My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- One of my favourite spring training stories so far this year is that according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, Toronto Blue Jays players have taken to calling minor league instructor Tim Raines “HOF” – as in “Hall of Fame.” The Montreal Expos legend was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on January 18 in his 10th and final year of eligibility. For the record, Raines was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2013.
- Speaking of Raines, in an interview on Chicago radio station 670 The Score on Thursday, he said he wished that the White Sox would’ve won a World Series during his five seasons with the club. With Raines batting leadoff, the White Sox lost to the Blue Jays in the 1993 American League Championship Series, but the Sox were 67-46 and in first place in the American League Central when the baseball strike wiped out the rest of the 1994 season. In the Chicago radio interview, Raines pointed out that the White Sox may have faced off against the first-place Montreal Expos in the World Series that year. “I felt like if we could finish this season, there was a chance that I’d actually get to go back to Montreal and play in a world championship. I really seriously thought that could happen,” Raines said. “People were talking about the Expos like they were the best team that was ever assembled. But we had a team in Chicago that could play with anyone. I was hoping that we would’ve gotten that chance.”
- Kudos to The Sporting News writer Graham Womack for securing a rare interview with former Toronto Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb for his series on overlooked players with Hall of Fame cases. Womack caught up with Stieb over the phone from Reno, Nev., where the seven-time all-star now operates a land development business. Despite leading all major league pitchers in WAR (48.6) during the 1980s, the longtime Blue Jays ace was selected on only 1.4 per cent of baseball writers’ ballots in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2004 and fell off the ballot. Thirteen years later, this still doesn’t sit well with Stieb. “I surely did not deserve to be just wiped off the map after the first-year ballot,” Stieb told Womack. The fiery former Jay later added, “It’s like an insult. What it told me was in (the writers’) minds, I didn’t even do anything worth recognizing.” You can read the full article here. For the record, Stieb was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2005.
- Want to feel old? Kelly Gruber turns 55 today. The blonde-haired Blue Jays third baseman spent parts of nine seasons in Toronto from 1984 to 1992. During that span, he was selected to two All-Star games (1989, 1990) and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 1990. He was also part of the Blue Jays’ 1992 World Series-winning squad. These days Gruber conducts his own baseball camps and does speaking appearances for charitable events.
- Sixteen years ago today, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired former Montreal Expos all-star centre fielder Marquis Grissom from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for former Toronto Blue Jays all-star centre fielder Devon White. Grissom proceeded to bat .245 and club 38 home runs in two seasons with the Dodgers before finishing his big league career with the San Francisco Giants in 2004 and 2005. White, meanwhile, hit .277 with 14 homers and 18 stolen bases with the Brewers in 2001, which was his final major league season.
- Want to feel old (part 2)? Former Blue Jays right-hander Josh Towers turns 40 today. Towers pitched parts of five seasons with the Blue Jays from 2003 to 2007. His best season was in 2005 when he won 13 games and tossed a team-best 208-2/3 innings in 33 starts. Towers last pitched in the big leagues in 2009 with the New York Yankees. Since hanging up his playing spikes, Towers has served a color commentator on University of Las Vegas baseball broadcasts.
- Mascouche, Que., native Eric Gagne will come out of retirement to pitch for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in March, but he recently told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that he’s considering a full-fledged comeback. The 41-year-old right-hander, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008, is serving as a guest instructor in the Los Angeles Dodgers camp. During his training for the World Baseball Classic, Gagne told Gurnick that his fastball is now back over 90 mph and his changeup, his bread-and-butter pitch during his dominant years as a closer, is working well. Gagne pitched parts of 10 major league seasons and recorded a Canadian record 187 saves. He was a three-time all-star and in 2003, he became the second Canadian to win the National League Cy Young Award.
- This week’s trivia question: Fergie Jenkins and Eric Gagne are the only two Canadians to win Cy Young Awards, but two other Canadians have placed in the top five in Cy Young voting. 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 1978 O-Pee-Chee Steve Carlton card and a 1988 Fleer Tom Glavine rookie card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the only pitcher to have tossed 140 or more innings in a season for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays?) was Balor Moore.