My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Plenty of criticism was levelled at Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro last off-season when the club did not re-sign David Price. Of course, in hindsight, given that J.A. Happ outperformed Price this season and Price’s post-season struggles have continued, it’s now easy to applaud Shapiro’s decision. But when it comes to decisions about starting pitching, we probably shouldn’t have doubted Shapiro. One of his biggest strengths as a president/general manager has been building strong, cost-efficient starting rotations. This season’s Cleveland Indians rotation is a prime example. Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin were all drafted or acquired during Shapiro’s reign with the Indians. Their combined salaries in 2016 are under $14 million. That’s great value for a group of starters that had the American League’s second-best combined ERA (4.08) to the Blue Jays’ starters (3.64).
- Some players are able to crank up their intensity in big games. They play with a win-at-any-cost fire and will run through walls to help their team win. It has become clear over the past month that Blue Jays outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. is not one of those players. He reminds me of ex-Blue Jay Alex Rios – both were blessed with immense talent, but seemingly little desire.
- Serving on a Hall of Fame selection committee is a difficult and thankless job. No matter what you decide, someone will inevitably be upset. So I hate to be the guy who’s upset, but I’m disappointed that former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston isn’t one of the 10 finalists on the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Today’s Game Era ballot that was unveiled on Monday. The Today’s Game Era ballot was introduced this year, as part of a restructuring of the Hall’s Veterans Committee, to examine overlooked players (no longer eligible on the baseball writers’ ballot), managers, umpires and executives from 1988 to present. Gaston, the manager of two Blue Jays’ World Series-winning squads, was snubbed, while Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella, skippers of one championship team each, were included on the ballot. It should also be noted that Johnson (17 seasons) and Piniella (23 seasons) both managed for longer than Gaston (12 seasons). Gaston also represents the first African-American manager to lead a team to a World Series victory. This year’s Today’s Game Era ballot, which will be voted upon by a 16-member committee that consists of Hall of Fame inductees, executives and veteran media members on December 5, also includes players Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser and Mark McGwire, as well as executives John Schuerholz, Bud Selig and George Steinbrenner.
- Thank you to Scott Crawford at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for sharing that Russell Martin, who was born in East York, Ont., passed St. Thomas, Ont., native Jack Graney for most career big league games played by an Ontario-born player this season. Martin has now suited up for 1,429 regular season games, while Graney competed in 1,402. Crawford also shared that Martin needs two hits to tie Woodstock, Ont., native Tip O’Neill for most post-season hits by a Canadian. Martin has 33 career postseason hits heading into tonight’s game.
- Memorabilia from Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Montreal Expos legend Gary Carter’s career is being sold in a Heritage Auctions sale that begins on October 25. Among the lots up for grabs are his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction jacket and various game-worn items and trophies from his seasons with the Expos. For more details, follow this link.
- I didn’t want to bring this up on Tuesday when the Blue Jays were facing the Baltimore Orioles in the wild-card game, but that date (October 4) represented the 29th anniversary of their seventh consecutive loss at the end of the 1987 season which cost them the division title. The Blue Jays led the American League East by 3-1/2 games with seven games remaining that season but proceeded to drop all seven contests, including three to the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium on the season’s final weekend. Coincidentally, October 4 is also Jimy Williams’ birthday. Williams was the manager of the 1987 Blue Jays. So with their dramatic, walk-off wild-card victory on Tuesday, the Blue Jays may have exorcized some nearly three-decade-old, October 4 demons.
- Speaking of 1987, the social media rants from panicking Blue Jays fans during the club’s September struggles this season made me wonder what it would’ve been like if there was Twitter or Facebook during the club’s final week collapse 29 years ago.
- The first annual Canadian Baseball History Conference will take place in St. Marys, Ont. on November 12 and 13. This event is being organized by SABR member and longtime Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer Andrew North. Among the highlights of the event will be a panel discussion about North America’s first recorded baseball game played in Beachville, Ont., on June 4, 1838. There will also be presentations about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Arthur “Foxy” Irwin, Tip O’Neill and Harry Simmons (whose remarkable personal collection of artifacts is housed at the museum). Attendees will also be given a tour of the Canadian ball shrine. The cost to attend is $50. For more information, follow this link.
- Happy 72nd Birthday to diminutive former Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals shortstop Freddie Patek! At 5-foot-5, 148 pounds, he was one of the smallest big leaguers ever. He was once asked what it was like to be the smallest player in the majors. “A heckuva a lot better than being the smallest player in the minors,” Patek quipped.
- This week’s trivia question: When left-hander J.A. Happ was the winning pitcher for the Blue Jays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday, he became the fifth left-hander in franchise history to win a post-season game for the club. Can you name two of the other four left-handers to win a postseason game for the Blue Jays? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a Josh Donaldson Bowman Chrome rookie card.