My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford has signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that includes an invite to big league spring training. The 6-foot-5 reliever struggled in 2017 after beginning the campaign on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury. In 22 appearances with the Oakland A’s last season, he posted a 6.43 ERA but he was still averaging 95 mph with his fastball. Set to turn 35 on April 1, Axford will battle with fellow right-handers Al Alburquerque, Jake Petricka and Carlos Ramirez for a spot in the Blue Jays’ bullpen. In all, in nine major league seasons, Axford has registered a 3.71 ERA and notched 144 saves in 493 career major league appearances with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and the A’s.
· With the February 1 announcement that Pedro Martinez will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June and Vladimir Guerrero set to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July, there will soon be a total of 11 inductees that are in both the Canadian ball hall and the Cooperstown shrine. Joining Martinez and Guerrero on that exclusive list are Fergie Jenkins, Jackie Robinson, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Roberto Alomar, Pat Gillick, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines.
· Twenty-four years ago today, Hall of Famer Robin Yount officially announced his retirement. He spent his entire 20-year major league career with the Milwaukee Brewers, but, according to Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times in a 1992 article, when Yount became a free agent after the 1989 season he was pursued by the Blue Jays before he re-signed with the Brewers. You can understand why the Blue Jays wanted to sign Yount. The 1982 American League MVP hit better against the Blue Jays than any other major league team. In 204 contests against Toronto, he posted a .330/.388/.513 slash line – his best against any club. He also had more home runs (25), RBI (129) and triples (15) against the Blue Jays than he did against any other team.
· Happy 39th Birthday to Montreal native Eric Cyr, who pitched in five games for the San Diego Padres in 2002. Originally selected in the 35th round by his hometown Montreal Expos in 1996, the 6-foot-4 left-hander declined to sign and was chosen by the Padres in the 30th round two years later. In total, he pitched in 10 professional seasons, which included tenures in the Padres, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners organizations. He finished his pro career with the Quebec City Capitales of the Can-American Association in 2008.
· I love this photo (above) because it illustrates how easy it used to be to obtain an autograph from a major league player. This photo was snapped at Jarry Park in 1969.
· Eight years ago today, Frank Thomas officially announced his retirement. And he wasn’t nearly as bad with the Toronto Blue Jays as the club’s fans seem to remember him being. As a 39-year-old DH with the club in 2007, he topped the team in on-base percentage (.377), home runs (26) and RBI (95). But he struggled the following spring and I can recall fans booing him loudly (well, loudly for Canadian fans) at games in Dunedin, Fla. However, I also noticed that when Thomas came out of those spring games in the fifth inning or so, he would still graciously stop and sign autographs for the fans — many of them the same fans that had been booing him earlier in the game.
· If you keep track of ex-Blue Jays like I do, you’ll be interested to know that right-hander Dustin McGowan has signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The deal includes an invite to big league spring training. For the past two seasons, McGowan has served as a reliever for the Miami Marlins. He excelled in his first season with the Marlins, posting a 2.82 ERA while striking out 63 in 67 innings. He wasn’t nearly as effective in 2017. His ERA rose to 4.75, thanks in large part to allowing 13 home runs in 87 innings. Now 35, the former first-rounder toed the rubber for parts of seven injury-riddled seasons with the Blue Jays between 2005 and 2014, before landing with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015.
· And as Valentine’s Day approaches, I always like to remember Yogi Berra’s words of wisdom:
· This week’s trivia question: Dustin McGowan was selected 33rd overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000 MLB draft. There was one Canadian chosen before McGowan in that draft. Who is he? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1970 Kelloggs Don Sutton card, a 1984 Fleer Carl Yastrzemski card, a 1985 Donruss Leaf Mike Schmidt card and a 1990 Leaf John Smoltz card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (It’s easy to forget that Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome played their final major league games with the Baltimore Orioles. Few associate these two Hall of Famers with the Orioles. There is one Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer who also finished his big league career with the O’s that most would not associate with them. Can you name him? (Hint: He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame within the last 10 years) was Ernie Whitt, who suited up for 35 games with the O’s in 1991.