My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· On July 1, 1969, the Montreal Expos defeated the Chicago Cubs 11-4 in front of 19,858 fans at Jarry Park in the first major league game played in Canada on Canada Day. Expos pitcher Steve Renko was the star of the contest, holding the Cubs to four runs in 7 1/3 innings, while also contributing two hits and two runs. Expos first baseman Bob Bailey led the Expos’ offence with three hits and three RBI, while Adolfo Phillips, Garey Sutherland, Jose Herrera and Bobby Wine had two hits each. It was left-hander Ken Holtzman, and not Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins, who got the start for the Cubs. Holtzman was rocked for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings before being lifted.
· In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays lost the first Canada Day game they hosted 11-8 to the Texas Rangers. The contest was played on a Friday night with 21,089 fans in attendance. Doyle Alexander, who later starred for the Blue Jays, was the winning pitcher for the Rangers, allowing five runs in 6 2/3 innings. Former Expo Ron Fairly had three hits – including a home run – for the Blue Jays. Vancouver, B.C., native Dave McKay was on the Blue Jays’ roster, but didn’t get into the game.
· In case you were wondering (like I do about these things), just three Canadians have pitched for the Blue Jays on Canada Day: Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) made relief appearances in 1996 and 1999, Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) toed the rubber in the 1997, 1998 and 2001 games and Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.) held the Los Angeles Angels scoreless for 2/3 of an inning at Rogers Centre in 2012.
· Right-hander Dave Pagan (Nipawin, Sask.) is the only Canadian to make their major league debut on Canada Day. Pagan started the second game of a doubleheader for the New York Yankees against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium on July 1, 1973. The first big league batter he faced was Buddy Bell who hit a comeback ground ball to him that he fielded cleanly. The 6-foot-2 right-hander made it through the first inning without allowing a run, but he was lifted in the second after allowing four hits. The Yankees still won the game 11-3. Pagan proceeded to pitch parts of five seasons in the majors with the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates. You can read my detailed feature article about Pagan here.
· So how did Canada’s greatest major leaguer fare on Canada Day? Well, Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins went 2-2 in five starts with a 3.89 ERA. His best performance came 48 years ago today when he tossed a four-hit shutout and struck out 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. For a detailed summary of Jenkins’ Canada Day performances, you can follow this link.
· So we know how Jenkins did, but how did Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker, the greatest position player our country has ever produced, perform on Canada Day? Well, while with the Expos the five-tool right-fielder was outstanding. In four July 1 contests with the Canadian club, Walker was 7-for-15 (.467) with a home run and six RBI. But Walker wasn’t nearly as successful on July 1 with the Rockies, going 3-for-22 (two of those hits were home runs) in seven games. He was 1-for-3 in only his Canada Day contest with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005. In total, Walker was 11-for-40 (.275 batting average) in 12 Canada Day games with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
· If you’re Canadian and you collect baseball cards, check out this collection of high grade rookie cards of Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers that was amassed by Kevin McHolland. This is a fascinating collection to look at for a Canadian baseball history buff.
· One thing I learned this week while reading Allen Barra’s 2013 book Mickey and Willie was that at the start of the 1951 season the New York Giants’ brass were debating where they would assign Willie Mays, their top young prospect. It came down to a decision between their two triple-A affiliates: the Minneapolis Millers (American Association) and the Ottawa Giants (International League). They chose Minneapolis, where Mays would hit a remarkable .477 in 35 games before being recalled by the Giants for good, but it’s fun to think that a young Mays came that close to playing a season in our nation’s capital.
· This week’s trivia question: I’ve asked this question before, but it’s a Canada Day classic. There are four Canadians that have played for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. Can you name two of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a set of 24, 1982 O-Pee-Chee Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays mini-posters (They are 5” by 7” each).
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) and Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) are two major league pitchers that were born in Alberta. There have been a few other big league pitchers from Alberta. Can you name one?) was any of Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.), Dave Shipanoff (Edmonton, Alta.) and Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.).