My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Congratulations to Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp who was named the St. Louis Cardinals’ George Kissell Award winner for excellence in player development in the Cards’ organization on Friday. The Canadian manager led the Cardinals’ triple-A Memphis Redbirds to a franchise record for wins and a Pacific Coast League championship in 2017. The longtime Canadian national team member and coach, who played 23 games for the Cardinals in 2001, will manage the Redbirds again this season. This will be his 12th professional season as a coach and fourth as a manager. You can read more about the George Kissell Award in this link.
· Please continue to send positive thoughts to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Montreal Expos great Rusty Staub who, according to Canadian Baseball Network writer Danny Gallagher, remains in a West Palm Beach, Fla., hospital in the critical care unit. Gallagher, who visited Staub in the hospital, does, however, write that the former all-star’s condition has improved since last week. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News had reported on March 2 that the 73-year-old baseball legend has been “suffering from a staph infection that has led to kidney failure.” Staub had previously recovered from a heart attack he suffered on a flight from Ireland to New York in October 2015. Nicknamed “Rusty” for his red hair, Staub was affectionately known as “Le Grande Orange” to Expos fans for the same reason. He was the Expos’ sole all-star representative in the club’s first three seasons (1969-71). The left-handed hitting slugger played 518 games for the Expos and owns the highest cumulative on-base percentage (.402) in franchise history. His attempts to learn the French language while in Montreal, as well as his charitable work off the field, endeared him to the French-Canadian fans. His uniform number (10) was first jersey ever retired by the Expos. In all, in parts of 23 major league seasons from 1963 to 1985, Staub registered 2,716 hits. He remains the only player in major league history to chalk up more than 500 hits for four different teams (Houston, Montreal, Detroit, New York Mets).
· Happy 62nd Birthday to Stratford, Ont., native and former Montreal Expos pitcher Larry Landreth! The 6-foot-1, 175-pound right-hander became the third Canadian to play for the Expos when he tossed six scoreless innings and recorded the win against the Chicago Cubs at Jarry Park in his major league debut on September 16, 1976. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Carter served as his catcher that game while another Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson manned left field, in his just his fifth major league game. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Expos in 1973, Landreth would appear in seven games with the Expos in 1976 and 1977. He split the 1978 season between the Expos and Los Angeles Dodgers’ triple-A affiliates prior to dividing the following campaign between the Expos and Milwaukee Brewers’ triple-A clubs before an arm injury ended his career. When his baseball career was over, Landreth returned to Stratford and became a fireman. In 2016, he moved to Collingwood, Ont.
· The spring training exhibition schedule is well underway and the long list of solid free agents still unsigned is remarkable. That list includes 11 former Blue Jays: Brett Anderson, Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Chris Coghlan, R.A. Dickey, Yunel Escobar, Scott Feldman, Jason Grilli, Aaron Hill, Drew Storen and Jayson Werth.
· Right-hander Dustin McGowan joined the list of unemployed ex-Jays when he was released by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday. McGowan had signed a minor league contract with the Rays on February 9. 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.
· The Blue Jays signed veteran reliever Tyler Clippard to a minor league deal on Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander, who owns a 3.11 ERA in 625 major appearances over parts of 11 big league seasons, will compete against Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford, among others, for a place in the Blue Jays’ pen. For his part, Axford hasn’t allowed a run and has surrendered just one hit in his four Grapefruit League appearances this spring. The 6-foot-5 Canadian 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 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.
· This week’s trivia question: John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) had a good chance to pitch out of the Blue Jays bullpen this season. Who is the last Canadian to make a regular season relief appearance for the Blue Jays? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1972 O-Pee-Chee American League RBI Leaders card that features Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Reggie Smith, a 1979 Topps Mike Schmidt card, a 1982 TCMA Baseball Greatest Hitters Jackie Robinson card and a 2014 Bowman Roberto Osuna
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Rusty Staub was the first Expos player to represent the club in the major league all-star game. Who was the second Expos player to be chosen to represent the club in an all-star game?) was Bill Stoneman who represented the Expos in the 1972 Midsummer Classic.
*Please note there will be no Cooperstowners in Canada column next Sunday, March 18, 2018*