My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Five years ago, Langley, B.C., native Brett Lawrie was on top of the Canadian baseball world. After recording a .373 on-base percentage and belting nine home runs in his first 43 major league games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011, the sparkplug infielder went 22-for-42, good for a .524 batting average in spring training in 2012. Five years later, he’s without a big league team. In a surprising move, the Chicago White Sox released him on March 3. Several teams reportedly expressed interest in the 27-year-old Canadian, but his agent, Joe Urbon, has said that Lawrie is still experiencing “minor soft-tissue discomfort in his lower body” and that Lawrie won’t sign with another club until he’s 100 per cent healthy.
- Legendary Blue Jays manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Cito Gaston turned 73 on Friday. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: Gaston should receive strong consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Of the non-active managers that have piloted teams from 1988 to present, Gaston is the only one with two World Series rings that has not already been inducted (Active managers Bruce Bochy and Terry Francona have won three and two championships respectively, while Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly won titles in 1987 and 1991). Gaston has the same number of World Series rings as Dick Williams, who was inducted in 2008, and one more ring than inductees Whitey Herzog (2010) and Bobby Cox (2014). And keep in mind that Gaston collected those World Series rings in far fewer seasons (12) as a manager than Williams (21 seasons), Herzog (18 seasons) and Cox (29 seasons). The former Blue Jays skipper is also one of only three managers to lead teams to back-to-back World Series titles that doesn’t have a plaque in Cooperstown. The other two are former Boston Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan (1915-16) and ex-New York Yankees manager Ralph Houk (1961-62). It should also be noted that Gaston led the Blue Jays to four division titles and was the first African-American manager to guide his team to a World Series triumph.
- Former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) player Arleene Noga passed away on Tuesday at the age of 93. Born in Ogema, Sask., she grew up on a farm and graduated from Omega High School before moving to Regina. She starred on local diamonds before she was signed by the AAGPBL’s Fort Wayne Daises in 1945. After one season with the Daisies, she suited up for two-and-a-half campaigns with the Muskegon Lassies. The 5-foot-4 Canadian led the AAGPBL in fielding percentage at third base for three consecutive seasons (1946 to 1948). In 1949, she returned to Saskatchewan and played and coached softball for three decades. Along the way, her teams captured nine provincial softball championships and five Western Canada titles. For her efforts, she was elected to the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988 and into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, along with the 63 other Canadian women who played in the AAGPBL, in 1998. She’s survived by her daughter Carol, son Ron, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. You can leave online condolences here.
- Stat of the week (Courtesy of MLB Stat of the Day on Twitter): If Giancarlo Stanton hits 30 home runs in 2017, he’ll become the fourth big league right fielder to have four, 30-home run seasons by age 27. The other three are Mel Ott, Manny Ramirez and 2017 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero.
- Fun St. Patrick’s Day Baseball Fact of the Week (Courtesy of High Heat Stats on Twitter): 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and former Toronto Blue Jays ace Pat Hentgen has the highest career WAR (32.9) of any major leaguer named “Patrick.” Pat Burrell (18.6) and Pat Dobson (18.2) are second and third on this list respectively.
- A photo posted on Twitter by Expos Blog of pitcher Don Stanhouse celebrating his grand slam home run on July 6, 1977 in the second inning off of Chicago Cubs starter Bill Bonham at Wrigley Field made me wonder if he was the only Expos pitcher to hit a grand salami. He was not. Right-hander Scott Sanderson duplicated the feat at Wrigley just over five years later, when he socked a grand slam off of Cubs right-hander Randy Martz in the third inning on September 11, 1982.
- I’m not sure if his decision to suit up for Canada at the World Baseball Classic hurt his status with the Houston Astros, but left-hander Kevin Chapman was waived by the Astros last Sunday. The following day he was claimed by the Atlanta Braves. The left-handed reliever, who was born in Coral Springs, Fla., had posted a 4.09 ERA in 58 appearances in parts of four seasons with the Astros. He was reportedly eligible to play for Canada in the WBC because his father was born in Toronto. He made two relief appearances for Canada in the tournament.
- Please take a moment to remember former Expos outfielder Ivan Calderon who would’ve turned 55 today. Calderon was the key player the Expos acquired from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Tim Raines on December 23, 1990. Calderon batted .300 and recorded 19 home runs and 31 stolen bases as a member of the Expos in 1991. In all, in his 10-season big league career, which also included tenures with the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox, he batted .272 with 104 home runs. Sadly, Calderon was shot and killed at a bar in Loiza, Puerto Rico on December 27, 2003 when he was just 41.
- This week’s trivia question: What Canadian player has hit the most career big league grand slams (key word is Canadian)? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1984 Donruss Nolan Ryan card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Two players recorded three hits for the Blue Jays in their first-ever regular season game that was played on April 7, 1977 against the Chicago White Sox at Exhibition Stadium. Doug Ault was one of them. Who is the other?) was Pedro Garcia.