My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· For baseball writers on the fence about whether Larry Walker deserves their Hall of Fame vote (Part 2, continuing from last week), I offer this tweet from Baseball Reference on December 1: “Only 10 RFs had more WAR for their careers than Larry Walker and all 10 are in the Hall of Fame. And yes, WAR accounts for ballpark.”
· The primary knock against Walker’s case for induction has been that he played his home games at Coors Field for 10 seasons. After reading the following tweet, I wonder if Ernie Banks received the same criticism? It doesn’t appear that he did; Banks was inducted in his first year of eligibility in 1977.
· Congratulations to Gibsons, B.C., native Ryan Dempster who will be one of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 inductees. A two-time all-star, the Canadian right-hander amassed 132 wins during his big league career that began with the Florida Marlins in 1998. Dempster, who also toed the rubber for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, won 10 or more games in a season eight times. In 2005, he was converted into a closer by the Cubs and he proceeded to save at least 24 games in each of the next three seasons. He ranks second all-time among Canadian big leaguers in wins (132), strikeouts (2,075), starts (351) and innings pitched (2,387).
· It was 25 years ago today that Dave Winfield signed a two-year, $5.2-million contract with the Minnesota Twins after he had helped the Toronto Blue Jays to their first World Series title. In his sole season with the Blue Jays, Winfield batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI in 156 games. Most believed Winfield would return to Toronto in 1993, but when the Blue Jays signed Paul Molitor 10 days earlier, Winfield moved on.
· Speaking of former Blue Jays, Jack Morris, who became the club’s first 20-game winner in 1992, suffered through 15 agonizing years on the writers’ National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot without being elected. Last Sunday, it was announced that the intense right-hander had been elected by the Modern Baseball Era Veterans Committee. To the loud group of Morris detractors on social media, I ask you to now let this man, who won 254 major league games and four World Series rings, bask in his honour. He’s a human being, not a statistic or a case study.
· Atlanta Braves reporter Grant McAuley posed the following question on Twitter on November 27, “Who is the one ‘what if’ player you’d like to have seen have a full, healthy career?’ Several people named Victoria, B.C. native Rich Harden in their response. At one point, the Canuck righty seemed destined to be a superstar. In 25 combined starts with the Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs in 2008, Harden was 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA and had 181 strikeouts in 148 innings. Unfortunately, he was hampered by injuries and it was a shoulder injury that eventually his career in 2011 when he was just 30. In all, Harden pitched in parts of nine big league seasons and posted a 59-38 record with a 3.76 ERA in 170 appearances.
· Montreal Expos legend and 2017 National Baseball Hall of Famer Tim Raines will not be returning to the Toronto Blue Jays organization in 2018. The Chicago White Sox announced on Friday that Raines will join them as an ambassador. Raines had served as a roving outfield and baserunning coordinator with the Blue Jays for the past four years.
· Thanks to Canadian Baseball History Symposium organizer Andrew North for sharing a story about Canadian Abbie Johnson from Peter Morris’s 2013 book, Cracking Baseball’s Cold Cases. A passage in chapter six of this book indicates that Johnson, who’s believed to have grown up in London, Ont., was indirectly traded for Honus Wagner by the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1897. “…The most serious injury was sustained by Abbie Johnson, who was struck in the right eye by a bad-hop liner off Cap Anson’s bat and rushed to the county hospital,” reads the passage. “There were initial fears that Johnson would lose his eye but fortunately the injury was not that severe. Nonetheless it was a huge blow that effectively spelled the end of his major league career. After being released from the hospital, Johnson returned to Louisville and played a few more games but was not his old self. There was no disabled list in those days and little compassion for injured players. In mid-July the club acquired a youngster named Honus Wagner from Paterson, New Jersey of the Atlantic League. A few weeks later, Johnson was shipped to Paterson. So was Abbie Johnson traded for the greatest shortstop who ever lived? The evidence suggests that that was indeed the case.”
· This week’s trivia question: With Jack Morris being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee on Sunday, there are now seven players who suited up for at least one game with the Blue Jays that have (or will have) a plaque in Cooperstown. Can you name four of them (other than Morris)? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1978 Topps Rod Carew card, a 1990 Upper Deck Larry Walker rookie card and a 2002 Bowman Jason Bay rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Navan, Ont., native Erik Bedard placed fifth in the American League Cy Young voting with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. There have only been two Canadian pitchers to receive Cy Young votes since 2007. Who are they?) was Ryan Dempster (2008) and John Axford (2011).