But What Do I Know? . . . Fergie Jenkins, Mike Soroka, Matt Stairs, Rob Butler

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

– Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins lives in Arizona these days, and his state has been hit hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19). So I was glad to see that the baseball legend, who turned 78 in December, has been vaccinated. You can watch him get his shot by clicking on the video below.

– Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) and the Atlanta Braves couldn’t come to an agreement on a 2021 contract prior to Friday’s 1 p.m. E.T. deadline, so his salary will be decided at an arbitration hearing. The 2019 Tip O’Neill Award winner qualifies as a “Super 2” player. Every MLB player is eligible for arbitration after they accumulate three full seasons of service time, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement also dictates that the top 22 percent of players who have amassed between two and three seasons of time qualify for “Super Two” status and they become eligible for arbitration heading into their third season. Soroka, who made his MLB debut on May 1, 2018, made $583,500 last season and will be in line for a significant raise, despite only making three starts for the Braves in 2020. The 23-year-old righty 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. In his rookie campaign in 2019, Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. In December, MLB Trade Rumors projected that Soroka would make around $2 million in 2021.

–It was 32 years ago today that the Montreal Expos signed a 20-year-old infielder (see baseball card image above) from Fredericton, N.B., named Matt Stairs as an amateur free agent. Stairs was hoping to become a professional hockey player until he sustained a serious knee injury in high school. When he recovered, he decided to focus on baseball and he honed his skills at the National Baseball Institute in Surrey, B.C. and with Canada’s junior national team. In 1988, he competed for Canada in the Olympics and hit .362 at the Baseball World Cup and was named the tournament’s top shortstop. His international success helped convince the Expos to sign him as a free agent. After parts of four seasons in the minors, the stocky Maritimer made his big league debut with the Expos on May 29, 1992. But he’d play just 13 games with the Expos that season and six more the following campaign before being sold to the Boston Red Sox in February 1994. Stairs eventually played parts of 19 big league seasons (the most by any Canadian position player) and hit 265 home runs, the third-most by a Canadian behind Larry Walker (383) and Joey Votto (295). He ranks second all-time among Canadians in games (1,895) and third in RBIs (899). For his efforts, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

–Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and 2020 National Baseball Hall of Fame electee Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) has joined Instagram. He made the announcement on Twitter on Thursday. You can follow him here.

– Who is the only Canadian to play for a World Series-winning Canadian team? The answer is Rob Butler (Toronto, Ont.) with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. Signed as an amateur free agent by the Blue Jays in 1990, Butler suited up for parts of four big league seasons with the Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 1999. Butler donated his 1994 game-worn Blue Jays jersey to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., this week (See photo below).

Toronto native Rob Butler has donated his Toronto Blue Jays jersey that he wore in 1994 to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. Photo: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

–  How patient of a hitter has Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) been in the major leagues? Well, last season he quietly broke Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds team record for most career walks. Votto finished the 2020 season with 1,217 walks in 1,771 career games with the Reds. Rose walked 1,210 times in 2,722 contests. In other words, Votto passed Rose’s walk record in almost 1,000 fewer games.

– On this date 44 years ago, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and then Blue Jays’ director of Canadian scouting, Bob Prentice, signed two teenage pitchers from Toronto: Remo Cardinale and Tom DeJak. Cardinale, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, made 24 appearances in the Blue Jays’ system between class-A Utica and Rookie Ball Medicine Hat in 1977 and 1978. Meanwhile, DeJak, a 5-foot-11 southpaw, made 106 appearances in parts of four seasons in the organization, making it as high as double-A Knoxville in 1980.

– Please take a moment to remember the legendary Don Zimmer who would’ve turned 90 today. “Popeye” spent 66 seasons in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and advisor. Best known for his managerial stints with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs and for his tenure as the New York Yankees bench coach, Zimmer also spent a season as the Montreal Expos third base coach under manager Gene Mauch in 1971. Zimmer served as a senior advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2004 until his passing on June 4, 2014 in Dunedin, Fla.

– One of my favourite accounts to follow on Twitter is called Baseball Card Backs, which highlights fascinating trivia on the back of baseball cards. This week they shared the back of Eddie Zosky’s 1991 Upper Deck card which offers a photo that’s about as Canadian as you could get in 1991 (See photo below).

Photo: Baseball Card Backs on Twitter

– This week’s trivia question: I mentioned earlier that Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) has 1,217 career walks. He is one of five Canadians to record at least 700 career walks in the big leagues. Can you name two of the other Canucks to amass more than 700 major league walks? 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 (Who is the only Canadian to have played for the Los Angeles Dodgers during Tommy Lasorda’s 21-season tenure as manager of the club from 1976 to 1996?) was left-hander Steve Wilson (Victoria, B.C.), who toed the rubber for the Dodgers from 1991 to 1993.

10 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Fergie Jenkins, Mike Soroka, Matt Stairs, Rob Butler

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  1. I normally read your Sunday blog before my bacon & eggs, but had some other priorities this morning. It is now 7:45p, and I’ve just enjoyed yet another delightful read of your excellent work, while watching a pair of other iconic guys play pro ball into 40’s, Brady & Brees, playing on my other screen. So, as I’m listening to Joe Buck do the P-B-P of the football game, I read your piece on the multi-dimensional Matt Stairs. But all I can hear in my mind is Buck’s 2008 NLCS classic call, “And Stairs hits one into the night …”.

    With the Phillies leading the series 2-1, it was game four, at Dodger Stadium. With the game tied 5-5, two out and a man on in the eighth, Stairs pinch-hits for his only AB of the series, and absolutely blasts a jack off of the Dodgers’ star reliever, Jonathan Broxton, who hadn’t give up a homer all season. The Phillies went on to win, and were victorious in game five, going on to win the World Series.

    But back to Stairs’ missile, the 254th of his career, it was as clutch as clutch can get, it was a gorgeous swing, and the ball flew forever. But on top of all that, notice the way Stairs ran the bases. There was no pimping, no bat flip, no swag, no pointing, no chest-beating, no fist-pumping, no staring down the pitcher. He just hustled around the bases in true Canadiana fashion, humble, and happy to do the celebrating once his teammates received him in the Phillies dugout. THAT is how to hit a homerun! Enjoy the clip:

  2. Glad to see Fergie is staying safe.
    Too bad about Soroka. Sounds like those meetings aren’t always pleasant.
    Walker is jumping into instagram. So cool
    Thanks Kevin

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