My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· It’s been a sad past eight months for the staff at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. With the passing of inductee and Alberta baseball icon Ron Hayter at the age of 81 last Saturday (You can read more about Hayter and his legacy here), four inductees have now died since the beginning of November. Toronto Blue Jays great Roy Halladay, trailblazing executive and scout Wayne Norton (Port Moody, B.C.) and Montreal Expos legend Rusty Staub have also passed away. The Hall has also recently lost cherished volunteers Brian Logie (September 22, 2017), who spent countless hours documenting the museum’s bat collection, and Jack Taylor (April 3, 2018), who devoted numerous hours to fundraising for the project.
· On a positive note for the Canadian ball hall, Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) who made his major league debut on April 19, has donated the batting gloves he used in his first major league game to the museum. Since his call-up, the 22-year-old outfielder, who’s the sixth Canadian to appear in a major league contest this season, has gone 0-for-7. O’Neill was one of the hottest hitters in the minors when he was promoted. In 12 contests with the triple-A Memphis Redbirds, he was batting .388 and had clubbed six home runs in 12 games. A member of Canada’s gold medal winning 2015 Pan Am Games team, O’Neill was originally selected in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners after being scouted by Hall inductee Wayne Norton. After parts of five seasons in the M’s system, he was traded to the Cardinals on July 21, 2017 for pitching prospect Marco Gonzales. After the deal, he’d land with the triple-A Redbirds, managed by Canadian baseball legend and Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp. In 37 contests with the Redbirds down the stretch, he’d sock 12 homers and drive in 39 runs to help lead them to a Pacific Coast League championship.
· Please take 12 minutes to watch the above video and remember Canadian left-hander and Toronto Blue Jays draft pick Jake Eliopoulos who took his own life five years ago today after a battle with mental illness when he was just 21. A Baseball Canada alumnus, Eliopoulos was a promising pitching prospect before being sidelined by an arm injury. In the video, Eliopoulos’s father, Jim, who played on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team and is a former bullpen catcher for the Blue Jays, and his mother, Lea, courageously share their son’s story in hopes that it will help other parents who have children facing similar issues.
· Twenty-four years ago today, Montreal Expos left-hander Kirk Rueter became the first major league pitcher to begin his career with a 10-0 record since Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 when he pitched the Expos to a 3-1 win over the Padres. The young southpaw had gone 8-0 in his rookie 1993 campaign and this victory marked his second of 1994. But his unbeaten streak would end at 10. After recording a trio of no decisions in his next three starts, he was saddled with the loss on May 21, 1994 when the Expos were defeated 6-0 by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
· On Thursday, it was announced that Mary “Bonnie” Baker, the first Canadian woman to sign with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), will be posthumously inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame this fall. The trailblazing Regina, Sask., native was the first of 64 Canadians to sign and suit up in the all women’s circuit formed during the Second World War. A catcher who appeared in an AAGPBL record 930 games over nine seasons, Baker is believed to be the inspiration behind Geena Davis’s character in the classic movie, A League of Their Own. You can read more about Baker here.
· On this date eight years ago, John Buck became the third catcher in Blue Jays’ history to homer three times in the same game when he clubbed a trio of round-trippers against the Oakland A’s in a 6-3 win at Rogers Centre. The other two Blue Jays catchers to belt three homers in a game were Ernie Whitt (September 14, 1987) and Darrin Fletcher (August 27, 2000)
· Last week, I shared a post from the Montreal Royals Twitter account (@Royals_46season) that indicated that three players from Jackie Robinson’s first game of integrated professional baseball (April 18, 1946) with the International League’s Montreal Royals were still alive. Sadly, Marv Rackley who was Robinson’s only surviving Royals teammate, died on Tuesday at the age of 97 in Greenville, S.C. A key to the 1946 Montreal Royals championship-winning squad, the left-handed hitting outfielder batted .305 with 65 stolen bases that season. The 5-foot-10 speedster returned to Montreal for another 20 games in 1948. Rackley also batted .317 in parts of four major league seasons from 1947 to 1950 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. The only surviving players from that game are now Larry Miggins and Jaime Almendroou who played for the opposing Jersey City Giants. You can read his Rackley’s obituary here.
· This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Blue Jays player to hit three home runs in a regular season game? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1967 Topps Pete Ward card, a 1983 Topps Andre Dawson card, a 1987 Fleer Joe Carter card and a 1993 Ted Williams Card Company Willie Mays card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford recently became the seventh Canadian pitcher to appear in 500 major league games. Can you name four of the six other Canadian pitchers to appear in 500 major league games?) was any four of Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.), Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.), John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) or Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ont.).