By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
- It was 40 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) won his 100th game as an American League pitcher, when he hurled a complete game for the Texas Rangers in their 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Arlington Stadium. With that, Jenkins became just the fourth major league pitcher to earn 100 wins in both the American and National Leagues, joining Gaylord Perry, Jim Bunning and Cy Young.
- And thanks to a tweet by Ryan Spaeder on Wednesday (click below), I learned that Jenkins is also part of another exclusive group of major league pitchers. In 1971, the Chatham, Ont., native belted six home runs and had 263 strikeouts for the Chicago Cubs to become just the second pitcher since 1900 to have clubbed six homers and struck out more than 250 batters in a season. The first was Bob Gibson in 1965. For the record, no pitcher has accomplished this feat since Jenkins.
- And while we’re discussing Canadian pitchers who excelled for the Cubs, today is Ryan Dempster’s 43rd birthday. The Gibsons, B.C., native honed his skills in the North Shore Twins program before pitching for the Canadian Junior National Team. His strong arm convinced the Texas Rangers to select him in the third round of the 1995 MLB draft, but after just over 14 months in the Rangers organization, he was dealt to the Florida Marlins in June 1996. Following parts of two seasons in the Marlins’ minor league system, he made his major league debut on May 23, 1998 and proceeded to toe the rubber for parts of five seasons with the Marlins. In 2000, he posted a 14-10 record and a 3.66 ERA in 226 1/3 innings in 33 starts and was selected to the National League All-Star team and named the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award winner. He collected 15 more wins the ensuing campaign before he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds on July 11, 2002. He’d spend parts of two seasons with the Reds before he was signed by the Cubs in January 2004. In his first four seasons at Wrigley, Dempster was employed as a reliever and from 2005 to 2007 he registered 33, 24 and 28 saves respectively. The Cubs converted him into a starter in 2008 and he rewarded them by delivering his best major league season, going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA in 206 2/3 inning in 33 starts. For his efforts, he was named to his second National League All-Star team. He followed that up with three more campaigns in which he logged at least 200 innings for the Cubs before he was dealt back to the Rangers at the 2012 trade deadline. He capped off his major league career by winning a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox in 2013. Dempster finished his 16-year major league career near the top of most all-time Canadian pitching categories, including second in wins (132) and strikeouts (2,075). He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.
- One of the most touching moments of Dempster’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in 2019 came when he talked about the impact that Jenkins, who was sitting in the front row at the ceremony, had on his career. The Cubs took a chance and signed Dempster after he had Tommy John surgery in August 2003. “I was in the back fields and didn’t know how to throw a changeup, coming off surgery. Fergie Jenkins took the time to show me and I went on to have the best years of my career as a Chicago Cub,” said Dempster from the podium. So it’s only fitting to share one of my Uplifting Baseball Photos of the Day from this week that pictures Dempster in St. Marys, Ont., last June just after he was presented with his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame jacket by Jenkins.
- Don Kostelec shared on Twitter on Wednesday that when his dad, a longtime Chicago Cubs fan, became upset at the Cubs’ performance he would write other teams, offering to sign a contract with them as a free agent fan. One letter made its way to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Montreal Expos legendary executive Jim Fanning, who wrote this great letter (below) in response.
- Kaitlyn McGrath, of The Athletic, conducted an extensive and fascinating interview with Toronto Blue Jays legend and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Carlos Delgado that was published on April 24. You can read the whole interview here. But in it, Delgado shares his reaction to his name being checked on less than five percent of baseball writers’ ballots in his first year of National Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility in 2015. As a result, his name was dropped off future writers’ ballots and his Cooperstown fate will now fall to a Veterans Committee. “I wasn’t happy,” Delgado told McGrath. “Definitely, I was disappointed. It’s not like I said, ‘OK, I’m going to get 100 percent to get in.’ But not being able to get five percent, it was definitely frustrating. It was disappointing, and as you mentioned, I think that’s one of the problems that the voting system has. You only get 10 players, so a lot of things do not depend on your numbers alone. It’s how many guys were left from last year, who is in your class, a lot of things affect the way you get evaluated. Obviously, it was a tough day.”
- As a Canadian baseball history buff, I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew little about former Canuck big leaguer Spud Johnson until writer Peter Morris’s article about the 19th century major leaguer was shared with me this week. Born in Upper Canada in 1856, Johnson got a late start on his professional baseball career, but in 1890, as a 33-year-old outfielder with the American Association’s Columbus Solons, he led the league with 113 RBIs. Morris points out that Johnson was the only player in the circuit to record more than 100 RBIs that season. He also batted .346, scored 106 runs and had 18 triples. You can read more about Johnson in Morris’s article here.
- According to MLB Pipeline, the Houston Astros’ best hitting prospect is Canadian Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.). The 23-year-old Quebec native, who had been battling for a super-sub role with the Astros, had a rough spring, going 3-for-24 (.125 batting average) in 13 Grapefruit League contests. After batting a combined .324 with 17 home runs and a .527 slugging percentage in 114 games in double-A and triple-A in the Astros’ organization last season, the switch-hitting Canadian made his big league debut on August 22, 2019. In 25 games for the American League pennant winners, he batted .218 with two home runs. One of his homers was a two-run shot at Rogers Centre that accounted for the only two runs in Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Blue Jays on September 1. His minor league efforts earned him Astros’ Minor League Player of the Year honours.
- My deepest condolences go out to longtime Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame board member and supporter David Morneau, whose mother, Carole Ann Morneau, passed away on Monday. I’m sending my thoughts and prayers to David, his wife Andrea and his children Jacy and Alex. You can share your condolences with David and his family here.
- This week’s trivia question: I mentioned Jenkins and Dempster, who had their best major league seasons with Cubs, earlier in this post. Name two other Canadian pitchers who have toed the rubber for the Cubs over the years. 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 (Who has the most wins in a major league season by a Canadian left-hander? Hint: Two pitchers are tied. Name one of them) was Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) who had 17 wins for the Colorado Rockies in 2007 or John Hiller (Toronto, Ont.) who had 17 wins as a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in 1974.