My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories.
· The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2019 induction class on Tuesday. The MLB Network’s coverage begins at 3 p.m. E.T. My guess is that Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina will be elected. All are doing well on Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Famer tracker. As of Saturday, Thibodaux and his team had documented the selections on 188 baseball writers’ ballots and the box beside Rivera’s name had been checked on all of them. Meanwhile, Halladay (94.1%) and Martinez (91%) each have over 90% support, while Mussina was at 82.4%. Seventy-five per cent is required for election. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that Canadian Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) will be elected this year, but his 67% support represents a tremendous increase from last year’s voting (34.1%). If Walker secures 60% in the voting this year, it will set him up favorably for election in his final year on the ballot in 2020.
· In case you missed it, reliever John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet that he would like to return to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. At the press conference prior to the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards Banquet on January 12, Axford told Nicholson-Smith that he planned to contact the Blue Jays brass to discuss a return. The 6-foot-5 right-hander went 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 45 appearances for the Blue Jays last season before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. 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 his 10-year major league career that has included stops with the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Oakland A’s, Blue Jays and Dodgers.
· Congratulations to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former Blue Jays president Paul Beeston (Welland, Ont.) who received the Allan (Bud) Selig Executive Leadership Award at the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation dinner on January 12. Canadian Baseball Network founder Bob Elliott reported this news on Twitter. Congratulations also goes out to former Blue Jays scouting director Tim Wilken who received the Legends in Scouting Award at the same event.
· Happy 41st Birthday to Ottawa-born right-hander Chris Mears! The 6-foot-4 hurler was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the fifth round of 1996 MLB draft. He spent seven seasons in the M’s organization before signing with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent in December 2002. Mears made his major league debut with the Tigers on June 29, 2003 and would make 29 appearances – including three starts – with the Tigers that season. He split his final pro campaign with the Atlanta Braves’ and St. Louis Cardinals’ triple-A affiliates in 2005. Mears also pitched for the national team on multiple occasions, including at the 1999 Pan Am Games and the 2001 World Cup and is currently serving as the amateur pitching cross checker for the Boston Red Sox.
· Flagstaff Films shared some great footage of Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins striking out San Francisco Giants slugger Bobby Bonds and getting Willie Mays to fly out at Candlestick Park on August 16, 1969. Click on the link below to watch it.
· Fourteen years ago today, Mascouche, Que., native Eric Gagne signed a two-year, $19-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was good money for a closer at the time. The 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner was still at the top of his game in 2004, coming off his third consecutive all-star season that saw him post a 2.19 ERA and register 45 saves. Unfortunately, elbow and back injuries would sideline him for most of 2005 and 2006.
· Former Toronto Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero officially announced his retirement via an Instagram post on New Year’s Eve, but he also penned a touching farewell letter to the city of Toronto and Blue Jays fans that was published on Sportsnet on Friday. “Little did I know that I’d end up falling in love with the whole country of Canada — and with a Canadian girl who’d eventually become my wife,” reads a portion of the letter. “You guys took this kid from East L.A. and showed him some real love over my 10 years with the Jays, and for that I will be forever grateful. (There were definitely some boos at one point, too, but it’s okay, I still love you guys.)” You can read Romero’s full letter here.
· Thirty-five years ago today, the Montreal Expos signed all-time hit leader Pete Rose to a one-year, $500,000 contract with a few interesting incentive clauses. For example, Rose was to receive 30 cents from every ticket sold after the Expos exceeded 2.3 million in attendance. If 2.5 million fans passed through the turnstiles at Olympic Stadium, Rose was to get 40 cents a ticket. Playing primarily left field and starting the season as the club’s leadoff hitter before being shifting around the order, Rose batted .259 in 95 games before being dealt back to the Cincinnati Reds on August 16 for Tom Lawless.
· This week’s trivia question: Ricky Romero made two Opening Day starts for the Toronto Blue Jays (2011, 2012). Four other left-handers have made Opening Day starts for the Blue Jays during the franchise’s history. Can you name two of them? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1978 O-Pee-Chee Jim Palmer card, a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Tony Perez card and a 1981 Donruss Gaylord Perry card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Outside of Montreal native Russell Martin, who is the only other Canadian to suit up at catcher for the Blue Jays in a major league game?). As reader Bob Stuart correctly pointed out, there were actually two Canadians who caught games for the Blue Jays before Martin. Mike Nickeas (Vancouver, B.C.) caught one game in 2013, while George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.) was behind the dish for four games in 2014.