My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• Congratulations to Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) on his successful 11-year major league career. Hall of Fame writer Bob Elliott shared on the Canadian Baseball Network on Friday that Francis is retiring. A first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2002 MLB amateur draft, the Canadian southpaw won 72 major league games (seventh-most by a Canadian pitcher) during his career that saw him toe the rubber for the Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland A’s, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. His most successful stretch came with the Rockies from 2005 to 2007 when he won 14, 13 and 17 games respectively. In 2007, he became the second Canadian to start a World Series game when he got the nod in Game 1 of the Fall Classic (Swift Current, Sask., native Reggie Cleveland started Game 5 of the 1975 World Series for the Boston Red Sox). Francis has also pitched for the Canadian national team on several occasions, including on the gold medal-winning squad at this summer’s Pan Am Games.
• It’s fitting then that Francis will become the eighth person added to Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence. He’ll be honoured at Baseball Canada’s annual banquet which will take place at the Renaissance Toronto Downtown at the Rogers Centre on January 9. The banquet is a key fundraiser for Baseball Canada and the who’s who of Canadian baseball will be in attendance. For information on the event and how to purchase tickets, follow this link.
• Happy 73rd Birthday to Canadian pitching legend Fergie Jenkins! The Chatham, Ont., native, who was a multi-sports star as a youngster, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1962. But it wasn’t until he was acquired by the Chicago Cubs in 1966 that his career really took off. From 1967 to 1972, he registered six consecutive 20-win seasons. His 1971 campaign ranks as his most impressive. That season, he led the National League with 24 wins, 30 complete games and 325 innings pitched and became the first Cub and first Canadian to win the Cy Young Award. Dealt to the Texas Rangers following the 1973 season, Jenkins recorded 25 wins, 29 complete games, 245 strikeouts and a 2.82 ERA in 1974. Jenkins retired with 284 wins and as the only pitcher in history to record more than 3,000 strikeouts (3,192), while allowing fewer than 1,000 walks (997). Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling have since joined that elite group. Jenkins was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 and was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1991, becoming the only Canadian to be so honoured.
• And a Happy 78th Birthday to Jenkins’ Canadian pitching contemporary Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.). A product of the Leaside Baseball Association, Taylor was signed as an amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 1956. After several years in the minors, the 6-foot-1 right-hander made one of the most remarkable pitching debuts in major league history, hurling 11 scoreless innings against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 11, 1962. Later that year, he was dealt to St. Louis, where he assumed a key bullpen role on the Cards’ 1964 World Series-winning squad. The Canadian hurler would find himself in a crucial relief role again with the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series. With two out and two men on base in the ninth inning of Game 2, Taylor was summoned to face Brooks Robinson, who grounded to third base to end the game. In helping the Mets win, Taylor became the only Canadian to win a World Series with two different teams (St. Louis 1964, New York 1969). In total, Taylor pitched a record seven innings without surrendering a hit in World Series play. Upon retiring from baseball, Taylor returned to Toronto, where he earned a degree in medicine from the University of Toronto. He’d later become the Blue Jays team doctor. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
• Speaking of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame pitchers, it was 14 years ago today that the Blue Jays dealt Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and shortstop Cesar Izturis to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Luke Prokopec and Chad Ricketts (Waterloo, Ont.). The deal turned out poorly for the Blue Jays. Prokopec posted a 6.78 ERA in 22 games in 2002 and then disappeared from the professional ranks, while Ricketts never advanced above triple-A. Meanwhile, Quantrill was a go-to reliever for the Dodgers, leading the National League in pitching appearances in 2002 and 2003, while Izturis became the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop for the next four seasons.
• On this day 19 years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays signed Roger Clemens to a three-year, $24.75-million deal. Coming off two subpar seasons with the Red Sox, “The Rocket” rejuvenated his career in Toronto with back-to-back, 20-win Cy Young Award- winning campaigns. After the 1998 season, Clemens asked to be traded when he felt the club wasn’t spending enough to be a contender. He had an agreement with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston that he could make such a request. On February 18, 1999, Clemens was dealt to the New York Yankees for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush.
• 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. You also have until tomorrow at noon to bid in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Christmas Silent Auction. There are many great items available, including one of only 12, 2015 Toronto Blue Jays team-signed baseballs. You can view a list of the items and get information on how to bid here.
• This week’s trivia question: Between his playing career and his role as Blue Jays doctor, how many World Series rings does Ron Taylor have? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a photo signed by Taylor.