My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Take a bow, Don McDougall. It was 41 years ago today that the American League approved the sale of the Toronto expansion franchise to the Labatt Brewing Co. for an estimated $7 million. Part of McDougall’s mandate as president during the mid-’70s was to secure a Major League Baseball franchise for Labatt’s and the city of Toronto. His efforts were a lesson in perseverance, first overcoming a failed attempt to move the San Francisco Giants to Toronto and then having to stave off a bid from another group of Toronto businessmen. McDougall, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002, worked tirelessly for several years to bring baseball to Toronto, and many credit his tenacity as the single-most reason that big league baseball is played in Toronto today. As founding director with the Jays, McDougall would help establish the foundation for the eventual World Series-winning clubs by hiring Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick.
- Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons revealed on Thursday that he has signed a contract extension through the 2019 season. The new deal also reportedly includes an option for the 2020 campaign. In his nine seasons as Blue Jays dugout boss, Gibbons has guided the team to 650 wins, which is second-most in franchise history. If his Blue Jays teams can average 84 wins a season over the next three seasons (and he keeps his job), Gibbons will break Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Cito Gaston’s team record of 894 victories.
- Twenty years ago today, the Montreal Expos traded outfielder Cliff Floyd to the Florida Marlins for pitcher Dustin Hermanson and outfielder Joe Orsulak. The Expos’ first-round pick in 1991, Floyd had struggled in parts of four major league seasons with the Expos to that point, but at 24, he was still a highly regarded prospect. He’d blossom into an all-star with the Marlins. He became expendable with the emergence of 2017 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero, who assumed starting right field duties for the Expos on May 3, 1997 and proceeded to bat .302 with 11 home runs in 90 games that season.
- Happy 25th Birthday to Edmonton-born Chicago Cubs left-hander Rob Zastryzny. Zastryzny, who moved to Corpus Christi, Texas when he was 1, posted a 1.13 ERA in eight appearances – including one start – for the World Series champions last season. A second-round pick in 2013, Zastryzny spent parts of four seasons in the Cubs system, primarily as a starter, prior to being promoted to the big leagues last August. The Canadian southpaw is hoping earn a job as a spot starter/long man with the Cubs this spring, but he has struggled to a 7.36 ERA in five appearances.
- Please take a moment to remember former Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen, who would’ve turned 75 today. He made his big league debut with the Cincinnati Reds as an outfielder in 1964, but was transformed into a pitcher in 1966. He enjoyed his finest major league campaign the following year when he won 14 games and recorded a 2.76 ERA for the Reds. The 6-foot-1 right-hander suited up for two more campaigns with the Reds, before being sold to the California Angels, where he pitched predominately in relief for three more seasons. Following his playing career, he started coaching with the Indians in 1979, before joining the Jays organization as a pitching instructor in 1986. He’s best known for his tenure as the Jays’ pitching coach from 1996 to 2000. In his four seasons in that capacity, Jays hurlers won three Cy Young Awards (Pat Hentgen (1996), Roger Clemens (1997, 1998)). 2017 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Roy Halladay also credits Queen for helping him revive his career when he was shipped to the low minors in 2000. Queen passed away from lung cancer on May 11, 2011 at the age of 69.
- My trivia question last week asked which Canadian has hit the most major league grand slams? The answer is Fredericton, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs, who belted 12. Some of the legends that Stairs hit more grand slams than are Barry Bonds (11), Mickey Mantle (9), Stan Musial (9) and Willie Mays (8). For the record, Alex Rodriguez’s 25 grand slams are the most in big league history.
- The Chicago Cubs released Calgary native Jim Henderson on Thursday. Originally selected by the Montreal Expos in the 26th round of the 2003 MLB amateur draft, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander spent parts of 10 seasons in the minors before making his major league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers on July 26, 2012. Henderson would post a 3.52 ERA in 36 games that season prior to unseating fellow Canadian John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) as the Brewers closer in 2013. Henderson pitched in 14 contests for the Brewers in 2014 before being sidelined by a shoulder injury. While working his way back from that injury, he pitched 35 games in the Brewers’ minor league system in 2015 and then signed with the New York Mets that December. A long shot to make the Mets out of spring training, he ended up toeing the rubber in 44 contests for them in 2016 and striking out 40 batters in 35 innings.
- I thought I knew almost every Cooperstowner’s connection to a Canadian team, but I didn’t know that the Montreal Expos hired Hall of Famer Lou Brock as a baserunning coach in 1993. Thank you to Expos Blog on Twitter for sharing this. The 1993 Expos finished 94-68 and in second place in the National League East division and Brock’s tutelage seemed to pay off. The Expos had eight players with 12 or more stolen bases that season, including Marquis Grissom (53), Delino Deshields (43), Maple Ridge, B.C., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker (29), Mike Lansing (23), Moises Alou (17), Lou Frazier (17), Wil Cordero (12) and Sean Berry (12).
- This week’s trivia question: What Blue Jays manager owns the best career winning percentage with the club (minimum of one full major league season)? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1984 Donruss Cal Ripken Jr. card.