My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- My condolences to the family of Charlottetown, P.E.I., native and ex-big leaguer Vern Handrahan who passed away after a long battle with cancer on Wednesday at the age of 79. One of just three big league players from P.E.I. (George Wood (Pownal, P.E.I.) and Henry Oxley (Covehead, P.E.I.) were the other two), the 6-foot-2 right-hander toed the rubber for parts of two seasons with the Kansas City A’s in 1964 and 1966. In all, he pitched in parts of 12 professional seasons, including four with the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver Mounties from 1965 to 1968. He is survived by his wife, Ann, his son, Christopher, daughter Amy and three grandchildren. You can leave online condolences here.
- Friday marked the 14th anniversary of Toronto Blue Jays infielder Eric Hinske being named the American League Rookie of the Year, after he batted .279 and belted 24 home runs during the 2002 season. He became just the second Blue Jay to win the award, joining shortstop Alfredo Griffin who shared the award with Minnesota Twins second baseman John Castino in 1979. Hinske never matched the success of his rookie campaign and was all-but booed out of Toronto, but the stocky slugger has had the last laugh. In serving as an assistant hitting coach with the Chicago Cubs this season, Hinske (as ex-big league hurler Mark Mulder pointed out on Twitter on Wednesday) will receive his third World Series ring. He won previous rings as a player with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and New York Yankees in 2009.
- Happy 28th Birthday to Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton! In 2016, his fourth big league season, the Seattle Mariners left-hander registered career highs in innings pitched (121) and strikeouts (117). He was also one of the Mariners most effective starters down the stretch, posting a 3.23 ERA in nine starts in the season’s final two months.
- Congratulations to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Fredericton, N.B., native Matt Stairs who was named the hitting coach of the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday. Stairs becomes the first Canadian to be a full-time hitting coach at the big league level. Though the stocky Maritimer, who clubbed 265 home runs in a 19-year big league career, garnered a reputation (a reputation he embraced) for swinging from his heels like a slo-pitch player, this was misleading. One of his nicknames was also “Professional Hitter” and his career .356 on-base percentage and a .832 on-base plus slugging percentage attest to the fact that he was a solid, all-around hitter.
- Congratulations also to Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp who is the new hitting coach of the Blue Jays’ triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Clapp joins the Bisons after two seasons as the hitting coach of the Blue Jays’ double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. A 36th round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996, Clapp defied long odds to play 23 big league games with the Cards in 2001. He has been elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the 1991 National Youth Team that won gold at the World Youth Baseball Championships in Brandon, Man., in 1991 and as a coach on the Canadian Senior National Team that captured gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
- Happy 63rd Birthday to former Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher John Candelaria, who posted a 3.33 ERA in 600 games during his 19-year big league career that extended from 1975 to 1993. He also happens to be the answer to one of my favourite baseball trivia questions: Who is the only pitcher to have registered a win in each of Canada’s four big league stadiums (Jarry Park, Olympic Stadium, Exhibition Stadium and SkyDome)?
- The fact that the Blue Jays have nine free agents – including Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders – this off-season has been well documented. But by my count there are also 13 ex-Blue Jays that will be free agents. This list includes Emilio Bonifacio, Nolan Reimold, Aaron Hill, Munenori Kawasaki, Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus, Jesse Chavez, Dustin McGowan, Jeff Mathis, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Morrow, Carlos Villanueva, Adam Lind, Drew Storen and Marc Rzepczynski. I could see the Blue Jays pursuing a reunion with Mathis, as a backup catcher to Russell Martin and with Rzepczynski, who has evolved into an effective southpaw reliever since the Blue Jays dealt him to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 27, 2011. Last season, Rzepczynski posted a 2.64 in 70 appearances with the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals.
- Happy 32nd Birthday to former Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero! The 2011 all-star won 51 games and recorded a 4.16 ERA for the Blue Jays between 2009 and 2013, before being sidelined by injuries and experiencing control issues. He spent two injury-shortened seasons in the San Francisco Giants organization in 2015 and 2016. Baseball America’s Matt Eddy tweeted on Friday that Romero has re-upped with the Giants on another minor league deal for 2017.
- This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Montreal Expo to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1973 Topps Frank Robinson card.