By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– It was 10 years ago today that Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. With that, he became the second Canadian to receive the honour, joining Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) who won the award in 1997. In 150 games for the Reds in 2010, Votto batted .324 with 37 home runs and topped the National League in on-base percentage (.424), slugging percentage (.600) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.024). He also stole 16 bases, scored 106 runs and knocked in 113 runs and led the Reds to their first postseason appearance in 15 years.
– Congratulations to Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum Jordan Balazovic (Mississauga, Ont.) who was added to the Minnesota Twins’ 40-man roster on Friday. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who spent part of the 2020 season at the Twins’ alternate site, enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2019 when he posted a combined 8-5 record and a 2.69 ERA, while striking out 129 batters, in 93 2/3 innings in 19 games between class-A and class-A Advanced in the Twins’ organization. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Network’s minor league pitcher of the year. Selected in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB draft by the Twins, on the recommendation of veteran scout Walt Burrows (Brentwood Bay, B.C.), Balazovic has pitched parts of four seasons in the Twins’ system.
–The inspiration for my Cooperstowners in Canada blog was the 1954 Montreal Royals team photo (above) that’s displayed in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. When I first saw this photo in 1998, I was surprised to see a young Roberto Clemente sitting on the far left end of the bottom row. I had only known Clemente as a legendary Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder and had no idea that he had played for the Royals, who were the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top minor league affiliate. In 87 games with the Royals in 1954, Clemente batted a modest .257 with two home runs. But that didn’t deter the Pirates from selecting the then 19-year-old outfielder in that era’s equivalent of the Rule 5 draft 66 years ago today. It proved to be the greatest transaction in the history of the franchise. For more information about Clemente’s season in Montreal, you can visit this link.
– It was 43 years ago today that Montreal Expos outfielder Andre Dawson was voted the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In 139 games with the Expos in 1977, Dawson batted .282 with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs. He also stole 21 bases and recorded nine outfield assists. Dawson edged New York Mets outfielder Steve Henderson by one vote to secure the honour.
– Happy 29th Birthday to Ontario Blue Jays and national team alum Eric Wood (Pickering, Ont.)! Chosen in the sixth round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Pirates, the 6-foot-1 infielder batted .253 and belted 68 home runs in eight seasons in the Bucs’ organization, before spending 2020 with the independent American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes. Wood also suited up for Canada at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
– Here’s a fun old Toronto Blue Jays photo (above) from the club’s 1983 organizational meetings. This was shared with me by Los Angeles Dodgers’ senior director, baseball administration Ellen Harrigan, who hails from Agincourt, Ont. She’s on the far right in the bottom row. I can count four Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in the photo. Can you find them?
– One of the funniest Canadian players on Twitter is left-hander Rob Zastryzny (Edmonton, Alta.). He spent his 2020 season at the Baltimore Orioles alternate site, but he previously posted a 4.41 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Chicago Cubs from 2016 to 2018. Here’s a sample of his wit on Twitter:
– Most of us think of Junior National alum Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) as a hard-throwing reliever for the Chicago Cubs. In 2020, he led Canadian big league pitchers in appearances (19) and saves (4), while posting a 3.12 ERA and striking out 20 in 17 1/3 innings before being shut down with an oblique injury. But Wick was actually drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth round in 2012 as a power-hitting catcher. And if you look at his minor league stats, he exhibited that power in 2014 when he hit a combined 20 home runs in 74 games for two class-A clubs. Here’s some footage of Wick as hitter that I had never seen before (click on the link below):
– Please take a moment to remember former Blue Jays left-hander Tom Underwood who passed away 10 years ago at the age of 56 after battling pancreatic cancer. The versatile southpaw was 9-16 with a 3.69 ERA in 32 starts for the Blue Jays in 1979. That season he topped Blue Jays pitchers in complete games (12), innings pitched (227) and strikeouts (127). He also registered a 4.10 ERA in 31 appearances for the Blue Jays in 1978. In all, Underwood pitched in 11 major league seasons and notched 86 wins and finished with a 3.89 ERA in 379 appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles.
– This week’s trivia question: Andre Dawson was actually the second Montreal Expo to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. Who was the first? 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 (Two Expos left-handed pitchers have finished in the top 10 of the National League Cy Young Award voting. Can you name one of them?) was one of Ross Grimsley (1978) and Jeff Fassero (1996).