But What Do I Know? . . . Michael Saunders, Scott Mathieson, Derek Aucoin, Larry Walker

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

·         Former Toronto Blue Jay Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) has told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi that he will play for the Canadian national team at the WSBC Premier12 Tournament beginning on November 2 and then retire to become a manager for the Atlanta Braves’ Rookie ball club (Appalachian League) in Danville next season. Saunders told Davidi that he would not play for Canada next summer if they qualify for the 2020 Olympics. The left-handed hitting outfielder was released after a signing a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies this spring. He played a combined 38 games in triple-A in the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles organizations in 2018, but has struggled since his all-star campaign with the Blue Jays in 2016 in which he belted a career-best 24 home runs. In all, in parts of nine major league seasons, with the Seattle Mariners, Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, the 32-year-old Saunders batted .232 and socked 81 home runs in 775 major league games.

·         Right-hander Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, B.C.) announced his retirement from professional baseball on Wednesday. The Aldergrove, B.C., native shared his decision in a scrum with reporters at Yomiuri Giants headquarters in Tokyo. Mathieson just completed his eighth season with the Japan Central League club and he will retire as one of the best foreign pitchers in the franchise’s history and as the most successful Canadian pitcher ever to toe the rubber in Japan. In 428 appearances with the Giants, the Canadian right-hander posted a 2.49 ERA and struck out 501 batters in 438 innings. Mathieson will, however, pitch for the Canadian national team in the WSBC Premier12 tournament. The 35-year-old right-hander hopes to help Canada qualify for a spot in the 2020 Olympics at the tournament. “The Olympics are my ultimate goal. It would be great to finish playing for the Canadian Olympic team in Japan. That would be icing on the cake,” Mathieson told me in an interview in January 2018.

·         Congratulations to former Montreal Expos right-hander Derek Aucoin (Lachine, Que.) who will be inducted into the RDS Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame on November 9. Aucoin, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, is the only Quebecer signed and developed by the Expos to have pitched with them at the big league level. He posted a 3.38 ERA for the Expos in 1996 as part of his 10-season professional career that also included 60 appearances for the triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 1996 and 1997. Pitching for the Expos was a dream come true for Aucoin who honed his skills with the Canadian Junior National Team team prior to his professional career. On top of his pro accomplishments, Aucoin has also served as a coach, teacher and volunteer at the grassroots level in his home province. In this role, he has been a positive influence on thousands of children across Quebec. In recent years, Aucoin has distinguished himself as a highly respected member of the media, as a radio host and analyst and earlier this year, he became the first Quebec native to sit on the board of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

·         My one-sentence message to the Houston Astros front office: Focus less on dWAR and more on decency.

·         The Philadelphia Phillies’ decision to hire Joe Girardi as their new manager reunites him with 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rob Thomson (Corunna, Ont.) who has served as the club’s bench coach the past two seasons. Thomson, who lives in Sebringville, Ont., in the off-season, was Girardi’s bench coach with the New York Yankees for four seasons (2008, 2015-17).

·         Let’s continue the campaign to get Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This is the Canadian slugger’s 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot. Last season, his name was checked on 54.6% of baseball writers’ ballots. He requires 75% support to be elected. This tweet (below) from Max’s Sporting Studio illustrates how worthy Walker is of a plaque in Cooperstown. Only eight players – including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams – in MLB history have recorded a career batting average of at least .310, an on-base percentage of .400 or better and .565 or better slugging percentage. Of those only Walker and Manny Ramirez (who has multiple PEDs violations) have not been inducted.

·         I hadn’t seen this 28-year-old footage until this week. The video below shows Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) throwing out the first pitch at the 1991 All-Star Game at the SkyDome.

·         Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner would’ve turned 97 today. In his injury-shortened playing career, he belted 369 home runs in just 10 seasons, primarily with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even with his prodigious power, Kiner finished his career with more walks (1,011) than strikeouts (749). What many don’t know about Kiner is that prior to starring with the Pirates, he batted .236 with two home runs in 43 games for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs in 1943.

·         Happy 67th Birthday to Pete Vuckovich! The Toronto Blue Jays selected Vuckovich with their 10th pick (19th overall) in the 1976 expansion draft from the Chicago White Sox. In their inaugural season, Vuckovich posted a 3.47 ERA in 53 games and had eight saves for the Blue Jays. Vuckovich later went on to win a Cy Young Award with the American League-pennant winning Milwaukee Brewers in 1982. That season he went 18-6 and recorded a 3.34 ERA in 223 2/3 innings in 30 starts. He finished his 11-year big league career with a 93-69 record and a 3.66 ERA in 286 games.

·         Happy 64th Birthday to former Montreal Expos shortstop U.L. Washington. He batted .249 in 68 games with the Expos in 1985 after a successful eight-season tenure with the Kansas City Royals. For years, I’ve wondered two things about Washington: 1) What does U.L. stand for? A: “People used to always ask me what the initials U.L. stood for,” Washington told a Oklahoma newspaper in 1988. “I’d tell them, ‘U.L. That’s it. They don’t stand for anything.’”  2) Why did he always have a toothpick in his mouth at the plate and in the field? A: When he was in high school, he always had a blade of grass in his mouth, however, every major league team he played for (Kansas City, Montreal, Pittsburgh) played on artificial turf, so he substituted a toothpick for the blade of grass.

·         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, 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 mavrix@rogers.com.

·         This week’s trivia question: I mentioned above that the Blue Jays selected Pete Vuckovich with their 10th pick (19th overall) in the 1976 MLB Expansion Draft. They used their first pick to select infielder Bob Bailor. But who was the first pitcher the Blue Jays selected in the expansion draft? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Topps Steve Carlton card, a 1982 Donruss Bronx Bombers card (featuring Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield) and a 1982 Fleer Johnny Bench card.

·         The answer to last week’s trivia question (Dave Collins holds the Blue Jays record for most stolen bases in a single season. But who owns Blue Jays’ record for most career stolen bases?) was Lloyd Moseby who stole 255 bases as a Blue Jay.

9 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Michael Saunders, Scott Mathieson, Derek Aucoin, Larry Walker

Add yours

  1. Did I miss something about the Astros?
    Washington also played one season with the Moncton Mets in the New Brunswick Senior League in 1990.

  2. So great to see the veteran players giving back to Baseball Canada.
    Congratulations to Derek! Well deserved.
    Great pitch by Fergie!

  3. Comment from Tom Valcke:

    Hi Kevin – Thanks for yet another great Sunday morning read, especially
    when I am severely lacking access to good material like yours due to
    internet limitations here in China. It was great to see you cite Pete
    Vuckovich, and if you don’t mind, allow me to share an anecdote that is
    one of my favourite “Canadiana” baseball stories, as “Vuke” was an
    ingredient in its recipe.

    Shortly after being named GM of the Calgary Cannons as the ’96 season
    approached, and knowing that they had also just switched affiliations
    from the Mariners to the Pirates, I flew down to Bradenton to meet with
    the PIttsburgh brass during Spring Training to talk through several
    matters. Cam Bonifay was the GM at that time, Vuckovich was the Farm
    Director, and our field manager was going to be Trent Jewitt.

    At one point, knowing that Jewitt has worked his way up the Pittsburgh
    ranks as a coach, I asked him if he’d ever managed one of my favourite
    Canadians I ever scouted and helped get signed while I was the Canadian
    Supervisor with the MLB Scouting Bureau, Quebec’s Michel Laplante.
    Michel was projectable based on his excellent location, quality soft
    stuff, athleticism and poise. The two things that ultimately prevented
    him from going all the way were his fastball’s unremarkable velocity,
    and, oddly enough, his gentlemanliness! I mean, like so many of our
    wholesome Canadians, this guy was pure apple pie, and didn’t have a mean
    streak in him anywhere. Michel might have been too nice of a guy, if
    you understand what I mean, to succeed as a long-term major league pitcher.

    Jewitt and Vuckovich turned to each other and burst out laughing when I
    asked the question. You see, those who remember Vuckovich as a pitcher
    will recall a tobacco-chewing, unshaven, jersey-half-hanging out,
    intimidating physical presence who never hesitated to back any hitter
    off in an instant if he felt they were looking a little too comfy at the
    plate. The year Jewitt managed Laplante, Vuckovich was the Pirates’
    roving pitching instructor, and was on a minor league tour whereby the
    theme was focused on taking charge of the inner half of the plate.
    After observing Jewitt’s club for a few days, Vuckovich went up one side
    of Jewitt and down the other, with plenty of expletives along the way,
    about Jewitt’s “chicken-shit pitching staff not pitching inside
    enough.” Jewitt was a pretty tough dude himself, but he took a lickin’
    on that day.

    The very next day, with Vuckovich back in the stands, Laplante was on
    the bump and was doing his thing, hitting his spots, nibbling at the
    corners, changing speeds, etc., and Jewitt broke out of the dugout the
    way a bull is released in a rodeo, stormed out to the mound, and got in
    Laplante’s face like Earl Weaver on an umpire. “Dammit Michel, you’ve
    got to pitch inside
    more if you plan to go anywhere in this game,” he ranted, with plenty of
    Vuckovichian expletives to boot. At the end his hide-tanning, Jewitt
    catechized, “Michel, when is the last time you threw inside?!”

    Laplante was stunned and silent throughout the bashing like a deer in
    headlights, and then the francophone replied, “Well, two years ago, I
    pitch in Olympic Stadium.” That was Michel’s interpretation of
    “pitching inside,” and Jewitt simply threw his arms in the air, made a
    180, and retreated to his dugout!

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