But What Do I Know? . . . Larry Walker, Roberto Clemente, Stu Scheurwater, Chris Reitsma

Roberto Clemente signing autographs at Montreal’s Jarry Park.

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

·         Montreal Expos legend and 2017 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tim Raines told MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM on Friday that he believes that Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. “When you talk about a player like Larry Walker, he did it all,” said Raines. “He stole bases. He was a Gold Glove outfielder. He hit for power and he hit for an average. He drove in runs. I mean, what can you say he didn’t do?” You can listen to the full clip of Raines talking about Walker below.

·         It was 45 years ago today that Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente was killed when his plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff while he was attempting to deliver relief supplies to earthquake stricken Nicaragua. A 12-time all-star, Clemente amassed exactly 3,000 hits, was a 12-time Gold Glove Award recipient and won two World Series in his 18-year big league career with the Pirates. Prior to debuting with the Pirates in 1955, he had been signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and assigned to their triple-A affiliate Montreal Royals in 1954. In that season, he batted .257 with two home runs in 87 games before being selected by the Pirates in what was the equivalent of today’s Rule 5 draft.

Roberto Clemente with the Montreal Royals in 1954.

·         Congratulations to Regina, Sask., native Stu Scheurwater who has been hired as a full-time major league umpire. The 34-year-old Canadian, who umpired his first big league contest on April 25, 2014, has 253 games of major league experience under his belt. His arduous road to the big leagues began in the Arizona League in 2007. He then worked in the Northwest, South Atlantic, Carolina and Texas leagues prior to calling games for six triple-A seasons. Scheurwater is set to become the first full-time Canadian big league umpire since Montreal native Jim McKean, who worked games from 1974 to 2001.

·         Twenty-three-year-old Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani will pitch and also serve as a DH/outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels in 2018. Ohtani’s versatility got me thinking about three Canadian players. Woodstock, Ont., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tip O’Neill was originally a pitcher and an outfielder for the National League’s New York Giants and the American Association’s St. Louis Browns in 1883 and 1884. In 1884 with the Browns, O’Neill was 11-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 17 pitching appearances, while also batting .276 with three home runs. Windsor, Ont., native John Upham also briefly served as a pitcher and an outfielder with the Chicago Cubs in 1968. He pitched seven scoreless in two relief appearances that campaign, while also playing two games as an outfielder. Finally, Surrey, B.C., native Adam Loewen toed the rubber for parts of three seasons with the Baltimore Orioles to begin his big league career and later resurfaced as an outfielder for 14 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011.

·         Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower passed away on Boxing Day at the age of 93. Countless tributes have poured in for the Hall of Fame goaltender who was as popular in retirement as he was when he was playing. One of the most fitting tributes came from Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello who hailed Johnny Bower as the “Yogi Berra of Canada.” Both Berra and Bower were universally beloved and joyous ambassadors for their sport who seemed to cherish their fans as much as their fans cherished them.

·         Happy 40th Birthday to Calgary native Chris Reitsma! The former big league right-hander pitched parts of seven major league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners before becoming a pitching coach for Canada’s Junior National Team (JNT). Reitsma was recently named the Canadian Baseball Network’s Scout of the Year for his strong work with the Baltimore Orioles. Reitsma’s input helped the O’s decide to draft London, Ont., native and JNT member Adam Hall in the second round this past June.

·         The Blue Jays traded Michael Young for one of them and moved George Bell to left field after his 1987 MVP season for the other. They’re not exactly two of the most popular names in Blue Jays history, but Happy 46th and 52nd Birthdays to Esteban Loaiza and Sil Campusano respectively!

·         Thanks to Bob Elliott for forwarding me this information on the whereabouts of Blue Jays’ 1982 first-round pick (second overall) Augie Schmidt. For the past 31 years, Schmidt has served as the head baseball coach for Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. A 6-foot-2 shortstop, he was selected by the Blue Jays ahead of all-stars Jose Canseco, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key, Bret Saberhagen and Terry Pendleton in the 1982 draft. Schmidt proceeded to played three seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization, making it as high at triple-A, prior to being dealt to the San Francisco Giants in 1985. He hung up his playing spikes midway through the 1986 season and joined the Carthage staff the following year.

·         This week’s trivia question: I mentioned earlier that Roberto Clemente played 87 games with the Montreal Royals in 1954. Three of his Royals teammates from that season have been elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Can you name two of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1983 Donruss Paul Molitor card, a 1983 Topps Andre Dawson card and a 1985 Fleer Tony Fernandez card.

·         The answer to last week’s trivia question (Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins pitched 267 complete games during his major league career. Not surprisingly, that’s by far the most by a Canadian pitcher. What Canadian pitcher has tossed the second-most major league complete games?) was Russell Ford (Brandon, Man.) who threw 126 complete games for the New York Yankees and Federal League’s Buffalo squad between 1909 and 1915.

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22 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Larry Walker, Roberto Clemente, Stu Scheurwater, Chris Reitsma

      • I was so close Kevin. I was SO sure I was correct I didn’t follow up and research it. Keep up the great work with the blog. I love to read baseball when it is -25 outside!

  1. Boy, Kevin, some of the names you touched on today give me and all Canadians other reasons to celebrate besides the clock striking midnight tonight.

    Clemente has countless fans, and I’m one of them. I once asked Fergie Jenkins about him, and he told me a neat story, one that not only validated the 12-time Gold Glover’s arm (Clemente is tied with Willie Mays for the most GG’s by an outfielder), but also painted a picture of the era in which they played. One time, Jenkins stroked a single to RF and the 6’5″ Gigantor was loping down to first when Clemente decided to try to throw him out. Jenkins had to shift gears big-time and was called safe on a bang-bang play. The next time Clemente stepped up to the plate, Jenkins promptly plunked him right between the 2 and the 1 and as Clemente took his base, Jenkins no-no’d him with his index finger saying, “Don’t ever try to embarrass me like that again, my friend.” P.S., the answer to the natural question when citing this pairing is that Clemente went 26-95 (.274) lifetime vs Jenkins w/ 6 HR.

    Staying on Clemente and Canada a little further, note the nickname he had by clicking on the link of the photo (below) and checking out the base of one of, if not, THE, greatest monuments I have ever seen. It might remind you of another great Canadian who played a little baseball!

    https://www.google.ca/search?q=statue+of+roberto+clemente+in+pittsburgh&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=UCxht1-9duMZxM%253A%252Cr2i-36XfloMj6M%252C_&usg=__eifAVHCGrEeFMHDQMhReoipqW1I%3D&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuyr_PvbTYAhUh8YMKHbdwD2kQ9QEITDAG#imgrc=UCxht1-9duMZxM:

    The Clemente statue, located just outside of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, has three glass bases under Clemente, respectively filled with dirt from his birth-country, Puerto Rico, Forbes Field, and Three Rivers Stadium. Then, around the steal rim are 15 significant events related to Clemente’s career that literally bring you to tears, especially when you see a 16th segment left blank to symbolize the incomplete circle of Clemente’s life.

    Hard to stop talking about “Roberto Clemente Walker” (his full name), so since the name Walker (as in “Larry”) is now on the table, Walker has far too legitimate a case for enshrinement into Cooperstown, which I have previously documented in this forum, for me to water that down by comparing him to Clemente. Clemente out-stacks Walker in numerous ways. But it is kind of fun to compare the two five-tool studs a little bit, such as Clemente’s .317 career BA edging Walker’s .313, while Walker’s 1,311 RBI out-did Clemente by six. Clemente K’d 1,230 times, ONE less than Walker. Each won an MVP, Clemente had four batting titles (one more than Walker), and both had spectacular career fielding percentages (Walker .987, Clemente .973). But Walker’s career OPS was .965, compared to Clemente’s .834, he out-homered Clemente 383 to 240, and out-stole Clemente 230 to 83. Pro-rating Walker’s AB’s from 6,907 to Clemente’s 9,454, he comes up only 43 hits shy of Clemente’s 3,000. They each had two World Series taters, and while Clemente had a slightly higher WS BA (.362 to .357), Walker had the better WS OPS (1.355 to .918). I’d be remiss not to mention that Clemente had 269 assists compared to Walker’s 213, led the league in assists six times (Walker did it thrice), won three WS (none for Walker), won a dozen GG’s (Walker five), and was a 15-time All-Star (Walker seven). For the newbie’s, Clemente’s career WAR (position players) was 94.5 (26th all-time), while Walker’s was 72.6 (56th).

  2. OK, while I’m into yesteryear, allow me to throw out a couple of John Upham and Chris Reitsma stories.

    Uppy, who taught me at Assumption High School in Windsor, and coached me as well, had an unparalleled career as a coach following his playing career, notching Canadian Championships with the Windsor Chiefs, and coaching Canada’s National Team. He was with our team in Seoul, South Korea getting prepped for the 1988 Summer Olympics, and went down while hitting a pre-game infield grabbing his chest. Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Famer Jim Ridley accompanied him in the ambulance and en route to the hospital, Uppy, in a semi-conscious state, was muttering “my ass hurts, ouch, my ass.” Ridley tried to ask the attendants if this was a common symptom of an aneurysm, but the first-responders only spoke Korean, so both Uppy’s complaints and Ridley’s questions went unanswered. BTW, it was a mild setback and Uppy returned to the field 100% recovered; Otherwise, I wouldn’t be poking fun at this incident! Anyway, Uppy continued to say his ass was in pain as they attended to him at the hospital, and it was only a while later that someone realized that John still had three baseballs jammed into his rear pocket from hitting the infield!

    Another funny Uppy story involved another Canadian Baseball Hall-of-Famer, in Rusty Staub. La Grande Orange hit the only homerun ever given up by Uppy in the big leagues. At a Windsor-Essex County Hall of Fame event honouring Uppy, when baseball aficionado Steve Vorkapich was setting up John to fall for this prank, he described Staub’s bomb as being colossal, the furthest ever hit at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Uppy, ever the teacher, then shouted out, “I pitched for the Cubs, we played at Wrigley Field!,” to which Vork retorted, “I know, the ball was hit out of Wrigley … but it landed in Comiskey!”

    I’ll close out with Reitsma in my third and final comment of the day … three strikes and ‘yer out, right?

  3. Kevin, I guess you’ve inspired me into a writing mood today, and in mentioning Roberto Clemente, John Upham, and Chris Reitsma in your musings today, spurred me to put on my journalistic cap!

    As you mentioned, Reitsma is an O’s scout. Going well back into time (early ’90s), I had the honour and pleasure of scouting Reitsma, an RHP and a gifted multi-sport athlete who was a fairly easy guy to project, as he had a monster body, a smooth delivery that was near-flawless, and five-star ethics that he came by honestly from his amazing parents. I met numerous fine people and made many life-long friends through scouting (ironically, including Baltimore’s Scouting Director, Gary Rajsich), but there were a handful that I literally wrote the words “Apple Pie” on the record in their formal MLB report, including Michelle Laplante, Jeff Zimmerman, Jason Dickson, and Reitsma. Chris is honestly one of the nicest persons I have ever met in my life.

    As a 16-year-old, when faced with an unspeakable, unimaginable tragedy when his teammate Matt Krol was struck and killed by lightning instantly at the 1993 Canadian Big League Championship in Ancaster, Ontario, with no fanfare, no cameras rolling, nothing but his gut doing the talking, it was Reitsma who insisted that his team NOT pack-up and get on the plane home, because he knew his friend Matt would have been pissed if they did. Reitsma pitched his heart out as Alberta went on to capture the Silver Medal. When, as a pro, he later faced a pair of arm surgeries that should have been career-enders, this bulldog had a rare perspective on baseball and life, as he had learned the hard way what was really tough, and what were just bumps in the road. Our national teams are blessed to have him as a pitching coach, as he has always had his priorities in good order.

    Sticking with the Reitsma and scouting vein, back in those days, we didn’t have camera phones and youtube, etc. The MLB Scouting Bureau actually employed three full-time camera men, who were on planes around North America and beyond each and every day, each of them carrying a ten thousand-dollar camera that had a radar gun built into it. They were huge, like guitar cases, and they utilized VCR tapes, if you can remember those cartridges about 8″ x 4″ x 1″. They would film any and all prospects who were given an OFP (Overall Future Potential) number of 50 or greater by a Bureau scouting supervior, the equivalent of projecting the player into an every day Major Leaguer. They would then FedEx the tape to the Bureau’s HQ in California, and the staff there would manually create 30 VCR copies of the tape, and FedEx them out to all of the MLB clubs simultaneously. As antiquated as this sounds, it was a huge benefit for Scouting Directors and GMs who just couldn’t get to see many of the top prospects in person, especially in cases like Reitsma when it meant travelling north of the 49th.

    It was either Grady Mack or Kirk Shrider who came up to film Reitsma in a private Bureau workout in Calgary just a few weeks before the draft. The month of May wasn’t very cooperative that year (1996), and so we waited as long as possible to do this outdoors. However, that day, it rained, and we had no choice but to move Chris’s pitching session indoors to his high school, Calgary Christian. Cell phones in those days were the size of bricks, and they weren’t all that common, but we did everything we could to notify all of the scouting directors, cross-checkers, and GMs who we believed were coming to see Reitsma, a possible first-round pick, in person. The inherent problem with that was clubs not usually making a habit of notifying us who was coming, as they didn’t want to tip their hand to other clubs (e.g., if Gillick was there, the Blue Jays were serious). Our Bureau camera-man wasn’t an after thought, but he was one of many who we were trying to notify of this venue change. But to further complicate matters, his plane was late and he had unanticipated trouble getting through customs.

    We delayed the start time of the much-ballyhooed workout by an hour, but we couldn’t wait any longer than that because there were important people there, “Cannons, not pistols” as Bill Byckowski used to say, and they had flights to catch to their next destination. I too was on the run and left immediately after Reitsma threw his final pitch. I was about to board my plane when our camera man called me from the field where the workout was to originally scheduled to take place, and when I told him that it had to move and that it was over, he went ballistic. “Tom, you know Reitsma is going to go early in the draft, and I can’t get back up here again between now and the draft – the Bureau is going to have egg on its face!” I understood him fully, but what could I do at that point?

    So I called Reitsma’s dad at home and told him the situation, and the value if Chris could possibly go back to the gym and throw another 25 pitches for our camera man. “But Tom,” Mr. Reitsma challenged, Chris just threw 75 pitches and it is only May!?” I tried to find a compromise, and asked if Chris could throw a dozen pitches at three-quarters speed, just so teams could at least see how his impressive body worked in sync and check out his arm path. I told him that the camera man would shut off the radar gun component and that the MLB clubs could get get Chris’s pitch velocities off of my report instead, as I didn’t want him to get cheated. They agreed to meet our camera man, he got the film, and it reached all 30 of the clubs before the draft.

    The rest-of-the-story, as Paul Harvey used to say, was draft day a few weeks later, when Boston selected Reitsma as a “sandwich pick”, between the first and second rounds (34th overall). Red Sox GM Dan Duquette had the class to call me and thank me for my efforts regarding Reitsma, as he never got to see him in person, and thus he relied heavily on the Bureau’s materials. “The film is what got me over the hump Tom, Dan said. “Reitsma throws as effortlessly as I’ve ever seen!” I gulped on my end of the phone line, not having the heart to tell Duquette that Reitsma was purposely only throwing at three-quarters speed on that day! Thank goodness Chris never disappointed anyone!

  4. Have to mention my second favorite Toronto Maple Leaf of the 1950’s (Elston Howard my favorite) who played for Montreal Royals in 1954- Rocky Nelson and in Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

  5. So great of Raines to say about Walker. and so true!
    Stu Scheurwater, such great news! Welcome to the full time gig.
    Clemente items are great Kevin.
    Great history with O’Neill and Upham.

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