My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· To Toronto Blue Jays fans, it’s simply known as the “bat flip” and it happened three years ago today. The seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers was arguably the wildest and most exciting inning ever played at Rogers Centre. After the Rangers took a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning when Montreal native Russell Martin’s throw back to the pitcher ricocheted off the bat of Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo allowing Rougned Odor to score, the Blue Jays tied the game in the bottom of the inning and then Jose Bautista stepped to the plate with two outs and Josh Donaldson and Ryan Goins on base in front of him. On a 1-1 count, Bautista launched a three-run home run into the left field bleachers and celebrated with a bat flip for the ages. The Blue Jays went on to win the game 6-3 and take the series. You can re-watch the video of it below.
· And the “bat flip” isn’t the only great moment in Blue Jays’ history that occurred on this date. Twenty-six years ago today, the Blue Jays defeated the Oakland A’s 9-2 in Game 6 of the 1992 American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre to advance to their first World Series. Joe Carter and Candy Maldonado belted home runs for the Blue Jays and Roberto Alomar had three hits. Right-hander Juan Guzman allowed just one run in seven innings to pick up the win.
· And it was 50 years ago today that the Montreal Expos began building their inaugural roster through the 1968 MLB Expansion draft. The Expos’ first pick was outfielder Manny Mota from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Among the other notable players the Expos chose were Mack Jones (fourth overall), Bill Stoneman (19th overall), Maury Wills (21st overall), Jimy Williams (32nd overall, yes, the later Blue Jays manager), Carl Morton (45th overall) and Coco Laboy (54th overall). The expansion San Diego Padres also participated in the draft and with their last selection they opted for a 24-year-old outfielder named Cito Gaston.
· In case you missed it, Fredericton, N.B., native Matt Stairs was fired as the San Diego Padres hitting coach on Tuesday after one year on the job. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer had served as a batting instructor for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2017. Prior to becoming a coach, the stocky Maritimer enjoyed a 19-year big league career in which he suited up with 13 different major league teams, including the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. His 265 career home runs rank third all-time among Canadian big leaguers.
· Congratulations to London, Ont., native Jamie Romak for being voted the Canadian Baseball Network’s top hitter in the independent/foreign ranks for 2018. He has now won the award in back-to-back seasons. In his second season with the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns, Romak belted 43 home runs which broke his own record for most home runs in a minor league season by a Canadian (He hit 42 in 2017). The 33-year-old slugger is also the first Canadian to record back-to-back 40-home run seasons in the professional ranks. His 2018 campaign was his finest all-around season in professional baseball. On top of showcasing his power, he also batted .316 and drove in 107 runs, while recording 167 hits, in 141 games.
· It’s always interesting to listen to Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins reminisce about his baseball career. Jenkins recently opened a pack of 1981 Fleer baseball cards with Yahoo! Sports Mike Oz. As the Chatham, Ont., native opens his pack, it’s fascinating to hear his recollections about each player. You can watch the video below. (Spoiler alert: Dave Parker, George Foster and Joe Morgan couldn’t hit his slider).
⚠️ #OldBaseballCards alert! ⚠️
Brand new episode with Hall of Famer and @Cubs great Fergie Jenkins. We open cards from 1981 and 1987 and find Dave Parker, George Foster, Joe Morgan and many others who couldn't hit his slider.
— Mike Oz (@mikeoz) October 10, 2018
· Last week we shared that Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Chatham, Ont., native Doug Melvin would be interviewed for the New York Mets’ general manager’s position. This week, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt caught up with Melvin to talk about the 2018 Brewers, a team that Melvin is enjoying as a fan after he stepped down as the club’s GM at the end of the 2015 campaign. Haudricourt shares, however, that Melvin deserves a lot of the credit for the composition of the Brewers’ current bullpen. It was Melvin who traded for Josh Hader, Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress. Melvin also hired Craig Counsell to be the manager. You can read Haudricourt’s piece here.
· Happy 72nd Birthday to former Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Al Oliver! On Friday, I posted on Facebook that it was the 33rd anniversary of the Oliver’s clutch two-run double in the top of the ninth for the Blue Jays in their 3-1 win over the Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the 1985 American League Championship Series. Oliver responded to the post adding that that was his last major league hit. Prior to his stint with the Blue Jays, Oliver also won a National League batting title with the Montreal Expos in 1982 when he batted .331. He hit .300 again the following season with the Expos. In all, in an 18-year major league career, that also included stops with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies, Oliver was selected to seven All-Star Games, recorded 2,743 hits and finished with a career batting average of .303.
· 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 email@example.com.
· This week’s trivia question: Earlier I mentioned that both Fergie Jenkins and Doug Melvin were born in Chatham, Ont. Aside from Jenkins, two others born in Chatham have played in the major leagues. Who are they? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1992 Upper Deck Montreal Expos team set.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Montreal native Russell Martin has hit five post-season home runs. Only one Canadian has hit more. Who is it?) was Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) who clubbed seven post-season homers.