My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Montreal native Russell Martin’s solo home run off of Seattle Mariners lefty Marco Gonzales in the top of the fourth inning on Friday night was his 64th as a Toronto Blue Jay. This moves him into second place among Toronto Blue Jays catchers for home runs. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Whitt has hit the most with 127.
· A couple of things about Martin that I missed in last week’s column (Thanks to Emily @JaysGirlEmily for sharing these in her work). When Martin caught Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford in last Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, it marked the first time a Canadian battery had ever started a game for the Blue Jays. And when Martin homered in that contest, it was the first time that a Canadian has ever homered in a game that a Canadian pitcher had started for the club.
· Speaking of Axford, as you’ve probably heard, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday for minor league pitching prospect Corey Copping. According to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Axford is the ninth Canuck to suit up for the Dodgers and the first since London, Ont., native Jamie Romak in 2014. Martin, of course, also began his major league career with the Dodgers and played with them from 2006 to 2010. Axford was rocked for six runs in 1/3 an inning in his Dodgers’ debut on Saturday.
· Montreal Expos legend Pedro Martinez missed his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in St. Marys, Ont., in June due to medical reasons, but he has donated a pair of cleats, a glove and a ball from his Montreal Expos playing days to the Canadian ball hall’s collection.
· I was saddened to learn that Montreal Expos enthusiast and long-time SABR member and author Norm King passed away on Tuesday in Ottawa at the age of 61 due to a rare form of bile duct cancer. King was the main author of the 2016 book, Au jeu/Play ball: The 50 Greatest Games in the History of the Montreal Expos. He was also working on a second book about the 1979 Montreal Expos. He leaves behind his wife Lucille. Services were held on Thursday and Friday. You can leave online condolences here.
· From the “This should be fun” file: former Montreal Expos fan favourites 72-year-old Bill Lee and 58-year-old Oil Can Boyd are set to pitch for the independent Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions at RCGT Park in the nation’s capital on September 3. Their appearances are part of Montreal Expos Day presented by ExposFest. The day will also include autograph sessions, silent auctions and proceeds from every ticket will be donated to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Former Expos Rondell White, Cliff Floyd and Dave Cash will also be on hand for the festivities.
· It was a rough week for former Blue Jays players. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays, while Carlos Ramirez experienced the same fate with the Oakland A’s. Meanwhile Adam Lind and Drew Hutchison opted out of their minor league deals with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers respectively.
· It was 34 years ago today that Blue Jays DH Cliff Johnson belted his 19th career pinch-hit home run. It was a solo shot off of Baltimore Orioles lefty Tippy Martinez in the eighth inning that would prove to be the difference in the Blue Jays’ 4-3 win. At the time, this home run set a major league record for most pinch-hit home runs. Johnson would finish his career with 20 pinch-hit homers and that record would stand until August 21, 2010 when Fredericton, N.B., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Matt Stairs clubbed his 21st pinch-hit round-tripper. Stairs would complete his career with 23 pinch-hit homers, which remains the big league record.
· I’m always one to wave the flag for Canadian players online and I was excited when baseball legend and should-be Hall of Famer Jim Kaat responded to one of my tweets. He made a statement on Twitter that no one could say they had owned Tom Seaver except for former Montreal Expo and Toronto Blue Jay Tommy Hutton who had hit .320 (16-for-50) against Seaver. I politely pointed out to Kaat that Melville, Sask., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl was 20-for-45 (.444 batting average) against Seaver. Kaat responded with the following tweet: “Kudos to Terry. Faced him a few times. Tough out. Used the whole field. Practically unheard of today!”
· It was seven years ago today that Dave Winfield was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. With his enshrinement, he became the second former Blue Jays player to be so honoured. The first was Phil Niekro in 1997. Winfield played the 1992 season with the Blue Jays and batted .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBI as a 40-year-old. He helped lead the Blue Jays to their first World Series title.
· Want to feel old? John Olerud turns 50 today. I can remember the excitement surrounding him after the Blue Jays signed him and he went straight from college to the big leagues. In 1993, Olerud flirted with .400 – in fact he was batting .400 on August 2 – before tailing off to finish the season with a .363 batting average to become the first Blue Jay to win a batting title. It’s safe to say that if baseball pundits had had a better understanding of the importance of on-base percentage (OBP) in the mid-90s, Olerud would’ve been more appreciated. In his eight seasons with the Blue Jays, Olerud had a .395 OBP, the best in franchise history.
· Happy 41st Birthday to former Blue Jays third baseman Eric Hinske! He became the only Blue Jay to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award all by himself when he captured the honour in 2002. In that campaign, Hinske batted .279 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI and posted a .365 on-base percentage in 151 games. He’d play parts of four more seasons with the Blue Jays before being dealt to the Boston Red Sox. He later enjoyed stints with the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks. Along the way, he picked up World Series rings with the Red Sox in 2007 and with the Yankees in 2009 and was part of the Rays team that lost in the Fall Classic in 2008. After 12 major league seasons as a player, he retired and got into coaching. He served as the assistant batting coach for the 2016 World Series-winning Chicago Cubs and is currently the batting instructor for the Los Angeles Angels.
· Please take a moment to remember long-time Toronto Star writer Neil MacCarl who passed away seven years ago at the age of 83. The Oshawa, Ont., native and University of Western Ontario graduate was the first winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award (1987) and covered sports, primarily baseball, for the Toronto Star from 1949 to 1992 and was the founding president of the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He began covering the World Series in 1953 and he continued to do so until he retired after the Blue Jays won the Fall Classic in 1992.
· This week’s trivia question: As noted earlier, Hinske was the first Blue Jays player to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award outright, but one other Blue Jays player was a co-winner of this honour. Can you name this player? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1969 Topps Ron Fairly card, a 1975 O-Pee-Chee Ken Griffey Sr. card, a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Ryne Sandberg card, a 1990 Topps Larry Walker card and a 1993 Montreal Expos pocket schedule.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (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?) was Ross Grimsley who won 20 games for the Expos in 1978.