By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– In case you missed it, Langley Blaze and Junior National Team graduate Tyler O’Neill has been named winner of the Fielding Bible Award for major league left fielders. The Maple Ridge, B.C., native was among the winners announced by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) on Thursday. This is their 15th year of handing out these honours which rely heavily on advanced statistics to determine the recipients. “Tyler O’Neill is the fifth different left fielder to win a Fielding Bible Award in the last five years,” read the Baseball Info Services release. “He earned it on the strength of an MLB-leading nine Runs Saved at the position. O’Neill won with his play on balls hit to the deepest part of the ballpark. He caught 46-of-54 chances on those balls, eight more than an average left fielder.” With the honour, O’Neill becomes the first Canadian to win a Fielding Bible Award. Last week, the Canuck outfielder was named one of three finalists for the Gold Glove Award for National League left fielders. He is up against Shogo Akiyama, from the Cincinnati Reds, and David Peralta, from the Arizona Diamondbacks, for the honour. The winner will be unveiled on Tuesday. After playing parts of two seasons with the Cardinals in 2018 and 2019, O’Neill took over as the club’s starting left fielder this season. The 25-year-old fielded all 89 defensive chances he had flawlessly, finishing with a 1.000 fielding percentage, and his range factor per nine innings improved to 2.33 from 1.26 in 2019. O’Neill is vying to become the first Canadian outfielder to win a National League Gold Glove Award since fellow Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker captured one with the Colorado Rockies in 2002.
–After an injury-shortened season, Canadian left-hander James Paxton is a free agent. Scott Boras, Paxton’s representative, told NJ Advanced Media this week that the Ladner, B.C. native will be completely healthy by the start of the 2021 season. The Canuck southpaw, who underwent back surgery in February, made just five starts for the New York Yankees this year, going 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA before he was sidelined with a flexor strain in his throwing arm on August 20. Boras told NJ Advanced Media that Paxton was not fully recovered from his back surgery when he began pitching for the Yankees in July and this contributed to the flexor strain he sustained in August. “He made every effort to try to contribute this year,” Boras told NJ Advanced Media’s Brendan Kuty, “but the back rehab just wasn’t there yet and he just needed more time to where he could really go through his normal mechanics of 2019.” Boras says Paxton is throwing much better now. “Getting the velocity, getting the balance and being able to torque his back the way it was, just after the surgery, he just needed time,” said Boras. “That’s all. We’re seeing him back to normal now in his throwing. You can really see the difference.” The soon-to-be 32-year-old Paxton has pitched in parts of eight major league campaigns and was coming off a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019.
– So who threw the first shutout in Seattle Mariners’ history? Well, thanks to The Shlabotnik Report for reminding me that it was Nipawin, Sask., native Dave Pagan. In the 41st game of the Mariners’ inaugural season, the then 27-year-old Canadian right-hander outdueled A’s workhorse Rick Langford when he allowed just six hits, while striking out eight, in nine scoreless innings at the Kingdome. Pagan allowed four singles, a double and a triple in the contest which was the only shutout he tossed in his five-year major league career that also included stops with the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates.
– The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection in St. Marys, Ont., continues to grow. They recently received one of 2001 inductee Dave McKay’s Arizona Diamondbacks uniforms (photo above). McKay, a Vancouver native, has been the first base coach for the D-Backs for the past seven seasons and a big league coach for 37 seasons overall. Prior to his successful coaching career, he enjoyed an eight-year playing career with the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and A’s. After being selected by the Blue Jays in the 1976 expansion draft, the Vancouver native was the only Canadian on the field in the Blue Jays’ first game on April 7, 1977. Despite the snow falling at Exhibition Stadium, McKay had two hits and drove in the winning run in a 9-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Following his playing career, he accepted a coaching position with the A’s. When Tony La Russa was named the A’s manager in 1986, McKay was retained as a coach. He worked on La Russa’s staff for more than two decades, and moved with the Hall of Fame skipper to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1996. One of the game’s hardest working coaches, McKay owns three World Series rings, securing one in 1989 with the A’s and two with the Cardinals (2006, 2011). After La Russa retired, McKay served as the first base coach with the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and 2013 before joining the D-Backs.
– It was eight years ago today that former Montreal Expos right-hander Pascual Perez passed away at the age of 54. Perez pitched parts of three seasons with the Expos from 1987 to 1989. What I tend to forget about Perez is that beyond his enthusiasm, energy and zaniness on the field, he was an excellent pitcher. In 10 starts for the Expos in 1987, he went 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA. He followed that up with 12 wins and a 2.44 ERA in 27 starts in 1988 and a 3.31 ERA in 33 appearances in 1989. You can watch some fun Expos highlights of him by clicking on the following video.
– Here’s a sentence from page 244 of Bill Pennington’s excellent 2019 book, Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in the Yankees History Led to the ’90s Dynasty, that should haunt Blue Jays fans: “Toronto had their eyes on Andy Pettitte or [Mariano] Rivera for Cone.” This sentence refers to the discussions before the Blue Jays dealt ace David Cone to the New York Yankees on July 28, 1995. Fortunately for the Yankees, their general manager Gene Michael was able to steer the Blue Jays away from their interest in their two prized pitching prospects: Pettitte and Rivera. “I was pretty determined to entice the Blue Jays with other players in our minors,” Michael told Pennington. “We had already been through the trade talk about Rivera, so we didn’t let them bring up Rivera for too long.” Eventually the Blue Jays settled for right-handed pitching prospects Marty Janzen, Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon in exchange for Cone. But, oh, how things could’ve been different.
– Speaking of Blue Jays’ trades, it was six years ago today that the club dealt 1B/DH Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for right-hander Marco Estrada. At the time, the deal was not greeted warmly by Blue Jays fans, but Estrada evolved in a key starting pitcher for the club for four seasons and was particularly effective in the post-season, registering a 2.16 ERA in six starts. Lind, meanwhile, batted .277 with 20 home runs in 149 games in his sole season with the Brewers before he was dealt to the Mariners.
– With the financial restraints big league teams are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like many of the honorary special assistant roles filled by former players are being eliminated. On Tuesday, the Cardinals laid off former Blue Jays right-hander Chris Carpenter from such a position, along with fellow ex-Cards Jim Edmonds and Jason Isringhausen.
– And the best Blue Jays themed Halloween pumpkin goes to Chris Ripley, an artist who carved his pumpkin as a tribute to late shortstop and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony Fernandez.
– This week’s trivia question: Who is the last player born in Canada to win a National League Gold Glove Award? 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 (Lefty Wilkie (Zealandia, Sask.) was the second pitcher from Saskatchewan to play in the major leagues. In total, there have been nine big leaguers that were born in Saskatchewan. Can you name two other big leaguers that were born in Saskatchewan?) was any two of Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.), Dave Pagan (Nipawin, Sask.), Dustin Molleken (Regina, Sask.), Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.), Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.), Joe Erautt (Vibank, Sask.), Ed Bahr (Rouleau, Sask.) and Ralph Buxton (Weyburn, Sask.).