My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· We’ll find out tomorrow at 6 p.m. E.T. if right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) will become the second Canadian to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. Back in 2004, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.) became the first Canuck to capture this honour. Soroka, who went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts for the Atlanta Braves, will be in tough against New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso who set a major league rookie record with 53 home runs this season. San Diego Padres five-tool shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is the third finalist for the award.
· Congratulations to Derek Aucoin (Lachine, Que.) who was inducted into the RDS Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame last night. 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-year professional career that also included 60 appearances for the triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 1996 and 1997. He also joined the Lynx team in the post-season that won the International League championship in 1995. 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 professional 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. Aucoin has also distinguished himself as a highly respected member of the media, as a radio host and analyst. Richard Émond, Pierre-Luc LaForest, François Lemire, René Marchand and Stéphanie Savoie were also inducted into the Quebec ball shrine, along with Paul Calvert, Gary Carter, Hector Racine, Joe Page and Rusty Staub who were honoured posthumously.
· Jon Heyman, of the MLB Network, reported on Wednesday that Canadian catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) is already working out and is planning to play a 15th major league season in 2020. With his lucrative five-year, $82.5-million contract expiring at the end of this season, there was some speculation that the 36-year-old Canuck might retire. In his return to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019, he batted .220 and posted a .337 on-base percentage in 83 games and reached the post-season for the 10th time in 14 major league campaigns. Despite his extensive playoff resume, Martin has never suited up for a team that has advanced to the World Series.
· And speaking of Martin, he has donated his spikes from Game 3 of this year’s National League Division Series to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. (See image below). The veteran catcher had a home run, a double and four RBIs against the Washington Nationals in that contest to help lead the Dodgers to a 10-4 win. With his two runs in that game, he also set a Canadian record for most career post-season runs (24) breaking the mark set by Tip O’Neill (Woodstock, Ont.) that had held up for 131 years.
· According to Baseball America, Dalton Pompey (Mississauga, Ont.) and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) are now minor league free agents. Pompey, who most recently played alongside his brother, Tristan, for the Canadian national team at the WSBC Premier12 tournament, has been plagued by injuries in recent years. In all, he played parts of four big league seasons with the Blue Jays and has been in the organization since 2010. Axford made just one minor league appearance in 2019 after suffering an elbow injury during spring training. He has appeared in 543 games over 10 seasons, including 45 with the Blue Jays in 2018.
· Jon Morosi, of Fox Sports, reported on Friday that Canadian slugger Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) has re-signed with the Korean Baseball Organization’s SK Wyverns for a fourth season. The contract is a one-year, $900,000 deal (with $350,000 in potential incentives). It also includes a 2021 vesting option. In 2019, his third season with the KBO club, Romak batted .276 with 29 home runs and 95 RBIs and set career highs in doubles (28) and walks (73).
· Let’s continue the campaign to get Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) 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. One common argument against Walker is that he played 597 games at the hitter friendly Coors Field. But I like to remind people that while with the Rockies, Walker had three, three-home run games. None of them came at Coors Field.
· I can’t understand why a major league organization doesn’t reach out and sign Canadian right-hander Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.). The 6-foot-7 right-hander pitched eight shutout innings in his start for the Canadian national team in their opening game against Cuba at the WSBC Premier12 tournament on Tuesday. Just over four months earlier, he tossed a combined 13 shutout innings for the national squad that won silver at the Pan Am Games. And when he wasn’t toeing the rubber on the international stage, he went 8-5 with a league-best 2.65 ERA in 18 starts for the independent Can Am-League’s Ottawa Champions, good enough to be named the circuit’s Pitcher of the Year.
· From everyone that I know that has dealt with him while he was with the Blue Jays, second baseman Devon Travis is a wonderful, modest, thoughtful human being and a complete breath of fresh air in a modern sports landscape dominated by narcissists. He became a free agent on Friday and then he wrote a handwritten letter to Toronto and Blue Jays’ fans (below). This is how you say goodbye with class. I wish this guy nothing but the absolute best.
· Former Blue Jays third baseman and 1992 World Series hero Ed Sprague has been promoted to the position of director of player development with the Oakland A’s. The A’s shared the news in a press release on Tuesday. He was an assistant director in the same department with the club last season.
· Happy 47th Birthday to former Blue Jays outfielder and the club’s first 30/30 player, Shawn Green! In 1998, Green had 35 home runs and 35 stolen bases to go along with 33 doubles, 106 runs and 100 RBIs for the Blue Jays. He topped that in 1999 when he batted .309 with 42 home runs, 45 doubles, 123 RBIs and 20 stolen bases and earned his first all-star appearance. Following that season, in an unpopular trade, he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Raul Mondesi and left-hander Pedro Borbon Jr. Green finished his 15-year big league career with 2,003 hits, including 328 home runs.
· This week’s trivia question: Shawn Green was the first Blue Jays player to record 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a big league season. Who is the only other Blue Jays player to achieve this? The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1981 Donruss Rod Carew card, a 1983 Topps Johnny Bench card and a 1984 Fleer Ozzie Smith card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (At 81 years old, Ron Fairly had been the oldest living former Blue Jay. With his death, there are now just two former Blue Jays players who are 80 years old. Can you name one of them?) was either Phil Niekro and Rico Carty.