By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
-It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I wanted to thank you for your support of my blog. I hope you and your family have a great weekend.
-Through my research, I’m fairly certain that when right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) tossed 4 2/3 innings in relief for the Boston Red Sox in the first game of their American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday, it set a record for the longest relief appearance by a Canadian in the MLB postseason. The previous record was held by Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) who tossed four scoreless innings in relief for the St. Louis Cardinals against the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the 1964 World Series. Pivetta, by the way, is the only player born in Canada still active in the 2021 postseason.
-It was great to see Dave McKay (Vancouver, B.C.) back coaching first base for the Arizona Diamondbacks last weekend. It has been a tremendously challenging season health-wise for the 71-year-old Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, who has always kept himself in great shape. His health woes started on March 8 during a spring training game when he slipped in the dugout and banged his side against the arm of a bench. McKay thought he was fine and continued to coach, but two days later, he passed out at home. Doctors then told him he had a broken rib and a lacerated spleen and that he had been bleeding internally for two days. After an initial surgery, he was expected to be back for Opening Day, but he has suffered several setbacks and has been forced to undergo multiple operations this year. Zach Buchanan, of The Athletic, documents all of McKay’s setbacks in this article. McKay, who has been one of baseball’s most highly regarded coaches for close to four decades, is finally feel somewhat like himself again. The D-Backs announced on Friday that McKay has been re-hired as the team’s first base coach for 2022.
-Now that I’ve had a week to reflect on the Blue Jays’ 91-win season, it feels like I haven’t written enough about how good Jordan Romano (Markham Ont.) was this season. In a Blue Jays’ bullpen that struggled for much of the year, Romano was consistently outstanding, finishing with a 7-1 record and a 2.14 ERA, while striking out 85 batters in 63 innings, in 62 appearances. His 23 saves tied him 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. And if we were wondering how the first-year closer would handle the ninth inning in the heat of a playoff race, we got our answer. He was superb. Batters went just 5-for-48 off Romano in 13 appearances in September and October. Their collective slash line off him during those months was .104/.204/.229. Those were his best numbers of any month in the season. Prior to becoming a dominant big league closer, Romano honed his skills with the Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team. Here’s a great photo of a 17-year-old Romano with the Junior National Team in 2010 (courtesy of Baseball Canada).
– Every time Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) hit another home run for the St. Louis Cardinals this season, I thought that somewhere legendary Canadian scout and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Norton (Port Moody, B.C.) must be smiling. Norton, who passed away in January 2018 after a courageous battle with ALS, scouted O’Neill for the Seattle Mariners and encouraged the club to select the muscular slugger in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft. O’Neill was dealt to the Cardinals by the Mariners for left-hander Marco Gonzalez on July 21, 2017. On Monday, O’Neill was named the National League’s Player of the Month for September/October. In 32 games from September 1 to the end of the regular season, the Langley Blaze and Junior National Team grad batted .328 with 13 home runs and 30 RBIs. According to Baseball Reference, O’Neill’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season was 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. O’Neill will also be a favourite to win his second consecutive Gold Glove in left field. Here are two other impressive stats from social media that show how good O’Neill was this season.
– Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) belted his 36th home run of the season last Sunday, on the final day of the campaign. With that, at the age of 38, he finished just one home run shy of his career-high that he established 11 years earlier. Votto also finished fourth in the NL with a .563 slugging percentage. He will head into 2022 with 331 career MLB home runs. Prior to the 2021 season, I was convinced that Maple Ridge, B.C. native Larry Walker’s record for most home runs by a Canadian (383) would not be broken by Votto. But given Votto’s performance this season, the Reds slugger definitely has a chance. He will need two more solid seasons to do it. Also, Votto, who has 2,027 hits, will likely break Walker’s all-time Canadian hits record (2,160) in 2022.
– How good was Cleveland right-hander Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) after the All-Star break this season? His 1.94 ERA in 14 starts was the second-best in Major League Baseball for starting pitchers who tossed at least 55 innings, behind only Atlanta Braves left-hander Max Fried (1.74). Quantrill, who began the season in Cleveland’s bullpen, ended up leading the club in innings pitched (149 2/3). Overall, the Ontario Terriers and Junior National Team alum finished 2021 with a 2.89 ERA.
-If you’re wondering (like I was) which of his baseball cards Fergie Jenkins likes and dislikes, you should watch this video in which he is interviewed for the MLB.TV show “Carded.” I didn’t realize he was such a collector himself. In the interview, he reveals he has 30 of his own rookie cards and also drops a mention of the London, Ont.,- based card manufacturer O-Pee-Chee.
–I was very sad to learn that original Blue Jay Chuck Hartenstein passed away last Saturday at the age of 79. He pitched 13 games in relief for the Blue Jays in 1977 and is also the answer to one of the greatest Blue Jays trivia questions. Who is the only person to be on the field and in a major league uniform for both the first game ever played at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium (April 7, 1977) and at the first game ever played at SkyDome (June 5, 1989)? Hartenstein was the pitching coach for the opposing Milwaukee Brewers at the first game at SkyDome. Paul Bychko, a great guy with an unbelievable collection that traces the history of the Blue Jays, got Hartenstein to sign a ball with the answer to this trivia question (Photo below). Hartenstein told Bychko that this was the only ball he ever signed with this inscription.
– By my count, Hartenstein is the fifth player from the 1977 Blue Jays roster to pass away. First baseman Doug Ault (2004), pitcher Jesse Jefferson (2011), outfielder Gary Woods (2015) and Ron Fairly (2019) have also died.
-Fox Sports, in association with Major League Baseball, has produced a documentary about the 2021 MVP candidates, called “The Race: Quest For Baseball’s MVP Title.” It will be televised on Fox Sports 1 following Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros tonight. Montreal-born Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr., will be highlighted as an American League MVP candidate, as well as Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien. Freddie Freeman, whose parents were born in Canadian, will also be discussed as a NL MVP candidate.
– My trivia question for this week: This American League Cy Young Award led the 1977 Toronto Blue Jays in saves? Who am I referring to? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (Left-hander Steven Matz had 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?) was Jerry Garvin who won 10 games in 1977.