By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
-Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) announced his retirement from professional baseball on Saturday. Jeeho Yoo, of the YonHap News, reported Romak’s decision on Twitter last night. The 36-year-old Canuck, who won the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award in 2020, has played his last five seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) for the SSG Landers (formerly SK Wyverns) and has batted .273 with 155 home runs, which are the third-most by a foreign player in KBO history. His finest pro campaign came with the SK Wyverns in 2018 when he batted a career-high .316 and belted 43 home runs to tie for second in the KBO. His power display that season made him the first Canadian with back-to-back 40-home run campaigns in the professional ranks. His efforts have earned him the Canadian Baseball Network’s Offensive Player of the Year in foreign or independent ball for the past three seasons. Prior to his tenure in Korea, Romak played parts of 13 seasons in the affiliated minor league ranks after being drafted in fourth round by the Atlanta Braves in 2003. The London Badgers alum had major league stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015. Romak has also suited up for the Canadian national team in multiple tournaments. Congratulations to him on his excellent career and all the best to him in retirement.
-If you’re a Canadian baseball fan, there was good St. Louis Cardinals news and bad St. Louis Cardinals news this week. The good news is that left fielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) won his second consecutive Fielding Bible Award for defensive excellence on Thursday. This honour is presented by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), an organization that relies heavily on advanced statistics to determine the recipients. These awards are considered an alternative to the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Speaking of which, O’Neill has been named a Gold Glove finalist among National League left fielders. He won this honour last year. This year’s Gold Glove Award winners will be announced on ESPN on November 7.
– The bad St. Louis Cardinals news is that Stubby Clapp (Windsor, Ont.) will not be the team’s new field manager in 2022. The highly respected Canadian seemed to be a prime candidate to replace Mike Shildt who was let go after the club’s wild-card game loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Monday, the Cardinals announced that 35-year-old Oliver Marmol would be their new dugout boss. Originally drafted as an infielder by the Cardinals in 2007, Marmol has been coaching in the organization for 11 years, including serving as the club’s bench coach for that last three. John Mozeliak, Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, told reporters on Monday that he hopes the rest of the 2021 coaching staff, including Clapp, will return. Clapp has been the club’s first base coach for the past three seasons. There has not been a full-time Canadian big league manager since George Gibson piloted the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934.
– Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.) is the only Canadian to have played for both the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros, who are facing off in this year’s World Series. Benoit Rioux, of the Montreal Journal, recently caught up with the now 84-year-old Raymond, who admitted he’s torn about which of his former clubs to cheer for in the Fall Classic. Raymond has fond memories of playing with both teams but he enjoyed his best major league seasons with Houston. In 154 appearances with the club, from 1964 to 1967, Raymond posted a 2.98 ERA and had 225 strikeouts in 299 innings. He also had his only All-Star appearance when he was with Houston in 1966. He was selected to the National League squad that year after registering a 5-2 record and a 1.44 ERA with 10 saves prior to the All-Star break.
– Speaking of Quebec pitching legends, please take a moment to remember Jean-Pierre Roy who passed away seven years ago today at the age of 94. Born in Montreal, Que., Roy played 12 professional seasons, including with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. The 5-foot-10 right-hander enjoyed his finest professional season with the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1945 when he recorded 25 wins. After his playing career, he joined the Montreal Expos’ broadcast team as an analyst, performing on French radio (1969 to 1973) and TV (1969 to 1983) broadcasts. He will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously on November 16.
– So who was the first Canadian to play in the World Series? Well, Scott Crawford, of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, answered this question on Twitter on Friday. It was outfielder John O’Neill (Saint John, N.B.) who pinch ran for Chicago White Sox right fielder Ed Hahn in Game 3 of the 1906 Fall Classic. O’Neill played the rest of the game in right field and went 0-for-1 in his only at bat. That would be his sole at bat of the series, which was an all-Chicago battle that saw the White Sox beat the Cubs in six games. In total, O’Neill played in parts of two major league seasons. He split the 1904 campaign between the Boston Americans and Washington Senators, batting .238 with 22 stolen bases in 112 games. After spending 1905 in the minors, he returned to the big leagues with the White Sox in 1906, hitting .248 with 19 stolen bases in 94 regular season games.
-In a column published on Baltimore Baseball on Wednesday, writer Rich Dubroff speculated that the Orioles could leave infielder Adam Hall (London, Ont.) off their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 draft in December. This would mean that any team could claim him and pay the O’s $50,000 for his rights. He points out that the O’s have a surplus of young infielders that they have drafted in the past three years that seem to have passed Hall on the club’s depth chart. Hall was hampered by a quadriceps injury this season. He batted .248 with a .672 on-base plus slugging percentage in 81 games with High-A Aberdeen. Hall did not play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he had two strong seasons prior to that after being selected in the second round of the 2017 draft by the O’s. You might remember that it was the O’s who left Ontario Blue Jays and Junior National Team grad Zach Pop (Brampton, Ont.) off their 40-man roster last December and he was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks who promptly dealt him to the Marlins. Pop posted a 4.12 ERA in 50 appearances for the Marlins in 2021.
–Happy 58th Birthday to former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman and should-be Cooperstowner Fred McGriff! When people ask me what I think the best trade Pat Gillick ever made was, his acquisition of McGriff ranks right up there. On December 9, 1982, Gillick sent reliever Dale Murray and infielder Tom Dodd to the New York Yankees for outfielder Dave Collins, pitcher Mike Morgan and a then 19-year-old McGriff. McGriff went on to belt 125 home runs in parts of five seasons for the Blue Jays and 493 in his career. My first memory of McGriff is this mammoth home run he hit at Yankee Stadium on June 8, 1987 (Click on the video to watch it. It’s well worth the 23 seconds to watch it.).
– Say you’re going through a pile of old sports memorabilia at your house that has been passed down in your family for generations, you might want to take a closer look at that collection for any old ticket stubs. On Wednesday, Montreal-based auction house, Classic Auctions, sold a ticket stub from Mickey Mantle’s first major league game (April 17, 1951 at Yankee Stadium) for $141,395. The stub was part a pile of old memorabilia that was sent to the auction house to examine. The consignor had no idea the ticket was even in the collection. The Mantle stub was graded a PSA 3 (Very Good) and is one of only four stubs from Mantle’s debut that has received a numeric grade out of 10 from PSA.
-Please take a moment to remember Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rocky Nelson who passed away 15 years ago today at the age of 81. Though he enjoyed several stints in the majors, Nelson, a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, is best known as an International League superstar. Employing an unorthodox batting stance, Nelson became the only player to capture the International League MVP award three times – with the Montreal Royals in 1953 and 1955 and with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958. He also won two IL triple crowns: in 1955, he hit .364 with 37 homers and 130 RBIs, and in 1958, he topped the circuit with a .326 batting average, 43 home runs and 120 RBIs. Nelson was also a member of the 1960 World Series-winning Pittsburgh Pirates. In Game 7 of that year’s Fall Classic, prior to Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off game-winning home run, Nelson clubbed a two-run home run for the Bucs in the first inning.
– My trivia question for this week: Who is the only Canadian to pitch in the World Series for two different teams? Hint: He played in the 1960s. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section.
–The answer to last week’s trivia question (What Blue Jays pitcher did Mike Timlin replace with two outs in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 1992 World Series?) was Jimmy Key.