My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- It’s now been confirmed that 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Kubek will not be attending the ceremony on June 18 in St. Marys, Ont. The four other living inductees – Pat Hentgen, Dennis Martinez, Wayne Norton and Howard Starkman – will all be present. For more details on induction day, follow this link.
- Toronto Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ is now 12-2 with a 1.93 ERA in 18 starts since he was introduced to Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage last July. Aptly nicknamed “The Pitcher Whisperer,” Searage has become known for resurrecting the careers of pitchers like A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez. Searage, himself, was a southpaw reliever for parts of seven major league seasons with the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers between 1981 and 1990. He also pitched professionally for two Canadian teams: the Brewers’ triple-A Vancouver Canadians (1984 to 1986) and the Angels’ triple-A Edmonton Trappers in 1992.
- Happy 35th Birthday to New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau! The free agent slugger underwent off-season elbow surgery and won’t begin swinging a bat again until next month. His 2015 season was shortened by a neck injury and a recurrence of post-concussion symptoms, but when he returned in September, he hit .338 in 22 games for the Colorado Rockies. In parts of 13 big league seasons, Morneau has clubbed 241 home runs, which is the third-most by a Canadian behind Larry Walker (383) and Matt Stairs (265).
- Fun Canadian Baseball Fact: In 148 career at bats with the bases loaded, Fredericton, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs hit .345 with 12 home runs and 17 doubles. That was good for a .703 slugging percentage and a 1.103 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
- Edwin Encarnacion socked his 204th home run as a Blue Jay on Friday night to pass Joe Carter and move into sole possession of fourth place on the club’s all-time home run list. Only Carlos Delgado (336), Jose Bautista (249) and Vernon Wells (223) rank ahead of him. On Monday, Encarnacion had belted his 203rd round-tripper as a Blue Jay to tie Carter.
- Thirty-five years ago today, Cleveland Indians right-hander Len Barker tossed a perfect game against the Blue Jays in front of 7,290 fans at Municipal Stadium. Barker fanned 11 Blue Jays – including Lloyd Moseby, George Bell, John Mayberry and Damaso Garcia twice each – on that rainy Friday night in Cleveland. It was the 11th perfect game in major league history. Right-hander Luis Leal tossed a complete game and permitted just one earned run for the Blue Jays in the 3-0 loss.
- Twenty-seven years ago today, the Blue Jays fired manager Jimy Williams after the club started the 1989 season with a 12-24 record. The Blue Jays replaced Williams with hitting coach Cito Gaston, who would lead the Blue Jays to a 77-49 record for the remainder of the season to capture the American League East title. It would be the first of four division crowns (and two World Series titles) the Blue Jays would win under Gaston.
- As usual, the Montreal Expos will be well represented at this year’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction festivities. Among those with Expos links that will be in St. Marys for at least one of the weekend’s events are 2016 inductee Dennis Martinez and 2005 inductee Steve Rogers, as well as former Expos Larry Landreth (Stratford, Ont.), Bill Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.) and Darrin Fletcher. Onetime Expos general manager and 2014 inductee Murray Cook (Sackville, N.B.) will also be present.
- Why Blue Jays fans should feel pretty good about the club’s start to the season: The Blue Jays are .500 and their four leading hitters (by batting average) are Ezequiel Carrera (.341), Michael Saunders (.325), Justin Smoak (.314) and Darwin Barney (.314).
- Kansas City Royals legend George Brett turns 63 today. If you’re old enough to recall the 1985 American League Championship Series, you’ll remember that Brett almost single-handedly defeated the Blue Jays in that series. With the Royals down 2-0 in the series, Brett went 4-for-4 and belted two home runs off of right-hander Doyle Alexander and scored four runs to lead the Royals to a 6-5 win in Game 3. The Royals, of course, went on to win that series in seven games. In 163 regular season games against the Blue Jays during his career, Brett batted .321 (his second highest batting average against any team), slugged 22 home runs and knocked in 113.
- This week’s trivia question: Larry Landreth and Bill Atkinson, who will be in attendance at the upcoming Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction festivities in St. Marys, Ont., are two Canadians who pitched for the Montreal Expos. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Claude Raymond was the first Canadian to pitch for the Expos, but who was the last Canadian to throw a pitch for the Expos? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1973 Topps Brooks Robinson card.