My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- With every exhibition game in Montreal, I seem to get more sentimental. But this year’s festivities had a deeper meaning for those of us involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., because Jim Fanning was honoured prior to Saturday’s game. Fanning, who passed away on April 25, 2015 at the age of 87, was the heart and soul of the Montreal Expos for 25 seasons. Yesterday at Olympic Stadium, he was feted with tributes from fellow Canadian ball hall inductees Steve Rogers and Charles Bronfman, as well as by John McHale, Jr., the son of late inductee John McHale. Fanning’s wife Marie, son, Frank and daughter, Cynthia, were on the field for the touching ceremony that included a video tribute and a banner with Fanning’s No. 6 being unveiled on the left field wall. Fanning was baseball royalty in Canada. He gave his heart and soul to the Expos and to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. When his banner was unmasked at Olympic Stadium yesterday, it reminded me that his No. 6 jersey has been prominently displayed in the first room at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame ever since Fanning’s induction in 2000. When I was a tour guide at the Hall, Fanning’s jersey was often the first artifact that people would notice and comment on, and witnessing Fanning’s devotion to the Canadian ball shrine over the years, I felt that was fitting.
- The Blue Jays will take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa at 4 p.m. ET today in their season opener. Right-hander Marcus Stroman will make his first Opening Day start for the club. The Blue Jays hope it will be the first of many Opening Day starts for Stroman, who will need six more such assignments to equal Roy Halladay’s team record of seven. Surprisingly, Dave Stieb only started four openers for the Jays, while Jimmy Key started three. Six others – Pat Hentgen, Ricky Romero, R.A. Dickey, Jack Morris, Jim Clancy and Dave Lemanczyk – have started twice for the Jays on Opening Day.
- The record for most Opening Day starts for a pitcher on a Canadian big league team belongs to Steve Rogers, who got the nod nine times for the Montreal Expos. Dennis Martinez, who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, started six openers for the Expos, while three other pitchers made more than one Opening Day start for the Expos: Jeff Fassero, three (1994 to 1996); Dustin Hermanson, two (1999, 2000) and Javier Vazquez, two (2001, 2002).
- For the record, three players, Ernie Whitt, Lloyd Moseby and Vernon Wells, have started nine times for the Blue Jays on Opening Day. While four others, Jesse Barfield, Rance Mulliniks, Tony Fernandez and Alex Gonzalez, have been in the club’s Opening Day lineup eight times.
- Much has been made about Hall of Famer Goose Gossage calling Jose Bautista’s bat flip “a disgrace to the game.” I wonder what Gossage thought of Joe Carter jumping and skipping around the bases after the Blue Jays slugger clubbed his World Series-winning home run in 1993? Which was the bigger celebration? I suppose Carter’s reaction could be viewed as pure, unbridled and understandable jubilation. After all, he just hit a home run to win the World Series. Bautista’s bat flip, on the other hand, could be perceived as cocky and it came in the seventh inning of a deciding American League Division Series game. But if you think about it, both were celebrations with little regard for respecting their opponent, which was what Gossage was most concerned about. For the record, I had no problem with either Carter’s or Bautista’s celebrations.
- Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a colorful article about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Larry McLean on the Baseball Historian blog. Born in Fredericton, N.B., in 1881, the heavy-drinking, 6-foot-5 catcher was coming off his best season with the Cincinnati Reds in 1910, in which he hit .298 and had 71 RBI. The Reds had been concerned about his alcohol consumption and included a clause in his contract that season that stipulated that he’d be fined $25 for every drink he was spotted having. So after that season, McLean attempted to turn the tables on the Reds. “I will play for the Reds only under the terms of the contract I have made out. Last year they made me sign a fool contract after I had a little trouble at Hot Springs (their spring training site). This year they will sign my contracts or not at all. I want 25 cents for every drink I refuse,” McLean demanded. The Reds would not accede to his demand and McLean eventually relented and enjoyed another solid year in 1911, batting .287 in 107 games. The hard-living backstop did eventually wear out his welcome in Cincinnati and the team suspended before the end of the 1912 campaign. McLean would play parts of three more big league seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants. Sadly, and not surprisingly given his reputation, McLean was shot and killed in a bar fight on March 24, 1921 in Boston.
- Canadian baseball fans often lament what could’ve been for the 1994 Montreal Expos, who were six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East division in 1994 when a players’ strike wiped out the rest of the season. But what about the 1996 Expos? With Major League Baseball’s two wild-card team playoff format today, the 1996 Expos led by Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero, Henry Rodriguez, Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Lansing and Moises Alou posted a 88-74 record and would’ve been the National League’s second wild-card team. That would’ve given them the opportunity to avenge Blue Monday in a one-game wild-card playoff against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
- This week’s trivia question: Who is the only Blue Jays player to make Opening Day starts at three different positions for the club over the years? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a Kirby Puckett rookie card.