved this season, there are different ways to build a winning ball club.
• Think your job sucks? How would you like to work for Barry Bonds? That’s what former Blue Jay Frank Menechino will have to do as the assistant hitting coach for the Miami Marlins in 2016. Bonds, who has been out of baseball in any official capacity since 2007, was announced as the Marlins’ new hitting coach on Friday.
• Today would’ve been the 112th birthday of legendary New York Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri. The Hall of Fame infielder was best known for his 12 seasons with the Yankees from 1926 to 1937, but he also enjoyed a 254-game stint as a player/manager with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1939 and 1940. Fifty-seven games into the 1939 season, Lazzeri replaced Jack Burns as the Leafs bench boss and guided the team to a 44-52 finish. Lazzeri returned to the Leafs in 1940, but the team was a dreadful 57-101 and finished in eighth place. Sadly, after retiring to his hometown of San Francisco, Lazzeri died on August 6, 1946 when he was just 43. There are differing reports on his cause of death, but the consensus seems to be that he suffered an epileptic seizure and banged his head on a banister in his house. Away on vacation at the time, his wife, Maye, came home to discover her husband, who had been dead for approximately 36 hours.
• On this day 25 years ago, George Bell left the Toronto Blue Jays to sign a three-year (plus an option) deal with the Chicago Cubs that guaranteed him $13 million. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, who belted 202 home runs in parts of nine seasons with the Blue Jays, would bat .285 and pound out 25 homers for the Cubs in 1991 to be named a National League all-star. The following spring, he was dealt to the cross-town White Sox for pitcher Ken Patterson and a young slugger named Sammy Sosa. Bell drove in 112 runs for the White Sox in 1992 and 64 more in 1993 before retiring.
• Ken Johnson, who pitched his final three big league games with the Montreal Expos in 1970, died in Pineville, La., on November 21 at the age of 82. A New York Times article indicates that he had battled Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in recent years and that he died after contracting a kidney infection. Johnson, who appeared in 334 games in parts of 13 major league seasons, is best known for being the only pitcher ever to throw a nine-inning no-hitter and lose. While toeing the rubber for the Houston Colt .45’s against the Cincinnati Reds on April 23, 1964, he carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a scoreless contest when Pete Rose bunted and Johnson threw the ball away. Rose eventually scored the game’s only run on an error by Astros second baseman Nellie Fox in that same inning. “I pitched the best game of my life and still lost,” he once said of his performance. “A hell of a way to get into the record books.” Johnson also enjoyed tenures with the Kansas City A’s, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. The 6-foot-4 right-hander also pitched 19 games for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1961 and posted a 5-5 record and a 3.80 ERA.
• Newly appointed Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins had a five-year minor league pitching career in the Cleveland Indians organization before becoming an executive with the club. In three of those seasons, one of his teammates was popular ex-Jay John McDonald. Last year, McDonald worked as a special assistant and roving instructor in the Indians organization and reported primarily to Atkins. Could this mean that McDonald might return to Toronto in a similar capacity?
• The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame could use your support in its year-end fundraising drive. The St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine is a non-profit organization that does an excellent job of promoting the history of baseball in our country. For information on how you can donate, please visit this link.
• When veteran big leaguer Jim Dwyer was serving as a designated hitter with the Minnesota Twins in 1989, he offered up one of my favourite baseball quotes. “I love DH’ing,” he said. “I think it’s the greatest job in the world. It’s like pinch-hitting, except you get a second, third and fourth chance.”
• This week’s trivia question: As noted earlier, it was 25 years ago today that George Bell left the Blue Jays to sign with the Chicago Cubs. Bell had been the regular left fielder for the Blue Jays for the previous six seasons. Who was the Blue Jays’ starting left fielder on Opening Day in 1991? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a signed Mark Eichhorn card.