My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders is the only Canadian player headed to the MLB All-Star Game in San Diego on Tuesday. Garnering 17.7 million fan votes, Saunders defeated the four other “Final Vote” candidates – George Springer, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria and Ian Kinsler – to claim the final spot on the American League roster. The Blue Jays’ “Captain Canada” social media campaign undoubtedly helped Saunders in the voting, but the Canadian outfielder’s performance in the five games since he was announced as a candidate hasn’t hurt either. Saunders has gone 8-for-17 (.471 batting average) since Tuesday. He’s now batting .300 with 16 home runs in 81 games this season. Saunders will join fellow Blue Jays Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada (who will attend, but is on the disabled list) at the all-star festivities.
- The most heart-warming Canadian baseball story this season has to be the major league debut of Regina, Sask., native Dustin Molleken. After 13 long seasons in the minors, the 31-year-old right-hander pitched two innings in relief for the Detroit Tigers on Monday in his major league debut. Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell talked to Molleken about the obstacles he has had to overcome not only in baseball, but with a lifelong speech disorder in an interview that was aired on Thursday. “That’s who I am,” said Molleken of his speech impediment in the inspiring interview. You can watch the full interview here.
- Former Montreal Expos superstar and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson turns 62 today. Selected by the Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 MLB amateur draft, the five-tool outfielder hit .282 and belted 19 home runs in 1977 to earn National League Rookie of the Years honours. In all, in his 11 seasons with the Expos, he was selected to three all-star teams, won three Silver Slugger Awards, captured six Gold Gloves and was named The Sporting News Player of the Year in 1981. He also accumulated 225 home runs, 838 RBI and 2,679 total bases as an Expo – all numbers that rank second in franchise history. He finished his big league career with tenures with the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Miami Marlins. In total in parts of 21 big league seasons, The Hawk recorded 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, 1,591 RBI and 314 stolen bases. He retired as one of only three big leaguers to record more than 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases (the others are Willie Mays and Barry Bonds). For his efforts, his No. 10 was retired by the Expos in 1997, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 and into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2010.
- Scott Crawford of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame shared with me this week that Langley, B.C., native Brett Lawrie has already set the record for most home runs by a Canadian second baseman in a season this year. Lawrie has 11 home runs this season, which tops the previous record of seven that Vancouver native Dave McKay clubbed with the Blue Jays in 1978. Lawrie is also just one double shy of Digby, N.S., native Pop Smith’s record for most doubles in a season by a Canadian second baseman. Smith recorded 23 doubles for the National League’s Pittsburgh Alleghenys and Boston Beaneaters in 1889.
- So what do you do for an encore after you win the American League MVP Award? Well, how about having an even better season? In 89 games prior to the all-star break in 2015, Josh Donaldson batted .293 with 21 homers and 60 RBI. His on-base percentage was .351 and his slugging percentage was .532. In 88 contests this season, with one game left prior to the all-star break, he’s batting .301 with 22 homers and 60 RBI. His on-base percentage is .416 and his slugging percentage is .590.
- Eight years ago today, New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau recorded the second five-hit game of his major league career. The Canadian slugger had two doubles and two singles before he walloped what turned out to the game-winning home run for the Minnesota Twins in the top of the 11th inning against the Detroit Tigers in a 7-6 win at Comerica Park. Morneau’s first five-hit game came against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on September 19, 2006.
- Happy 65th Birthday to Bob Bailor, the first player the Blue Jays selected in the November 1976 expansion draft. The versatile, Connellsville, Pa., native would hit .310, sock five home runs and swipe 15 bases in 122 games for the Blue Jays in their inaugural season. He followed that up with a .264 batting average and a career-best 52 RBI the next year. For his efforts, he was named the team’s player of the year in both seasons. He’d spend two more seasons with the Blue Jays before finishing his career with the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. After his playing career ended following the 1985 campaign, he returned to the Blue Jays organization as a minor league manager and later as a big league coach. Now happily retired, Bailor splits his time between homes in Connellsville, Pa., and Palm Harbor, Fla.
- Bailor also uttered one of my favorite Blue Jays quotes in 1992 while he was the club’s first base coach. After the Blue Jays won their first World Series that season, Bailor, who was on the roster for the Blue Jays’ snowy opener at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977, was asked how he felt by a reporter. “I’ve gone from walking in snow to walking in champagne,” Bailor quipped.
- In all likelihood, this will be the last year a former Montreal Expos player will participate in the All-Star Game. On Friday, it was announced that 43-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon, who went 10-4 in 17 starts for the Expos in 2002, will replace San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner on the National League squad. Bumgarner will pitch today, which makes him ineligible to pitch in Tuesday’s contest. The ageless Colon is 7-4 with a 3.28 ERA in 18 games for the New York Mets this season. This will be his fourth All-Star Game.
- This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Montreal Expos player to be selected to play in the All-Star Game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a signed Terry Puhl baseball card.