By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Legendary Montreal Expos broadcaster and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Van Horne is retiring. He told the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson of his decision on Friday. Van Horne, 82, has been calling Miami Marlins games since 2001, but he had his workload reduced last season by the club. For hundreds of thousands of Canadians, however, Van Horne is remembered as the voice of the Expos. Behind the mike for the Expos’ inaugural game on April 8, 1969 until the end of the 2000 season, Van Horne became known for his smooth baritone and trademark catch-phrases like “Up, up and away!” when the Expos hit a home run. In his 32 seasons with the Expos, he broadcast the down-to-the-wire pennant races in 1979 and 1980, the team’s only post-season run in 1981 and Dennis Martinez’s perfect game on July 28, 1991 – a performance that inspired, perhaps, his most famous call, “El Presidente, El Perfecto!” Fittingly, Van Horne was on hand on September 29, 2004 to call the final home game in Expos history from the visiting radio booth. In 1996, Van Horne received the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award for broadcasting excellence and 15 years later, he was the recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s equivalent honour, the Ford C. Frick Award. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
-Speaking of retirements, former Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick Travis Snider announced he was hanging up his playing spikes on Thursday. In all, the Kirkland, Wash., native batted .244 with 54 home runs in 630 games in parts of eight big league seasons with the Blue Jays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Since 2016, he has played in triple-A in the Kansas City Royals, New York Mets, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves organizations. Here is his retirement announcement that was published on his Instagram account:
-Congratulations to Scott Thorman (Cambridge, Ont.) who has been promoted to manage the Kansas City Royals’ triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Last season, he managed the Royals’ double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals to a double-A Central league title. The 2022 season will be Thorman’s seventh as a manager in the Royals’ system and ninth year as a coach. He started his coaching career as the bench coach for Rookie-level Burlington in 2014 and then managed that squad in 2015 and 2016. He proceeded to manage class-A Lexington the ensuing two campaigns prior to taking over as bench boss with class-A Advanced Wilmington in 2019. The Cambridge, Ont., native has guided teams to championships in three consecutive seasons. On top of his double-A title last season, he piloted Wilmington to the Mills Cup Championship in 2019 and Lexington to the South Atlantic League championship the previous year. A first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 2000 MLB Draft, Thorman played parts of two big league seasons with the Braves in 2006 and 2007, hitting .222 with 16 home runs in 175 games.
-It was 11 years ago today that Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) signed a three-year, $38-million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds. The agreement came after Votto’s National League MVP Award-winning 2010 season in which he batted .324 and set career-highs with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. He also topped the National League in on-base percentage (.424), slugging percentage (.600) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.024). In winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, he became just the second Canadian to capture that honour. Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) had won it 13 years earlier. Less than two years after this deal was signed, Votto secured an even larger deal with the Reds – a 10-year agreement worth $225 million that would take effect in 2014.
-Speaking of Walker’s 1997 MVP Award-winning season. Here’s a tweet that further illustrates how remarkable it was:
– Nineteen years ago today, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced that Gary Carter would become the first inductee to be featured in a Montreal Expos cap on their plaque. Carter had been elected to the Hall of Fame earlier in the month in his sixth year of eligibility. Signed out of high school by the Expos in 1972, Carter spent 17 years with the franchise, including three seasons in the minors, 11 in the majors and three as a broadcaster. Nicknamed “Kid” for his boyish enthusiasm for the game, Carter belted 220 home runs as an Expo (third on the Expos’ all-time list) in 1,503 games with the club (second on the Expos’ all-time list) and was named the team’s Player of the Year four times. While with the Expos, he was also selected to the All-Star Game seven times, was a two-time All-Star Game MVP, and won three Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards. Over his 19-year major league career that also included stops with the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, Carter amassed 2,092 hits, 324 homers and 1,225 RBIs. For his efforts, Carter’s No. 8 was retired by the Expos in 1993 and he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. P.S. The young Expos fan in me likes to pretend that Carter never lobbied to be pictured in a Mets cap on his plaque.
-It was on this date five years ago that Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.) signed a one-year, $9-million contract with the Phillies. After a strong season with the Blue Jays in 2016 that saw him belt 24 home runs and be added to the American League All-Star team, Saunders struggled with the Phillies in 2017, batting just .205 with five home runs in 61 games before he was released on June 23. Five days later, he re-signed with the Blue Jays and played his final 12 major league games with the Canadian club later that season. Saunders suited up in triple-A in the Orioles’ and White Sox organizations in 2018 before hanging up his playing spikes. Last season, he debuted as a professional manager, serving as the skipper of the Braves’ class-A Augusta GreenJackets.
–I was sad to learn that former major leaguer Don Dillard passed away on January 8 at the age of 85 in Greenwood, S.C. The former outfielder played parts of six seasons in the majors with Cleveland and the Milwaukee Braves between 1959 and 1965. Between his major league stints, he played with the triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs in 1960 and 1964. One of the greatest minor league teams ever, the 1960 Maple Leafs squad, which also included Sparky Anderson and Chuck Tanner, won 100 games and the Governor’s Cup. Dillard was a key contributor, hitting .294 with nine home runs and seven triples in 133 games. Four years later, Dillard returned to the Leafs to play for Anderson, who was in his first year as a professional manager. That season, Dillard batted .288 with 14 home runs in 139 games and the team finished 80-72. Sam Gazdziak, of RIP Baseball, wrote a more extensive obituary about Dillard that you can read here.
– Former Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Eddie Basinski passed away in Gladstone, Ore., on January 8. He was 99 and the second oldest living ex-big leaguer. He played parts of three seasons in the majors between 1944 and 1947. But he started his professional career with the International League’s Montreal Royals in 1944, hitting .244 in 68 games. After several other minor league stops, he played his final 43 professional games with the triple-A Vancouver Mounties in 1959. Sam Gazdziak also wrote an extensive obituary about Basinski that you can read here.
-This week’s trivia question: Who is the player the photo below? Here are three hints: He was a seven-time MLB All-Star who had over 2,000 hits, including 314 home runs. He was one of the first MLB stars to play professionally in Japan at the end of his career. Before he starred in the big leagues, he honed his skills in triple-A in Toronto. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the first former Toronto Blue Jays player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame?) was Phil Niekro in 1997.