My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· As Nick Lee (@NickLee51 on Twitter) pointed out on Friday, Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) has been the San Diego Padres best pitcher since the all-star break. In 34 1/3 innings in six appearances since the Midsummer Classic, the Canadian right-hander has limited batters to 22 hits and posted a 1.31 ERA while striking out 32. In late June, the Padres shifted the 24-year-old Junior National Team alum to the bullpen, but he has since rejoined the rotation and manager Andy Green recently told James Clark of the East Village Times that there will be no innings limit or restrictions on Quantrill for the rest of the season.
· Montreal native and former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin has made three pitching appearances (See highlights of his third appearance in the link above) for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. And he has been surprisingly effective on the mound: he hasn’t allowed a run in three innings. I wasn’t sure if any other big league catchers had made three pitching appearances in a season so I posed the question on Twitter and I received a response from Bo-Bo Leaguer (@Minor_Leaguer) that indicated that it has happened at least four other times. Erik Kratz made three appearances for the Brewers last season, while Seattle Mariners catcher Tom Murphy has made three in 2019. He also shared that backstop Christian Bethancourt took the mound four times for the Padres in 2017. All of these, he pointed out, is small potatoes, however, to Chris Gimenez who pitched in six games for the Minnesota Twins in 2017.
· Today would’ve been Roberto Clemente’s 85th birthday. Most remember him as a superstar outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates who recorded 3,000 hits and owned arguably the greatest throwing arm in major league history, but Clemente played his first professional season in North America with the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1954. Signed as an international free agent by the Brooklyn Dodgers, Clemente was assigned to the Royals and would appear in 87 games and bat .257 with two home runs for the Canadian club before he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in that era’s equivalent of the Rule 5 draft following the season. Sadly, Clemente died in plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1972. He had chartered a plane to deliver relief supplies to earthquake stricken Nicaragua.
· Twenty-four years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tom Henke recorded his 300th major league save when he closed out a 4-3 win by the St. Louis Cardinals over the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium. With that, The Terminator became just the sixth big leaguer to record 300 saves in their career. Henke, of course, registered 217 of those saves with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1985 to 1992.
· It was great to see footage of Kaye Kaminishi, the last living member of the Vancouver Asahi throw out the first pitch at the class-A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians game on Tuesday (Click on the link above to see the footage). The 97-year-old Kaminishi, who was a smooth fielding infielder, was present at the Vancouver Asahi’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2003. Originating in 1914, the Vancouver Asahi played a brand of baseball deemed “brain ball.” They stole bases with abandon and dropped bunts with the accuracy of pool sharks. Playing their home games at the Powell Street Grounds, the Asahi team was a source of pride for Japanese Canadians. Hopeful recruits came not only from Vancouver, but from every surrounding town in the Fraser Valley. In the ’20s and ’30s, the team’s success helped Japanese Canadians build bridges between their communities and occidental ones. Beginning in 1937, the Asahi won the Pacific Northwest Championship five years in a row. However, 1941 would be the last carefree summer the boys would play as a team. Early in 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government interned all people of Japanese descent, confiscating their property, and uprooting their lives. As a team, the Asahi never played together again. Yet, when these men, along with thousands of Japanese Canadians, were removed to prison camps, they took with them the spirit of baseball. Little by little, bats and balls appeared and these former Asahi players assembled baseball teams. Soon these men were playing against their RCMP prison guards, then with local townspeople. Bonding through the game of baseball helped dispel suspicions and fears and led to lasting friendships that exist today.
· Thank you to High Heat stats who shared this great slice of trivia on Twitter on Wednesday. The only player to have played with the fathers of the Blue Jays’ three second-generation position players – Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – was pitcher Dave Veres.
· Please take a moment to remember ex-big leaguer and Kingsville, Ont., native Ozzie Van Brabant who passed away one year ago today at the age of 91. The Canadian right-hander appeared in 11 games for the Philadelphia and Kansas City A’s in 1954 and 1955. On April 23, 1955, he, along with Glendon, Alta., native Eric MacKenzie, became the first all-Canadian battery in American League history. In total, Van Brabant toed the rubber in parts of five minor league seasons, including a stop with the triple-A Ottawa A’s in 1954. After hanging up his playing spikes, he became an electrician. He passed away in La Jolla, Calif.
· Forty-four years ago today, Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Ralph Kiner was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In his 10-year big league career, between 1946 and 1955, he belted 369 home runs. Prior to his big league career, Kiner honed his skills for 43 games with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943, batting .236 with two home runs.
· This week’s trivia question: Aside from Tom Henke, three other pitchers have recorded 100 or more saves for the Toronto Blue Jays. Can you name two of them? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction program.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Gary Carter played the most games at catcher for the Montreal Expos. Who played the second most games at catcher for the Expos?) was Darrin Fletcher.