My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· In case you missed it, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2019 induction class on Tuesday. Former slugger Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.), versatile ex-pitcher Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.), esteemed coach Rob Thomson (Corunna, Ont.) and long-time executive Gord Ash (Toronto, Ont.) will be inducted into the Canadian ball shrine in a ceremony to take place on June 15 at the Hall of Fame grounds in St. Marys, Ont. Each member of this all-Canadian class seemed genuinely excited about their upcoming induction in the media conference call on Tuesday. That call also featured Dempster performing his famous Harry Caray imitation when prompted by a reporter.
· Dempster also spoke about the honour on the MLB Network (whom he also works for) on Tuesday night. You can watch this segment by clicking on the link below. At the end of the interview, there’s an excellent trivia question: Who are the only three major league pitchers to have registered 120 wins, 80 saves and 2,000 strikeouts. The answer is Dempster, John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley.
· Most remember Trail, B.C., native and newly elected Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jason Bay for his hitting heroics with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. But he was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 22nd round in 2000. I asked Bay about his time in the Expos organization in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call on Tuesday. He recalled that Scott Goldby was the scout who signed him. “I didn’t get a chance to meet him. I was a 22nd round senior out of college so they basically handed me a contract and said, ‘Here you go, sign it. And we’ll get you going.’ And I met him a few years down the line. But at that point of my career, I was just hoping to get drafted by somebody. And the fact that it was the Expos was a little feather in the cap,” said Bay.
· In case you missed it, Langley, B.C., native and former Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie announced on his Instagram account on Saturday that he has signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers have not officially announced the transaction and it’s unclear if it’s a major league or minor league contract for the 29-year-old infielder who hasn’t played a big league game since July 21, 2016. With this deal, Lawrie will return to the organization that made him a first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2008 MLB draft. The sparkplug infielder played two seasons in the Brewers organization before he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum on December 6, 2010. Lawrie was called up by the Blue Jays on August 5, 2011 and with his all-out hustle quickly became a fan favourite in Toronto. He suited up for parts of four seasons with the Blue Jays before he was dealt to the Oakland A’s prior to the 2015 campaign as part of the package for Josh Donaldson. In his sole season with the A’s, Lawrie belted a career-high 16 home runs before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in December 2015. With the Sox, Lawrie would bat .248 with 12 home runs in 94 games in 2016 prior to being sidelined by a leg injury. The White Sox released him the following spring. In all, in 588 major league games, he has batted .261 with 71 home runs.
· Hall of Fame slugger and trailblazing manager Frank Robinson passed away on Thursday at the age of 83 after a long battle with bone cancer. In his 21-season big league playing career, Robinson belted more home runs than Mickey Mantle, amassed more hits than Babe Ruth and is the only player to win an MVP Award in both the American and National Leagues. His resume also boasts the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award, a Triple Crown with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, two World Series rings, a World Series MVP Award, 14 All-Star game selections, a Gold Glove Award and first-ballot election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. And let’s not forget Robinson’s successful and trailblazing managerial career. When the Cleveland Indians hired him as their player/manager for the 1975 season, he became the first African-American manager in major league history. From a Canadian perspective, he was also the last manager of the Montreal Expos from 2002 to 2004. Chatham, Ont., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins shared a nice tribute to him on Twitter on Thursday (Click below to read it).
· Jenkins’ tweet about Robinson prompted me to check out how Robinson actually fared against the Canadian pitching legend. The answer is very well. Robinson was 6-for-18 (.333 batting average) with four home runs and 10 RBI off Jenkins. But Jenkins wasn’t the only Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee that Robinson hit well against. He was 4-for-9 (.444 batting average) against Ron Piche (Verdun, Que.) and 8-for-19 (.421) versus Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.). Raymond shared his memories about Robinson on TSN 690 Montreal on Thursday. You can listen to that interview here.
· When Victoria, B.C., native Michael Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies in January, I couldn’t help but think that it was a good move. Why? Well, just two Canadians – Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) – have won major league batting titles since 1900. Walker won three (1998-99, 2001) and Morneau won one (2014). Both Walker and Morneau – like Saunders – are left-handed hitting Canucks and both of them won their batting titles while with the Rockies.
· Please take a moment to remember former Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays 1B/DH Tony Solaita who died on this date 29 years when he was shot in his native Samoa during a land dispute. He was just 43. Solaita played parts of seven major league seasons between 1968 and 1979. He split his last season between the Expos and Blue Jays in 1979. In that campaign, he batted .286 with a home run in 29 games with the Expos before he was traded to the Blue Jays on July 30 and proceeded to bat .265 with two homers in the final 36 games of his major league career.
· When I saw that the Washington Nationals had designated pitcher Trevor Gott for assignment on Friday, my first intuition was to check if he was the son of former Blue Jays pitcher Jim Gott. He is not. But I did stumble upon an interesting stat. In 2017, Gott pitched in four games for the Nats, finishing with a 1-0 record and a 30.00 ERA (yes, 30.00 ERA). It got me wondering if any other pitcher with a 30.00 ERA had recorded a win in a MLB season. According to @HotStoveStats on Twitter, Vin Mazzaro is the only other pitcher to achieve this. He was 1-0 with 54.00 ERA in two appearances for the San Francisco Giants in 2016.
· This week’s trivia question: Outside of Ryan Dempster, who is the only other Canadian to have recorded at least 80 wins and 80 saves in their major league career? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1982 Donruss Andre Dawson card, a 1984 Donruss Gary Carter card, a 1985 Leaf Dale Murphy card and a 1987 Fleer Joe Carter card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (With Roy Halladay’s posthumous induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this summer, there will now be 12 players, managers or executives that have been inducted into both the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Can you name four of them?). The answer was any four of Halladay, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Vladimir Guerrero, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Martinez, Pat Gillick, Jackie Robinson or Fergie Jenkins.