My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- The 1982 Topps Montreal Expos Future Stars card (pictured above) showcases Terry Francona and Brad Mills together on their first Topps baseball card. Both played for the Expos’ only playoff team in 1981 and 35 years later, Mills is serving as Francona’s bench coach for the American League champion Cleveland Indians. Now if only Francona would hire Bryn Smith to be his pitching coach.
- Twenty-three years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Carter belted his World Series-winning, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off of Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams at SkyDome. Fortunately for Carter, the ball landed in the Blue Jays bullpen where coach John Sullivan retrieved it and presented it to him after the game. Despite the crazy auction prices that historic items like the ball are realizing, Carter has resisted selling it and it’s still in his personal collection. The batting helmet that Carter wore during that at bat and the home plate he touched after rounding the bases reside at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., while the bat Carter used is on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You can listen to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Cheek’s legendary call of Carter’s home run here.
- On Monday, Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders became the 10th Canadian to club a home run in a post-season game when he socked an opposite-field blast off of Cleveland Indians reliever Dan Otero in the second inning of the Blue Jays’ 4-2 loss in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. According to a list compiled by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the nine other Canadians who have homered in the post-season are Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Tip O’Neill (Woodstock, Ont.), Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.), George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ont.), Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) and Dave McKay (Vancouver, B.C.).
- Congratulations to Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, whose single in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS on Wednesday was his 36th postseason hit, moving him into the top spot on the all-time Canadian list, ahead of Tip O’Neill (Woodstock, Ont.). Rounding out the top five on that list (according to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame) are Walker (23 hits), Selkirk (18 hits) and Morneau (16 hits).
- It was 46 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Sherry Robertson died in a car accident while on a hunting trip in South Dakota at the age of 51. The Montreal native made his big league debut with the Washington Senators on September 8, 1940 and after enjoying stints with the Senators in 1941 and 1943, he served in the military for two years prior to resuming his major league career and becoming a fixture in Washington for close to seven seasons. His finest big league season was 1949, when he belted 11 home runs and stole 10 bases. The versatile Canuck – who played outfield, second base, third base and shortstop – suited up for two more seasons in the U.S. capital, before finishing his playing career with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1952. After hanging up his playing spikes, he was named farm director of the Washington Senators in 1953, and held this post through the franchise’s move to Minnesota in 1961. In 1966, the Twins promoted him to a role as the club’s vice-president and farm director. His legacy lives on in the Sherry Robertson Award presented annually to the Twins’ top minor league position player.
- Thanks to Nathan Hayhoe for sharing Joe Posnanski’s excellent article about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer John Hiller. The article points out that in Hiller’s sensational, comeback 1973 campaign, the Canuck lefty was employed by Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin in much the same way that the Cleveland Indians have used reliever Andrew Miller this post-season. “He came into clutch situations time after time after time. And he was spectacular,” Posnanski writes of Hiller in 1973. “Martin brought Hiller into tie games, into close games, in the early innings, in the middle innings, in the late innings. Nine times, Martin brought Hiller in just to get the final out. Four times, Martin brought Hiller in and left him out there for at least four innings. Hiller saved 38 games, a then-Major League record. But he also won 10 games because Martin kept using him in non-save situations too. He came in with 84 runners on base, which is a lot. He stranded 71 of them, which was mind-blowing.” You can read Posnanski’s full article about Hiller here.
- Three of the National League champion Chicago Cubs coaches are former Toronto Blue Jays. Bench coach Dave Martinez played outfield for both the Expos (1988 to 1991) and Blue Jays (2000) during his 16-year career, while assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske competed for parts of five seasons with the Blue Jays from 2002 to 2006. But you’d be forgiven if you don’t remember Cubs quality control coach Henry Blanco’s 13-game stint with the Blue Jays in 2013.
- 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.
- This week’s trivia question: Who is the only Canadian to play for the Cleveland Indians in a World Series game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1977 Topps Brooks Robinson card.