My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
· I was heartbroken to wake up to the news this morning that Toronto Blue Jays great and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Fernandez has passed away at the age of 57. I wrote an article about the Blue Jays great here. My condolences to his wife, Clara, and children Joel, Jonathan, Abraham, Andres and Jasmine.
· Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported on Friday that Montreal native Russell Martin, who just turned 37, still plans to play this season. According to Sherman, Martin, who has not signed with a major league team, has turned down a few opportunities because he’s tending to a “family matter.” Martin, according to Sherman, will more actively seek a contract in a few weeks. Meanwhile, Susan Slusser, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote on Tuesday that the Oakland A’s, who are in need of a backup catcher, “checked in” with Martin earlier in the off-season.
· It will never happen, but the Toronto Blue Jays would benefit from a reunion with Martin. The veteran backstop was Hyun-Jin Ryu’s personal catcher with the Dodgers last season. In the 20 games that Martin caught him last year, the left-hander posted a 1.52 ERA and limited opposing batters to a .215/.241/.309 slash line.
· It’s hard to believe but it was eight years ago today that Montreal Expos legendary catcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Gary Carter died of brain cancer at the age of 57. Like so many kids my age, Carter was one of my favourite players when I was growing up. As a 10-year-old, I wrote him a fan letter and sent it to him at Olympic Stadium and he responded by sending me the signed postcard above (at the top of this column). One thing I never grasped about Carter when I was a growing up was how good he was defensively. His 4.0 dWAR as a catcher in 1983 is the best single-season dWAR by a catcher in major league history. This is even more remarkable when you consider that Carter was drafted by the Expos as a shortstop before being converted into a catcher in the Expos’ minor league system.
· Another amazing statistic I uncovered about 2020 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Justin Morneau’s 2006 American League MVP Award winning season. In 12 games against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees that campaign, the New Westminster, B.C. native went 24-for-49, good for a .490 batting. Of those 24 hits, five were doubles and two were home runs. He also had 14 RBIs against those two American League East powerhouses.
· Earlier in the off-season, Gatineau, Que., native Phillippe Aumont signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays and he’s camp with the club this spring. Fellow London, Ont., native Alexis Brudnicki, of MLB.com, wrote an excellent piece about Aumont that was published on Thursday. In it, Aumont talks about how he has grown as a pitcher and as a person since he was selected in the first round by the Seattle Mariners in the 2007 MLB draft. Aumont, who has walked away from baseball twice, says he used to spend too much time worrying about what upper management thought about him. “You’re not going to make the team because you shake the hand of somebody,” Aumont says in the article. “You’ve still got to have fun. Having fun eased up everything. I was so focused that when I didn’t have a good game or had a bad start, it was like I failed and it was over. But it’s not over. I had to get over myself.” You can read the full article here.
· I remember 2020 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Olerud’s 1993 season very fondly. Here are a couple of jaw-dropping stats from that campaign: at the 1993 All-Star break Olerud was batting .395, had a .492 on-base percentage and had recorded 37 doubles (yes 37 doubles at the All-Star break!) in 87 games. Also, Olerud, who was known for his patience at the plate, was outstanding on the relatively rare occasions when he did swing at the first pitch of an at bat. When he swung at the first pitch in 1993, Olerud was 45-for-87 – that’s .a 517 batting average.
· The last active former Montreal Expos player is still pitching. Right-hander Bartolo Colon, who will turn 47 this year, has signed a contract to toe the rubber for Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League this season. Also, suiting up for that squad will be former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis.
· With Blue Jays pitchers and catchers having reported to Dunedin, Fla., it got me thinking back to five years ago when Johan Santana was with the Blue Jays in spring training attempting a comeback from two major shoulder surgeries. Unfortunately, the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner wasn’t able to rehabilitate his shoulder to the point where he could return and he retired that June. Santana finished his major league career with a 139-78 record and a 3.20 ERA in 12 major league seasons with the Minnesota Twins and New York Mets.
· I think I may have uncovered the most tough-luck season in major league history. Left-hander Darold Knowles, who appeared in 60 games with the Expos in 1978 and has been a minor league pitching instructor for the Blue Jays for many years, went 2-14 with an excellent 2.04 ERA as a reliever for the Washington Senators in 1970. In 71 appearances, he pitched in 119 1/3 innings and had 27 saves.
· This week’s trivia question: What two Montreal Expos players have won National League batting titles? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person with the correct answer will win a 1991 Upper Deck Montreal Expos team set.
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (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?) was Carlos Delgado, who hit .344 in 2000.