My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Speaking of Jason Bay, he’s the only Canadian to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. That could change this year, however, with the way Calgary, Alta., native Mike Soroka is pitching for the Atlanta Braves. Through 12 starts, Soroka is 8-1 with a 2.12 ERA and has allowed just 56 hits in 76 2/3 innings. The Canuck righty’s primary competition for the award is New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso who has belted 26 home runs and recorded 60 RBIs in 76 games. San Diego Padres right-hander Chris Paddack is also having a fine first big league season. He owns a 3.18 ERA and has 73 strikeouts 70 2/3 innings in 13 starts. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo is also making a strong case for himself, posting a .303 batting average with 17 doubles, seven home runs and an .847 OPS in 73 contests.
· In case you missed it, the Brett Lawrie experiment in the Milwaukee Brewers organization is over. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on Tuesday that the Langley, B.C., native has been released by the club. The 29-year-old Lawrie, who hasn’t played a major league game since July 21, 2016 due to leg and hip injuries, was signed to a minor league deal (with a 2020 option) in February and had been rehabbing in the Brewers’ minor league facility in Arizona for three and a half months. Unfortunately, according to Milwaukee Brewers GM David Stearns, Lawrie was not progressing enough in his rehab to assign him to a minor league affiliate and the two sides agreed to part ways. When Lawrie signed a minor league deal with the Brewers in February, he returned to the organization that made him a first-round pick (16th overall) in the 2008 MLB draft. He played two seasons in the Brewers organization before he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum on December 6, 2010. 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 batted .248 with 12 home runs in 94 games in 2016 prior to being sidelined by a leg injury. In all, in 588 major league games, he has batted .261 with 71 home runs.
· One of the most touching moments of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony last Saturday was listening to 2019 inductee Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) talk about the impact that Chicago Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) had on his career. Jenkins was sitting in the front row at the ceremony after putting the Hall of Fame jacket on Dempster. The Cubs took a chance and signed Dempster after he had Tommy John surgery in August 2003. “I was in the back fields and didn’t know how to throw a changeup, coming off surgery. Fergie Jenkins took the time to show me and I went on to have the best years of my career as a Chicago Cub,” said Dempster from the podium. The B.C.-born right-hander, who’s second to Jenkins in most all-time Canadian major league pitching statistics, also joked that it seemed unfair that Jenkins was No. 1 in virtually every category so he did some research and managed to uncover that he was, in fact, ahead of Jenkins in walks, hit by pitches and grand slams surrendered.
· Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Jordan Romano, who hails from Markham, Ont., made his first big league appearance at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday in front of his parents, his sisters and many friends. Canadian Baseball Network writer J.P. Antonacci spoke with the right-hander after the game and wrote this excellent story. In his hometown big league debut, Romano allowed a solo home run to Justin Upton, but also struck out the side in the eighth inning. His strikeout victims included superstar Mike Trout and 2018 American League Rookie of Year Shohei Ohtani. Romano, who has been clocked in the high 90s with his fastball, is striking out batters an impressive pace in the big leagues. On Friday, all five of the outs he recorded were strikeouts and he now has 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 major league innings.
· Please send your good thoughts or prayers to former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Jeremy Accardo whose seven-year-old daughter, Leighton, is battling stage 4 cancer. You can read more about Leighton here.
· Mike Farinaccio, who operates the excellent Expos Blog Twitter feed, shared a nice anecdote about former Montreal Expos GM and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer John McHale on Wednesday. Farinaccio read in William J. Ryczek’s book, The Amazin’ Mets, that Canadian left-hander Ken MacKenzie (Gore Bay, Ont.) was just 27 days short of the five years of major league service he required to qualify for a big league pension. So in 1969, MacKenzie wrote letters to each of his former clubs, which included the Braves, Mets, Cardinals, Giants and Astros, as well as the Expos, asking if someone would be willing to employ him for the time he needed to be eligible for the pension. And it was McHale, who had signed MacKenzie to his first contract, who responded and offered him a role. McHale signed MacKenzie and told him to report to the Expos on September 1, 1969 when the rosters expanded. The Canadian southpaw, who hadn’t thrown a big league pitch since 1965, reported and was used as a batting practice pitcher and got in his 27 days. MacKenzie, who posted a 4.80 ERA in 129 big league appearances in parts of six major league seasons, is now 85 and living in Guilford, Ct. (Thank you to Kane Gibson for providing this information).
· If you haven’t done so already, please watch this video essay (click on link) done by highly respected author and Sportsnet writer Stephen Brunt on the new chapter in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s history.
· This week’s trivia question: There have been three other Canadians that have finished in the top 10 in National League Rookie of the Year voting since Jason Bay won the award in 2004. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1978 O-Pee-Chee Willie McCovey card, a 1979 Topps Willie McCovey card, a 1985 TCMA Joe DiMaggio card and a 1989 Donruss Craig Biggio card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Name the two Canadian father/son combinations that have played in the major leagues) was Dave and Cody McKay (Vancouver, B.C.) and Paul and Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.).