My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- Yesterday would’ve been Montreal Expos legend Gary Carter’s 63rd birthday. It seems fitting that Carter’s birthday falls on the same date as the first-ever Expos regular season game. Carter would’ve turned 15 on April 8, 1969 when the Expos defeated the New York Mets (the team the Expos would trade Carter to in December 1984) 11-10 in their inaugural contest. It should also be noted that 30 years ago today, Carter recorded his 1,000th career RBI when he singled in the eighth inning to knock in Lenny Dykstra to help the Mets to a 4-2 win.
- I’ve been reading Shawn Krest’s fascinating new book called, Baseball Meat Market: The Stories Behind the Best and Worst Trades in History. The author devotes a chapter to the blockbuster deal between the Toronto Blue Jays and San Diego Padres that took place on December 5, 1990 in which the Blue Jays shipped Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. Krest provides some of the behind-the-scenes details of the trade, but he also discusses Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick’s onetime reputation as “Stand Pat,” or as a GM that rarely made trades. The author supplies two examples of trades that were on the table for Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb that I didn’t know about. In 1988, the Chicago Cubs reportedly offered catcher Jody Davis for Stieb, while at the winter meetings in December 1988, the Philadelphia Phillies dangled left-handed starter Don Carman and outfielder Phil Bradley for Stieb. Needless to say, Gillick made a good decision to “stand pat” in those potential deals.
- Happy 56th Birthday to 2003 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Kirk McCaskill. Born in Kapuskasing, Ont., McCaskill was a star hockey and baseball player at the University of Vermont. A finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, as the top U.S. college player, he was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the fourth round of the 1981 draft. The high-scoring forward suited up with the American Hockey League’s Sherbrooke Jets for the 1983-84 campaign, before deciding to concentrate solely on a baseball career. Drafted by the California Angels in 1982, the Canadian right-hander would register 12 wins and toss six complete games in his first big league season in 1985. He followed that up by recording 17 wins, 202 strikeouts and a 3.36 ERA to help the Angels to a berth in the American League Championship Series in his sophomore campaign. Hampered by elbow troubles for two seasons, McCaskill returned to post 15 wins and a sparkling 2.93 ERA in 1989. He toed the rubber for two more seasons with the Angels, before signing with the Chicago White Sox, where he was converted into a reliever in 1993. McCaskill finished his career with 106 wins, 30 complete games and 11 shutouts in 12 big league seasons.
- Talk about a tough-luck loss. It was 41 years ago today that Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins was defeated 1-0 in a pitcher’s duel with Baltimore Orioles ace and fellow Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. Making his regular season debut for the Boston Red Sox at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Jenkins permitted just three Orioles hits in eight innings. The sole run he allowed came in the fourth inning when O’s first baseman Lee May grounded a ball to Red Sox shortstop Rick Burleson who made an errant throw to first base. May advanced to second on the play and then attempted to dash home on a single to centre field by Bobby Grich. May would’ve been out except Red Sox centre fielder Fred Lynn threw the ball wildly to the plate. Palmer held the Red Sox to six hits in eight innings.
- Happy 33rd Birthday to Surrey, B.C., native Adam Loewen, who begins this season as a reliever with the Texas Rangers’ double-A Frisco Roughriders. The 6-foot-6 left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Rangers on February 13. Loewen made eight appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season and recorded a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings with the triple-A Reno Aces. The 2002 first-rounder had previous pitching stints with the Baltimore Orioles (2006 to 2008) and Philadelphia Phillies (2015) and played for the Blue Jays as an outfielder in 2011.
- The Cleveland Indians seem to covet ex-Blue Jays. Not only is ex-Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion batting cleanup for them this season, but their triple-A Columbus Clippers’ roster includes Steve Delabar, Chris Colabello and Erik Kratz. Colabello, who hit .356 with three home runs and a 1.109 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 22 games for the Indians this spring, played well enough to make the big league team, but with Encarnacion and veteran Carlos Santana already vying for time at the 1B/DH positions, there wasn’t room for him on the roster.
- Please take a moment to remember Hall of Famer Willie Stargell who passed away on this date 16 years ago at the age of 61. The Pittsburgh Pirates legend walloped 475 home runs in 21 major league seasons and was particularly potent with the bat against the Expos in Montreal. On July 16, 1969, he became the first player to belt a home run that landed in the recreational swimming pool beyond the right field fence at Jarry Park, an estimated 495 feet from home plate. This would be the longest of his 17 homers – the most of any opposing player – that he hit at Jarry Park. Just under nine years later, he also socked the longest home run in Olympic Stadium history. On May 20, 1978, Stargell deposited a fourth-inning pitch from Expos hurler Wayne Twitchell into the second deck in right field that travelled an estimated 535 feet. The yellow seat that the ball ricocheted off of is now on display at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont.
- This week’s trivia question: Bill Singer was the starting pitcher in the Blue Jays’ first Opening Day game on April 7, 1977. What pitcher started their second Opening Day game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1989 Topps Randy Johnson rookie card and a 1990 Bowman Frank Thomas rookie card.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Tim Raines led the 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?) was Otis Nixon, who registered 46 stolen bases for the Expos in 1988.