My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· All of the presentations were outstanding at the third annual Canadian Baseball History Conference in London, Ont., on Saturday. Thank you to Andrew and Elena North for all that they do to put together this event and a special tip of the hat to longtime friend and former Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame colleague Stephen Harding and his co-presenter Stephanie Radu for their fine presentation about the research resources that are available in London, Ont.
· Another highlight of the first day of the conference was an excellent and hilarious radio recreation of the 1877 International Association championship game that featured the London Tecumsehs defeating the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Long-time local broadcaster Jim Van Horne served as the play-by-play man, while Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Humber and long-time London Free Press writer and author Chip Martin were hysterical as analysts.
· Stephen Dame gave a superb presentation called “A Second Strike: Baseball and the Canadian Armed Forces During World War Two.” It was packed full of remarkable information and the end of his presentation was particularly moving when he read the names of the Canadian baseball players that died fighting in the war.
· Also congratulations to Warren Campbell on his first-rate presentation called “Mascots in Canadian Baseball.” I thought I knew everything about the Montreal Expos, but once again I found out that I don’t. Campbell introduced me to Souki (see photo), the Expos mascot for the 1978 season that I have no recollection of. Souki was apparently patterned after Mr. Met, but was abandoned after one season because, well, he was too creepy.
· Congratulations to Canadian baseball legend and Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp who has been promoted to the St. Louis Cardinals major league staff. The former Cardinals infielder will serve as the club’s first base coach in 2019. Clapp, who has led the Cardinals’ triple-A Memphis Redbirds to back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships, was linked to a number of big league managerial openings this off-season and had an in-person interview for the Texas Rangers dugout job. Clapp will become the third Canadian coaching on a National League team, joining Corunna, Ont., native Rob Thomson (Philadelphia Phillies bench coach) and Vancouver native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dave McKay (Arizona Diamondbacks first base coach). Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Fredericton, N.B., native Matt Stairs would’ve been the fourth, but he was recently relieved of his duties as the San Diego Padres batting instructor.
· One Canadian baseball story that we aren’t talking about enough is London, Ont., native Jamie Romak’s back-to-back 40-home run seasons. With his 43 regular season round-trippers for the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) in 2018, the Canuck slugger became the first Canadian to sock 40 home runs in consecutive seasons at the professional level. He had a combined 42 home runs between the KBO and triple-A in 2017. Romak’s 2018 campaign was easily his best in the pro ranks. He not only set a career high in home runs, but also in batting average (.316), runs (102), hits (167) and RBI (107). And he is still hitting home runs in the KBO post-season. Prior to spending the bulk of his last two years in Korea, Romak played parts of 13 campaigns in the affiliated minor league ranks. He had major league stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015.
· Hall of Famer Willie McCovey passed away on Thursday at the age of 80 as a result of ongoing health issues. The left-handed hitting slugger and 1969 National League MVP socked 521 home runs (20th all-time) in parts of 22 major league seasons, predominately with the San Francisco Giants. He belted his final big league home run at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium off Expos right-hander Scott Sanderson on May 3, 1980. Fellow Cooperstowner Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) offered his condolences in a tweet (below) on Friday.
· Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and legendary big league manager Sparky Anderson who passed away on this date eight years ago at the age of 76. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953, he advanced to the triple-A Montreal Royals in 1956, where he hit .298 and rapped out 135 hits. After toiling with the Pacific Coast League’s Los Angeles Angels for one season, the fiery second baseman returned to Montreal to sock 35 doubles and lead the Royals to a league title in 1958. His sole big league season came with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1959, before he came back to Canada to man second base for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs for four seasons. In all, Anderson played six of his 10 minor league seasons north of the border. In 1964, he accepted his first managerial post with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After compiling an 80-72 record for the Leafs, he made his way up the managerial ladder to become one of the most successful skippers in big league history. After Anderson was named field boss of the Cincinnati Reds in 1970, the Big Red Machine won National League pennants in 1970 and 1972 and World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. He joined the Detroit Tigers in 1979 and led the club to a Fall Classic title in 1984, becoming the first manager to win a World Series in both the National and American Leagues. The four-time manager of the year is also the first skipper to win more than 800 games with two major league teams and he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
· Fun Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) fact of the week, courtesy of sportswriter Aaron Gleeman on Twitter. We already know that Votto is one of the most patient hitters in recent history, but thanks to this tweet (below) we now know that he’s one of the best clutch hitters since 1970.
· The most remarkable statistic about new Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo’s 10-year minor league playing career? He had 156 walks in 132 games for class-A Stockton in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 1988. To put into perspective just how many walks that is, the only major league players who have had more walks in a single season are Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Ted Williams.
· The inspiration for my Cooperstowners in Canada blog actually came from seeing a 1954 Montreal Royals team photo with Roberto Clemente in it in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. So I’m always excited to see photos, like the one below (click on link to see it), of Clemente with the Royals. Clemente batted .257 with two home runs in 87 games for the Royals in 1954.
· Sixteen years ago today, Eric Hinske became the first Blue Jays player to win the American League Rookie of the Year award outright. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin had been voted the co-winner of the honour (along with Minnesota Twins infielder John Castino) in 1979. In 2002, Hinske batted .279 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI in 151 games for the Blue Jays, which would prove to be the best of his five seasons with the club.
· This week’s trivia question: Name the two Montreal Expos players that won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1983 O-Pee-Chee Fergie Jenkins card, a 1983 Topps Joe Morgan card and a 1984 Topps Jack Morris card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Fergie Jenkins tossed 267 complete games during his major league career. Who has the second most career complete games by a Canadian pitcher in the big leagues?) was Russ Ford (Brandon, Man.) with 126.