By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Please take a moment to remember the courageous and inspiring Jackie Robinson today, on what would’ve been his 102nd birthday. Prior to breaking Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he starred at second base for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers’ farm team, in 1946. It’s widely believed that Dodgers GM Branch Rickey stationed Robinson in Montreal to ease his young prospect into integrated baseball. Playing his home games in a city with a reputation for racial tolerance would provide Robinson with relative tranquility for half the schedule. On the field, Robinson excelled, leading the International League in batting average, walks and runs, and spurring the Royals to their first Junior World Series triumph. When the Royals clinched the championship at Delorimier Stadium, the fans chanted Robinson’s name and hoisted him on their shoulders. Tears of jubilation spilled from the baseball pioneer’s eyes. He had endured a lot that season. Racism was palpable in International League cities like Syracuse and Baltimore, but the taunts had intensified in Louisville, the city Montreal opposed in the Junior World Series. After the celebration appeared over, Robinson emerged from the clubhouse, only to have adoring fans chase him down the street, wanting to touch their hero one last time. The scene inspired Pittsburgh Courier correspondent Sam Maltin to write, “It was the first time that a white mob chased a black man down the street, not out of hate, but because of love.” Moved by the affection of Montrealers after the Junior World Series triumph, Robinson remarked, “This is the city for me. This is paradise.” These words have been immortalized on a statue of Robinson that still stands outside of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. He and his wife, Rachel, never forgot the generosity of Montrealers and Canadians. Two years ago, I sent out the following tweet and it was only time I’ve ever been re-tweeted by the Canadian prime minister.
– Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) told Sportsnet’s Good Show on Tuesday that his rehab from his Achilles injury is “going really, really well” and that barring any setbacks, he expects to be on the Atlanta Braves’ roster on Opening Day. This is very positive news for the Canuck righty who ruptured his Achilles in a start on August 3 and underwent surgery four days later. It generally takes nine-to-12 months to recover from this type of injury. The Junior National Team alum, who made his MLB debut on May 1, 2018, only made three starts for the Braves in 2020. 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.
–Speaking of Calgarians, congratulations to Jim Henderson who has been named the pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers’ triple-A Nashville Sounds. The former Okotoks Dawgs hurler had joined the Brewers in a coaching role last September for the final games of their regular season. The 6-foot-5 right-hander pitched parts of three major league seasons with the Brewers from 2012 to 2014. His best campaign came in 2013 when he posted a 2.70 ERA and recorded 28 saves in 61 games. He finished his MLB career by registering a 4.11 ERA in 44 appearances for the New York Mets in 2016.
–Please take a moment to remember Chicago Cubs legend and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks who would’ve turned 90 today. He passed away in 2015. Banks played with Canadian baseball legend and fellow Cooperstowner Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) for parts of six seasons with the Cubs and they roomed together on the road for the last two seasons of Banks’ career. In his 19 big league seasons, Banks belted 512 home runs, but he only hit one against the Montreal Expos. That round-tripper was a three-run blast in the fourth inning on September 10, 1970 off Expos left-hander John O’Donoghue in a Cubs’ 9-3 win at Wrigley Field. Banks was just 6-for-40 at Jarry Park, with three of those hits coming in the same game on April 19, 1969.
–From now on, when people ask me why former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, I’m just going to hand them this 1978 Topps card (below) and tell them to read the stats:
–Happy 74th Birthday to Hall of Famer and MLB’s all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan! Back in 2014, I researched and wrote this article about Ryan’s Canadian links. Among the highlights are Ryan registering his 3,509th major league strikeout to break Walter Johnson’s record at Olympic Stadium on April 27, 1983. You can watch the video of that record-breaking strikeout below.
– I stumbled upon this gem of a photo (below) online this week. There was no photo credit with it, so I don’t know who took it, but there are three Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in this picture: Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) and Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.). And here’s something I learned from this photo: Morneau wore No. 27 early in his big league career.
– Happy 29th Birthday to Baseball Canada alum and Windsor, Ont., native Evan Rutckyj. After honing his skills with the Windsor Selects and the Junior National Team, Rutckyj was selected in the 16th round of the 2010 MLB draft by the New York Yankees. The Canuck lefty spent parts of eight seasons in the Yankees organization. In 2015, he was part of the Canadian national team that won gold at the Pan Am Games in Ajax, Ont. In more recent years, he has pitched in the independent professional ranks with the American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes and Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions.
-If you’re like me and were quick to dismiss former Toronto Blue Jays lefty Mark Buehrle as a legitimate candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, then you should read this article by Chris Kamka from NBC Sports Chicago. Think about this for a second: Buehrle is one of just eight big league pitchers to throw 200 or more innings in 14 consecutive seasons – the other seven pitchers on that list already have plaques in Cooperstown. Also, Buehrle’s 60 career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is tied for 13th in MLB history among left-handed pitchers. By reading Kamka’s article, I also learned that Buehrle is the only major league pitcher to have won multiple Gold Gloves and pitched multiple no-hitters. Fortunately, 44 baseball writers voted for Buehrle this year, enough for him to remain on the ballot for future consideration.
-Save February 16 on your calendar so you can attend the Child Witness Centre’s annual Pancake Lunch virtual fundraiser. David Morneau, a longtime supporter of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the director of the centre, has organized the event, which will feature former Cy Young Award winner and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Pat Hentgen and longtime Toronto Star sports columnist and Jack Graney Award winner Richard Griffin as guest speakers. Based in Kitchener, Ont., the Child Witness Centre provides advocacy and support to children and youth who are or may become victims of or witnesses to violence, crime and abuse. Tickets are $30 and you can purchase them here.
– This week’s trivia question: Ernie Banks homered off two Canadian pitchers during his career. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
– The answer to last week’s trivia question (Name a Canadian pitcher that Hank Aaron hit a home run off in the big leagues.) was any one of Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.), Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) and Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.).