My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- The Toronto Blue Jays signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a two-year contract extension on Saturday. The question many Blue Jays fans are asking is why? Though the payout is relatively modest by today’s standards ($4.125 million per season in 2017 and 2018 and a $6-million option in 2019), the left-handed hitting first baseman is batting .172 with five home runs in 33 games since the start of June and for all the praise he receives for his defence, his dWAR, according to Baseball Reference, is minus 0.8 (In other words, below average). No, it’s not a contract that’s going to cripple the Blue Jays financially, but the timing is odd given that fellow first baseman Chris Collabello could return from his PEDs suspension on July 23 and the Blue Jays have so many higher priority pending free agents (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders).
- Scarborough, Ont., native George Kottaras was released by the San Francisco Giants on Friday. The 33-year-old catcher had hit .155 in 23 games with the Giants’ triple-A Sacramento River Cats this season. The Canadian backstop has played in parts of seven big league seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays, but he hasn’t played in the big leagues since finishing a game for the Blue Jays on September 28, 2014.
- I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about the Blue Jays, but Shi Davidi’s excellent new book, Big 50: The Men and Moments that Made the Toronto Blue Jays, has proven me wrong. Among the many revelations Davidi shares is that legendary manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Cito Gaston was interviewed by both the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers for their vacant managerial jobs after the 1999 season. Davidi writes that Gaston “sensed” he was going to get the Indians job so “he withdrew from the Brewers process only to watch the Tribe subsequently hire Charlie Manuel.”
- Twenty-seven years ago today, the Blue Jays played their first doubleheader at SkyDome. The back-to-back contests started at 5:38 p.m. and the Blue Jays swept the California Angels by scores of 6-4 and 5-4. Left-hander David Wells picked up the win in relief in both games, while Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Henke registered the save in each contest. Fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer George Bell was 4-for-8 in the twin bill with two runs and two RBI.
- Happy 33rd Birthday to former Blue Jays Steve Delabar and Adam Lind. Delabar was born on this date in Fort Knox, Ky., while Lind was born in Anderson, Ind. Delabar, who pitched parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays from 2012 to 2015, recently signed with the Hiroshima Carp of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Lind, meanwhile, is manning first base for the Seattle Mariners and has walloped 13 homers in 71 games, but has walked just 10 times, which has translated into a dismal .261 on-base percentage.
- Nick Diunte of Baseball Happenings reported on Thursday that former Montreal Royals third baseman Clyde Parris passed away in Valley Stream, N.Y. on July 9 at the age of 93 due to complications from liver cancer. Born in Panama on September 11, 1922, Parris began his professional career in the Negro Leagues in 1946, but he was later signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He would spend parts of five seasons with the Dodgers’ International League affiliate Montreal Royals from 1955 to 1959. In 1956, he topped the International League with a .321 batting average, but his 1959 campaign was arguably his finest. That year, he hit .299 with 23 home runs and 90 RBI for the Royals. Despite being a star with the Royals, Parris never received a big league call-up. He played his final 17 professional games with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1960. According to Diunte, Parris settled in Queens, N.Y., in his post-playing days with his wife Eugenia. The couple raised three children. Parris worked different government jobs and he retired from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in 1988.
- When the Blue Jays discuss trades with other teams leading up to July 31st deadline, the prospect that most teams are likely to inquire about is Sean Reid-Foley. A second-round pick in 2014, the 6-foot-3, 20-year-old right-hander has excelled with both the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts and Class-A (Advanced) Dunedin Blue Jays this season. In 11 starts with Lansing, Reid-Foley posted a 2.95 ERA and fanned 59 batters in 58 innings. He has been even more dominant with Dunedin; in six starts, he is 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA and has allowed just 23 hits in 37 innings, while striking out 44.
- Fifty-five years ago today baseball legend Ty Cobb died in Atlanta, Ga. In his honour, here’s my favourite exchange between him and a reporter: In 1959, well after Cobb’s career had ended, a reporter asked him what he would hit against current pitching. “.300,” Cobb replied. “Why only .300?” the reporter responded. “You’ve got to remember I’m 73,” replied Cobb.
- This week’s trivia question: Who was the first player to be selected to the All-Star Game as a Montreal Expo and then later as a Toronto Blue Jay? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1993 Bowman Jose Vidro rookie card and a 1997 Bowman Vernon Wells rookie card.