My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Longtime Globe & Mail scribe and Toronto Blue Jays beat writer Larry Millson was presented with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award by Hall board members John Starzynski and David Morneau in a ceremony between innings during the Blue Jays’ 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Olympic Stadium yesterday. This honour is presented annually to a member of the media who has made significant contributions to baseball in Canada through their life’s work. A working journalist for more than five decades and counting, Millson spent 26 years (1980 to 2006) on the Blue Jays beat for the Globe & Mail and is believed to have written more stories about the club than any other writer.
- Five years ago today, Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto signed a 10-year, $225-million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds. It remains the largest major league contract ever secured by a Canadian baseball player. At the time, Votto eclipsed the six-year, $80-million deal that New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau had inked with the Minnesota Twins in January 2008. Since that time, however, Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) has moved into second-place on this list, thanks to the five-year, $82.5-million deal he inked with the Blue Jays in November 2014.
- A standing ovation at the Bell Centre prior to the Montreal Canadiens game on Thursday night and another at the Big O on Friday after he was given keys to the city. Yes, 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines has definitely been feeling the love from Montrealers over the past few days. And if you haven’t heard or read enough about Raines (I know I haven’t!), his new book, Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball’s Fast Lane, will be released on Tuesday. The book includes a foreword from his longtime Expos teammate and best friend Andre Dawson.
- Happy 72nd Birthday to National Baseball Hall of Famer Don Sutton! In 23 big league seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s and California Angels from 1966 to 1988, he amassed 324 wins and posted a 3.26 ERA. According to Brodie Snyder in his 1981 book, The Year the Expos Finally Won Something!, the Montreal Expos strongly pursued Sutton as a free agent after the 1980 season, but the veteran right-hander expressed little interest in playing north of the border and instead signed with the Astros. The Expos proceeded to sign right-hander Ray Burris.
- Six years ago today, right-hander Kyle Drabek held the Minnesota Twins to one hit in seven innings to lead the Blue Jays to a 6-1 victory in the club’s second game of the 2011 campaign at Rogers Centre. This was supposed to be a sign of things to come for the-then highly touted 23-year-old hurler. Unfortunately, Drabek, the key prospect the Blue Jays acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade, would be saddled by various injuries and inconsistency in the ensuing years and this start would prove to be his finest as a Blue Jay. After posting a 5.27 ERA in 39 appearances in parts of five seasons with the Blue Jays, Drabek was placed on waivers towards the end of spring training in 2015 and was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. He pitched in three contests for the White Sox in 2015 and in one for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, before he signed with the San Francisco Giants last summer and attempted to become a shortstop in their minor league system. That experiment didn’t go well. He hit just .167 in 19 games in stops at the Rookie and triple-A levels. Drabek is currently an unsigned free agent.
- Proof that absolutely anything is possible: 21 years ago today, 6-foot-3, 280-pound ex-Blue Jay Cecil Fielder stole his first major league base. The stolen base came in his 1,097th big league game, which is a record for the longest tenure without a steal. Then with the Detroit Tigers, Fielder walked and then stole second base with two out in the ninth inning off of Twins reliever Dan Naulty (Ex-Blue Jay Greg Myers was the catcher). The Tigers were leading 9-5 at the time and eventually won 10-6.
- Left-hander Kevin Chapman was outrighted off of the Atlanta Braves’ 40-man roster on Friday. He had been battling for a bullpen job with the club after being picked up off waivers from the Astros on March 13. The southpaw reliever, who was born in Coral Springs, Fla., posted a 4.09 ERA in 58 appearances in parts of four previous seasons with the Astros. Chapman also made two relief appearances for Canada in this year’s World Baseball Classic. He was reportedly eligible to play for Canada in the WBC because his father was born in Toronto.
- This week’s trivia question: Tim Raines led the Montreal Expos in stolen bases for seven consecutive seasons from 1981 to 1987. What Expos player unseated Raines as the team’s stolen base leader in 1988? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1984 Donruss Rickey Henderson card and a 1984 Donruss Tim Raines card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (What Blue Jays manager owns the best career winning percentage with the club (minimum of one full major league season)?) was Bobby Cox, who posted a .549 winning percentage in four seasons with the Blue Jays from 1982 to 1985.