By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– If you haven’t already done so, please take 24 minutes to watch this extensive interview that the National Baseball Hall of Fame conducted with Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker after his orientation visit on February 25. In the previous month, the former slugger became just the second Canadian (along with Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.)) elected to the Cooperstown shrine. Among the revelations by Walker during this interview are that during his 1997 National League MVP Award winning season, one of his superstitions was not taking batting practice on the field, but rather he would hit inside, in a batting cage. Walker also revealed that he was 0-for-18 against Mets right-hander Wally Whitehurst.
– It might be premature, but 22-year-old Atlanta Braves right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) is drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. And these are not coming from the some guy off the street. Cooperstowner and former Maddux rotation mate John Smoltz and Braves legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone both have pointed out the similarities between Maddux and the young Canadian. In this article by Gabriel Burns in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the author shares a quote about Soroka from Smoltz that the Braves legend made in a radio interview in May 2019. “He’s a pitcher, and that you can’t say universally in the game,” said Smoltz. “There’s a lot of throwers. There’s a lot of guys with great stuff. He’s Greg Maddux 1.0, 2.0, whatever you want to call him, and that’s a tough, kind of high compliment, to a guy that’s a Hall of Famer and one of the best in the business.” Burns also spoke to Mazzone about Soroka this past March. “What I like about Soroka, I love his mound presence,” Mazzone told Burns. “I love the way he changes speeds and makes the ball move. If I say he’s a poor man’s Greg Maddux, that’s a compliment. There’s a calmness going on. Just watching his mound presence and listening to him talk, watching him like that, reminds me of a pitcher, not a thrower.” 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 NL Rookie of the Year award voting, Soroka was enjoying an excellent spring with the Braves before the exhibition schedule was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
– Who is the first Canadian to play in a regular season game for the New York Mets? The answer is Montreal native Ray Daviault who tossed two innings for the Mets on April 13 in their inaugural season. He ended up posting a 6.22 ERA in 36 appearances for the Mets that season. He turned 86 on Wednesday. Below is one of my favourite photos that I found on Twitter this week. This is a photo (posted by Tom’s Old Days) of legendary manager Casey Stengel offering hitting tips to a group of Mets – including No. 35 Daviault – at the Polo Grounds in 1962.
– Marysville, N.B., native Paul Hodgson became the second Canadian to play for the Toronto Blue Jays when he suited up for 20 games with the team in 1980. He was originally signed by the Blue Jays in 1977 and he shared his first contract with the organization’s Utica Blue Jays of New York-Penn League on his Facebook page on Thursday. The contract stipulates that Hodgson was to paid $550 a month and is signed by Pat Gillick. “My first contract as a professional baseball player with the Toronto Blue Jays; 1977, Utica Blue Jays of the New York- Penn League,” wrote Hodgson as a caption to go with the contract photos. “I have no idea why the signature date on page #2 is January ’78. This contract began in June 1977 and the money involved is not what they call ‘Baller’ cash in 2020.”
– I’m reading Todd Zolecki’s outstanding new Roy Halladay biography called “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay.” My parents and I were in the stands at the SkyDome on September 27, 1998 when Halladay came within one out of throwing a no-hitter in his second MLB start. And having never seen a no-hitter live, I was deeply disappointed when Detroit Tigers slugger Bobby Higginson, sent in as a pinch-hitter, clubbed an opposite field home run to ruin the no-no. What I didn’t know until I was reading Zolecki’s book was Higginson’s home run ball travelled into the Blue Jays’ bullpen and was caught by Dave Stieb, who was a reliever with the club at the time. For the record, Stieb still has the only no-hitter in franchise history. He also knows what it’s like to have a no-hitter broken up with two outs in the ninth inning. It happened to him three times during his career.
– So do you think if Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) retired today that he would be worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown? I think so. And so does Marcus Guy of Primetime Sports Talk, who shared this convincing tweet on Tuesday.
– Today is former Baltimore Orioles reliever Tippy Martinez’s 70th birthday. And thanks to him, I’ll never forget what happened on August 24, 1983 in what was the first Blue Jays game I remember watching with my dad on TV. In the top of the 10th inning, with the game tied 4-4, Martinez proceeded to pick off not one, not two, but three Blue Jays base runners in the same inning. You can watch the video below for evidence. Martinez had a nice 15-season MLB career, posting a 3.45 ERA and recording 115 saves in 546 appearances, but I’ll always remember him for that single performance. He’s still the only big league pitcher to pick off three base runners in the same inning.
– This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Canadian pitcher to toe the rubber for the Toronto Blue Jays in a regular season game? 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 (There have been three Canadian catchers that have caught games that Bartolo Colon has pitched during his big league career. Name one of them.) was any one of Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.), George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.) or Mike Nickeas (Vancouver, B.C.).