My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· When is the last time you heard someone discuss the “Fenway Park effect” when evaluating a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it. And while people continually bring up Coors Field when debating whether Canadian Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, few have ever mentioned just how much longtime Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs (who I believe is a worthy Hall of Famer) benefited from playing at Fenway. But as seasoned stats guru Ryan Spaeder pointed out in an article on his site on Thursday, in 854 games at Fenway Park during his legendary career, Boggs had a slash line of .369/.464/.527. His slash line at all other big league parks was .306/.388/.398. That means his OPS was .991 at Fenway and .786 (more than .200 lower) everywhere else.
· So let’s continue the campaign to get Walker 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. For more on why Walker is worthy, I’d suggest you read Spaeder’s article, as well as Canadian Baseball Network editor-in-chief Bob Elliott’s piece in which he spoke with former all-star third baseman Scott Rolen about Walker. “Players know who the Hall of Famers are,” said Rolen. “You saw Chipper Jones and you knew he was a Hall of Famer. And I saw Larry Walker and I know he was the most dominant player I ever played with.”
· Montreal native Russell Martin has donated the jersey (photo above) he wore for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals in which he went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. The Canuck catcher intends to play in 2020. With his lucrative five-year, $82.5-million contract expiring at the end of this past 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.
· It was refreshing to listen to Calgary native Mike Soroka talk about his Canadian roots and how much winning the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award means to him in radio interviews this week. Talking to Jack Graney Award winner Jeff Blair on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday, Soroka credited his excellent road ERA in 2019 (1.35 ERA) to his time with Greg Hamilton and the Junior National Team program. He said in touring with the national team he got used to pitching on different mounds. On Thursday, Soroka was interviewed by TSN 1040 in Vancouver and asked about the significance of winning the Tip O’Neill Award. “The Tip O’Neill Award is, I think, the one that honestly put me back the most, just because being Canadian and coming up in the junior national program and watching the guys that have won it for so many years in Justin Morneau and Joey Votto and Larry Walker and James Paxton, it’s pretty humbling especially because there are so many players that I’m coming up with as well that are going to be in the running for the award in the future,” he said.
· It was nine years ago today that Dave Van Horne won the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award to become the first broadcaster who spent the bulk of his career calling games for a Canadian major league team to win the honour. These days, Van Horne calls games for the Miami Marlins, but for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, he’ll always be the voice of the Montreal Expos. The Easton, Pa., native was performing radio play-by-play duties for the Richmond Braves (Atlanta Braves’ triple-A affiliate) from 1966 to 1968 when he first met John McHale (then the Atlanta Braves president). When McHale became president of the Expos, he offered Van Horne his first big league radio gig in 1969. Behind the mike for the Expos’ first game on April 8, 1969 until the end of the 2000 season, Van Horne became known for his smooth baritone and trademark catch-phrases like “Up, up and away!” when the Expos hit a home run. In his 32 seasons with the Expos, he broadcast the down-to-the-wire pennant races in 1979 and 1980, the team’s only post-season run in 1981 and Dennis Martinez’s perfect game on July 28, 1991 – a performance that inspired, perhaps, his most famous call, “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” In 1996, Van Horne received the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award for broadcasting excellence and he was formally inducted into the Canuck ball shrine in 2014.
· Three notable ex-Blue Jays were born today. Happy Birthday to Reed Johnson (43), Vernon Wells (41) and Josh Donaldson (34). Wells recently became a player agent, while Donaldson, who is currently a free agent, was named National League Comeback Player of the Year after hammering 37 home runs for the Atlanta Braves in 2019. Johnson played his final major league game with the Washington Nationals in 2015.
· Twenty-two years ago today, the Blue Jays signed Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Fernandez to a one-year contract, bringing him back for his third of four stints with the club. The veteran infielder proceeded to bat .321 and set a career-high with 72 RBIs in 138 games in 1998. He would re-sign with the club for 1999 and top his 1998 numbers, hitting .328 with 75 RBIs in 142 games. For his efforts, he selected to participate in his fifth all-star game.
· This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Montreal Expos player to hit for the cycle in a regular season game? Hint: Today is his birthday. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1983 Fleer Ozzie Smith card, a 1986 Fleer Wade Boggs card, a 1986 Donruss Andre Dawson card and a 1988 Donruss Roberto Alomar rookie card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Two Blue Jays pitchers have hit home runs in a regular season games over the years. Who are they?) was Mark Hendrickson and Marcus Stroman.