My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family of 2016 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Norton who passed away last night at the age of 75 after a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Born in Winnipeg, Man., Norton played in 1,206 minor league games – including five seasons in triple-A – before becoming a trailblazing baseball executive and scout in Canada. In the mid-1970s, Norton founded and established Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team and he became a long-time coach and manager for the organization, while doubling as a part-time scout for the Montreal Expos. He also managed Canada’s Pan Am Games team in 1975, prior to helping to launch Baseball B.C. two years later. In the late 1970s, he was enlisted to create and write Baseball Canada’s first coaching manuals and many of the guidelines from those are still employed today. In 1986, Norton established the National Baseball Institute (NBI) in Vancouver and hired Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Haar to be the first coach. The NBI evolved into the best baseball academy ever created in Canada and is often cited as the standard for similar facilities. After leaving the NBI in 1994, Norton evolved into one of Canada’s most respected baseball scouts. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick hired Norton to scout for the Baltimore Orioles from 1996 to 1999 and when Gillick accepted the Seattle Mariners’ general manager position in 2000, he brought Norton with him. While with the Mariners, Norton scouted and signed several Canadians, including Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) and Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.). For his excellence in scouting, Norton was named Mariners’ International Scout of the Year in 2007 and Canadian Scout of the Year by the Canadian Baseball Network in 1998 and 2013.
· I’ve come to accept that Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker will not be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this year, but I’m happy that he finally has some momentum in the voting. Out of the 169 baseball writers’ ballots made public that have been documented by Ryan Thibodaux, Walker has been named on 39.6 per cent of them, which represents a significant increase from the 21.9 per cent support he had last year. This still leaves him a long way from the 75 per cent support required for induction, but there is hope. And if my ramblings haven’t been enough to convince you that Walker is a Hall of Famer, please watch the MLB Network’s Brian Kenny examine Walker’s case in the following video.
· According to this Hardball Times article, Vancouver native Scott Mathieson has re-signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) for two more seasons. These will be his seventh and eighth campaigns in Japan. The author also indicates that Mathieson holds the NPB record for most holds by a foreign pitcher. The 33-year-old right-hander owns a 2.30 ERA and has averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in six seasons with the Giants.
· I stumbled upon this great story about Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Carlos Delgado and Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) when reading the chapter by Jeff Pearlman about Roger Clemens’ tenure in Toronto in the 2016 book Bat Flip: The Greatest Toronto Blue Jays Stories Ever Told. In this chapter, Pearlman reveals that Clemens bought Delgado a “$17,900 Presidential Rolex” in exchange for the uniform number 21. Quantrill reportedly witnessed this transaction and quipped to Clemens, “Do you want No. 48, too?”
· Happy 42nd Birthday to Mascouche, Que., native Eric Gagne! In 2003, the hard-throwing right-hander became the second Canadian (Fergie Jenkins was the first in 1971) to win the National League Cy Young Award when he recorded 55 saves and posted a 1.20 ERA while striking out 137 batters in 82 1/3 innings as a closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In all, the three-time National League all-star notched a Canadian record 187 saves during his 10-year big league career that also included stops with the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers..
· Fun Fergie Jenkins Fact: The Chatham Ont., native tossed 30 complete games for the Chicago Cubs in 1971. Over the past 10 seasons, Cubs pitchers have pitched 28 complete games combined.
· Happy 68th Birthday to Ross Grimsley, who in 1978 became the first – and only – 20-game winner in Montreal Expos history. Signed as a free agent prior to that campaign, the soft-throwing lefty enjoyed a career season with the Expos, compiling a 20-11 record and a 3.05 ERA while tossing 19 complete games in 36 starts. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be able to replicate that success and proceeded to post 5.35 and 6.31 ERAs with the Expos in 1979 and 1980 before being dealt to the Cleveland Indians on July 11, 1980 for Dave Oliver.
· This week’s trivia question: Eric Gagne recorded 30 or more saves in three major league seasons. There have been three other Canadians that have registered 30 or move saves in a season. 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 1973 Topps Steve Garvey card, a 1980 Topps Carlton Fisk card and a 1984 Donruss Living Legends (Gaylord Perry/Rollie Fingers) card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (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?) was any two of Billy Harris, Rocky Nelson or Tommy Lasorda.