But What Do I Know? . . . Walter Gretzky, Rowan Wick, Jordan Romano, Joe Carter

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

– Rest in peace to Canada’s hockey dad, Walter Gretzky. He passed away on Thursday at the age of 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease and a number of other health issues. The senior Gretzky was also a big baseball fan. His son, Wayne, did not play hockey year-round as a kid. Walter registered him for baseball in the summer. And according to a news release from the Intercounty Baseball League on Friday, Walter was also once the part-owner of the Brantford Red Sox. The release also states that it was while Walter was at a Red Sox game that he received the news that his son had been traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988.

-Vancouver Cannons and Junior National Team alum Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) is not likely to be ready for the start of the major league season with the Chicago Cubs, according to Russell Dorsey, of the Chicago Sun-Times. Wick suffered an intercoastal muscle strain injury last September and didn’t pitch after the 16th of that month. Nearly seven months later, the injury remains slow to heal. The hard-throwing right-hander has been a go-to, late-inning reliever for the Cubs for the past two seasons. 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. In 2019, he made 31 big league appearances and recorded a 2.43 ERA while striking out 35 batters. Wick is a converted catcher who made his big league debut with the Padres in 2018.

–With Ken Giles now in the Seattle Mariners’ organization (and out for the season following Tommy John surgery) and the newly signed Kirby Yates coming off surgery for bone chips in his elbow, there’s some uncertainty as to who will begin the season as the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer. The 33-year-old Yates, who signed a one-year deal with the Blue Jays in the off-season, was dominant with the San Diego Padres in 2019 when he posted a 1.19 ERA, recorded 41 saves and struck out 101 batters in 60 2/3 innings. He says he’s healthy but he has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. If he’s healthy, the closer’s job will be his. But there are those lobbying for Canuck right-hander Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) to get the ball in the ninth inning. Coming off an outstanding 2020 campaign that saw him post a 1.23 ERA and strike out 21 batters in 14 2/3 innings before suffering a season-ending finger injury, Romano’s fastball velocity consistently approached triple digits in his first two appearances this spring.

-Happy 53rd Birthday to Denis Boucher! In 1993, the Lachine, Que., native became the first Canadian to have played for both the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. In Boucher’s big league debut with the Blue Jays on April 12, 1991, the first three batters he faced were Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and Gary Sheffield. In other words, he battled two Hall of Famers and a 500-home run hitter in his first major league inning. Talk about baptism by fire. But to his credit, he retired all three in order. After seven appearances with the Blue Jays, he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians as part of a package for knuckleballer Tom Candiotti on June 27, 1991. He’d pitch parts of two seasons with Cleveland before eventually landing with the Expos in 1993. On September 6, 1993, he made his Expos debut in front of more than 40,000 fans at Olympic Stadium. With Windsor, Ont., native Joe Siddall catching and Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker in right field, the contest represented the first time in modern baseball history that three Canucks have been in the starting lineup for the same team. Boucher held the Colorado Rockies to one run in six innings and recorded the win in the Expos’ 4-3 victory. In all, Boucher, who has served as a pitching coach for the national team in recent years, pitched in parts of four big league seasons. He is currently a scout for the New York Yankees.

-Want to feel old? Joe Carter turns 61 today. And what better way to celebrate his birthday than to re-watch his walkoff, 1993 World Series-winning home run off Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mitch Williams (click on the video below)? When Carter retired, he was the Blue Jays’ all-time leader in home runs with 203, but that total has since been surpassed by Carlos Delgado (336), Jose Bautista (288), Edwin Encarnacion (239) and Vernon Wells (223). In recent years, Carter, who lives outside Kansas City now, has returned to Toronto to host his annual celebrity golf tournament that raises money for charity. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

-Whenever I think of players that had sensational springs with the Blue Jays, I think of North Vancouver native Simon Pond in 2004. In Dunedin that spring, Pond, who was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos 10 years earlier, topped the Blue Jays in hits (23) and batted .338 with four home runs. His performance earned him a surprise spot on the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster. Unfortunately, Pond’s hot streak didn’t carry over to the regular season and he went 8-for-49 (.163 batting average) in 16 games and was sent to the minors. That would be his only taste of big league action. One of the best articles I’ve ever read about Pond was this one by John Lott. He caught up with Pond in 2016. At that time, Pond, who played 13 seasons of pro baseball, was running his own tile and stone business in North Vancouver.

-Who’s the only person to have served as a pitching coach with both the Expos and the Blue Jays? The answer is Galen Cisco. He turns 85 today. Happy Birthday to him! Cisco was the Expos’ pitching coach from 1980 to 1984 and the Blue Jays’ pitching coach in 1988 and again from 1990 to 1995. He also had tenures as the pitching coach with the Kansas City Royals (1971 to 1979), Padres (1985 to 1987) and Philadelphia Phillies (1997 to 2000). Prior to his coaching career, he pitched for parts of eight major league seasons with with Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Royals between 1961 and 1969. Cisco also toed the rubber for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs for parts of two seasons in 1966 and 1967.

-This week’s trivia question: Who is the only Blue Jays player other than the five mentioned above (Carter, Delgado, Bautista, Encarnacion and Wells) to have hit more than 200 home runs for the club? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.

– The answer to last week’s trivia question (Tim Raines had 635 stolen bases with the Expos, which is the most in franchise history. Only two other Expos recorded more than 200 stolen bases with the club. Can you name one of them?) was either Andre Dawson or Marquis Grissom.

14 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Walter Gretzky, Rowan Wick, Jordan Romano, Joe Carter

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  1. Lots of interesting stuff here Kevin! Can’t believe Joe Carter is 61. That makes me really old!

  2. Thank you for linking the story on Simon Pond by John Lott. It was excellent. As a former sports columnist in North Vancouver, I did some stories on Simon Pond and the coolest thing he told me was that his one major league home run was not only to deep centre field in historic Fenway Park, but also he actually got the ball moments later. Red Sox fans don’t like it when the opposition hits a homer and someone threw the ball back on the field. Johnny Damon, who was played CF for Boston at the time, threw the ball to the Blue Jays’ dugout for him. Simon gave the ball to his mom.

  3. Your blog makes my Sunday mornings Kevin! Keep up the fantastic, consistent, accurate, dedicated work!

    Simon Pond is special. Please enjoy a night to be remembered, and then enjoy an inside look at what led up to him being drafted.

    Simon played a decade in the minor leagues, and 16 more games in The Show than I did, nor millions of other wannabees like me who could barely dream of living out Moonlight Graham’s account of his cup of coffee in the big leagues, nevermind Simon’s real-life performance on May 21, 2004.
    Imagine being on a field, in uniform, oh, and that field happens to be Boston’s Fenway Park. And on that field, in this Friday-nighter, the Blue Jays are about to start a weekend series against the Red Sox, who unknowingly at the time would go on to capture the 2004 World Series. There are 35,287 diehard BoSox fanatics jammed into the full house like tuna in a can, one of them named Tom Bourque. We’ll bring Bourque back into the picture in a bit. You find your name on the line-up card, batting eighth and playing left field, alongside some monster players such as Carlos Delgado, Vernon Wells, and Josh Phelps. By the way, your starting pitcher is a fella named Roy Halladay. And did I mention that you’ll be facing an opposition that includes superstars David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Kevin Youkilis, and starter Bronson Arroyo? Less than a week ago, Arroyo had thrown eight scoreless innings in Toronto, when the Red Sox shut out the Blue Jays 4-0, and Pond had an O-fer-3 night at the plate. Tonight was going to be Simon’s eighth Major League game. He didn’t know that it he was about to reach the mid-point of his MLB playing career. It is impossible to imagine the exhilarating, imponderable range of stimulation and emotion that had to be bursting through Simon’s bones. I am experiencing goose bumps just from my fingers typing this scene-setter on my keyboard! How would Simon respond?

    In the top of the second inning, in his first at bat, Simon opened the scoring when he smacked a two-out, two-strike, two-run double into the left field corner, plating Delgado and Chris Gomez, giving the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. After Halladay finished his night, having thrown 98 pitches over six complete innings, and his team down 5-4, Simon led off the top of the seventh with a bomb over the centre field fence, knotting the score, erasing the potential loss for Doc, and snatching away the W from Arroyo, who was removed after Pond crossed the plate.

    It was Simon’s first, and unknowingly at the time, what turned out to be his only MLB homerun. Can anybody reading this imagine the elation and adrenaline at that point in Simon Pond’s life? It was a night to be cherished, and that privilege will belong only to Simon Pond. Unfortunately, ManRam spoiled the party, homering over the Green Monster in the eighth inning to spark a six-run rally, that led to an 11-5 Red Sox victory. Now, 17 years later, I still remain so happy that Simon had that night, and that Tom Bourque got to watch it!

    A decade before Simon’s blast, when scouting for my third year with the MLB Central Scouting Bureau, regional scouts Walt Burrows and the late, great Bill Green, who passed away on March 26 of last year, had identified and notified me about Simon as a potential big league prospect. I remembered liking what I’d seen at a tryout camp the year before, that we held at Mundy Park, in Coquitlam. Mundy, a cozy pasture, placed in a Rockwellian setting, always groomed to perfection, where you’d want to have a family picnic as much as you would want to see a ball game, had one of the most beautiful backdrops in the entire country. And Simon Pond had one of the prettiest, rhythmic, natural, teenage swings that I recall evaluating. Bill was already a legendary BC coach, and Walt, who had quickly built solid credibility with his natural knack for scouting, always struck a priority cord with me, So I hopped on a plane to go and make a final call on whether or not Simon should be written up. I wound up turning in Simon with an OFP (Overall Future Potential) number around … I think, 44, if I remember correctly, but that would have been more than 25 years ago, and I do not have a copy of my report. That OFP level reflects a player worth drafting, with the potential to, let’s say, become a fourth outfielder in the bigs.

    I would say that I was at the point of my scouting career where I was maybe just starting to figure things out. I was admittedly still on the conservative side with my projections, because a big number (e.g., over 50, which would reflect a future every-day MLB player) would dictate that all 30 clubs should be sending a cross-checker, perhaps a scouting director, or maybe even a general manager, up across the border in what is always a very busy Spring, to have a look-see at a Canadian prospect who a relative unknown projects to become a major league average player. I remember wanting to put a higher number on Simon, but one of the cornerstones of scouting is that only two things make a player get better, physical maturation, and minor mechanical adjustments. He was an average-sized high schooler at best, and I did not anticipate Simon getting much bigger (although he did – he is listed as 6’1′′, 190 lb on Baseball Reference). He had a sweet swing, his best tool, so not much tweaking with his mechanics was necessary. But he had quiet confidence in himself that stood out and really impressed me. We do grade poise, one of many criteria, such as aggressiveness, instincts, intelligence, etc., that cannot be measured with a radar gun, but appear on a Bureau Free Agent Report. They are not incorporated into the formula that calculates the OFP. Because I was a Supervisor by that time, I had the right to subjectively alter the OFP by as many as three points up or down if I could quantify a trait like what I just described about Simon. But I decided to leave the OFP alone, a grade determined by current and future projections on arm strength, combined with the ability to field, run, hit and generate power.

    One of the things my bosses, Don Pries and Frank Marcos, really harped on was to let our reports speak for themselves. They were sent simultaneously to all 30 GMs and Scouting Directors, and we were constantly reminded to minimize the number of dinners and car rides with our colleagues, particularly scouts representing individual MLB teams. If we purposely, or even accidentally, dropped a tidbit of information, or an opinion, that did not appear on the formal scouting report or the signability report (submitted after home visitations), that resulted in a listener’s organization raising or lowering the status of the player on their draft list, we could literally be fired for violating neutrality protocols.

    Now, on the road (I averaged about 200 hotel nights per year during that time – remember, my territory was CANADA), it can get mighty lonely, and there are so many quality people who are baseball scouts, I just couldn’t help but want to spend more time with many of them. My best friend, and the scout that I probably spent the most time with that decade, was Tom Bourque, a Bostonian who had recently left the Scouting Bureau staff, and was then scouting for the Expos. Tommy was funny, upbeat, very positive, an awesome family man, and just a guy that I easily gravitated towards.

    Tommy’s ethics were exceptional, so there was never an intentional or unintentional question that he would pose that would put me in a compromising position, and that was a two-way street, as I would never give him information on a player that the other 29 clubs would not be privy to. Nor would I ask him for his assessment of a player, because, while nobody else’s opinion would ever sway me, if I ever happened to alter an OFP number, which happens on occasion, I would never have wanted a club scout to think that he influenced me. Hence, Simon’s trait that I noted above, that quiet confidence that he displayed as a hitter, that tempted me to project him at a higher OFP, was never brought into a pre-draft social conversation with any club scouts, including Tommy. Nor did Tommy ever discuss Simon at any length with me. Tom Bourque never needed anybody’s help to grade out a ballplayer. He was one of the best.

    Well, I still remember when my bosses invited me to work at the HQ during the 1994 MLB Draft, which was all done privately at that time, with 32 numbers on the call, including no media, just the 30 MLB Clubs, the Commissioner’s Office of Major League Baseball in New York, and the MLB Satellite office in California that housed the head office of the MLB Scouting Bureau. So, I was given the privilege of hearing it “live” for the first time. Well, when Simon was taken in the 8th round, I just about jumped out of my seat because I was so happy for him. A lot goes into what round a player should be selected in, from ability to signability, but generally speaking, 8th rounders tend to carry OFPs in the neighborhood of 48-52. And then, when I realized that it was Tommy who would have put Simon on the Expos white board, I called him, and I still remember him telling me that he loved Simon the first time he saw him, and really projected him big. He said he was dying to tell me about it, but due to the code of ethics, friends or no friends, it would not have been appropriate. He liked that my OFP number on Simon was lower than his, because he felt that the other clubs may not have him ranked as high as the Expos brass did.

    Just because a player doesn’t show up, or last, in the big leagues doesn’t mean a scout was wrong. Just like the stock market, nobody owns a crystal ball, and all you can do is let your objective and subjective judgements and instincts, that have proven to be successful in the past, dictate your projections. Even over a beer, to this day, neither Tommy or I would ever say “I was right,” but Tommy Bourque got to see first-hand the fruit of his labour, and Simon was a bonafide major league talent, a great kid, and is always fun to talk about.

  4. Kevin, tons of info as always. So great to read. I didn’t know Wick was injured. Fast recovery I hope.

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