My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· In his 36 years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Jerry Howarth was a constant source of positivity and kindness and his narrative skills were second to none. The Blue Jays radio broadcasting icon was rightfully honoured with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award in 2012 and he should be a recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award in the future. Happy Retirement, Jerry! We’ll miss you.
· After Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays on February 8, the Canadian reliever tweeted out this photo of him as an 11-year-old in Blue Jays gear on Christmas Day in 1994. Who says dreams don’t come true?
· On Tuesday it was announced that New Westminster, B.C., native Justin Morneau will be joining Fox Sports North as an analyst on Minnesota Twins TV broadcasts. The Canadian slugger officially announced his retirement on January 15 after a 14-year major league career with the Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies and Chicago White Sox. He ranks among the all-time Canadian major league leaders in several offensive categories, including second in hits (1,603), RBI (985) and fourth in home runs (247).
· Nineteen years ago today, Canadian Toronto Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash completed a deal that sent Roger Clemens to the New York Yankees for left-handers David Wells and Graeme Lloyd, as well as infielder Homer Bush. After two Cy Young Award-winning seasons, Clemens exercised a handshake “escape clause” he had with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston to force a trade out of Toronto. Clemens proceeded to pitch five seasons with the Yankees and win two World Series rings and his sixth Cy Young Award in 2001. An unhappy Wells, meanwhile, racked up 17 and 20 victories for the Blue Jays in 1999 and 2000 respectively, while Lloyd posted a 3.63 ERA in 74 relief appearances in 1999. Bush became the Blue Jays starting second baseman and batted .320 and swiped 32 bases in 128 contests in 1999 before being slowed by injuries.
· Happy 69th Birthday to the Blue Jays first star, Big John Mayberry! The 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman played parts of five seasons with the Blue Jays from 1978 to 1982 and in 1980, he became the club’s first 30 home run hitter. Today with the benefit of advanced statistics, we can appreciate just how good Mayberry was on those awful early Blue Jays teams. In 1979, for example, Mayberry had a slash line of .274/.372/.461 and he belted 21 home runs and had more walks (69) than strikeouts (60). In total, in his half decade with the Blue Jays, Mayberry posted a .352 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage and registered more walks (257) than strikeouts (247).
· Joey Votto Stat of the Week (courtesy of Ryan Spaeder @TheAceofSpaeder on Twitter): The only players that own a better career batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Votto are Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and Babe Ruth .
· There’s no shortage of Canadians in Toronto Blue Jays big league camp this spring. In addition to the aforementioned Axford, catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), outfielder Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) and Canuck pitching prospects Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) and Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) are also with the big club.
· If you keep track of ex-Blue Jays like I do, you’ll be interested to know that right-hander Drew Hutchison has signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Once a promising young starter with the Blue Jays, the now 27-year-old hurler was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the deal for Francisco Liriano on August 1, 2016. After recording a 5.56 ERA in six appearances for the Pirates in 2016, he spent 2017 in triple-A. Prior to 2016, however, Hutchison was a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ rotation for two seasons, winning 11 and 13 games in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
· This week’s trivia question: John Mayberry was the first Blue Jays player to belt 30 home runs in a major league season. Who were the next two Blue Jays to sock 30 home runs in a season (Hint: They did it in the same season)? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Fleer Andre Dawson card, a 1986 Fleer Joe Carter card, a 1987 Topps Bo Jackson rookie and a 1992 Fleer Team Leaders Ken Griffey Jr. card.
· The answer to last 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?) was Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.), who was selected 30th overall by the Atlanta Braves.