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.
· 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.