My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- With Bud Selig’s election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee last Sunday, some baseball writers are now vowing that they will vote for alleged steroid users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The train of thought is that Selig turned a blind eye to steroid use for much of his tenure as commissioner, so if he’s going to be enshrined why should all-time greats like Bonds and Clemens continue to be penalized? I actually agree with this logic, but I fear that votes for alleged steroid users may come at the expense of votes for Montreal Expos legend Tim Raines, who’s in his final year on the ballot. Writers can only vote for 10 candidates, so I hope that no one excludes Raines in favour of Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. But my fears may prove to be unfounded. The early baseball writer ballots that have been made public are being documented by the ambitious Ryan Thibodaux and his tabulations indicate that Raines had been named on 28 of 32 public ballots (87 per cent) so far. A candidate needs to be named on 75 per cent of ballots to be inducted.
- Speaking of Raines, MLB.com created a fun quiz about him that they shared on Wednesday. Go ahead and test your “Rock” knowledge here. P.S. I got 9 out of 10 and was stumped by question No. 7.
- It was 24 years ago yesterday that southpaw Jimmy Key left the Toronto Blue Jays to sign a four-year, $17-million contract with the New York Yankees. Key would be one of five prominent members of the 1992 World Series-winning Blue Jays to sign elsewhere after the season. Dave Winfield, David Cone, Tom Henke and Manny Lee were the others to depart. Third baseman Kelly Gruber was also traded to the California Angels for Luis Sojo. Thank goodness Blue Jays fans didn’t have access to social media in 1992.
- I sound like a broken record, but another week and another former Blue Jays reliever signs an exorbitant contract. On the heels of left-hander Brett Cecil’s four-year, $30.5-million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, right-hander Jesse Chavez’s one-year, $5.75-million pact with the Angels and southpaw Marc Rzepczynski’s two-year, $11-million contract with the Seattle Mariners, 39-year-old Joaquin Benoit inked a one-year, $7.5-million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. Yes, Benoit only allowed one run in 25 outings after being acquired by the Blue Jays on July 26, but he’ll turn 40 in July and he’s coming off a torn calf muscle that he sustained while running from the bullpen to participate in a brawl. I can understand why the Blue Jays let him walk at that price.
- Happy 24th Birthday to Mississauga, Ont., native Dalton Pompey! If I’m the speedy, left-handed hitting outfielder, I’m coming to Blue Jays camp more motivated than ever. Many reports indicate that the Blue Jays are seeking a left-handed hitting corner outfielder with speed and the ability to get on base to hit at the top of their order. This is exactly what Pompey seemed to be in 2014 when he combined for 43 stolen bases and a .392 on-base percentage at three minor league levels. Over the past two seasons, he has been slowed by injuries and his production has dropped off. Now he’s rarely mentioned as an outfield option in the Blue Jays’ 2016 plans. This spring will be the most important one of his professional career.
- Speaking of Canadian outfielders, Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders was offered a one-year contract by the Cleveland Indians, according to a report by Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball and FanRag Sports on Wednesday. Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports also reports that the Baltimore Orioles are interested in Saunders. The 6-foot-4 outfielder enjoyed his best major league season with the Blue Jays this year, amassing career-highs in home runs (24), doubles (32) and walks (59). He also played in his first All-Star game, but he became a free agent when the Blue Jays declined to make him a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
- Congratulations to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and long-time Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick who was named Baseball America’s Roland Hemond Award winner at baseball’s Winter Meetings on Wednesday. The award is handed out annually to someone who has made long-term contributions to player development and scouting. Arm troubles forced Gillick, a former left-handed pitcher, into a front office position with the Houston Colt .45’s in 1964, when he was just 26. After a decade in scouting with Houston, he accepted a position as coordinator of player development with the New York Yankees in 1974, before becoming the Blue Jays’ vice-president of player personnel on August 16, 1976. In his 18 years in Toronto, Gillick transformed an expansion club into World Series champions. Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, George Bell, Fred McGriff, Tom Henke, Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar are among the cornerstone players he drafted or traded for during his reign as general manager. Since his departure from the Jays, Gillick has built and led three more franchises to post-season appearances: Baltimore (1996, 1997), Seattle (2000, 2001) and Philadelphia (2007 to 2009). On July 24, 2011, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Happy 45th Birthday to elusive ex-Blue Jay Willie Canate! When people talk about the Blue Jays’ 1993 World Series-winning squad, they tend to wax nostalgic about players like Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, John Olerud and Devon White, but Blue Jays autograph collectors will tell you that Canate’s autograph (on a single-signed baseball) is the most difficult to track down from that team. The 6-foot, 170-pound Venezuelan hit .213 in 38 games that season after the Jays purchased him from the Cincinnati Reds on April 13. That turned out to be Canate’s only taste of big league action. He played in the minors in the Jays’ organization in 1994 and 1995, in the Mexican League in 1997 and in the Italian Baseball League from 2002 to 2006. He has since seemingly disappeared. He could not be located for the reunion of the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays teams that was organized by Joe Carter in August 2009.
- This week’s trivia question: Three relief pitchers recorded a save for both the Expos and the Blue Jays during their big league careers. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1983 O-Pee-Chee Paul Molitor and a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Cal Ripken Jr. card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (What player recorded the second-most stolen bases in Montreal Expos history?) was Marquis Grissom.