My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- My deepest condolences to Ernie Whitt and his family on the passing of his mother, Dolly, on April 7 at the age of 88 from the coronavirus (COVID-19). You can read Bob Elliott’s excellent article in which Whitt talks about his mom here. I remember meeting Dolly at Whitt’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2009. She was lovely and charming and rightfully very proud of her son. She captured the hearts of the Hall’s staff and its volunteers. Rest in peace, Dolly. You can leave online condolences for the Whitt family here.
- If you listen to this interview that Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) did with San Diego sports radio station 97.3 The Fan on Tuesday, it’s hard not to come away impressed with how mature, humble and level-headed this Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team alum is. In this interview, the 25-year-old right-hander talked about the influence of his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee dad, Paul, on his career and about the mental and physical work he has done to improve for the 2020 season. And this work paid dividends in spring training. He had allowed just two hits and one run in seven innings before MLB suspended operations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Near the end of this interview, Quantrill also provides some sage advice about the coronavirus. “I just think it’s important to preface anything in this conversation by saying, we need the smart people in the world to tell us when it’s safe to do anything,” said Quantrill. “But assuming that the smart people in this world are telling us that it’s safe . . . I can’t stress this enough. I’m OK with doing whatever it takes to get baseball back on the field . . . but again I’m going to defer to smarter people than me to tell me when that’s smart and safe to do.” P.S. Keep in mind, that Quantrill is a Stanford grad.
- So who has the sweetest swing in Houston Astros history? Well, according to a survey of MLB.com beat reporters, it’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Melville, Sask., native Terry Puhl. “Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Canada, Puhl carved out a 14-year career with the Astros that touched three decades,” reads the article. “With his steady left-handed swing, Puhl amassed 1,361 career hits with 62 homers in 15 seasons and hit .526 (10-for-19) in the 1980 NLCS.” For the record, 2020 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee John Olerud is recognized as owning the sweetest swing in Blue Jays history, while 2017 Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero was voted to have the sweetest swing in Expos/Nationals history.
- Speaking of Guerrero, it was 20 years ago today that he belted his 100th career home run with the Montreal Expos. It was a solo home run in the eighth inning off Julian Tavarez in the Expos’ 9-2 win over the Colorado Rockies at Olympic Stadium. Guerrero went on to belt 234 home runs as an Expo before signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent after the 2003 season.
- Former Canadian Baseball Network writer Alexis Brudnicki continues to do outstanding work during the MLB break. Now employed by MLB.com, she is writing profiles about some of our country’s top scouts. This week her story about scout Jamie Lehman (Brampton, Ont.) was published. In the article, Lehman talks about his career and offers a touching tribute to late great scouting legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Wayne Norton who passed away in 2018. “He was the bar and you had to live up to it . . . He was the best. The legacy he’s left on us all is pretty strong,” Lehman says of Norton. You can read the full article here.
- Another great story I read this week was penned by former Blue Jays beat reporter Jordan Bastian who caught up with Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) to talk about his Opening Day start against Bob Gibson on April 6, 1971 at Wrigley Field. The two future Cooperstowners went head-to-head and each allowed just one run through nine innings. But after Jenkins held the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the 10th, Cubs slugger Billy Williams clubbed a walk-off home run off Gibson in the bottom of the frame. Can you imagine a starting pitcher today going 10 innings on Opening Day? Bastian asked Jenkins if we would’ve been out to pitch the 11th . “Oh, of course,” Jenkins replied. You can read the full article here.
- According to New Jersey.com reporter, Pete Caldera, Canadian James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) should be ready to join the New York Yankees’ starting rotation when (or if) the season begins. The Canadian left-hander is progressing well from the back surgery he underwent in early February. The initial prognosis was that he would miss three to four months. The procedure that Paxton underwent was a microscopic lumbar discectomy which included the removal of a peridiscal cyst. The Canuck southpaw, who has pitched in parts of seven major league seasons, is coming off a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019
- What pitcher holds the record for most major league wins in a season by a Canadian? The answer is St. Thomas, Ont., native Bob Emslie, who won 32 games for the American Association’s Baltimore Orioles in 1884. Emslie passed away 77 years ago today. Emslie’s strong pitching arm gained notoriety while he was toiling for an amateur club in Harriston, Ontario that won a Canadian championship in 1880. But it was on a barnstorming tour of the U.S. with a semi-pro squad from St. Thomas that Emslie would catch his big professional baseball break. At the end of the tour, he inked a deal with a semi-pro club in Camden, N.J., and when that team disbanded, he was picked up by the American Association’s Orioles. In Baltimore, the 25-year-old right-hander would win 32 games in 1884, while tossing over 455 innings and registering a 2.75 ERA. Unfortunately, that season took its toll on his arm, and he was out of big league baseball by the end of 1885. Following his playing career, Emslie was a National League umpire from 1891 to 1923. A field in St. Thomas is named in his honour.
- It seems like we have been inundated with bad news during the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’ve been trying to post an uplifting baseball photo or a video every day on social media. Below is my favourite from this week. This is a photo of Montreal Expos legends and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers, Gary Carter and Jim Fanning, both of whom have unfortunately passed away, celebrating after the club clinched a playoff berth in 1981.
- This week’s trivia question: Who has the most wins in a major league season by a Canadian left-hander? Hint: Two pitchers are tied. Name one of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. Please note: I’m going to hold off awarding prizes until after the COVID-19 pandemic. Hope you understand.
- The answer to last week’s trivia question (Jose Cruz Jr. was the second Blue Jays player to record 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a season when he did so in 2001. Who was the first?) was Shawn Green, who had 35 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 1998.