My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- My condolences to Great Lake Canadians and Junior National Team alum and Baltimore Orioles prospect Adam Hall (London, Ont.) whose father Tyler passed away on Monday at the age of 53 after a long battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood plasma. According to the obituary in the London Free Press, Tyler was a graduate of the University of Western Ontario where he met his wife, Helen. The couple moved to Bermuda where they taught for over 20 years before moving back to London “to support their son’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player.” “As a true demonstration of who Tyler was,” the obituary reads. “he created his fundraising campaign named the ‘Blue Jays Getaway’ for pediatric cancer patients. This fundraising endeavour gave many families an all-expense paid weekend in Toronto to create happy memories.” It sounds like Tyler was a wonderful person and dad. You can leave condolences for the Hall family here.
- After an outstanding rookie season that saw him named to the National League All-Star Team, win the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award and finish second in the Rookie of the Year award voting, Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) was enjoying an excellent spring with the Atlanta Braves before the exhibition schedule was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts for the Braves last season, posted a 1-0 record with a 3.12 ERA in three starts this spring. He struck out seven batters in 8 2/3 innings. When the season begins, Soroka is a good bet to the Braves’ Opening Day starter.
- Former Houston Astros slugger Jimmy Wynn passed away on Thursday at the age of 78. Nicknamed “The Toy Cannon,” the right-handed hitting slugger was a money ball player before the term was coined. Six times during his 15-year major league career Wynn drew more than 100 walks in a season, including a whopping 148 free passes in 1969. He also belted 291 home runs and is the first Astros player to sock 30 in a season. Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and St. Jean, Que., native Claude Raymond was Wynn’s Astros teammate for four seasons from 1964 to 1967 and Wynn must have studied the Canadian right-hander closely on the mound. After Raymond left the Astros, Wynn went 5-for-10 (.500 batting average) against him. Wynn also played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers.
- Happy 44th Birthday to national team alum, former San Diego Padres infielder and Vancouver native Kevin Nicholson! Selected in the first round (27th overall) by the Padres in 1997, the switch-hitting shortstop would eventually suit up for 37 big league games with the club in 2000. Nicholson also competed for the national team on several occasions, including at the 2004 Olympics, where he almost hit a game-tying three-run home run in the semi-final contest against Cuba. Pinch-hitting for Simon Pond (North Vancouver, B.C.) in the top of the ninth, Nicholson belted a ball deep to left field that outfielder Frederich Cepeda tracked at the wall. If Canada had tied it up and beat Cuba, they would’ve faced Australia for gold. Instead, Canada ended up with a fourth-place finish at the event. Nicholson is now a highly respected coach with Township Blue Sox in North Langley, B.C.
- March 29 is a sad day to be a Montreal Expos fan. It was 15 years ago today that Andres Galarraga, who played his first seven big league seasons with the Expos, retired. On this date the following year, Gold Glove centre fielder and long-time Expo Marquis Grissom officially hung up his spikes. And it was two years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and the Expos first superstar Rusty Staub passed away at the age of 73.
- Well-known baseball writer Ryan Spaeder published an excellent article on Friday that argued that Dave Stieb, who was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2005, deserved a much stronger look in the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting. Stieb dropped off in the ballot in his first year of eligibility (2004) after he garnered only seven votes from baseball writers. Spaeder also points out that Stieb may have deserved as many as three American League Cy Young Awards in the 1980s. You can read the full article here.
- Here’s some more evidence of just how hard it is to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Cy Young, who would be 153 today, didn’t get elected until his second year of eligibility. Yes, the man who won a record 511 big league games and has Major League Baseball’s annual pitching award named after him was a second ballot inductee. He missed out in his first turn on the ballot in 1936 when Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were elected. Young finished eighth in the voting that year. His name was only checked on 49.1% of the ballots. He would be elected the following year when he finished third in the voting (76.1%) behind Nap Lajoie (83.6%) and Tris Speaker (82.1%).
- Please take a moment to remember former Montreal Expos infielder Juan Bell who would’ve turned 52 today. He passed away in 2016 after battling kidney disease. The brother of Blue Jays legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Bell, the younger Bell played parts of seven big league seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Expos and Boston Red Sox. He batted .278 with two home runs in 38 games for the Expos in 1994.
- This week’s trivia question: I already mentioned that Claude Raymond played with Jimmy Wynn on the Houston Astros. Who is the other Canadian pitcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee that was a teammate of Wynn’s on the Astros? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person with the correct answer will win a five-pack of Larry Walker Expos cards (Sorry, no rookie cards).
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (What Canadian pitcher did the Blue Jays trade with Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten to acquire Tom Candiotti during the 1991 season?) was Dennis Boucher (Lachine, Que.).
I believe RON TAYLOR
You are correct, Mike. Thanks for your support. I’ll get the cards in the mail to you shortly. Thanks again.
Hi Dan. You are correct, but Mike got the answer two minutes before you. Hope you are staying safe. Thank you for your support.
Thanks for another great Cooperstowner..
Thanks for your support.
As usual, thanks for the Sunday staple. I never, and will never, take it for granted! Haven’t run across Nicholson’s name in quite some time. Two memories came immediately to mind when you cited him today.
First, and I always have to qualify when I say something like this by acknowledging how wonderful and wholesome all of our Canucks are who have been given the God-given talent, done something with it, and landed an opportunity to pursue a professional career. It is no secret why Canadians keep getting looks, because those amazing ambassadors before them are mega-peppered with compliments such as: “Nobody worked harder,” “First one to practice, last one to leave,” “Never gave us any off-field issues,” “Everybody in the organization loved him,” etc. But there are a handful who, if you met them, you’d want them to be in your best friends club. Kevin is one of those. Small in stature, but booming in drive to the tune of Stubby Clapp, Kevin had a Major League set of tools. At many stops along the way, players run into those who subscribe to the adage, “The small guys gotta prove they can play, while the big guys gotta prove they can’t play.” Someone needed to give Kevin a chance, and also to get over the human hump of “OMG, here I am” and allow him to play without feeling he had to justify his uniform in every at bat and defensive play. I will always feel that, had he been allowed to evolve, any team would have been quite elated with the plateau he would have found.
Secondly, the truly legendary Canadian Baseball HOF’er, Allan Simpson, was such a fan of players and teams north of the 49th, that occasionally, he would call and I would give him a 2-3 hour play-by-play over the phone when I was able to watch a game that he couldn’t get, due to time zone, the nature of the event, whether or not the USA was still in the running (Allan, and his lovely wife Jill, lived in North Carolina), etc. Kevin hit that ever-so-close HR ball (talk about baseball being a game of inches!!!) in the days of internet infancy, and I still remember the call I made to Allan, as though I was broadcasting on radio. It went something like, “Nicholson hammers a fly ball to deep left, it looks like the ball he hit in Ottawa Stadium (he hit a famous walk-off HR for BC in nationals a couple of years before this), the Cuban left-fielder is there on time if it isn’t over, he leaps, and … it’s outta here, it’s gone, no, no, no, he caught it, I can’t believe it, talk about a game of inches …” Indeed a very tough moment in Canadian baseball history, but the very fact that Allan had cared enough to listen to the whole game through my eyes over the telephone defines the kind of passion he had for baseball and Canadiana. Simpson NEVER forgot where he came from! Love that guy!
Wow. Great stories and insights, Tom. Thank you for sharing these and for your support. Hope you and your family are well.
Keep up your good work Kevin! Sincerely, Stephen H.
Thanks for your support, Stephen. Hope you are well.
In these tough times Kevin, we can always count on you brightening the Sunday morning with these great reads. Thank you.
First off, sorry to hear about the Hall family tragedy. So sad.
Sometimes the good old HoF voting doesn’t make total sense, but in the long run it sure does.
Thanks for your kind words and support, Scott.