My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Four players – Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina – were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. The good news for Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker is that he gained 88 votes (the most by any candidate) and his support rose to 54.6% from 34.1% the previous year. The bad news is that next year is his 10th and final year on the ballot and he will have to gain 87 more votes to reach the 75% support needed for induction. Walker, himself, admitted that this would be a tall task in a conference call arranged by the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night. “The 20.5% jump was very gratifying. I was quite pleased with that. I don’t know if it’s enough to make that final leap next year,” said Walker. “Probably not, in all honesty. But to see the way the needle moved this year was pretty incredible and I’m obviously thankful for that.” Despite the rise, the final support tally was somewhat disappointing for us long-time Walker Hall advocates. Walker had 66% support in the baseball writers ballots made public that were documented by Ryan Thibodaux on his ballot tracker, prior to the final results being unveiled on Tuesday. Walker admitted that he had been following this tracker, but that he likely won’t do it again next year. “I don’t want to get too involved with that again next year because my heart rate was going up and down,” said Walker. Regardless of whether Walker garners enough votes on writers’ ballots next year, he seems a lock to be elected by the Hall’s Today’s Game Era Committee which convenes again in the fall of 2021. That’s the committee that elected Lee Smith and Harold Baines in December.
· As someone who has been a fan of Walker his entire career, including his memorable stretch with the Expos from 1989 to 1994, I was delighted when the @MontrealExpos Twitter account posted footage of his first major league home run. Walker’s first big league home run was a solo shot off New York Mets right-hander Ron Darling in the top of the second inning in an Expos’ 2-1 win at Shea Stadium on April 20, 1990. Click on the tweet below to watch it.
· The reaction of some Toronto Blue Jays fans to the decision by Roy Halladay’s family not have a logo on the cap on his Hall of Fame plaque was just about enough to make me quit social media. I guess I understand Blue Jays fans feeling a little slighted that the family didn’t chose their team’s cap, but to hurl insults at a grieving Brandy Halladay and her two children that have lost their dad over something so trivial is shameful. I’ve seen a lot of terrible tweets on Twitter over the years, but some of those directed at Brandy Halladay were absolutely disgusting.
· I was perusing the box score of Halladay’s first major league game and discovered a great Canadian trivia question. On September 20, 1998, Halladay made his debut with the Blue Jays against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field. In five innings, he allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and struck out five. But who was the first major leaguer to club a home run off Halladay in a regular season game? The answer is Toronto’s own Rich Butler, who belted a two-run shot off Halladay in the bottom of the fourth inning in that contest that the Blue Jays eventually won 7-5.
· Congratulations to long-time Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 10th and final year on the ballot. Calgary baseball fans were fortunate to have a sneak preview of what was to come for the Hall of Fame hitter 30 years ago. Martinez played parts of four memorable seasons with the triple-A Calgary Cannons and his numbers from those seasons were outstanding: 1985 – 20 games – .353 BA, .450 OBP; 1987 – 129 games – .329/.434; 1988 – 95 games – .363/.467; 1989 – 32 games – .345/.457
· Thank you to Jerry Soulliere for sharing with me that 2019 Hall of Fame inductee Mike Mussina pitched for the U.S. at the Junior World Championship tournament in Windsor in 1986. Cuba won gold at that competition, but their only loss was a defeat to the U.S. in which Mussina struck out 16 and tossed a five-hit shutout. The U.S. ended up winning bronze. The Canadian team, which finished fourth, featured future big leaguers Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.), Denis Boucher (Lachine, Que.) and Greg O’Halloran (Toronto, Ont.).
· And if it seemed like Mussina was always pitching well against the Blue Jays, well, that’s because he generally was. The 6-foot-2 right-hander recorded 25 wins against the Blue Jays in his career – the most he registered against any MLB team. In 44 starts against the Blue Jays, he went 25-12 with a 3.26 ERA in 304 innings.
· There was a great tweet from Jack Graney Award winner Richard Griffin last Sunday in which he connected this year’s Super Bowl quarterbacks to the Montreal Expos. Griffin wrote that New England Patriots pivot Tom Brady was drafted by the Expos as a catcher in the 18th round in 1995, while the Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff is the son of former catcher Jerry Goff, who played with the Expos in 1990 and 1992.
· Congratulations to Griffin, who’s leaving his position as baseball columnist with the Toronto Star to become the Blue Jays’ director of baseball media. Prior to becoming a columnist with the Star in 1995, Griffin served as the director of publicity for the Expos from 1978 to 1994. He was the winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award in 2014.
· Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Emslie on what would be his 160th birthday. Inspired by the International champion Guelph Maple Leafs, Emslie longed to become a professional baseball player at a young age. It was on a barnstorming tour of the U.S. with a semi-pro squad from St. Thomas, Ontario that Emslie would catch his big professional baseball break. At the end of the tour, he inked a deal with a semi-pro club in Camden, N.J., and when that team disbanded, he was picked up by the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles. In Baltimore, the 25-year-old hurler would win a Canadian record 32 games in 1884. Emslie also tossed over 455 innings and registered a 2.75 ERA in that remarkable campaign. Unfortunately that season would take its toll on his arm, and he was out of big league baseball by the end of 1885. Turning to umpiring, he was a National League umpire from 1891 to 1923 and was the base umpire during the famous Merkle play that cost the Giants the 1908 pennant. He died in 1943 and was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1986.
· Happy 41st Birthday to Hull, Que., native Pete LaForest! Selected by the Expos in the 16th round in 1995, the 6-foot-2 catcher proceeded to play 18 professional seasons – including parts of three seasons in the major leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies. With the triple-A Portland Beavers in 2007, he set a Pacific Coast League record with five grand slams. One of the batting helmets he wore during that season is in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection. LaForest has also played for the Canadian national team on multiple occasions, including at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World Baseball Classic. In more recent years, he managed the Trois-Rivieres Aigles of the Can-Am League from 2013 to 2016. He has since launched the B45 Baseball Academy in Galesburg, Mich.
· This week’s trivia question: Six of the top 13 vote-getters in this year’s National Baseball Hall of Fame voting were former Blue Jays. Can you name three 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 (Ricky Romero made two Opening Day starts for the 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 answer was any two of Tom Underwood (1979), Jimmy Key (1987 to 1989), David Wells (2000) and J.A. Happ (2018).