My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· It’s Grey Cup Sunday and today I’m thinking about Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jim McKean. Most remember the Montreal native as a highly respected major league umpire for 28 years. But prior to his umpiring career, he played in the CFL and it was 53 years ago that he served as a punter, defensive back and third-string quarterback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. McKean suited up for six games with the Roughriders in 1966 and made 35 punts. Unfortunately, he was released before the Grey Cup game that saw the Riders down the Ottawa Rough Riders 29-14 in Vancouver to secure their first championship. McKean passed away on January 23 at age 73.
· Jim Callis, of MLB.com, reported on Friday that the Seattle Mariners have agreed to a six-year, $24-million contract with 2017 first-round pick Evan White. Callis indicates that the contract includes three options which can bring the deal’s total value to $55 million. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ohio native began his career in the Mariners’ organization in 2017 and batted .293 with 18 home runs in 92 games in double-A affiliate this season. The left-handed hitting first baseman’s contract was negotiated by Blake Corosky of Toronto-based True Gravity Sports. According to Bob Elliott, when White was selected in the first round in 2017, it was the first time that a first-round pick was represented by an Canadian agent. Corosky also negotiated a $3.25-million signing bonus for White in 2017.
· Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.), who developed into a go-to reliever for the Chicago Cubs in 2019, has donated one of his game-worn jerseys to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. (See photo below). In 31 big league appearances in 2019, the hard-throwing right-hander recorded a 2.43 ERA and struck out 35 batters in 33-1/3 innings. Wick, a Junior National National Team alum and converted catcher, made his big league debut with the San Diego Padres in 2018, posting a 6.48 ERA in 10 appearances before being dealt to the Cubs on November 20, 2018.
· Speaking of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine will announce its 2019 Jack Graney Award winner on Wednesday. This award is handed out annually to a member of the media who has made significant contributions to baseball in Canada through their life’s work. For a list of previous winners, you can follow this link.
· It was 11 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tom Burgess passed away at the age of 81. The London, Ont., native signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946 and his finest minor league season came seven years later with the triple-A Rochester Red Wings when he hit .346 with 22 homers and 93 RBIs. His career year earned him a roster spot with the big league Cardinals in 1954, before he returned to the minors for the next seven seasons. He enjoyed his longest major league stint with the Los Angeles Angels in 1962. After retiring as a player, he started a long and successful minor league managerial career with the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League team at Sarasota in 1969. He later piloted first-place minor league clubs at Modesto (1972), Johnson City (1975), Tulsa (1982) and Bristol (1985) and was a major league coach for the New York Mets (1977) and Atlanta Braves (1978). He was also a minor league hitting instructor for the Kansas City Royals from 1988 to 1995. Following his professional career, he served as a coach on the Canadian national teams. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.
· 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. As Connor Looker from Hot Stove Stats tweeted out on Monday (click on tweet below), in the 148 years since MLB began play, just two players have finished their careers with 300 home runs, 200 stolen bases and a .950 OPS — Walker and Barry Bonds.
· If you watch the following video, you’ll see 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) share how fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) showed him his change-up grip on a back field in Chicago Cubs spring training in 2005. Dempster would adopt the grip as his split-finger fastball grip and that pitch would become the biggest weapon in his arsenal for the rest of his career.
· It was 22 years ago today that the Toronto Blue Jays hired Tim Johnson to be their manager. The former infielder and Montreal Expos bench coach’s one year as the Blue Jays bench boss is infamously remembered for his false Vietnam stories, but his team finished with an 88-74 record. And if the current playoff format had been in place in 1998, the Blue Jays would’ve secured the second Wild Card position and faced off against the Boston Red Sox in a Wild Card Game.
· This week’s trivia question: During Johnson’s sole season (1998) as Blue Jays’ manager, the club had three players that hit 30 or more home runs. Can you name them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1982 Topps Steve Carlton card, a 1984 Fleer Andre Dawson card and a 1984 O-Pee-Chee Wade Boggs card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Aside from George Bell, who is the only other Blue Jays player to win the American League MVP Award?) was Josh Donaldson in 2015.