But What Do I Know? . . . Rheal Cormier, Jackie Robinson, Matt Stairs, Fergie Jenkins

Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) with the San Diego Padres. Photo: MLB on Fox

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:

-Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Rheal Cormier (Cap Pele, N.B.) who passed away last March at the age of 53 after a courageous battle with cancer is being honoured by the Philadelphia Phillies with an award that will be presented at the club’s annual Phantasy Camp. Cormier was one of the Phillies’ most enthusiastic participants in the camp each year. The award will be called the “Rheal Cormier Person of the Year Award” and it will be given out to the camp participant “whose off-field performance and contributions to their community inspire others to a higher level of achievement.” A longtime big league pitcher, Cormier was selected in the sixth round of the 1988 MLB draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. The crafty lefty would make 683 appearances (second-most by a Canadian pitcher) in a 16-season major league career that included stops with the Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Phillies and Cincinnati Reds. His best season was 2003 with the Phillies, when he finished with an 8-0 win-loss record and a 1.70 ERA in 65 relief appearances. In all, he pitched parts of six seasons with the Phillies. Cormier also toed the rubber for Canada in multiple international competitions, including at the 1988 and 2008 Olympics and in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

Jackie Robinson signing autographs as a member of the Montreal Royals. Photo: Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

-Sixty years ago today, Jackie Robinson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Prior to breaking Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in his outstanding 10-season big league career with the Dodgers, Robinson starred at second base for the triple-A Montreal Royals, a Dodgers’ farm team, in 1946. It’s widely believed that Dodgers GM Branch Rickey stationed Robinson in Montreal to ease his young prospect into integrated baseball. Playing his home games in a city with a reputation for racial tolerance would provide Robinson with relative tranquility for half the schedule. On the field, Robinson excelled, leading the International League in batting average (.349), walks (92) and runs (113), and spurring the Royals to their first Junior World Series triumph.

-On this day 12 years ago, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) signed a minor league contract with the San Diego Padres. He would make the team out of spring training and the Padres became the veteran slugger’s 12th major league team, which broke Todd Zeile’s record for most different teams played for by a position player. Stairs proceeded to belt the final six home runs of his major league career with the Padres. Four of those homers came as a pinch-hitter. On August 21 that season, Stairs belted his 21st career pinch-hit home run (See video below) to break Cliff Johnson’s major league record. The ball he hit off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Kameron Loe for his record-setting round-tripper fortuitously ricocheted back on to the field, and Stairs was able to retrieve it. The other big league teams Stairs played for were the Expos, Red Sox, Oakland A’s, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays and Phillies. Following his season with the Padres, Stairs signed with the Washington Nationals and appeared in 56 games for them in 2011. That represented the 13th different major league uniform he wore.

-I’m grateful for the detective work of Al Yellon, of the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog, who was able to trace the origins of this wonderful photo (below) of Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) at Wrigley Field to August 22, 1971. You can read how he was able to trace this photo to that date here.

Photo: Getty Images

– I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.), but I recently discovered this four-year-old post (below) on Twitter that indicates that the former Houston Astros outfielder was the first major league player to hit leadoff home runs on Opening Day twice. Puhl did it in 1978 and 1980. The second player to do it? George Springer, who also accomplished it with the Astros in 2017 and 2018, before he signed with the Blue Jays.

-Hockey Hall of Famer and New York Islanders legend Clark Gillies passed away on Friday at the age of 67. The Moose Jaw, Sask., native was a key left winger on the Islanders’ four consecutive Stanley Cup-winning teams from 1980 to 1983. He spent 12 of his 14 NHL seasons with the Islanders and ranks fourth in franchise history with 304 goals and 663 points. Prior to his NHL career, however, Gillies was signed by the Houston Astros and was a catcher/first baseman for their Rookie Ball affiliate in Covington from 1970 to 1972. He batted .241 in 86 games. Former Blue Jays coach John McLaren told me on the Cooperstowners in Canada Facebook page that he roomed with Gillies in Covington in 1970.

Clarke Gillies with the Rookie-Ball Covington Astros. Photo: Houston Chronicle

-The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the 2022 Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) ballot results on Tuesday at 6 p.m. E.T. on the MLB Network. There’s a strong chance that no candidate on the ballot will receive the 75 per cent required for election. According to Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has garnered the most support on the 165 public ballots that have been counted with 84 per cent. But that percentage seems likely to drop when the non-public ballots are counted. Last year, former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling received the most support, securing 71.1 per cent in the voting, but frustrated with not being voted in, Schilling asked baseball writers not to vote for him this year. And many of them have obliged. His support sits at 60.6 percent on Thibodaux’s public ballot tracker.

–Cleveland Gurdians team historian Jeremy Feador has put together another excellent podcast about legendary team broadcaster Jack Graney (St. Thomas, Ont.) who will receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award posthumously this summer. You can listen to it here. Born in St. Thomas, Ont., Graney was a scrappy leadoff hitter in the big leagues for Cleveland. His big league resume boasts a number of firsts. When he walked to the plate in a game against the Red Sox on July 11, 1914, he became the first batter to face Babe Ruth. Almost two years later, on June 26, 1916, he was the first major leaguer to bat wearing a number on his uniform. After hanging up his spikes, Graney became the first ex-player to make the transition to the broadcast booth, performing radio play-by-play for Cleveland from 1932 to 1953.

-This week’s trivia question: Who is the player pictured below? Here are three hints: He hit .300 or better in five consecutive seasons for the Expos. He was a three-time National League all-star. He finished his MLB career with the Seattle Mariners. Please provide your answer in the Comments section below.

-The answer to last 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. ) was Reggie Smith.

8 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Rheal Cormier, Jackie Robinson, Matt Stairs, Fergie Jenkins

Add yours

  1. I love research, so I enjoyed the explanation of the research done on Fergie Jenkins autograph session. For others who love research, you absolutely must read Miracle Ball by Brian Biegel, the story of his efforts in 2009 to find who has the ball that Bobby Thomson hit for hit iconic home run in the NY Giants playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. His work and his explanations of that work is fantastic.

  2. Such great news for Cormier. So glad to see this.
    Stairs was such a valuable bat off the bench to tons of teams at the end of his career.

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