My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Happy unofficial Canadian Baseball Day! For a couple of years now, I’ve been writing that September 10th should be celebrated on baseball diamonds across the country. Why? Well, today is Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto’s 34th birthday. It’s also Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner and Canadian Baseball Network founder Bob Elliott’s birthday. And it was on this date 52 years that Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins, the greatest Canadian ever to play in the majors, made his big league debut. The 6-foot-5 right-hander pitched 4-1/3 scoreless innings in relief for the Philadelphia Phillies to pick up his first major league win.
· It was also on this date 28 years ago that Victoria, B.C., native Steve Wilson struck out a career-high 10 batters in five innings in his rookie season to help the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 at Wrigley Field. The Canadian southpaw would strike out 10 batters again the following July 15 in a Cubs’ 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
· On this day in Toronto Blue Jays history: 40 years ago, the last-place Blue Jays, in their inaugural season, routed the eventual World Series-winning New York Yankees 19-3 at Yankee Stadium. In that game, Blue Jays third baseman Roy Howell had five hits – including two home runs, two doubles and a single – and a team-record nine RBI. Alvis Woods and Ron Fairly each had four hits each. The starting pitcher for the Yankees that day was Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter, who allowed six runs in 3-1/3 innings.
· On this day in Montreal Expos history: 37 years ago, right-hander Bill Gullickson set a major league rookie record when he struck out 18 Cubs batters to lead the Expos to a 4-2 win at Olympic Stadium (Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood later broke this record in 1998 when he struck out 20 in a game in his rookie season). Gullickson tossed a complete game for his eighth win of his freshman season. He’d complete that campaign with 10 wins and a 3.00 ERA in 24 games, good for a second-place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting (Dodgers lefty Steve Howe won it).
· Happy 54th Birthday to Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who some forget was selected by the Montreal Expos in second round of the 1985 MLB draft. Sackville, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Murray Cook was the Expos general manager when the club chose the 6-foot-8 lefty. “As the general manager, you’re minimally involved in the scouting, Jim Fanning was the [scouting director] at the time and I have to give him credit for Randy Johnson,” said Cook, back in 2014. “But I do have to say this, when he [Johnson] first reported, he was awful. He couldn’t throw hard. He was in Jamestown [Low-A] and he was not doing well and I called the scout that signed him and I said, ‘Bobby (Fontaine), what’s with this guy?’ And he said, ‘It’s there. You just have to be patient and it will be there at some point in time.’ And it took him a year or two before he finally figured out what it [pitching] was all about and what he had to do to be in shape and all that kind of thing.” Johnson spent parts of four seasons in the minors in the Expos organization before making his big league debut with the club in 1988. He’d go 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA in four late-season starts. His wildness returned the following campaign, and after he posted a 6.67 ERA with 26 walks in 29-2/3 innings, he was shipped to the Seattle Mariners on May 25, 1989 as part of a package for ace left-hander Mark Langston. Johnson, of course, went on to win more than 300 games and five Cy Young Awards in 22 major league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants.
· One of my biggest disappointments this season was not seeing New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau in a major league uniform. The 34-year-old slugger, who’s living back in the Minneapolis area, attended closer Joe Nathan’s retirement press conference on September 1 and was asked about his future by Darren Wolfson of ABC’s KSTP News. Morneau told Wolfson that he didn’t know if he would play again, but that he didn’t consider himself to be retired. You can watch the short interview clip here.
· If you’re a Canadian baseball history buff (like me), mark November 18th and 19th on your calendar. Crackerjack Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer and longtime SABR member Andrew North has announced that the second annual Canadian Baseball History Symposium will take place at the St. Marys Golf & Country Club in St. Marys, Ont., on those dates. This year’s event, which will again be organized by North, will include presentations about 19th-century player Bob Addy and manager William Watkins, baseball and Canadian soldiers in World War I and the Chatham Coloured All-Stars. There will also be a pictorial history quiz based on images and a panel discussion of what defines being Canadian, and the consequences of that definition for baseball research. The registration fee is $60. To register, please email Andrew North at firstname.lastname@example.org.
· This week’s trivia question: I mentioned that 28 years ago today left-hander Steve Wilson (Victoria, B.C.) struck out 10 batters in a game for the Chicago Cubs. What lefty holds the record for most strikeouts in a game by a Canadian? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1976 Topps Dave Parker card, 1977 TCMA Satchel Paige card, and a 1982 Donruss Paul Molitor card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Bartolo Colon is the last active former Montreal Expo. Who was the second-last former Expo to appear in a major league game? was Bruce Chen.