By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Since being activated from the 10-day injured list on May 27, Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) has been red hot. In his last 14 games, he has hit .345 and clubbed seven home runs. He now has 15 home runs on the season, which is second among Canadian-born players to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) who has 20. A Langley Blaze and Junior National Team alum, O’Neill has also been outstanding in left field for the St. Louis Cardinals and despite playing in only 45 of the team’s 64 games, he leads the Cards with a 2.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
-According to Canadian Baseball Network statistician, Neil Munro, O’Neill and Guerrero Jr. are both on pace for 40-home run seasons. Munro pointed out in a detailed article published on Thursday that no two Canadians have ever clubbed 40 home runs in the same major league season. The closest two Canadians have ever come is 1999 when Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) homered 37 times and Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) went deep 38 times.
-Zach Pop (Toronto, Ont.) has donated the cap he wore in his MLB debut with the Miami Marlins on April 3 to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. The 6-foot-4 right-hander tossed a scoreless sixth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in that contest. The Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team grad has since made 17 more appearances out of the Marlins’ bullpen this season.
-Please take a moment to remember legendary Toronto Blue Jays play-by-play man and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tom Cheek who would’ve turned 82 today. Cheek broadcast 4,306 consecutive Blue Jays games from April 7, 1977 to June 2, 2004. He was also in the booth for all 41 of the franchise’s post-season contests between 1985 and 1993, including Game 6 of the 1993 World Series, which inspired his most famous call. After Blue Jays slugger Joe Carter clubbed his World Series-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth, Cheek quipped, “Touch’em all, Joe. You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life.” Prior to landing with the Blue Jays, Cheek, who was born in Pensacola, Fla., served as a backup broadcaster for the Montreal Expos from 1974 to 1976. His rich, soothing baritone earned him a reputation as one of the best play-by-play men in the business and in 2001, he was rewarded with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award. Three years later, his name was added to the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence. He passed away after a valiant battle with cancer on October 9, 2005. Eight years later, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in that same year, he was also honoured with the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, an accolade handed out annually to a broadcaster who has made significant contributions to baseball.
-Happy 69th Birthday to legendary Blue Jays catcher, national team manager and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ernie Whitt! After being selected from the Boston Red Sox in the 1976 expansion draft, Whitt evolved into one of the most popular players in Blue Jays’ history. From 1977 to 1989, he toiled in 1,218 games for the club. A reliable defensive catcher, the Michigan native established himself as an offensive threat in 1982, when he belted 11 home runs, the first of eight consecutive seasons in which he slugged more than 10 homers. The nine-time Blue Jays’ Opening Day catcher enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 1985, when he blasted 19 homers, was named to the American League All-Star team and helped propel the club to its first division title. In all, in his 12 seasons in Toronto, Whitt collected 888 hits, socked 131 homers and drove in 518 runs. After retiring as a player, he coached and managed in the Blue Jays organization for parts of 12 seasons. He has also enjoyed a very successful tenure as manager with Team Canada. In his first stint as Canada’s field boss at the 1999 Pan Am games in Winnipeg, Whitt’s Canadian squad earned a bronze medal. He has since managed the national team in 19 tournaments and led the squad to their first two international gold medals at the 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games. He was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.
-Two ex-Blue Jays lost their job on Thursday when the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were batting .231 as a team, fired batting coach Darnell Coles and their assistant batting coach Eric Hinske. Coles, who toiled with the Blue Jays in 1993 and 1994, and Hinske, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the Blue Jays in 2002, had been with the D-Backs since the start of the 2019 season. The D-Backs have promoted Rick Short, the hitting coach with their triple-A affiliate in Reno, and Drew Hedman, who was the club’s run production coordinator, to serve as co-hitting coaches.
-On this date, 44 years ago, after being selected as a shortstop in the fifth round of the 1977 MLB draft, Tim Raines signed his first professional contract with the Montreal Expos (See article from the Orlando Sentinel below). The Expos assigned him to their Gulf Coast League club where he batted .280 with a .381 on-base percentage with 29 stolen bases in 49 games in his first season. That year, he played 27 games at second base, six at third base and six in the outfield.
-With the Montreal Canadiens set to battle the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup playoff semi-finals, I wanted to share this photo of Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau from the collection of Mike Murray, who is a prominent former Canadian sports executive and a great supporter of the Canadian baseball community. This is a photo of Beliveau (in the middle) in a baseball uniform. Beliveau was an excellent infielder growing up and even turned down a professional contract during his teens. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to date this photo. It appears his jersey says Belvédère. If you happen to have any information about it, I’d love to hear from you.
-Thirty-two years ago today, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.) played his 1,403rd major league game to break St. Thomas, Ont. native Jack Graney’s record for most major league games played by a Canadian. Puhl went on to play 1,531 major league games. His record has since been surpassed by Walker (1,988 games), Stairs (1,895 games), Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont., 1,804 games), Russell Martin (Montreal, Que., 1,693 games) and Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C., 1,545 games).
– My trivia question for this week: On top of the six players I mentioned in the previous paragraph, nine other Canadians have played at least 1,000 games in the major leagues. Can you name two of them? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Andre Dawson’s No. 10 was retired by the Expos in 1997. Three other players have had their number retired by the Expos. Name two of them. ) was any two of Gary Carter (No. 8), Tim Raines (No. 30) and Rusty Staub (also No. 10).