My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· Please keep sending your thoughts and prayers to Toronto Blue Jays legend and 2008 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Fernandez whose condition is improving but he remains in hospital due to complications from a kidney disease. Fernandez has been fighting Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) for a few years now. PKD is a genetic disorder in which cyst clusters grow in the kidneys, causing the kidneys to enlarge and stop functioning over time. Here’s the latest update from his daughter (click below).
· “Even though there’s a Rockies logo on my hat [on his Hall of Fame plaque], there’s a Canadian flag on my heart,” Larry Walker told TSN 690’s Mitch Melnick in an interview on Wednesday. The Maple Ridge, B.C., native is savoring his new status as a Hall of Famer, but he told Melnick that he had been laid up with the flu bug. You can listen to the full interview here.
· In case you missed it, Canadian left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) has undergone back surgery and will miss three to four months. The New York Yankees made the announcement on Wednesday. They explained that Paxton had undergone a microscopic lumbar discectomy which included the removal of a peridiscal cyst. The Canuck southpaw is coming off a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019. Paxton has been hampered by injuries throughout his big league career which has spanned parts of seven seasons.
· It’s great to see former big league pitcher and Calgary native Jim Henderson moving up in the minor league coaching ranks. The former Milwaukee Brewers reliever will serve as pitching coach of the Brewers’ triple-A San Antonio Missions this season after working in the same capacity for the Brewers’ class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in 2019. This will be Henderson’s third season in a coaching role in the organization. The former Okotoks Dawg posted a 3.61 ERA in 155 appearances in parts of four seasons with the Brewers and the New York Mets between 2012 and 2016.
· Newly elected Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) shared in the Hall’s conference call on Tuesday that one of the players he grew up idolizing was fellow 2020 Canadian ball hall inductee John Olerud. “He was one of the three swings that I imitated in my backyard. It was Griffey, Olerud and Walker, they were the three left-handed swings that I watched the most, and obviously I had the chance to watch John the most,” explained Morneau in Tuesday’s call. “On the West Coast, I would come home from school and the games would be on almost every day. So I watched him as much as I watched anybody else in baseball growing up.” And imitating Olerud’s swing clearly paid off for Morneau, who was a four-time all-star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. “We [the Twins] played the Yankees in the playoffs in ’04, I want to say, and there was a comparison [on the TV broadcast]. They had our swings side by side and it was the first time I had ever seen them next to each other, but they were so similar – other than my one-hand finish and his two-hand finish,” said Morneau on Tuesday. “It was amazing that the swing that I imitated growing up was the swing that I developed the most closely too.”
· Happy 53rd Birthday to Canada’s gift to baseball broadcasting Dan Shulman! As a London, Ont., resident, I always find the story of his ascent in the broadcasting ranks inspiring. Shulman went to the University of Western Ontario here in London and started calling Mustangs sports games as a hobby as he worked towards his degree in Actuarial Science. Shulman would graduate and work in the Actuarial Science field before returning to broadcasting where he is now one of the most respected and versatile sports broadcasters in North America.
· Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette made a compelling case that Expos legendary manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Felipe Alou is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown in a column in the Montreal Gazette on January 27. Alou recorded more than 2,000 hits as a player, before becoming the first Dominican manager in major league history. He also led the Expos to the best record in the majors in 1994 before a strike wiped out the rest of the season. Todd also points out that Alou is “one of only three men with at least 200 home runs as a player and 1,000 wins as a manager.” The others in that club are Frank Robinson, Dusty Baker and Joe Torre.
· Happy 45th Birthday to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero. Here’s a statistic that shows how feared he was as a hitter: Guerrero ranks sixth all-time in intentional walks with 250. The only players above him on that list are Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey. Just below him on that list are Ken Griffey Jr. and Ted Williams.
· If you’re as old as me, you can remember the Toronto Blue Jays beginning the 1989 season with a 12-24 record before they fired manager Jimy Williams and replaced him with Cito Gaston. It wasn’t until August, however, that the Blue Jays began their true run to the top of the American League East standings. And it was the acquisition of Mookie Wilson for left-hander Jeff Musselman at the July 31 trade deadline that provided the spark. When Wilson joined the club on August 1, the Blue Jays were 52-54 – still two games under .500. That August, Wilson would hit .331 and have 12 multi-hit games – including three, three-hit games and two, four-hit games – and swipe 10 stolen bases. The Blue Jays would go 20-8 that month. So it’s hard to overstate how important Wilson was to that team’s turnaround. Wilson turns 64 today. Happy Birthday to him!
· This week’s trivia question: New Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Olerud batted .363 in 1993 to win the American League batting title. That’s also the highest single-season batting average recorded by a Blue Jay. What Blue Jays player owns the second-highest single-season batting average in franchise history? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person with the correct answer will win a five-pack of Larry Walker cards (Sorry, no rookie cards).
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (In 2007, Curtis Granderson became one of only four players in major league history to register 20 home runs, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Name one of the three other players to accomplish this.) was any one of Frank Schulte (1911), Willie Mays (1957) and Jimmy Rollins (2007).