But What Do I Know? . . . Tyler O’Neill, Jordan Romano, Joey Votto, John Cerutti

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) has 47 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays this season.

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:

-The Toronto Blue Jays must beat the Baltimore Orioles in their final game of the season today and one of (or both) the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees must lose for the Blue Jays to play in a tiebreaker game for the final Wild-Card position. Given that the Seattle Mariners also won last night and are tied with the Blue Jays in the standings, there are several scenarios that could play out after today’s games, which start at 3 p.m. E.T., and ESPN’s Jeff Passan outlines them here. But the bottom line is the Blue Jays must win and the Yankees or Red Sox must lose for the Blue Jays to have a shot at playing in the postseason.

-Perhaps this is a good omen for the Blue Jays. It was 29 years ago today that the Blue Jays clinched their fourth American League East title with a 3-1 win over the Detroit Tigers at SkyDome. Joe Carter hit a two-run home run in the first inning, while Juan Guzman started and allowed just one hit in eight scoreless innings. The Blue Jays went on to win their first World Series that year.

-Jordan Romano wasn’t even born when the Blue Jays won their first World Series. He was born in Markham, Ont., the following spring. The hard-throwing Canuck has been the Blue Jays’ best reliever this season. He is now 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 62 appearances and has struck out 85 batters in 63 innings. He recorded his 23rd save of the season when he was called upon to get the final five outs in the Blue Jays’ 6-4 win over the Orioles in front of close to 30,000 boisterous fans at the Rogers Centre on Friday. That save tied the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum with Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.) for most saves in a season by a Canadian for a Canadian major league team. Raymond had 23 saves for the Montreal Expos in 1970.

– Remember last week when I mentioned that this was the first season in which three Canadians have belted 30 home runs in the major leagues? Well, how about this being the first season that three Canucks have clubbed 35 home runs in a season? St. Louis Cardinals slugger Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) belted his 33rd and 34th home runs on Friday and if he hits one today, he’ll join Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) who has 47 home runs for the Blue Jays and Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.), who has 35 for the Cincinnati Reds, in the 35-home run club.

-O’Neill has been red-hot for the Cardinals. In 31 games since September 1, the Langley Blaze and Junior National Team grad is batting .325 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs. Earlier in the year, Votto’s name had been mentioned as a National League MVP candidate. I expect that O’Neill will also garner some votes. According to Baseball Reference, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season is 6.3, which ranks fourth among National League position players. That’s better than that of Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper (5.8), who has been widely trumpeted as a MVP candidate. Baseball card collectors also starting to take notice of O’Neill’s performance, as highlighted in this Sports Collectors Daily article (Thanks to Bob Elliott for sharing this link).

-Speaking of Votto, he played his 1,896th major league game on Monday to move past Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) for the second-most games played by a Canadian. Thank you to Scott Crawford at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for keeping track of these statistics. In that contest, Votto celebrated by belting two home runs to give him 35 on the year. This has been a year of significant milestones for the rejuvenated Reds first baseman. In 2021, Votto has recorded his 2,000th career hit and 300th home run to become just the second Canuck (to Hall of Famer Larry Walker, Maple Ridge, B.C.) to reach those numbers.

Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) finished with a 7-1 record for Cleveland in the season’s second half. Photo: YouTube

– Cleveland right-hander Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) closed out the season on a high note on Tuesday with yet another quality start. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Kansas City Royals and picked up his eighth win of the campaign in Cleveland’s 8-3 victory. He finishes the season with a tidy 2.89 ERA. Even more impressive, since the All-Star break, the Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team alum went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 88 innings with 78 strikeouts in 14 starts. Quantrill began the season in Cleveland’s bullpen, but he has become the team’s top starter in the second half.

-It was 40 years ago today that the Montreal Expos clinched their first and only postseason berth with a 5-4 win over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. The Expos were trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning when pinch-hitter Wallace Johnson came through with a two-run triple off reliever Neil Allen. Closer Jeff Reardon pitched the final three innings for the Expos to record the save. Gary Carter also homered in the sixth inning. You can watch the highlights here:

– Happy 46th Birthday to former big league pitcher, national team alum and current owner of the 5 Tool Fieldhouse, Mike Johnson! Selected in the 17th round of the 1993 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, the 6-foot-2 right-hander would pitch parts of four minor league seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization before he was chosen in the Rule 5 draft in 1996 by the San Francisco Giants then sold to the Baltimore Orioles. He made his big league debut with the O’s in 1997 before being dealt to the Expos at the trade deadline. He proceeded to pitch parts of five seasons with the Expos. He continued to toe the rubber in the professional ranks until 2010. His best season came with the La New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in 2008 when he went 20-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 27 appearances (26 starts) spanning 183 2/3 innings. Johnson was also a member of the Canadian national team that won gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games.

– He should still be here. Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of John Cerutti. He should be providing analysis on today’s Blue Jays win-or-go-home game. The former Blue Jays left-hander was a fit, active, athletic 44-year-old husband, father and broadcaster when he died suddenly of a heart arrhythmia in his hotel room at SkyDome 17 years ago today. His passing, which came on the last day of the Blue Jays’ 2004 season, was sad and shocking.  Following his death, members of the Toronto chapter of baseball writers voted him the winner of the club’s “Good Guy” award and then promptly renamed the award after him. Of course, prior to excelling as a broadcaster, Cerutti was a left-handed pitcher for the Blue Jays for parts of six seasons. Selected in the first round of the 1981 MLB draft, the 6-foot-2 southpaw made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays on September 1, 1985 in the heat of the pennant race with the club en route to securing its first American League East title. Over the next three seasons, he was employed as a reliever and spot starter, before becoming a fixture in the club’s rotation in 1989, going 11-11 with a 3.07 ERA in 205 1/3 innings in 33 appearances, including 31 starts. He’d make 23 more starts for the Blue Jays in 1990 before signing with the Detroit Tigers as a free agent and making his final 38 big league appearances in 1991. In all, in 229 major league games, Cerutti finished with a 49-43 record and a 3.94 ERA.

– My trivia question for this week: Left-hander Steven Matz has 14 wins for the Blue Jays this season. Who was the first left-hander to record 10 wins in a season for the Blue Jays? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section.

–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the first Canadian pitcher to record a save for the Blue Jays?) was Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) on September 20, 1996 against the Orioles.

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9 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Tyler O’Neill, Jordan Romano, Joey Votto, John Cerutti

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  1. Such a sad ending to the Jays season, but your blog post is fantastic. Thanks for highlighting some of the great Canadians.
    John sure is missed.

  2. Fanning & Romano & Cerutti & Johnson

    Thanks a lot for making me cry upon waking up and reading your weekly brilliance! Seriously, it was a good cry, to see the boy-ish, unmitigated joy in the face of Gentleman Jim Fanning! He was such a beautiful man in every way, and remains much missed by so many loved ones!

    Secondly, was that Jeff Reardon walking into the dressing room, or Jordan Romano?:)

    Thirdly, you captured John Cerutti’s persona perfectly when you used the words “father,” “husband,” and “Good Guy.” He viewed himself as a guy who took pride in having those roles, and just happened to also be a baseball player. He was also an excellent brother, as I attended the funeral and was blown away by his sister’s eulogy! Her words literally inspired me to become a better brother to my siblings, because, as time goes by, we all tend to drift into our own families, and let go of the bond that was ever-present, and a cornerstone of life, with our sibs growing up. Also, there was not one piece of Blue Jay or baseball memorabilia at the funeral home, only photos and momentos related to his most treasured roles in his life. Truly inspiring family, and a man who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk!

    Mike Johnson’s range and length of contributions to baseball is a very memorable story to me, and I’m going to cite for you how Pat Gillick decided to draft and sign him, one of countless Gillickisms that earned him enshrinement in Cooperstown as well as the Canadian Ball Hall. I saw Mike play for the first time 1991, and wrote him up as a “Follow” for the MLB Scouting Bureau. He was unique, as I sent in two reports on him, one as a RHP, and a separate one as a RF. He had a lean, live, loose athletic body with all kinds of growth potential, as well as a gifted arm that was quite projectable.

    In late May of 1993, Mike’s draft year (he was a high school senior), I conducted an invitational tryout camp at Edmonton’s Ducey Park. It was just a week or two before the MLB Draft. Canadians had only been included in the draft for a couple of years at that point, and the clubs were having a hard time figuring out how to scout Canada. These camps played a significant role in providing ALL 30 clubs at least one peak at the highly-touted prospects. We used to conduct open tryout camps in the summer, but the Spring camps were invitational so that only the cream of the crop were present, keeping the camp as short as possible, so that the attending scouts could get back in the air or on the road. At that time of year, scouts are working 20-hour days.

    My bosses, Frank Marcos, and the late Don Pries, called me as the big day approached, reminding me … well, ordering me, not to pull the “Tom Valcke” style camp,” meaning, don’t dare add on other future or fringe prospects to the list. I knew some power players were going to show up that day. I remember the Blue Jays’ (now Cinci) Canadian Supervisor, Bill Byckowski, saying, as we watched the quality and quantity of MLB power players walking in the gate, “Wow, these guys aren’t pistols, they’re cannons!”

    I always wanted to give as many Canucks as I could squeeze in the opportunity to be seen. But my highest-OFP (Overall Future Potential) number in Canada to that point, was also going to be on the field with Mike. His name was Joe Young, referred to by many as “Mighty Joe Young”, a RHP from Fort McMurray. The nickname wasn’t exaggerated. This strong, tough hockey-enforcer player was going to grow into a Jack Morris-like body, and I felt he had a potential ceiling of becoming a possible #1 or #2 in anybody’s starting pitching rotation. Our numeric grading scale back then was 20-to-80, and while Mike was graded very respectfully in the mid-40 range, I believe I put a 60 on Joe. That number reflects a player who could be an All-Star down the road. Joe was the only 16-year-old on the Canadian Junior (18U) national team that won the Canada’s first, and still, only, gold medal, in Brandon, at the 1991 World Junior Championship. The genesis of my bosses’ firm instructions was that, due to the number of Scouting Directors and GMs who were expected to show up, and their main purpose (for many of them, their lone purpose) was to evaluate Joe Young. Well, I did limit the number of prospects that day to Joe, Mike, a catcher, and an infielder.
    We traditionally began invitational tryouts by introducing the players at home plate, facing the scouts behind the dugout, including their formal birth certificate name, letter-by-letter, which is required for the club to draft a player. They would have had the MLBSB’s report(s) ahead of time, which is what would have drawn them to the camp, including height, weight, bats/throws, uniform number, and all of the demographics.
    The players then go to the dugout, grab their equipment, and I take them through the ringers. As I was answering some further questions from the visiting scouts, I got called to the dugout, and all of us could hear a ruckus going on? I shoot down to the 3B dugout to see Joe Young holding up the infielder against the wall. They kid’s feet were literally dangling in the air. He was about to beat him up! As it turned out, the victim heard Joe’s name that I introduced him by, “Reginald Quentin Young,” and chose to poke fun at him. Bad decision. Reginald was Joe’s dad’s name, and Joe was quick to “drop the gloves.”
    The scouts were not impressed that I was going to showcase the infielder, the catcher, Mike Johnson in the outfield, and Mike Johnson pitching, before Joe got his turn. But if I led off with Joe, I knew the house would empty before the other four got a look. And yes, I did get called to the carpet by my bosses on that decision!
    Cell phones in those days existed, but they looked and felt like bricks with antennae. The vast majority were on the phone planning their next destination, etc., while we worked out the “secondary” players. They started to assemble once Mike toed the rubber, partially because he had the look of a prospective pitcher, and mostly because Joe Young was up next.
    Mike showed well, a 6’0” Canadian that registered in the low-80’s on the radar gun, and there was no doubt in my mind that he would be selected in June, in my mind, probably late on Day 2 or early on Day 3. Mike was deserving, but there were a lot of “Mike Johnsons” south of the border, not requiring a visa to play.

    Joe also delivered the goods, and even though they had all read the reports, and seen the video. We had full-time camera men who flew around North America like a pinball getting footage of the OFP 50+ prospects and sending the VHS – yes, VHS – tape via Fedex to our office in California, where they would literally duplicate 60 copies, and Fedex them out in twos one for the GM, one for the Scouting Director, simultaneously to all 30 clubs, they still couldn’t afford to use an early pick on a guy they’d never seen in person.
    Gillick nabbed Joe Young in the third round, 98th overall, to nobody’s surprise. The Jays first pick was Chris Carpenter).
    However, the Blue Jays selection, in the 17th round, 490th overall, wound up being one of only six of the Blue Jays’ 61 total selections to make it to the Major Leagues. That player was Mike Johnson!

    You see, while all of the other big shots in Edmonton that afternoon were talking to themselves, or talking into their brick cell phones, Gillick chose to watch the players who worked out leading up to Joe Young’s appearance. He saw Mike Johnson throw from the outfield, where showed a stronger arm from right field than he did from the mound. But because Gillick saw the arm strength, he knew it was there, and knew that it could be brought into his pitching arsenal. Pat Gillick wouldn’t miss assessing any player’s skill set even if there were a fire. His competitiveness as a player carried through to the way he scouted, and the way he was a GM, leading the Jays to a pair or World Series Championships.

    Gillick got Mike Johnson right. And Johnson paid him back in spades.

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