My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· This post-season could represent the first time in major league history that two Canadian pitchers will start playoff openers for their respective clubs. Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) has been the ace of the National League East champion Atlanta Braves this season, while left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.), with his 10th straight win on Saturday, has been the New York Yankees’ top starter over the past two months. But Soroka and Paxton are just two of five Canadians that are likely to play in the post-season. The others are Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.), and Houston Astros infielder Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.). Chicago Cubs reliever Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) are also on teams that have a slight chance to be one of National League wild-card teams.
· Speaking of Soroka, he registered his 13th win of the season for the Braves on Thursday. He is now 13-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 169 2/3 innings, spanning 28 starts. The Tournament 12 grad has been particularly dominant on the road. His road ERA is 1.35, which is nearly a full earned run better than New York Mets righty Jacob DeGrom (2.34) who has the second-best National League road era.
· And speaking of Paxton, he has now won 10 straight starts for the New York Yankees. That’s the most consecutive starts that he has ever won in his career. During his current win streak, he has posted a 2.10 ERA and has 68 strikeouts in 60 innings. For the record, the most consecutive wins for a Canadian starting pitcher is held by Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Russell Ford (Brandon, Man.) who recorded wins in 12 straight starts for the Yankees in 1910.
· Happy 44th Birthday to Leamington, Ont., native Danny Klassen! Selected in the second draft of the 1993 MLB draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, the 6-foot infielder batted .226 with six home runs in 85 games in parts of five major league seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers between 1998 and 2003. In total, he suited up for parts of 15 professional seasons and hit .273 and recorded 1,230 hits.
· Happy 92nd Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Montreal Royals legend Tommy Lasorda! Best known as the colourful manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lasorda spent the bulk of his professional playing career in Canada. Originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies, the fiery southpaw landed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. Starting in 1950, Lasorda pitched a record nine seasons with the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers triple-A affiliate. In 1951, he notched 12 victories – the first of six campaigns in which he registered at least 10 wins for the Royals – and helped the club to a league title. He would trump that season in 1953, when he recorded 17 wins and led the Royals to another championship. After brief major league stops with Brooklyn and Kansas City and a stint in the New York Yankees organization, Lasorda returned to Montreal in 1958 to win 18 games and earn the circuit’s most valuable pitcher honours. After a final season with the Royals in 1960, Lasorda retired as the all-time franchise leader in wins (107), games pitched (251) and innings pitched (1,461). The baseball icon would, of course, maintain his association with the Dodgers and eventually serve 21 seasons (1976 to 1996) as field boss with the club. During his reign, Lasorda’s teams captured eight division crowns and two World Series titles. For his efforts, Lasorda was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
· Congratulations to Cambridge, Ont., native Scott Thorman who managed the Kansas City Royals class-A Advanced Wilmington Blue Rocks to their first Carolina League title in 20 years. This is the second consecutive championship that Thorman has guided a Royals’ affiliate to. Last year, he piloted the class-A Lexington Legends to a South Atlantic League crown. This was Thorman’s fifth season as a manager in the Royals’ system and first in Wilmington. The 37-year-old Canadian, who played parts of two major league seasons with the Atlanta Braves in 2006 and 2007, previously managed the Burlington Royals of the Short-Season Rookie-ball Appalachian League. He is now set to serve as the skipper of the Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League.
· Twenty-nine years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson, then with the Chicago Cubs, notched his 300th career stolen base. This made him just the second big league player to record 300 home runs, 300 stolen bases and 2,000 hits in their career. Willie Mays was the first. Four other players have since joined that elite club: Barry Bonds, Steve Finley, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.
· Four years ago today, New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra died. On top of his outstanding playing career, he was also known for his Yogi-isms. And on the anniversary of his death, my hope is that we can all embrace the spirit of one of Berra’s most famous quips, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”
· Former Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame board member and longtime supporter of the museum David Morneau has organized “An Evening in Space,” an event that will feature colourful former Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Lee in conversation with Jack Graney Award winner Richard Griffin that will take place on October 9 in Kitchener, Ont. This should be an interesting night. I’ve already purchased my ticket. You can purchase tickets to the event here. Part of the proceeds from the tickets will go to the Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo Region.
· If you’re a Canadian baseball history buff (like me), mark November 9th and 10th on your calendar. Longtime Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer and co-founder of the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research Andrew North has announced that the fourth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference will take place in London, Ont., on those dates. This year’s event, which will again be organized by Andrew, with plenty of help from his wife, Elena, will include a bus trip and tour to the newly renovated Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. For more information and for a complete list of the fascinating baseball presentations, you can click on this link. The registration fee is $70. To register, please email Andrew North at firstname.lastname@example.org.
· This week’s trivia question: Name the only two Canadians to have notched 100 or more home runs and 100 or more stolen bases in their major league careers. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1962 Topps Ron Piche card, a 1983 Topps Tim Raines card, a 1984 Donruss Andre Dawson card and a 1984 Topps Traded Jimmy Key rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Aside from Joey Votto and Larry Walker, who is the only other Canadian to record 300 doubles in the major leagues?) was Justin Morneau. He had 349 major league doubles.