My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· For me, the best news out of Toronto Blue Jays spring training has been that Vancouver native Scott Richmond is working as an analyst on the club’s radio broadcasts. The former Blue Jays pitcher is one of the nicest guys in his sport and he has had to work extremely hard for every break he has got in professional baseball. He definitely has the knowledge and personality to be an excellent analyst and his performance so far has been outstanding. I’m cheering for him to land a full-time broadcasting position with the club.
· In case you missed it, Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday only to have that agreement torn up, so he could sign with the Kansas City Royals on Friday. The Canadian outfielder’s deal with the Royals is also a minor league pact that includes an invitation to big league spring training. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that Saunders will make a base salary of $1.5 million in 2018 if he can crack the big league club. The deal also includes $500,000 in potential incentives. SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports that the Pirates allowed Saunders to pursue other opportunities after the club landed outfielder Corey Dickerson in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. The acquisition of the left-handed hitting Dickerson would’ve made it tough for Saunders to earn a job in the Pirates’ outfield. A 2016 American League all-star, Saunders split 2017 between the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, where he hit a combined .202 with six home runs in 73 games. It was a difficult season for the Canadian outfielder after he enjoyed his best big league campaign with the Blue Jays in 2016 when he established career-highs in home runs (24) and walks (59). The Canuck veteran has socked 81 home runs in parts of nine big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Blue Jays and Phillies.
· In case you missed it, part two: Langley, B.C., native and ex-Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie was interviewed by a Vancouver radio station on Wednesday. It was Lawrie’s first major media interview in close to a year. The sparkplug Canadian is still trying to figure out the leg injury that has sidelined him since July 21, 2016, but he finally feels he has the right specialist working with him. In the interview, Lawrie, who has played parts of six big league seasons with the Blue Jays, Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox, vows that once he figures this injury out (and there’s no set timetable) that he will return to Major League Baseball. To hear the full interview, follow this link.
· Jackie Robinson’s first contract with the Montreal Royals (photo above) will be auctioned off this Tuesday by Goldin Auctions as part of a sale celebrating Black History Month. The Royals contract will be sold with Robinson’s first Brooklyn Dodgers contract. This is the first time these contracts have been up for public auction. As a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame supporter, I’d love to see Robinson’s Royals contract displayed in the museum as a centerpiece attraction. Unfortunately, I don’t have anywhere near the kind of money it would take to win this auction. The two contracts have been insured for $36 million. You can follow the auction results here.
· It was 15 years ago today that Blue Jays World Series hero Joe Carter, Canadian-born pitcher Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ont.) and the Vancouver Asahi were elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. I’m sure you’re familiar with Carter and McCaskill, but the Vancouver Asahi’s story is one of the most important and culturally significant stories that is shared in the Canadian ball hall. To learn about the courageous Asahi team, you can watch this 50-minute documentary about the Asahi called Sleeping Tigers: The Asahi Baseball Story.
· If you want some behind-the-scenes insight into the Toronto Blue Jays early years, I’d suggest you pick up From Hockey to Baseball: I Kept Them in Stitches, a memoir written by the club’s original trainer Ken Carson with assistance from Jack Graney Award winner Larry Millson. An excerpt was published on the Canadian Baseball Network this week describing Carson’s first spring training with the Blue Jays in 1977. Carson was an experienced hockey trainer when he joined the club and knew little about the nuances of baseball. “I’d been around hockey all my life, but I was finding out that baseball can be much more difficult to understand,” writes Carson in one section of the book. “I was only getting started. As it turned out, so were the players. Once the games began, it was all over for me. They had me going to the umpires to find out if they had the key to the batter’s box. This joke was traditional for all newcomers. Bob Bailor told me I had to learn the lingo. He said when there was a runner on first base to holler out ‘Cadillac.’ That was supposed to be lingo for ‘get a double play.’ So when I yelled it out, the umpires, players and everyone looked at me like I was daft. I took it all in stride.” This is just one of the funny stories in the book that you can purchase here.
· If you keep track of ex-Blue Jays like I do, there were a few transactions you’ll be interested in over the past week (aside from the Saunders signing). Outfielder Colby Rasmus has inked a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles, while left-hander Francisco Liriano has agreed to a one-year, $4-million pact with the Detroit Tigers. Meanwhile right-hander Jesse Chavez landed with the Texas Rangers on a one-year deal. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that Chavez will receive $1 million from the Rangers, but that will increase to $1.5 million if he makes the Opening Day roster. Chavez could also earn another $1.5 million in performance incentives.
· This week’s trivia question: Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.) is one of four players born in Canada to have played third base for the Blue Jays in a regular season game. Can you name two of the three other Canadians who have played third base for the Blue Jays in a regular season major league game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1975 Topps Mel Stottlemyre card, a 1978 O-Pee-Chee George Brett card, a 1985 Donruss Leaf Dave Winfield card and a 1989 Donruss Randy Johnson rookie card.
· The answer to last 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)?) was Jesse Barfield and George Bell, who hit 40 and 31 home runs respectively in 1986.