By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– I was happy to see fellow London, Ont., native Jamie Romak be named this year’s recipient of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award on Thursday. In a year with so much gloom, this is a feel-good story. Romak has played 18 seasons of pro baseball and has had to work tirelessly for every break and opportunity. He’s been an excellent and inspiring ambassador for his sport in Canada and for London, Ont. Ryan Pyette, of the London Free Press, wrote a particularly good article about Romak on Thursday. You can read his article here.
– One of the best days for me as a Canadian baseball writer came nine years ago today when it was announced that Bob Elliott had been voted the winner of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award for his “meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” He became the first – and still only – Canadian to win this award. Bob has been a mentor, a wonderful boss at the Canadian Baseball Network and best of all, a kind and thoughtful friend. One of my career highlights was making the trek to Cooperstown to hear his acceptance speech for the award in July 2012. After his speech, which was outstanding, I stayed up most of the night to write this column. (Click on the link to read it). I usually wince when I read my old writing, but this is one column I don’t mind re-reading.
–According to NBC Sports baseball scribe John Tomase, the Boston Red Sox are likely to give right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) a good shot at cracking their starting rotation in 2021. In an article published on Monday, Tomase breaks down Pivetta’s 2020 campaign and offers his thoughts on the right-hander’s future. The 27-year-old Canuck improved his chances for a rotation spot with two excellent starts for the Red Sox at the end of the 2020 season in which he went 2-0 and allowed just two runs and struck out 13 in 10 innings. Pivetta came to the Red Sox in a trade on August 21 after spending parts of four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. In all, in 94 career big league appearances, the Victoria Eagles and Junior National Team alum is 21-30 and owns a 5.40 ERA, but has 434 strikeouts in 406 1/3 innings.
– It was 10 years ago today that legendary Toronto Blue Jays general manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pat Gillick was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. In his 18 years with the Blue Jays, beginning in 1976, Gillick transformed an expansion club into World Series champions. With Gillick as GM, the Blue Jays recorded 11 consecutive winning seasons (1983 to 1993), captured five division titles (1985, 1989, 1991-93) and won two World Championships (1992, 1993). After his departure from the Blue Jays, Gillick led three more franchises to postseason appearances: the Baltimore Orioles (1996-97), Seattle Mariners (2000-01) and Philadelphia Phillies (2007-08). He’s the only GM in major league history to guide four different clubs to the playoffs. When the Phillies won the Fall Classic in 2008, Gillick added a third championship to his resume.
– I rediscovered this gem of a Joey Votto card (above) on Thursday. I love the “Scouting Report” on the back which includes the description: “Solid build for a catcher.” Yes, Votto was selected from the Etobicoke Rangers by Cincinnati Reds in the second round of the 2002 MLB draft as a catcher. He only caught seven games in the Reds’ system in 2002 before he was converted into a first baseman the following season.
– Thirty years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Bell left the Blue Jays to sign a three-year, $10-million deal with the Chicago Cubs. The contract also included a $2.8-million option for a fourth year. In his only season with the Cubs, Bell batted .285 with 25 home runs and was selected to the National League All-Star team which enabled him to come back to Toronto to participate in the Midsummer Classic at SkyDome. Following that season, Bell was dealt to the crosstown White Sox for left-handed pitcher Ken Patterson and a promising young outfielder named Sammy Sosa.
– Congratulations to legendary Montreal Expos manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Felipe Alou who was named the winner of Baseball America’s Tony Gwynn Award on Tuesday. This award is handed out annually to honour the recipient’s lifetime impact on the game. According to Baseball America, Alou, who’s now 85, has undergone open heart surgery and had a knee replacement, but he continues to serve as an assistant to the general manager with the San Francisco Giants. Alou was part of the Expos organization as a player, instructor or manager for 27 years. The highly respected baseball man joined the Expos as an instructor following a successful 18-year playing career in which he collected 2,101 hits and was selected to three all-star games. Born in Bajos de Haina, San Cristobal, D.R., Alou developed into a star in the Expos’ coaching ranks shortly after he was hired in 1976. Following several successful managerial and coaching stints in the Expos organization, he was hired as the club’s big league manager on May 22, 1992. In accepting the position, he became the first Dominican manager in major league history. In parts of 10 seasons as Expos manager, he accumulated a franchise-record 691 wins and had the Expos sitting in first-place in 1994 when the season was cancelled due to a players’ strike. After leaving the Expos, Alou worked as a bench coach with the Detroit Tigers in 2002, before serving as manager of the Giants from 2003 to 2006. In 2006, he became the first Latin manager to win 1,000 games in the big leagues. In all, he has been involved in professional baseball in some capacity for more than 65 years.
– It was 10 years ago today that the Blue Jays traded right-hander Shaun Marcum to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Canadian infielder Brett Lawrie (Langley, B.C.). Marcum had two strong seasons with the Brewers prior to moving on to the New York Mets. Lawrie made his major league debut with the Blue Jays on August 5, 2011 and went on to hit .293 with nine home runs in 43 games that season. He spent three more injury shortened campaigns with the Blue Jays before he was dealt to the Oakland A’s as part of the package for third baseman Josh Donaldson on November 28, 2014.
– This week’s trivia question: Jamie Romak is not the first player born in London, Ont., to win the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award. One other player born in London has won it. Can you name him? 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 (Montreal native Russell Martin was the catcher for the Pittsburgh 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?) was Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) and Chris Leroux (Montreal, Que.).