By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Last summer, I started what I had hoped would be a regular feature called “Two tidbits about Terry Puhl.”
I wrote three blog entries within two months and then got sidetracked with other projects, but I wanted to resurrect this feature because I still feel like Puhl doesn’t get his proper due in our country’s baseball lore.
Over the past two decades, Canadian baseball fans – like myself – have been spoiled. We’ve been able to watch elite offensive talents like Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.), Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.), Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.), Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) compete in the big leagues.
I haven’t taken this for granted because when I was a kid in the early 80s, the only Canuck player contributing regularly with the bat in the majors was Puhl, who was a steady outfielder with the Houston Astros.
As a kid, I collected all of Puhl’s baseball cards and savoured any information I could get about the Melville, Sask., native in the pre-Internet and pre-MLB Network days. My fear, however, is that, with the number of Canadian hitters that have excelled in the big leagues in the past 20 years, Puhl’s accomplishments are being forgotten.
With this (resurrected) feature, my plan is to present two facts or pieces of trivia about Puhl that I’ve learned in my recent baseball research.
But first here’s a general bio about Puhl:
The Astros offered Puhl a contract after he led his hometown midget squad from Melville, Sask., to a Canadian championship in 1973. He reported to Houston’s rookie league club in Covington, Va., in 1974, where he hit .284 and cemented his status as a bona fide prospect.
Just five days after his 21st birthday, the wide-eyed Saskatchewan native started his first big league game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. So nervous he was shaking, Puhl overcame his jitters to record his first hit and score the game-winning run. He went on to hit .301 in 60 games that season and win himself a starting role in 1978.
His steady offensive and defensive efforts earned him all-star honours in 1978, when he hit .289 and stole 32 bases. He topped that the following campaign, when he recorded a career-high 172 hits and played 157 games – the entire season – in the outfield without making an error. He was just the fourth player in 124 years to suit up for at least 150 games in a season without a defensive miscue.
After belting a career-high 13 homers in the regular season, Puhl was at his best in the 1980 post-season, hitting .526 in the Astros’ gruelling, five-game National League Championship Series against the eventual World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. A consistent contributor for the Astros over the next decade, the sure-handed Puhl played his final season with the Kansas City Royals in 1991. He finished his 15-season big league career with a .280 batting average, 1,361 hits and 217 stolen bases.
For his efforts, he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.
Two tidbits about Terry
- In the summer of 1972, one year prior to signing with the Astros, a 16-year-old Puhl attended a Montreal Expos tryout camp in Regina, Sask., as a right-handed pitcher, according to Dan Turner in his excellent 1988 book, Heroes, Bums and Ordinary Men. Unfortunately, Puhl barely garnered a second look from Expos scouts. “I wasn’t give a chance in their tryout and I vowed after that I would never go back to an Expos camp,” Puhl would say later. In the Expos’ defence, in 1973, when Puhl worked out for the Astros he was primarily a pitcher and a third baseman, but when the Astros signed him they told him his future was as an outfielder.
- A lot of major league players will still tell you that one of their biggest thrills is seeing themselves on a baseball card for the first time. That happened for Puhl in 1978 with his Topps rookie card. But how exciting would it be for a player to have their photo featured on the box of Topps baseball cards? That was the case for Puhl in 1980. His photo (above) adorned the outside of Topps’ wax boxes that year. According to Turner, “The folks at Topps said they’d chosen a shot of him [Puhl] because of his good-looking swing and for colour considerations.” And there’s no doubt that those early 80s Astros uniforms had colour. With that, Puhl became the first Canadian to be highlighted on one of Topps’ baseball card boxes.