My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- If it feels like John Gibbons gets thrown out of a lot of games, that’s because he does get thrown out of a lot of games, at least that’s what the statistics say. Just 45 games into the 2016 season, the Toronto Blue Jays skipper has already been ejected three times and he has sat out three other games for his suspension for coming back onto the field during last Sunday’s brawl with the Texas Rangers. Gibbons, whose eight ejections in 2005 tie him with Bobby Cox (1984) for the most ejections by a Blue Jays manager in a season, is on pace to smash this record. Gibbons already owns the Blue Jays record for most career ejections by a manager with 32. He’s followed on that list by Cito Gaston (28) and Cox (21).
- Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Piche, who would’ve turned 81 today. Signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, the Verdun, Que., native made his big league debut on May 30, 1960. The Canuck right-hander excelled as a reliever with the Braves in his rookie campaign. Suiting up alongside Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, Piche finished 27 games and notched nine saves (9th in the National League) that season. His finest major league season came three years later, when he recorded a 3.40 ERA in 37 games. He’d later pitch for the California Angels (1965) and St. Louis Cardinals (1966). After retiring as a player, Piche became the Montreal Expos director of Canadian scouting from 1977 to 1985 and later worked in a public relations role with the Expos which earned him the nickname “Monsieur Baseball.” He passed away from complications from cancer on February 3, 2011.
- The organizers of the Toronto Blue Jays spring training games in Montreal have done excellent job of honouring Expos greats over the past three years. I was thrilled to see Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Expos legend Jim Fanning’s number added to the wall at Olympic Stadium this year. When the Expos were still active, the team retired the numbers of Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Rusty Staub and Tim Raines. But wouldn’t it be great if Steve Rogers was honoured at next year’s games (provided they happen) in Montreal? Rogers is the team’s all-time leader in wins (158), innings pitched (2,837.2), strikeouts (1,621), complete games (129) and shutouts (37). His career ERA (3.17) is lower than that of many Cooperstowners, including Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton and Don Sutton. For his efforts, Rogers was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. Now a special assistant to the executive director with the Major League Baseball Players Association, the former Expos ace also selflessly returns to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in St. Marys, Ont., each year and continues to promote baseball in Canada.
- Fun Canadian Baseball Fact: Fredericton, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs loved to face fellow Canuck Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.). Stairs was 5-for-10 with three home runs against Dempster. That was good for a 1.500 slugging percentage and a 2.115 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
- Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) is an elite catcher, a gritty competitor and a tremendous leader, but I can’t be the only one wondering if his neck is bothering him more than he’s letting on. Through 37 games this season, Martin has one extra-base hit and has thrown out just 22 per cent of the runners attempting to steal against him. Last season, Martin tossed out an American League-best 44 per cent of the runners attempting to steal against him.
- Wuilmer Becerra, the third prospect the Blue Jays shipped to the Mets for R.A. Dickey on December 17, 2012 (along with Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud) is tearing it up for St. Lucie of the Class-A Florida State League. The 21-year-old outfielder has collected 44 hits in 33 games and is batting .367 this season.
- On this day 24 years ago, the Montreal Expos, off to a 17-20 start, fired manager Tom Runnells and replaced him with Felipe Alou. The Expos would go 70-55 under Alou to finish the 1992 season in second-place in the National League East. Alou would manage the Expos for parts of 10 seasons and accumulate a franchise-record 691 wins. He led the budget-conscious club to three second-place finishes (1992, 1993, 1996) and had the Expos sitting in first-place in 1994 when the season was cancelled due to a players’ strike. For his efforts, Alou was named National League Manager of the Year in 1994 and the manager of the National League All-Star team in 1995. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
- This week’s trivia question: Tomorrow is Victoria Day in Canada, which celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday. According to Baseball Reference, there has never been a major league player with the last name Victoria. There have, however, been two players with the first name “Victor” that have played for the Toronto Blue Jays. Can you name them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 Topps Phil Niekro card.