My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Like father, like son. At least, that would be the dream scenario for the Toronto Blue Jays as their top prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is in Cooperstown for his father’s National Baseball Hall of Fame induction this weekend. We all know how great the senior Guerrero was for the Montreal Expos, but hopefully his son can be as impressive as him at the Rogers Centre. In 58 games at the Rogers Centre (SkyDome) during his career, the elder Guerrero batted .359 with 12 home runs and 36 RBI. On Saturday, Guerrero Jr. took one step closer to the big leagues when it was announced that he has been promoted to triple-A Buffalo.
· It’s hard not to like Jim Thome, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame alongside Guerrero today. The humble slugger was an unheralded 13th round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1989 that went on to club 612 homers, the eighth most in big league history. Fourteen of those home runs came on Canadian soil – 12 at Rogers Centre and two at Olympic Stadium. Thome also took 10 Canadian pitchers deep: Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.), Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.), Rich Harden (Victoria, B.C.), Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.), Jason Dickson (Miramichi, N.B.), Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ont.), Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.), Jeff Zimmerman (Kelowna, B.C.) and Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.)
· In contrast to Thome, fellow 2018 Cooperstowner Chipper Jones was a much hyped prospect when he was selected first overall by the Atlanta Braves in 1990. Over the course of Jones’ big league career in which he registered 2,726 hits in 19 seasons, Olympic Stadium was one of his favourite parks to hit in. In 70 contests at the Big O, the Braves superstar batted .342 with eight home runs, 25 doubles and had a .448 on-base percentage (OBP).
· It’s taken 31 years and the advent of advanced statistics, but I’m now willing to concede that 2018 Hall of Fame inductee and former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell should have won the 1987 American League MVP Award over Toronto Blue Jays slugger George Bell. Like many at the time, I was wowed by Bell’s 47 home runs and 134 RBI and had no clue what Wins Above Replacement (WAR) meant. But when you compare their all-around performances in that season objectively, Trammell, who hit .343 with 28 home runs and 105 RBI and supplied above average defensive at shortstop, was the superior player. Don’t get me wrong, Bell still had one of the greatest offensive seasons in Blue Jays history, but his defence was subpar and, according to Baseball Reference his WAR was 5.0, considerably lower than Trammell’s, which was 8.2.
· As a diehard Blue Jays fan growing up, I can honestly say that the first time I felt confident that the club was going to win a World Series was April 6, 1992. That was when Jack Morris, in his Blue Jays’ debut (after they had signed him to a lucrative deal in the off-season), tossed a 144-pitch complete game for his new club against his former team at Tiger Stadium. To me, Morris’s performance that game, which the Blue Jays won 4-2, set the tone for the season and proved once again that he was one of the game’s grittiest and most fearless hurlers. I distinctly remember Morris allowing solo home runs to Cecil Fielder and Rob Deer in the bottom of the ninth, but even with Duane Ward and Tom Henke in the club’s bullpen, Morris wanted (if not demanded) to stay in the game and finish what he started. He went on to win 21 games that season to become the Blue Jays’ first 20-game winner. And, of course, my confidence was rewarded, when the Blue Jays went on to win their first World Series. Morris will finally be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today.
· I’m fortunate to be living the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction experience vicariously through Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame director of operations Scott Crawford who is in Cooperstown and has been sending me some great photos (Thank you, Scott!). Among the Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers that Crawford has bumped into this weekend are Claude Raymond, Tim Raines and Fergie Jenkins. He also ran into Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) (see photo above) who was in town to support Morris, his fellow Twins broadcast crew member and Thome, his former Twins teammate.
· One of the more poignant baseball photos I saw this week was one snapped of Fergie Jenkins at the grave of his former Chicago Cubs’ teammate Ernie Banks (above). Jenkins and his fellow Hall of Famers will be thinking of Mr. Cub, who died in 2015, in Cooperstown this weekend.
· John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) became the sixth Canadian pitcher to start a game for the Blue Jays when he got the assignment last night against the Chicago White Sox and tossed three scoreless innings. The other five Canadian pitchers to start a game for the Blue jays are Denis Boucher (Lachine, Que.) Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.), Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.), Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.) and Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.)
· With the trades of Steve Pearce, Seunghwan Oh and J.A. Happ (and likely more to come), the Toronto Blue Jays have officially waved the flag on the 2018 season. One of the biggest problems for this year’s squad (and for the past few years for that matter) has been their lack of a true leadoff hitter. But the club may not have to look far to find one. Finally healthy again, Mississauga, Ont., native Dalton Pompey is batting .291 with a .364 on-base percentage with eight stolen bases in 29 games for triple-A Buffalo this season. Now would be the ideal time to call up the 25-year-old Canadian, who’s already on the club’s 40-man roster, and give him a good long look in the leadoff role.
· Thank you to The Hardball Facts (@HardballFacts on Twitter) for sharing some great Canadian baseball trivia. Last Sunday, on what would’ve been Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer George Gibson’s 138th birthday, they pointed out that Gibson, a London, Ont., native, became the first Canadian to player in every game in a World Series when he was behind the plate for all seven contests of the 1909 Fall Classic for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they defeated the Detroit Tigers.
· According to the SABR Defensive Index, 45-year-old, 285-pound Bartolo Colon, the last remaining Montreal Expo, is the second best fielding pitcher in the American League. Now just digest that sentence for a moment. You can view the SABR Defensive Index here.
· This week’s trivia question: As noted earlier, Jack Morris was the first Blue Jays pitcher to register 20 wins in a season. Who was the first and only Montreal Expos pitcher to win 20 games in a season? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1970 Kellogg’s Willie McCovey card, a 1988 Fleer Greg Maddux card, a 1991 Score Chipper Jones rookie card and a 1993 Stadium Club Ultra Pro Willie Mays card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question ( There are two Expos players that were selected to seven All-Star Games each (while with the Expos). Who are they?) was Gary Carter and Tim Raines.