My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Forty-nine years ago today, the Montreal Expos defeated Tom Seaver and the eventual World Series champion New York Mets at Shea Stadium 11-10 in their first regular season game. Left-handed reliever Don Shaw was the winning pitcher for the Expos, while fellow southpaw Dan McGinn became the first Expo to hit a home run when he socked a pitch from Seaver over the right centre field wall in the fourth inning (It would be the only homer of his major league career). Batting third and manning right field for the Expos, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Rusty Staub also homered and Coco Laboy hit a three-run shot off Mets reliever and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) in the eighth inning. Here’s the box score.
· It’s fitting that 15 years before the Expos’ first game Gary Carter was born in Culver City, Calif. Carter would’ve turned 64 today. Signed out of high school by the Expos in 1972, Carter spent 17 years with the franchise, including three seasons in the minors, 11 in the majors and three as a broadcaster. Nicknamed “Kid” for his boyish enthusiasm for the game, Carter belted 220 home runs as an Expo (third on the Expos’ all-time list) in 1,503 games with the club (second on the Expos’ all-time list), and was named the team’s Player of the Year four times. He was also a two-time All-Star Game MVP (1981, 1984) in his seven All-star game selections while with the Expos. Over his 19-year career that also included stops with the Mets, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, Carter participated in 11 all-star games, amassed 2,092 hits, 324 homers and 1,225 RBI. The clutch-hitting California native also knocked in nine runs in the 1986 World Series, helping to lead the Mets to their second Fall Classic title. For his efforts, Carter’s No. 8 was retired by the Expos in 1993 and he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. Two years later, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first Cooperstown honouree to be pictured in an Expos cap on their plaque. Sadly, he passed away from brain cancer in 2012.
· It was also on this date 23 years ago that Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker left the Expos to sign a four-year, $22.5-million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Coming off an MVP calibre 1994 campaign for an Expos team that owned the best record in baseball before a strike cancelled the remainder of the season, Walker wasn’t even tendered a contract by the cost-cutting Expos before he signed with the Rockies. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the next 10 seasons with the Rockies, Walker batted .334, won three batting titles, five Gold Glove Awards, garnered four All-Star selections, captured the 1997 National League MVP Award and belted 258 home runs.
· Happy 75th Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Detroit Tigers legendary reliever John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.). Recommended to scout Cy Williams by fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Prentice, Hiller inked a deal with the Detroit Tigers in 1962. After serving primarily as a starting pitcher in the minors, the Canadian southpaw established himself as a reliable reliever with the Tigers from 1967 to 1970, posting a 3.00 ERA over that four-season span and contributing to the club’s 1968 World Championship. In January 1971, Hiller, just 27 at the time, suffered a massive heart attack. Doctors told him he would never pitch again, but the stubborn Canuck was determined to return. His hard work finally paid off when he was cleared to return to the mound in June 1972. Any lingering questions about his stamina were laid to rest in 1973 when he pitched in 65 games, notched 10 wins, posted a miniscule 1.44 ERA and recorded 38 saves (a major league record at the time). For what is still recognized as one of the greatest seasons ever by a relief pitcher, Hiller was named American League Fireman of the Year and finished fourth in both the Cy Young and MVP voting. A member of the All-Time Detroit Tigers’ All-Star Team, Hiller toed the big league rubber for 15 seasons, registering 87 victories, 125 saves and a career ERA of 2.83.
· So what would you do if a bald eagle unexpectedly landed on your shoulder? I think I’d panic and run away or at least attempt to push it off. Fortunately, Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton is calmer than me. Prior to the Seattle Mariners game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Thursday, a bald eagle, with prodding from a trainer, was supposed to fly to the pitcher’s mound but it got distracted and instead landed on Paxton’s back. Paxton, who was warming up in the outfield, initially ducked as the bird approached, but it still managed to land on his back. The Canadian pitcher then calmly straightened up and the bird flew off of him onto the ground, where the trainer retrieved it. “I guess the eagle knew I was Canadian. I don’t know. But it came for me,” quipped Paxton after the game. The incident (which you can watch below) didn’t stop Paxton from tossing five solid innings for the Mariners in which he allowed two runs and struck out seven.
· In case you missed it, Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. He has reported to the Orioles’ triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, where he went 0-for-3 with a walk in his first game with the club on Friday. According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, if Saunders is promoted to the big league club this season, he will make $1.5 million, plus $3 million in incentives. The left-handed hitting outfielder was released by the Kansas City Royals on March 24. He had a inked a minor league deal with the club on February 23 just two days after signing and then asking to be released from an agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates when the Bucs landed fellow left-handed hitting outfielder Corey Dickerson in a trade. 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.
· This week’s trivia question: Canadian outfielder Michael Saunders has signed a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles. Who was the last Canadian to play in the outfield in a regular season game for the Orioles? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1974 Topps Willie McCovey card, a 1982 Topps Traded Reggie Jackson card, a 1987 Topps Bo Jackson rookie card and a 1988 Score Traded Mark Grace rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Jeff Heath was the first American League player to record 20 home runs, 20 doubles and 20 triples in the same major league season. Just two other American League players have accomplished this feat. Who are they? (Hint: They’re not Canadian)) was George Brett and Curtis Granderson.