My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· In a final classy gesture, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons will step aside today to allow Montreal native Russell Martin to manage the team for the club’s final game of the season. The 35-year-old Martin, who has not played since September 3, will become the first Canadian to manage a major league game since Rob Thomson managed two games for New York Yankees on April 4 and 5 in 2008 when Joe Girardi was ill. Some believe that Martin, regarded as an astute game-calling catcher, is destined to become a manager when his playing career is over. For the record, the last Canadian to hold a full-time big league managerial position was George Gibson (London, Ont.) with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1935.
· Congratulations to broadcasting legend Jerry Howarth and veteran writer John Lott who will be honoured at the upcoming Sports Media Canada awards luncheon which will be held at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Thursday, November 15. Howarth, who spent 36 seasons in the radio booth for the Blue Jays, will receive the Career Achievement Award, while Lott, who has been masterfully covering the Blue Jays for The Athletic, will receive the top Sportswriting honour.
· Despite two trips to the disabled list and a recent bout with pneumonia and influenza, Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton managed to record 208 strikeouts during the 2018 season. He is just the eighth Canadian to strike out 200 batters in a season and only the second lefty. Southpaw Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.) fanned 221 batters for the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. The last Canuck pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season before Paxton was Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) with the Chicago Cubs in 2010. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) accomplished the feat six times during his career. Paxton finished this season with an 11-6 record and a 3.76 ERA in 160-1/3 innings in 28 starts.
· By his Joey Votto’s lofty standards, 2018 has been a down season for the Etobicoke, Ont., native. He does, however, continue to be one of the most patient hitters in modern major league history. He will once again lead the National League in on-base percentage (.417) in 2018 and is third in walks (107). The following tweet illustrates just how patient of a hitter Votto is.
Most walks in age 31-34 seasons:
499 = Barry Bonds
498 = Lou Gehrig
490 = Babe Ruth
490 = Joey Votto
Votto has the rest of the week to add to his total. -AJE
— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) September 25, 2018
· On this day 82 years ago, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Huntsville, Ont., native George Selkirk, who replaced Babe Ruth as the New York Yankees regular right fielder, walked to the plate and homered in his first World Series at bat. His round-tripper was a solo shot to lead off the top of the third inning off of New York Giants ace Carl Hubbell. It accounted for the Yankees’ only run in their 6-1 loss in the Fall Classic opener. Selkirk would finish that World Series with a .333 batting average (8-for-24) and help the Bronx Bombers come back to win the series in six games.
· Happy 33rd Birthday to London, Ont., native Jamie Romak! In 118 games with the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization this season, the 6-foot-3 slugger set professional career-highs with 38 home runs and a .315 batting average. This was his second season in Korea; the Canadian slugger socked 31 homers in 102 contests for the same club in 2017. Prior to starring in Korea, Romak spent parts of 13 seasons in the affiliated minor league ranks in the Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks organizations. He had major league stints with the Dodgers in 2014 and the D-Backs in 2015.
· Twenty-nine years ago today, the Blue Jays secured their second American League East title with a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Baltimore Orioles at SkyDome. The Blue Jays scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to secure the victory. Blue Jays closer and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Henke struck out Orioles pinch-hitter Larry Sheets in the top of the ninth for the final out. It was one of the most gratifying division titles for the club who began the season with a 12-24 record before manager Jimy Williams was fired and replaced by Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Cito Gaston.
· And exactly one year before the Blue Jays clinched their second division title, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Toronto Blue Jays ace Dave Stieb had a no-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for his second consecutive start. This time it was Orioles pinch-hitter Jim Traber who spoiled it with a bloop single just over the head of Blue Jays first baseman Fred McGriff. Stieb settled for a complete-game, one-hit shutout in the Blue Jays’ 4-0 win at Exhibition Stadium. (Highlights can be found at around the 15-second mark in the following video).
· And more proof that time does, indeed, fly: it was three years ago today that the Blue Jays clinched their first division title in 22 years when they beat the Baltimore Orioles 15-2 in the first game of a doubleheader at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Marcus Stroman allowed just one run in eight strong innings to pick up the win, while Ryan Goins had five hits. The Blue Jays also got home runs from Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak.
· If you’re a Canadian baseball history buff (like me), mark November 3rd and 4th on your calendar. Crackerjack Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer and longtime SABR member Andrew North has announced that the third annual Canadian Baseball History Conference will take place in London, Ont., on those dates. This year’s event, which will again be organized by Andrew, with plenty of help from his wife, Elena, will include a tour of Labatt Park, the oldest continuously used baseball grounds in the world, as well as presentations about the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, the formation of the Toronto Blue Jays, Baseball in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, American Association triple-crown winner and Woodstock, Ont., native Tip O’Neill and the Montreal Royals. For more information and for a complete list of the presentations, you can click on this link. The registration fee is $70. To register, please email Andrew North at firstname.lastname@example.org.
· This week’s trivia question: What Canadian player served as a pinch-runner and scored a run for the Blue Jays’ in their division-clinching game against the Orioles on September 30, 1989? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1991 Upper Deck Montreal Expos team set.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who holds the Blue Jays’ record for most wins in a season by a relief pitcher?) was Mark Eichhorn who had 14 wins for the Blue Jays in 1986.