My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Congratulations to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Canadian Baseball Network founder Bob Elliott and former Montreal Expos catcher and current Blue Jays Central studio analyst Joe Siddall on their inductions into the Baseball Ontario Hall of Fame which took place last night in Ottawa. Both are worthy Hall of Famers for their accomplishments, but they are also Hall of Fame people. I wrote a feature article about Joe Siddall that was published on the Canadian Baseball Network on Wednesday that you can read here.
· So who do you think was the best Canadian baseball player this year? Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) had a down season by his lofty standards, and for the first time in a few years, there’s a legitimate debate as to who should win the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award, which is handed out annually to the best Canadian player. Votto, of course, should still be in the conversation, but Ladner, B.C. native James Paxton, who became the first Canadian to toss a major league no-hitter on Canadian soil on May 8, is a strong contender. So, too, are Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Maple Ridge, B.C. native Tyler O’Neill and London, Ont., native Jamie Romak, who clubbed 43 home runs for the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization. One of the criteria the Hall uses to decide on the winner is fan voting. So the Hall is encouraging you to vote for the players you think are worthy of this award by noon E.T. on Wednesday, November 21. You can e-mail your top three choices (please be clear on your first, second and third selections) to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can vote on the Hall’s website at www.baseballhalloffame.ca. For more information about the potential candidates, you can read this document.
· For many it was the day the Montreal Expos died. Twenty-one years ago today, just a week after he had become the first Expos pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award, Pedro Martinez, with his salary set to skyrocket, was dealt to the Boston Red Sox for young pitchers Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. For many Expos fans, this was the final straw, the last fire sale they would tolerate before abandoning the club. Martinez, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, went on to win two more Cy Young Awards with the Red Sox.
· On the same day, 21 years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks made their selections in the 1997 MLB Expansion draft. The Rays selected outfielder Rich Butler (Toronto, Ont.) from the Blue Jays with the 10th overall pick, while the D-Backs took Canadian infielder Danny Klassen (Leamington, Ont.) from the Milwaukee Brewers 37th overall. Butler would play 72 games for the Rays in 1998 and belt seven home runs. Klassen batted .218 in 63 games in parts of four seasons (1998 to 2000, 2002) with the D-Backs.
· Thank you to my long-time friend and historian Stephen Harding for sending me a link to this article about a potential Jackie Robinson museum being opened in Montreal. As you probably know, Robinson played his first season of integrated professional baseball with the Royals in 1946 and led the team to a championship, before breaking major league baseball’s colour barrier the following year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
· In 2018, his first year with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League, North Battleford, Sask., native Andrew Albers excelled, posting a 9-2 record and a 3.08 ERA in 19 starts while striking out 83 in 114 innings. The 6-foot-1 lefty was first among Canucks in the independent or foreign ranks in wins, second in innings pitched, third in ERA and WHIP and fourth in strikeouts. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s pitcher of the year in the foreign and independent ranks. The 33-year-old left-hander, who pitched parts of four big league seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners before heading to Japan, is now back in Canada for the winter. He talked about his baseball odyssey, including his first season in Japan, in this recently released Sportsnet’s At the Letters podcast. You can listen to it here.
· Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Rocky Nelson who would’ve turned 94 today. Though he enjoyed several stints in the majors, Nelson is best known as an International League superstar. Employing an unorthodox batting stance, Nelson became the only player to capture the International League MVP award three times – with the Montreal Royals in 1953 and 1955 and with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958. He also won two triple crowns: in 1955, he hit .364 with 37 homers and 130 RBI, and in 1958, he topped the circuit with a .326 batting average, 43 home runs and 120 RBI. Despite terrorizing International League pitching, Nelson was never a regular in the big leagues. His most successful season was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, when he platooned with Dick Stuart at first base. After hitting .300 in the regular season, Nelson smacked a two-run homer in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the New York Yankees. His home run would help set the stage for Bill Mazeroski’s storied ninth-inning walk-off homer. Nelson was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. He passed away on October 31, 2006 in Portsmouth, Ohio.
· Please also take a moment to remember Gene Mauch, the Montreal Expos first manager, who would’ve turned 93 today. After he had managed the Philadelphia Phillies for nine seasons, The Little General was appointed the Expos bench boss for the club’s inaugural campaign and would stick around for seven seasons (1969 to 1975) in total. He later managed the Minnesota Twins (1976 to 1980) and the California Angels (1981-82 to 1985-87), leading the Angels to division titles in 1982 and 1986. He completed his 26-year managerial career with a 1,902-2,037 record. It’s also interesting to note that he batted .215 in 45 games as a middle infielder with the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1943 and 1944. He passed away in 2005 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
· This week’s trivia question: Who is the only winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award not to play in the major leagues? Hint: You can find a list of the winners at the bottom of this article. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1986 Montreal Expos Provigo team set.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Outside of Charlie Lea, who is the only other Expos pitcher to toss a no-hitter on Canadian soil?) was Bill Stoneman who threw a no-hitter at Jarry Park on October 2, 1972.