By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– This is an exciting week to be a Canadian baseball fan. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will announce its Jack Graney Award winner on Tuesday and its Tip O’Neill Award recipient on Thursday. The Graney Award is presented annually to a member of the media who has made significant contributions to baseball in Canada through their life’s work, while the Tip O’Neill Award is handed out to the top Canuck player from the past year. Stay tuned to this blog for posts on the winners.
– In a year with so much gloom and a month with so little sunlight, one of the most positive things I saw this week was the footage below (click on tweet) of Calgary Redbirds and Junior National Team alum Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) playing catch at Truist Park in Atlanta. The 23-year-old right-hander tore his right Achilles tendon on August 3 and underwent surgery four days later. Experts say it generally takes nine-to-12 months to recover from this type of injury. Soroka was making his third start of the season when the injury occurred. In his rookie campaign in 2019, he went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
–It was 20 years ago today that Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pelé, N.B.) signed a three-year, $2.9-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Canuck southpaw eventually spent six seasons with the Phils, his longest tenure with any big league club during his 16-year career. In 2003 with the Phillies, Cormier enjoyed his best major league campaign when he posted an 8-0 record and a 1.70 ERA in 65 relief appearances. That season, he allowed just 54 hits in 84 2/3 innings. Earlier in his career, he toed the rubber for the Montreal Expos in 1996 and 1997.
– Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. He now just has to wait until a ceremony can be held in Cooperstown to be officially inducted. But what if the Canadian slugger could vote for the 2021 class? What names would he check off on the ballot? Fortunately, well-known baseball analyst, writer and statistician Ryan Spaeder asked Walker this question and Walker responded with the 10 names he would check. Click on this link and scroll down to Ballot 44 to see who Walker would vote for.
– Eight years ago today, Montreal native Russell Martin signed a two-year, $17-million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Canadian catcher went on to enjoy two of his best major league seasons with the Bucs. His 2014 campaign might be the finest of his career. Not only did he hit .290 and have a .402 on-base percentage, but he also had a 2.2 dWAR and finished 13th in the National League MVP voting. The gritty Canuck was also a leader in the clubhouse and it was no coincidence that the Pirates made their first playoff appearances in over two decades in the two seasons (2013 and 2014) that Martin was with them.
– Who hit the first home run in Montreal Expos history? I’ve probably asked this question enough on this blog that you might know the answer — which is left-handed pitcher Dan McGinn. What makes that home run even more impressive was that it was off Hall of Famer and New York Mets ace Tom Seaver at Shea Stadium in the fourth inning of the Expos’ first game on April 8, 1969. That was also McGinn’s only major league home run. McGinn, who pitched parts of three seasons with the Expos, turns 77 today. Happy Birthday to him!
– Speaking of birthdays, it’s former Toronto Blue Jays’ DH Otto Velez’s 70th birthday. Happy Birthday to him! When someone says Velez’s name, I think of his performance in the first month in Blue Jays’ history. In 17 games in April 1977, Velez batted .442 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. His on-base percentage was .531 and his slugging percentage was .865. For his efforts, he was named American League Player of the Month. In all, Velez suited up for parts of six seasons with the Blue Jays and hit .257 and belted 72 home runs in 522 games.
– And Happy 93rd Birthday to the greatest baseball broadcaster of them all, Vin Scully! The iconic Dodgers play-by-man made countless historic calls during his 67 seasons of broadcasting, but as a Canadian baseball history buff, the one I remember the most is Scully calling Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines’ 10th inning grand slam off New York Mets reliever Jesse Orosco on May 2, 1987. That blast capped off a remarkable game for Raines, who was playing in his first contest of the season after he missed the first month because he couldn’t secure a free agent contract in the off-season due to collusion by the owners. Raines went 4-for-5 that day, but it’s best for me to let Scully describe the Expos legend’s performance (Please click on the link below and listen).
– This week’s trivia question: I mentioned above that Russell Martin was the catcher for the Pirates in 2013 when the club advanced to the postseason for the first time in over two decades. There were two other Canadians that played for the Pirates that season. Who were they? 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 (Andre Dawson was the second Montreal Expo to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. Who was the first?) was right-hander Carl Morton in 1970.