My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Think of what it would be like if you performed at a high level in your field for more than two decades and then finally 17 years after you’ve retired you receive the ultimate honour and are inducted into your field’s Hall of Fame or your colleagues plan a special tribute in your honour that you can share with your family. Now think about what it would be like if in the seven days after the announcement of your special honour, an objective group of analysts (most of whom you’ve never met) went over your performance numbers and took to social media to denigrate and crap all over your accomplishments. How would that make you feel? Well, welcome to Harold Baines’s world. Whether you believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame or not, for gosh sake, let him and his family rejoice in this honour. Baines, along with long-time closer Lee Smith, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Hall’s Today’s Game Era committee last Sunday.
· And if you’re wondering how much this means to Baines, just watch this video.
· For the record, the best batting average Baines recorded at any major league park (in which he had at least 50 at bats) was Toronto’s SkyDome. In 58 contests against the Toronto Blue Jays at the dome, Baines batted .325 with eight home runs and six doubles. He also hit .303 with nine home runs in 52 contests at Exhibition Stadium and .412 (7-for-17) against the Montreal Expos.
· Most baseball pundits have likely forgotten that long-time closer Lee Smith, who will be inducted alongside Baines this July, recorded the final five of his 478 career saves with the Expos in 1997. The intimidating right-hander registered his last major league save on June 10, 1997 at Olympic Stadium when he tossed a scoreless ninth against the Philadelphia Phillies in an 8-5 win. The first batter he retired in that inning was Toronto native Rob Butler on a ground ball to second base. Smith’s last major league appearance came July 2 that year at SkyDome when he hurled two scoreless innings for the Expos against the Blue Jays in his club’s 7-6, 13-inning loss.
· After an outstanding season that saw him belt 43 home runs and lead the SK Wyverns to a championship, London, Ont., native Jamie Romak has re-signed a one-year deal with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) club for a reported $1.3 million. With his 43 regular season homers 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). 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.
· As a Canadian baseball history buff, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know this, but apparently Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) held the record for most strikeouts in a major league season by left-handed reliever (134 in 1974) until Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Josh Hader broke it this year. Hader finished with 143 strikeouts.
· Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and Blue Jays legendary executive and ex-manager Bobby Mattick who passed away 14 years ago today at the age of 89. A former shortstop with the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds, Mattick was one of the Blue Jays’ original employees. He was hired as the club’s scouting supervisor in 1976 before being promoted to director of player development in 1978. When he accepted the Jays field manager position in 1980 at age 64, he became the oldest rookie skipper to start a season in big league history. Following two seasons in the dugout, he returned to the front office, first as executive coordinator of baseball operations and then as the Jays’ vice-president of baseball. Often described as the heart and soul of the franchise, Mattick spent 28 years with the Jays and was responsible for recruiting and developing several key players on the Jays championship teams. In 2003, the Jays renamed their Spring Training complex in Dunedin, Fla., The Bobby Mattick Training Center in his honour.
· Congratulations to Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford who will become the 10th member of Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence. He will be honoured at the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards Banquet and Fundraiser set to take place at the Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel inside Rogers Centre on January 12. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has just completed his 10th major league campaign. Now 35, the Canuck reliever, who has suited up for the Canadian national team on multiple occasions, has registered a 3.87 ERA and notched 144 saves in 543 big league appearances in stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers.
· With baseball writers in the process of completing and submitting their Hall of Fame ballots, I would like to strongly encourage them to vote for Maple Ridge, B.C. native Larry Walker. Each week until the voting results are announced I’ll feature a tweet that reinforces that Walker, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009, is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. This week’s tweet is from Hot Stove Stats.
· This week’s trivia question: Lee Smith is set to become the third former Montreal Expos pitcher to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Who are the other two? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1987 Fleer Barry Larkin rookie card and a 2018 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction program.
The answer to last week’s trivia question (Aside from Tony Batista, there are two other players that have hit 15 or more home runs in a season for both the Blue Jays and Expos, can you name one of them?) was one of Ron Fairly or Darrin Fletcher.