My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Perhaps this is a good omen for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will be attempting to salvage one win out of their series against the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon. Twenty-four years ago today, the Blue Jays registered 10 consecutive hits in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at SkyDome to tie an American League record. Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber started the rally, which ultimately resulted in eight runs, with a single off of Twins starter Kevin Tapani. Gruber also later doubled off of Twins reliever Tom Edens for the last of his club’s 10 hits that inning. The Blue Jays won the game 16-5.
- Congratulations to Montreal native Russell Martin who was unanimously voted the Honda Blue Jays Player of the Month for August by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. During August, the Canadian catcher batted .286, belted nine home runs and had 22 RBI – which led the Blue Jays and all big league catchers. Martin also topped the club in slugging percentage (.626) and was second in hits (26). Third baseman Josh Donaldson, who batted .287 and had nine home runs in August, was second in the voting.
- Happy 66th Birthday to former Blue Jays starter Doyle Alexander wherever he is. Just ask through-the-mail autograph collectors, a passionate and determined bunch, how tough Alexander has become to track down. His signature is needed by many of them to complete autograph projects. The well-travelled right-hander, who retired in 1989, spent parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays and posted back-to-back 17-win campaigns with the club in 1984 and 1985. It was Alexander who tossed a complete-game five-hitter when the Blue Jays clinched their first division title on October 5, 1985. The following July, he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for then hard-throwing pitching prospect Duane Ward. In all, Alexander recorded 194 wins and a 3.76 ERA in parts of 19 major league seasons for eight different teams.
- Thursday marked the 45th anniversary of a game that saw Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins toss a complete game and belt two home runs to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 5-2 win over the Montreal Expos at Wrigley Field. That was also the last time that a Cubs pitcher has hit two home runs in a game.
- It was five years ago yesterday that Scarborough, Ont., native George Kottaras became the first Canadian since Tip O’Neill (Woodstock, Ont.) in 1887 to hit for the cycle in a major league game. Starting at catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park, Kottaras homered and tripled off of Astros starter Bud Norris in the fourth and sixth innings respectively. He then singled off of reliever Aneury Rodriguez in the seventh and completed the cycle with a double off of David Carpenter in the ninth. The Brewers won the game 8-2. Unfortunately, Kottaras likely wasn’t in the mood to celebrate this anniversary this week; he was released by the Atlanta Braves’ triple-A Gwinnett Braves on Monday. He started the season in the San Francisco Giants organization.
- Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford has been far more effective for the Oakland A’s in the second half this season than he was in first. At the All-Star break, the 6-foot-5 right-hander owned a 5.09 ERA in 35-1/3 innings and had struck out 31 batters. Since then, he has a 3.06 ERA and has fanned 20 in 17-2/3 innings.
- I was sad to learn that Hal Hudson, who pitched parts of three seasons with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs from 1951 to 1953, passed away in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on July 8 at the age of 89. Signed as a free agent by the St. Louis Browns in 1944, the 5-foot-10 left-hander spent 13 seasons in the minor-pro ranks. He enjoyed his finest campaign with the Maple Leafs in 1951 when he went 16-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 39 games. He also made six major league appearances with the Browns and Chicago White Sox in 1952 and 1953.
- I stumbled upon a copy of Kevin Nelson’s 1993 book, Baseball’s Even Greater Insults, in a thrift store on Friday. The book is chock full of great baseball quotes and stories. One of my favourites involves Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and Pedro Guerrero. There’s no date given for this story, but it likely takes place during the 1983 season when Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax was having trouble making routine throws to first base. It’s also important to note that the hard-hitting Guerrero wasn’t exactly Brooks Robinson at third base either. In one particularly close game, a ground ball was hit to Guerrero and he booted it. Lasorda was livid and when Guerrero returned to the dugout after the inning, the Dodgers manager screamed, “What in the hell are you thinking out there!” “Well, I’m thinking two things,” responded Guerrero. “Two things?” Lasorda replied. “Well, what are they?” “First, I’m thinking, I hope they don’t hit it to me,” said Guerrero. “What’s the second thing?” said Lasorda. “The second thing I’m thinking is I hope they don’t hit it to Sax.”
- St. Marys, Ont., the home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, will host the first annual Canadian Baseball History Conference on November 12 and 13. SABR member and longtime Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer Andrew North is organizing the event, which will include presentations from esteemed baseball researchers and authors such as Bill Humber, Brian “Chip” Martin, Bill Young and David McDonald. Attendees will also be given a tour of the Canadian ball shrine. The cost to attend is $50. For more information, follow this link.
- This week’s trivia question: Doyle Alexander was on the mound when the Blue Jays clinched their first division title in 1985. What pitcher was on the mound when the Blue Jays clinched their second division title in 1989? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1982 Donruss Paul Molitor card and a 1988 Donruss Roberto Alomar rookie card.