My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• Yes, it’s become trite to complain about how much big leaguers are paid, but here’s an illustration of just how insane major league salaries are: Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Drew Hutchison posted a 5.57 ERA, including a 13.89 ERA in September, while making $520,100 in 2015. On Friday, Hutchison settled on a one-year, $2.2-million contract for 2016. That’s more than a 400 per cent raise!
• Somehow I missed the news that Surrey, B.C., native Adam Loewen signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in early November (Tip of the cap to Scott Crawford at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for letting me know). The Philadelphia Phillies had outrighted Loewen off their 40-man roster in October. The 6-foot-6 southpaw registered a 6.98 ERA in 20 appearances with the Phillies in 2015. When he took the mound on August 10, he became the first big leaguer to debut as a pitcher, then become a full-time positional player and then return as a pitcher since Johnny Lindell completed this feat in 1953. Former Blue Jay Kyle Drabek will be one of the other non-roster invitees that will compete with Loewen for a spot on the D-Backs staff.
• Fun Canadian Baseball fact: It’s been well documented that Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker loved the No. 3. He was married on November 3 at 3:33 p.m. He took three practice swings on the on-deck circle before an at bat. And his uniform number was 33. So it’s fitting that Walker had his best offensive numbers in the third inning. In 879 plate appearances in the third inning during his big league career, Walker batted .334 and had 44 home runs and 168 RBI. With that said, if Walker could go back, he’d probably get out one or two more times to lower his third-inning batting average to .333.
• St. Louis native Vern Rapp, who served as a coach with the Montreal Expos from 1979 to 1983, passed away in Denver, Colo., on December 31 at the age of 87. Rapp also managed the Expos’ triple-A Denver Bears to an American Association championship in 1976. That team featured outfielders Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie. Rapp began his professional baseball career as a catcher in the Cardinals’ minor league organization in 1946 prior to hanging up his playing spikes to manage in the New York Yankees, Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Expos organizations. In 1977, he was named the Cards’ big league skipper and led the club to an 83-79 record before being fired the ensuing April. After his tenure as Expos coach, Rapp managed the Cincinnati Reds in 1984, but he was replaced by Pete Rose in mid-season.
• Two ex-Blue Jays signed with new teams this week. Right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who posted a 2.95 ERA in 35 games for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, inked a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the San Diego Padres on Thursday, while John Mayberry Jr., who hit .167 in 59 games for the New York Mets in 2015, landed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.
• I recently stumbled upon this great quote from long-time Los Angeles Dodgers manager, former Montreal Royals pitcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda. When the Dodgers were hit particularly hard by injuries in 1989, a reporter asked him what it was like in the clubhouse. “I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic,” responded Lasorda. “We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”
• This week’s trivia question: Brad Fullmer turns 41 today. He’s one of only two big leaguers to drive in 70 runs in a season for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. Who is the only other player to have driven in 70 or more runs in a season for both the Expos and Blue Jays? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a Kirby Puckett rookie card.