My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- One of the best things about the Toronto Blue Jays signing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be listening to Buck Martinez say his name on TV broadcasts. One of the worst things will be trying to spell his last name correctly. For the record, at 14 letters, his last name is the longest of any player in major league history. The Blue Jays inked the veteran backstop to a one-year, $1.25-million deal (with additional bonus incentives) on Tuesday. The 30-year-old switch-hitter, who has socked 110 home runs during parts of 10 big league seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers, will back up Russell Martin for the Blue Jays. Last season, he belted 12 home runs in 92 games for the Tigers.
- Meanwhile, Josh Thole, who backed up Martin last year and served as knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher over the past four seasons, landed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. Like Saltalamacchia, Thole is 30, but while he’s considered a decent fielder, he hit just .180 over the past two seasons. With the D-Backs having already signed catchers Chris Iannetta and ex-Blue Jay Jeff Mathis, Thole will likely begin the season in triple-A.
- Eighteen years ago today, former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jimmy Key announced his retirement. The underrated southpaw spent the first nine of his 15 big league seasons with the Blue Jays. During his tenure in Toronto, he registered 12 or more wins in eight consecutive seasons (1985 to 1992), was selected to two All-Star games (1985, 1991) and finished second in the American League Cy Young voting in 1987. Key is tied with Dave Stieb for the lowest ERA (3.42) by a pitcher who has tossed at least 1,000 innings for the Blue Jays. After winning the World Series with the Blue Jays in 1992, the crafty left-hander signed with the New York Yankees and was a two-time All-Star in four seasons in the Bronx before completing his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1997 and 1998.
- Just one of the rewarding bits of trivia I’ve uncovered as a Canadian baseball history junkie: Ex-big league pitcher Steve Green, who turned 39 on Thursday, was fittingly born in Greenfield, Que.
- Former Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports that Morrow will be paid at a $1.25-million annual rate for any time he spends in the big leagues. The Dodgers will reportedly give the injury-prone right-hander a crack at a bullpen job. After five seasons as a starter with the Blue Jays (2010 to 2014) and five starts with the San Diego Padres in 2015, Morrow returned from a shoulder injury to post a 1.69 ERA in 18 relief appearances for the Padres at the end of last season.
- Today is the 59th anniversary of the tragic car accident that ended Roy Campanella’s Hall of Fame playing career. The Brooklyn Dodgers all-star catcher was in an early morning, single-car accident on Long Island that broke his neck and left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Thanks to significant physical therapy, however, Campanella was able to regain use of his arms and hands. Prior to the accident, Campanella had been an all-star in eight of his 10 big league seasons and had been named the National League MVP three times (1951, 1953, 1955). Before suiting up for the Dodgers, he hit .273 with 13 home runs in 135 games for the triple-A Montreal Royals in 1947. Campanella was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969. He passed away on June 26, 1993 at the age of 71.
- A nice gesture by the Chicago White Sox at SoxFest yesterday: they were offering their fans the opportunity to sign a giant poster that they will send to Tim Raines to congratulate him on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After spending parts of 12 seasons with the Montreal Expos to begin his career, Raines was traded to the White Sox on December 23, 1990 for outfielder Ivan Calderon and pitcher Barry Jones. Raines would suit up for the White Sox for five seasons and post a .375 on-base percentage and swipe 143 bases for the club.
- This week’s trivia question: Jimmy Key has the most wins by a left-hander in Blue Jays history. What southpaws have the second- and third-most wins as a Blue Jay? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 12-card, 1992 Barry Colla Photography Jeff Bagwell set.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who are the two former Expos managers that have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?) was Dick Williams and Frank Robinson.