My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- It has become an Easter tradition in this column to pay tribute to ex-big league slugger Luke Easter on Easter Sunday. “Luscious Luke” was a hulking, 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger who became the 11th African-American to compete in the big leagues when he debuted with the Cleveland Indians on August 11, 1949. Known for clubbing tape-measure homers – including a 477-foot blast that was the longest ever recorded at Municipal Stadium – Easter, due to segregation, didn’t make his big league debut until he was 34. After three seasons in which he never socked less than 27 homers for the Indians, Easter, hobbled by knee and ankle injuries, was released, but he continued to belt moonshot round-trippers in the International League (IL) for the Ottawa Athletics in 1954. Later he starred with the IL’s Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings. A jovial, easygoing man who rarely refused an autograph request, Easter was once approached by a fan who told him that he saw him hit his longest home run, to which Easter responded, “If it came down, it wasn’t my longest.” Sadly, Easter was murdered in a bank parking lot in Euclid, Ohio on March 29, 1979.
- In case you’re wondering, there have been seven players with the first name “Bunny” that have played in the big leagues: Bunny Brief, Bunny Fabrique, two different players named Bunny Hearn, Bunny Madden, Bunny Pearce and Bunny Roser. Unfortunately, a “Bunny” hasn’t played in the majors since Bunny Hearn in 1929.
- Twenty-eight years ago today, Kelly Gruber became the first Toronto Blue Jay to hit for the cycle. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the popular third baseman looped a single to center field off of Kansas City Royals left-hander Jerry Don Gleaton for his fourth hit of the game. Gruber also homered in the first inning, doubled in the second and tripled in the seventh. In all, he scored four runs and registered six RBI in the Blue Jays’ 15-8 win at Exhibition Stadium.
- I thought I knew everything about Tim Raines, but I’m only 30 pages into his recently released biography, Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball’s Fast Lane, and I’ve already learned two new things about the soon-to-be Cooperstowner. First, I didn’t know that Raines was a shortstop when he was drafted and second, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t until he joined the Expos organization that he became a switch hitter. He only hit right-handed in high school.
- It was 12 years ago today that Blue Jays outfielder Reed Johnson tied a major league record by getting hit by three pitches in one game, in his club’s 8-0 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Batting second for the Blue Jays, the gritty outfielder was plunked twice by lefty Kenny Rogers (in the third and sixth innings) and then again by reliever Carlos Almanzar in the eighth. Johnson was hit twice with the bases loaded, earning him two of the most painful RBI of his career.
- The 1915 Boston Red Sox World Series pendant that was owned by Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and then Red Sox owner J.J. Lannin will be sold in a Heritage Auctions sale that will start on April 19. The pendant is one of only two that are still known to exist and is expected to fetch more than $30,000. Orphaned at age 14, Joseph J. Lannin migrated from Quebec City to Boston in search of work in the 1880s. The ambitious youngster landed a job as a bellhop at the Adams Hotel in Beantown, where he learned about real estate and the commodities market by listening to wealthy patrons. A true rags-to-riches story, Lannin successfully invested his savings and eventually built an empire of hotels, apartment buildings and golf courses. Lannin also became a devoted baseball fan and with his fortune, he was able to buy the Red Sox in 1914. That same year, he also purchased the rights to a promising young left-hander named Babe Ruth from the International League’s Baltimore Orioles. After Ruth was promoted to the big league club, the Red Sox captured World Series titles in 1915 and 1916, but because Lannin considered himself too much of a fan, he decided to sell the team to Harry Frazee after the second championship.
- I still think that Blue Jays fans should have reserved their loudest applause at the club’s home opener on Tuesday for Robinzon Diaz. Diaz, who now serves as a bullpen catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, was the player the Blue Jays swapped to the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 25, 2008 for Jose Bautista.
- One trivia question that regularly stumps Montreal Expos fans is, who hit the first home run in Expos history? The answer is pitcher Dan McGinn. On April 8, 1969, the left-handed reliever clubbed a solo home run off of Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in the top of the fourth inning at Shea Stadium in the first game in Expos history. His home run turned out to be the difference in the Expos’ 11-10 win. Thanks to Expos Blog on Twitter, you can watch footage of this historic homer. Here’s the link.
- I’m pretty sure that Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby’s post-game conversation with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia after yesterday’s game went something like this: “Swing. The. Bat.” The veteran catcher, who given his position should’ve had an enhanced comprehension of home plate umpire Jim Reynolds’ strike zone, watched three called third strikes yesterday.
- This week’s trivia question: Kelly Gruber was the first Blue Jay to hit for the cycle. Who is the only other Blue Jay to do so? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 Topps mini Thurman Munson card and a 1982 TCMA Baseball’s Greatest Hitters Jackie Robinson card.
- The answer to last 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?) was Dave Lemanczyk, who allowed five runs in 3-2/3 innings on April 7, 1978 in the Blue Jays’ 6-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium.