By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Over the past two decades, Canadian baseball fans – like myself – have been spoiled.
We’ve been able to watch elite offensive talents like Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.), Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.), Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) compete in the big leagues.
I haven’t taken this for granted because when I was a kid in the early 80s, the only Canuck player contributing regularly with the bat in the majors was Melville, Sask., native Terry Puhl, who was a steady outfielder with the Houston Astros.
As a kid, I collected all of Puhl’s baseball cards and savoured any information I could get about him in the pre-Internet and pre-MLB Network days. My fear, however, is that, with the number of Canadian hitters that have excelled in the big leagues in the past 20 years, Puhl’s accomplishments are being forgotten. So with this in mind I’m introducing a regular “Two tidbits about Terry Puhl” feature to my blog.
With this feature, I will present two facts or pieces of trivia about Puhl that I’ve learned in my recent baseball research.
But with this being the first post in the series, here’s a general bio about Puhl:
The Astros offered Puhl a contract after he led his hometown midget squad from Melville, Sask., to a Canadian championship in 1973. He reported to Houston’s rookie league club in Covington, Va., in 1974, where he hit .284 and cemented his status as a bona fide prospect.
Just five days after his 21st birthday, the wide-eyed Saskatchewan native started his first big league game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. So nervous he was shaking, Puhl overcame his jitters to record his first hit and score the game-winning run. He went on to hit .301 in 60 games that season and win himself a starting role in 1978.
His steady offensive and defensive efforts earned him all-star honours in 1978, when he hit .289 and stole 32 bases. He topped that the following campaign, when he recorded a career-high 172 hits and played 157 games – the entire season – in the outfield without making an error. He was just the fourth player in 124 years to suit up for at least 150 games in a season without a defensive miscue.
After belting a career-high 13 homers in the regular season, Puhl was at his best in the 1980 post-season, hitting .526 in the Astros’ gruelling, five-game National League Championship Series against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. A consistent contributor for the Astros over the next decade, the sure-handed Puhl played his final season with the Kansas City Royals in 1991. He finished his 15-season big league career with a .280 batting average, 1,361 hits and 217 stolen bases.
For his efforts, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.
Two tidbits about Terry
1. Terry Puhl did play first base in the big leagues.
This 1990 Topps card threw me off the first time I saw it. I remember Puhl solely as an outfielder.
So why was he wearing a first baseman’s glove in the photo on this card?
Well, according to Baseball Reference, Puhl actually played four of his 1,531 MLB games at first base. For the record, he never started a game at first base. His three appearances at first base in 1989 were all in blowout Astros’ losses. He spelled Astros regular first baseman Glenn Davis in the last three innings in each of those contests.
His final appearance at first base came with the Astros on July 20, 1990 when he manned the position in the eighth and ninth innings after he pinch hit for regular first baseman Franklin Stubbs in a 12-6 Astros’ win over the Montreal Expos at the Astrodome.
2. Puhl went to spring training with the New York Mets in 1991.
This postcard was also baffling to me when I initially stumbled upon it.
Puhl played with the New York Mets?
I knew that he played briefly (15 games) with the Royals in 1991, but I had no recollection of him as a Met.
It turns out that Puhl signed with the Mets as a free agent on December 13, 1990 and spent spring training with the club in 1991. Puhl hit .214 in 19 spring training at bats, but the veteran Canuck was cut when the Mets opted to go with Darren Reed, who was out of options, as their primary bat off the bench.
Puhl’s chance to make the club was also hurt by the fact that Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, another left-handed hitter, had suddenly developed an inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Sasser, just 27 at the time, had hit .307 in 100 games in 1990 so the Mets weren’t ready to give up on him and wanted his bat as an option off the bench while he worked on his throwing issues.
“I’ve been in baseball a long time but I never expected anything like this to happen,” said Puhl to The Courier-News after his release, referring to the Sasser situation. “It was something that was totally unforeseen. I’d have liked to play for the Mets but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Twenty-four days later, Puhl signed his final big league contract with the Royals.