My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Just a reminder that the annual Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction festivities begin this Thursday with a home run derby and celebrity slo-pitch game starting at 6 p.m. at Rotary Field on the Hall of Fame grounds in St. Marys, Ont. Admission to the game is free and a host of celebrities will be participating, including 2016 inductees Pat Hentgen and Dennis Martinez. Trailblazing Canadian scout Wayne Norton (Winnipeg, Man.), long-time Blue Jays executive Howard Starkman (Toronto, Ont.), early Blue Jays TV analyst Tony Kubek (who’s unable to attend) are to be inducted alongside Hentgen and Martinez in a ceremony on Saturday. Baseball pioneer William Shuttleworth (Brantford, Ont.) will also be enshrined posthumously. For complete details on the induction events, visit http://www.baseballhalloffame.ca
- Toronto native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jimmy Williams passed away from pneumonia on Monday in Baltimore, Md., just 12 days after his 90th Williams played 18 seasons in the minors in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization before becoming a successful minor league manager and big league coach. He was the first base coach for the 1983 World Series-winning Baltimore Orioles. He also managed in the Orioles’ minor league system and one of the players that he had a positive influence on was Cal Ripken, Jr. Ripken devotes two pages in his 1997 biography, The Only Way I Know, to Williams. A close friend of Ripken’s father, Williams was Junior’s manager with the Double-A Charlotte Knights in 1980. In his book, Ripken describes Williams as a “great manager” and relates how players were drawn to the front of the bus on road trips to listen to Williams’ stories and advice. “We learned a lot from Jimmy on our bus rides that year with Charlotte,” wrote Ripken.
- In the Toronto Blue Jays’ 8-4 win over the New York Yankees on May 25, Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) became the first two Canadians to homer for the Blue Jays in the same game. The lineup card from that game, as well as the bat that Martin used and the batting gloves that Saunders employed have been donated to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont.
- He was “Mr. Hockey”, so Gordie Howe, who passed away on Friday at the age of 88, was obviously best known for his tremendous career on the ice. But he was also a power-hitting first baseman for the Saskatoon 55s of the Northern Saskatchewan Baseball League in the early 1950s. During his NHL career, Howe maintained a love for baseball and he sometimes visited the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium and was known to belt home runs and field ground balls at first base during batting practice. Howe’s trapper from one of those visits with the Tigers is part of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection.
- Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) signed a one-year, $1-million contract with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. The Canadian slugger, who will eventually join fellow Canuck Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.) on the Sox, was immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list. Morneau is still recovering from surgery on his left elbow that he underwent last December. When he returns, he’ll serve primarily as a designated hitter. The 34-year-old first baseman’s 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).
- Thirty-seven years ago today, the Detroit Tigers hired Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson as their manager. Anderson, whose first professional managerial job was with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1964, led the Cincinnati Reds to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976 but was fired after a disappointing 1978 campaign. Anderson would manage the Tigers for 17 seasons, guiding them to 1,331 wins and a 1984 World Series title. When the Tigers won the Fall Classic, he became the first manager to pilot teams to World Series titles in both the American League and National League.
- Fun Canadian Baseball Fact: 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Martinez pitched parts of 23 seasons in the major leagues – long enough to have pitched against several of baseball’s most famous fathers and sons. “El Presidente” pitched against both Ken Griffey Jr. and Ken Griffey Sr., Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonds and against Bob Boone and his two sons, Bret and Aaron. He had his most success against the Boones who were a combined 1-for 17 off him. He also pitched well against the Bonds family who were 26-for-115 (.226 batting average) when facing him. The Griffeys fared the best against Martinez, combining to go 14-for-46 for a .304 batting average
- Speaking of fathers and sons, Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) was selected eighth overall in the MLB amateur draft on Tuesday. That’s 155 spots ahead of where his father Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Quantrill was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 1989 draft. But the younger Quantrill would do very well to duplicate the type of career his father had. The senior Quantrill, who was an American League all-star in 2001, pitched in a Canadian record 841 major league games and was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010. A right-hander like his father, the younger Quantrill was originally selected by the New York Yankees in the 26th round in 2013, but the Baseball Canada junior team alumnus opted to attend Stanford University. In 2014, he went 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA to lead Stanford to a Super Regionals berth, but after beginning 2015 with two wins and a 1.93 ERA, he underwent Tommy John surgery that March and he hasn’t pitched since.
- In 1989, Rocky Bridges was the manager of the Class-A Salem Buccaneers and he went into a fancy restaurant. The waiter approached and presented him with a menu. “I highly recommend the escargots (snails),” the waiter said. “No thank you,” responded Bridges. “I prefer fast food.”
- This week’s trivia question: There’s a good chance that Cal Quantrill will one day pitch in the major leagues and if he does, he and his father, Paul, will become the second Canadian father and son to have played in the big leagues. Who is the first? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Paul Molitor card.