My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· On this Remembrance Day, please take a moment to think about Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Phil Marchildon (Penetanguishene, Ont.), who was not only an ace pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s in the 1940s, but he also served as a tail gunner in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In his first big league season in 1941, he recorded 10 wins for the lowly A’s, before notching 17 victories and establishing himself as the team’s ace in 1942. Poised to join the pitching elite, Marchildon was called for military duty and would serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1943 to 1945. In August 1944, his plane was shot down and he was taken as a prisoner of war. He would spend nine months in a German prison camp. Upon his release and return to North America, Marchildon, after a short break, returned to the A’s rotation. Though still traumatized by the war, he would register 19 wins for the A’s in 1947. In all, Marchildon won 68 big league games and completed 82 of his 162 major league starts. The true Canadian hero was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983. You can read more about him in this feature article I wrote last year.
· Please also take time today to remember Marchildon’s ex-teammate and fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Dick Fowler (Toronto, Ont.). Fowler was a lanky, golden-armed 18-year-old when he dazzled the Toronto Maple Leafs brass at training camp in 1939. The local sensation debuted for his hometown squad in 1940, and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s would purchase his contract later that same year. The 6-foot-5 hurler made his big league debut on September 13, 1941 and followed that up by pitching in 31 games for the A’s the following year. After his first full season in the majors in 1942, Fowler was called for military duty and served in the Canadian Army with the 48th Light Highlanders for three years. In his fine book, Canada’s Baseball Legends, Jim Shearon reports that Fowler was in Nova Scotia, slated to head to Europe, when he was discharged to be with his son, Tom, who was fighting cancer. In his first start upon his return to the big leagues, the powerful right-hander no-hit the St. Louis Browns on September 9, 1945 to become the first Canadian to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues. The workhorse hurler would then toss at least 14 complete games in each season from 1946 to 1949. In all, during his 10-year big league career, he won 15 games twice (1948, 1949) and finished in the top 10 in shutouts three times (1947, 1948, 1949).
· I was surprised to hear that the Seattle Mariners are reportedly willing to listen to offers for left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.). The M’s are looking to revamp their roster and Paxton, with two years of team control remaining before he can become a free agent, is one of the team’s best trade chips. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on Saturday that the New York Yankees have already had discussions with the M’s about Paxton. The Mariners southpaw became the first Canadian pitcher to throw a major league no-hitter on Canadian soil when he held the Blue Jays hitless on May 8 at Rogers Centre. That performance came six days after he had set a Canadian record by striking out 16 batters on May 2 in a start against the Oakland A’s. In all, Paxton had eight starts in which he struck out at least 10 batters and went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA and fanned 208 batters in 160 1/3 innings. His 208 strikeouts are the second-most by a Canadian left-hander in a major league season to Navan, Ont., native Erik Bedard’s 221 in 2007.
· Twenty-one years ago today Pedro Martinez became the first – and only – Montreal Expos pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award. In the midst of the steroid era, when offensive numbers were exploding, Martinez posted a 17-8 record and led the league with a 1.90 ERA in that dominant 1997 season. He also topped NL pitchers in complete games (13) and WAR (9.0) and his 305 strikeouts set a single-season franchise record. Martinez was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
· And 31 years ago today, Boston Red Sox right-hander Roger Clemens captured his second consecutive American League Cy Young Award. However, as a Canadian baseball history buff, what’s even more interesting to me is that Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jimmy Key finished second in the voting. The crafty southpaw’s 1987 season is one of the more underrated seasons in franchise history. That year, Key posted a 17-8 record and a league leading 2.76 ERA while tossing 261 innings and eight complete games. Key also topped the American League with 1.067 WHIP and had the lowest hits per nine innings (7.2) of any American League starter.
· This is one of the best Canadian baseball videos you’ll ever see (below). It features Windsor, Ont., native Stubby Clapp, who is managing the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League, attempting to teach Montreal-born, Toronto Blue Jays mega prospect Vladimir Guerrero the Canadian national anthem.
· Please also take a moment today to remember former Montreal Expo pitcher Charlie Lea who passed away from a heart attack seven years ago today when he was just 54. Lea became the only Expos pitcher to toss a no-hitter at Olympic Stadium when he held the San Francisco Giants hitless on May 10, 1981. Born in France but raised in Memphis, Tenn., Lea was selected in the major league draft three times before the Expos finally convinced him to sign in 1978. Two seasons later, the then 23-year-old righty reeled off nine wins in nine starts with double-A Memphis and posted a miniscule 0.84 ERA to start the 1980 campaign, earning himself a promotion to triple-A Denver where he made two starts, before he was called up by the Expos in June. He would make his big league debut on June 12, 1980 at Olympic Stadium and hold the San Diego Padres to one run over eight innings to record his first big league win. It was the first of seven victories for Lea in his rookie season. In his sophomore campaign, he followed up his no-hitter with another four-hit shutout against the Giants the following week. Unfortunately, the players’ strike that year derailed much of his momentum and shortly after the work stoppage ended, Lea was sidelined with elbow woes and wasn’t able to participate in the Expos’ post-season run. He did rebound, however, to record 12 wins and register a 3.24 ERA in 177-2/3 innings in 1982, and by 1983, Lea, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson were considered one of the best starting pitching trios in baseball. With 13 wins at the all-star break in 1984, Lea was named the National League’s starting pitcher for the midsummer classic at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Unfortunately in September that year, Lea suffered a shoulder injury that would keep him out of action for nearly three years. He finished up his major league career with the Minnesota Twins in 1988. After hanging up his playing spikes, Lea moved back to Tennessee and completed his degree in business administration at Memphis State University and served as a colour commentator for the triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
· It was 19 years ago today that the Blue Jays traded Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Hentgen and Canadian left-hander Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Lance Painter, catcher Alberto Castillo and pitcher Matt Dewitt. Hentgen proceeded to win 15 games for the Cardinals in 2000, while Spoljaric was released by the Cards at the end of spring training, but signed by Kansas City Royals five days later.
· This week’s trivia question: Outside of Charlie Lea, who is the only other Expos pitcher to toss a no-hitter on Canadian soil? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Donruss Danny Ainge rookie card, a 1982 Topps Chili Davis/Bob Brenly rookie card and a 1984 Donruss Andy Van Slyke rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Name the two Montreal Expos players to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award) was Carl Morton (1970) and Andre Dawson (1977).