But What Do I Know? . . . Fergie Jenkins, Larry Walker, James Paxton, Mike Soroka, Ron Taylor

Fergie Jenkins will be immortalized with a statue outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Photo: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

-Congratulations to Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) who will become the fourth former Chicago Cubs player to be honoured with a statue outside Wrigley Field. The Cubs made the announcement on Tuesday. The legendary right-hander had six consecutive 20-win seasons with the Cubs from 1967 to 1972 and became the first Canadian to win the National League Cy Young Award in 1971. In all, in 10 seasons with the Cubs, he had 167 wins, a 3.20 ERA and 154 complete games in 401 appearances. The exact location of where the statue will be has yet to be announced, but it could be unveiled during the 2022 season.

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reported on Tuesday that the Colorado Rockies will retire Larry Walker’s No. 33 in a pre-game ceremony at Coors Field on August 21. The ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on August 19, 2020, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maple Ridge, B.C., native was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2020. On July 25, he will become the first former player to be pictured in a Rockies cap on their plaque to be inducted into the Cooperstown shrine. His number is the second the Rockies have retired. They retired Todd Helton’s No. 17 in 2014.

-Left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) was removed from his first start of the season with the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday after only 24 pitches with a left forearm strain and Jon Heyman, of the MLB Network, reports that Tommy John surgery has been recommended for the Canuck southpaw. Paxton will seek a second opinion on Monday, according to Mariners’ manager Scott Servais. This is the latest in a series of unfortunate injuries for Paxton. The 32-year-old lefty, who signed a one-year, $8.5-million deal in February to return to the Mariners, underwent back surgery last February and made just five starts for the New York Yankees in 2020 prior to being sidelined for the rest of the season with a flexor strain in his throwing arm on August 20. In all, Paxton has pitched in parts of eight major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.

-Right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) left his start at the Atlanta Braves’ alternate site on Tuesday after just one inning with shoulder discomfort. He has since been diagnosed with right shoulder inflammation. Mark Bowman, of MLB.com, reports that tests showed there is no structural damage, but that Soroka will be shut down for two weeks. This is a disappointing set back for the 23-year-old right-hander who was hoping to return to the Braves’ rotation this month, ahead of schedule, from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered on August 3. The Junior National Team alum has had no issues in his rehabilitation from that injury this spring. Soroka made just three starts in 2020, but 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.

Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) pitched 11 innings in his MLB debut for the Cleveland Indians 59 years ago today.

-Fifty nine years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Toronto native Ron Taylor had one of the most impressive major league debuts ever by a pitcher. The then 24-year-old right-hander started and pitched 11 scoreless innings, scattering 10 hits and striking out five, for the Cleveland Indians against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. In the 12th inning, however, Red Sox right fielder Carroll Hardy belted a walk-off grand slam home run off Taylor to give the home squad a 4-0 victory. Taylor also had two singles in four at bats. From what I can gather through my research, Taylor’s 11 innings are the most by an American League pitcher in their debut. Right-hander Al Jurisich tossed 12 2/3 innings for the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals against the Cincinnati Reds in his first game on April 26, 1944.

-Please take a moment to remember former Detroit Tigers left-hander Mike Kilkenny who would’ve turned 76 today. Born in Bradford, Ont., Kilkenny was an unlikely major leaguer. His high school didn’t have a baseball team and he grew up at a time when Canadians were not eligible for the major league draft. But the talented left-hander would make a name for himself as a 15-year-old in the Toronto area when he began overpowering players that were as many as six years older than him. His performance attracted the interest of big league scouts and according to Kilkenny’s SABR bio,  19 of 20 major league teams made contract offers to him before he opted to sign with the Tigers in 1964. The Canuck southpaw would toe the rubber for parts of five seasons in the Tigers’ minor league system before winning a spot on the big league staff out of spring training in 1969. That season proved to be his best in the majors. In all, he’d compete in 39 games and make 15 starts, and by the end of that campaign, he was one of the Tigers’ top starters, hurling four complete-game shutouts in his final nine appearances. Kilkenny served as a swingman for the Tigers for the next four seasons before he was dealt to the Oakland A’s on May 9, 1972. Eight days later – after making just one appearance for the A’s – he was swapped to the San Diego Padres who used him in five contests before flipping him to the Cleveland Indians. In just over a month, Kilkenny pitched for four different teams. Following his pro career, Kilkenny returned to Canada to manage the pro shop of the Llyndinshire Golf Club near London, Ont. In 1975, he agreed to pitch for the Intercounty Baseball League’s London Majors and proceeded to register a 9-0 record and a 2.31 ERA to lead the Majors to their last league title.

-Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) tossed five scoreless innings and picked up a win against the Tampa Bay Rays in his first start of the season for the Red Sox on Monday. The 28-year-old right-hander is now 3-0 with a 1.20 ERA in three starts with the Red Sox dating back to last September. He’ll start today against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Victoria Eagles and Junior National Team alum came to the Red Sox in a trade last August after spending parts of four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 94 career big league appearances, he is 22-30 and owns a 5.34 ERA, but has 438 strikeouts in 411 1/3 innings.

-It was 29 years ago today that Peter Hoy (Brockville, Ont.) made his major league debut with the Red Sox. He came in in relief of Joe Hesketh and tossed a scoreless sixth inning in the Red Sox 7-5, 19-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians at Cleveland Stadium. It was the first of seven appearances that Hoy made for the Red Sox that season. It’s also interesting to note that another Canadian Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.) was the winning pitcher for the Red Sox. He struck out five in three scoreless innings to close out the contest for the Sox.

-I’m reading Howard Bryant’s outstanding 2010 Hank Aaron biography, The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron. One of the more captivating chapters discusses Aaron’s chase of Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. By reading this chapter, I learned Aaron’s career home runs 703, 704 and 705 had Canadian connections. Numbers 703 and 704 were hit at Montreal’s Jarry Park off Expos pitchers Steve Renko (August 17, 1973) and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Steve Rogers (August 18, 1973) respectively, while No. 705 was belted off Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.) while he was with the St. Louis Cardinals on August 22, 1973.

-This week’s trivia question: I mentioned that Hank Aaron hit career home run No. 705 off Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Sask.). That was one of three home runs that Aaron hit off Cleveland. Aaron also hit two or more home runs off three other Canadian pitchers. Can you name one of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.

–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu made his second Opening Day start for the Blue Jays this season. Two other Blue Jays left-handers have made more than one Opening Day start for the club. Can you name one of them? ) was either Jimmy Key or Ricky Romero.

14 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Fergie Jenkins, Larry Walker, James Paxton, Mike Soroka, Ron Taylor

Add yours

  1. Ferguson Jenkins would be an obvious choice I’m thinking. Great read Kevin…love the articles!

  2. Great job again, Kevin. I hope all is well. Hoping that we can get together again and watch a game soon.

  3. Great story, Kevin……Thank you. A statue for Fergie is most deserving and long overdue.

  4. Great news for Fergie and Larry! Fantastic.

    Not so great news for Paxton and Soroka.
    Nice finds for the Hank Aaron Canadian HR connections Kevin.

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