My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· With the end of 2019 drawing near, it’s important to remember those from the Canadian baseball community that we lost this year. Three Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees passed away in 2019. Longtime big league umpire and Montreal native Jim McKean died on January 24 at the age of 73. Two Canadian women who starred in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League also passed away. Marge Callaghan Maxwell (Vancouver, B.C.), who was an infielder for eight seasons in the circuit, died on January 11 at the age of 97, while ex-pitcher Betty Carveth Dunn (Grande Prairie, Alta.) passed away on January 27 at the age of 93.
· We also lost a few members of the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos families in 2019. Hall of Fame slugger and onetime Expos manager Frank Robinson died on February 9 at the age of 83, while Scott Sanderson, a standout pitcher on the Expos’ early 80s squads, passed away on April 12 at the age of 62. Ron Fairly, the only player to be an all-star with both the Expos and the Blue Jays, was 81 when he passed away on October 30 and just under a month later, former Expos pitcher John Strohmayer died at the age of 73.
· The Blue Jays officially introduced left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu at a press conference at Rogers Centre on Friday. The veteran southpaw, who finished second in National League Cy Young voting in 2019, recently signed a four-year, $80-million contract with the Blue Jays. It’s the largest deal the club has ever handed out to a free agent pitcher and is second overall in total monetary value to the five-year, $82.5-million deal the team forked out to Canadian catcher Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) prior to the 2015 season. It’s interesting to note that Martin was also Ryu’s preferred catcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. Martin caught 20 of the Korean lefty’s starts and Ryu posted a 1.52 ERA in 130 2/3 innings with the Canadian behind the dish.
· Speaking of large contracts for Canadian major leaguers, it was 10 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.) landed a four-year, $66-million deal with the New York Mets. Unfortunately, over the next three seasons, the Canuck slugger battled injuries and the New York boo birds before completing his big league career with the Seattle Mariners in 2013.
· Imagine what kind of money Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) would receive today coming off his 1974 season. When I speak to people about the Canadian baseball legend, I’m guilty of only rhyming off stats from his 1971 National League Cy Young Award winning season with the Chicago Cubs, but his 1974 season with the Texas Rangers was almost as impressive. In that campaign, Jenkins led the American League with 25 wins and 29 complete games and was second in starts (41) and innings pitched (328 1/3) and third in strikeouts (225). He finished second to Catfish Hunter in the American League Cy Young voting. Hunter had the same number of wins, but a lower ERA (2.49 to Jenkins’ 2.82), but Jenkins had a better WAR (7.7) than the Oakland A’s ace (6.9).
· We’re down to our final gasp at helping Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) get elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball writers have to have their ballots in by the end of the day on Tuesday. 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 week 2018 Tip O’Neill Award winner and Yankees ace James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) offered his support for Walker in an interview on the MLB Network’s Sirius Radio. “He was unreal . . . He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said Paxton. You can listen to Paxton talk about Walker here.
· As the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2020 announcement gets closer (January 21), I wanted to warn collectors that more and more forgeries of Larry Walker’s autograph are popping up for sale. I’m not an autograph expert, but I do write a lot of stories about autographs and I’ve been at three events where I watched Walker sign autographs. I’m very familiar with this signature. So please buy your Walker autographs from a reputable source. Here are two examples of signed Walker items that are for sale on eBay right now. The first one is NOT authentic. The second one is authentic.
· Happy 78th Birthday to Windsor, Ont., native and former Chicago Cub John Upham! A lot of excitement was generated when the Los Angeles Angels signed Shohei Ohtani as a two-way player prior to the 2018 season. Well, I like to tell my fellow Canadian baseball history friends that 50 years earlier, Upham was a two-way player for the Cubs in parts of the 1967 and 1968 seasons. During those two campaigns, the versatile Canuck made seven mound appearances for the Cubs and played in the outfield in four games. In total, Upham played nine minor league seasons and batted .293 in 789 games as a hitter and posted a 3.05 ERA in 43 appearances as a pitcher.
· I’m totally fine with Jack Morris being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He deserves it. But I was looking at the stats of former Expos ace Steve Rogers on Baseball Reference the other day. In 399 games over parts of 13 major league seasons, Rogers had a career WAR of 45.1. In comparison, Morris, in 549 appearances in 18 major league campaigns, had a WAR of 43.5. Conclusion: Rogers is extremely underrated.
· This is not this week’s trivia question, but rather one that I asked on Twitter this week: Who was the first Canadian pitcher to be selected to play for the American League in the MLB All-Star Game? The answer Oscar Judd in 1943. The Rebecca, Ont., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee went 11-6 with a 2.90 ERA for the Red Sox that season. Judd passed away 24 years ago Friday.
· Happy 57th Birthday to former Blue Jays centre fielder Devon White! So just how good defensively was White with the Blue Jays during his five-year tenure with the club. Well, he won a Gold Glove every season he was with the team. And just two outfielders in major league history Kevin Kiermaier (5.0 in 2015) and Darrin Erstad (4.1 in 2002) have had a better dWAR in a season than White’s 3.9 dWAR with the Blue Jays in 1992. Let’s celebrate his birthday by watching “The Catch”.
· This week’s trivia question: I just mentioned White’s 3.9 dWAR in 1992. That’s the best in a season by a Blue Jays outfielder. What Blue Jays outfielder has the second-best single-season dWAR for the club? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1983 O-Pee-Chee Rod Carew card, a 1983 Fleer Ozzie Smith card and a 1984 Fleer Steve Carlton card.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (Hall of Famer Steve Carlton pitched in Winnipeg during his first professional season. There’s one major league pitcher that has been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame who spent his entire first professional season with a Winnipeg club. Who is he? Hint: He pitched there in 1971.) was Steve Rogers who posted a 3.97 ERA in 15 appearances with the International League’s Winnipeg Whips in 1971.