By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes:
-On Wednesday, Global News ran a wonderful tribute to Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) as part of their celebration of Black History Month. I couldn’t help but notice that the tribute includes footage of Jenkins pitching at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium (which starts at the 20-second mark of the video). I had not seen this before. Fittingly, Jenkins was the first pitcher ever to throw a shutout at Exhibition Stadium when he did so for the Boston Red Sox on April 24, 1977. You can watch the tribute below or here:
-Today would’ve been Manitoba and Canadian baseball legend Gerry MacKay’s 92nd birthday. He passed away on January 22 in Brandon, Man. After a five-year professional career that saw him play in the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees systems from 1952 to 1956, the Kenton, Man., native returned to Canada to become a highly respected coach. He was the field manager of the first Canadian national team that participated in the Pan Am Games in 1967 and was the director of the Canadian Federation of Amateur Baseball from 1967 to 1974. He later coached the national team at the World Baseball Championships in Cuba in 1971 and in Nicaragua in 1972. For his efforts, he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
-By now, you’ve probably read that it was Canadian George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ont.) that replaced Babe Ruth in right field for the New York Yankees. Not only did Selkirk take over for Ruth in right field in 1934, he also wore Ruth’s No. 3 before it was retired. “I was just cocky enough to say, ‘Wearing Babe’s number won’t make me nervous. If I’m going to take his place, I’ll take his number too,’” explained Selkirk in a 1936 interview, reported in Jim Shearon’s book, Canada’s Baseball Legends. I’ve been doing research on Selkirk for many years and it wasn’t until this week, when I stumbled upon the tweet below, that I’ve seen a photo of Selkirk with the No. 3 showing on the back of his uniform. You can see Selkirk congratulating Joe DiMaggio in this photo:
-Please take a moment to remember legendary trainer and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Doc Younker who passed away six years ago today at the age of 94. Younker served as a trainer in amateur and professional baseball for more than 50 years. Born in Auburn, Wash., Younker became a U.S. army private and later landed his first job as a trainer with the Western International League’s Vancouver Capilanos in 1954. He served in a similar capacity with the Seattle Rainiers the following year, before returning to Vancouver to work with the Pacific Coast League Mounties in 1956. He landed his first big league gig as a relief trainer with the expansion Los Angeles Angels in 1961 and later served as the head trainer with the San Diego Padres from 1976 to 1985. At the amateur level, Younker devoted countless hours to Canada’s national teams, tending to athletes at the Olympics, Pan Am Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Intercontinental Cups. He also served as a multi-sport trainer at various Arizona high schools, teaching classes in first aid and physiotherapy. Many of his students are now practicing physiotherapists. Younker resided in Langley, B.C.
-So who were the two major league hitters who showed the greatest improvement in hard hit balls in 2021? Well, according to Mike Kurland, a baseball writer for RotoBaller, they were both Canadians. See his tweet below:
-Here’s a great trivia question for you: Who is the only non-Canadian to wear No. 33 for the Colorado Rockies? The answer is in the tweet below. Canadian slugger Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) wore it from 1995 to 2004 and then Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) received Walker’s approval to wear it in 2014 and 2015. Walker’s No. 33 was officially retired by the Rockies on September 25, 2021.
-Thirty-seven years ago today, the Toronto Blue Jays signed George Bell to a one-year contract. The terms were not released but one report pegged its value at $335,000 and another had it at $400,000. The settlement came two days before a scheduled arbitration hearing. Bell went on to hit .275 with a team-leading 28 home runs and 95 RBIs while also stealing 21 bases to help the Blue Jays to their first American League East title that season. He also went 9-for-28 (.321 average) with three doubles in the American League Championship Series, which the Blue Jays lost in seven games to the Kansas City Royals.
-It was 17 years ago today that Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin announced his retirement. The Cincinnati Reds star infielder finished his 19-year major league career with a .295 batting average and 2,340 hits. In 65 games against the Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, Larkin batted .279 with two homers and 28 RBIs. His first round-tripper in Montreal was clubbed off right-hander Randy St. Claire in the seventh inning in a Reds’ 12-6 win on May 13, 1987. Larkin also had four Canadian teammates during his MLB career: Nigel Wilson (1995), Chris Reitsma (2001 to 2003), Ryan Dempster (2002, 2003) and Aaron Myette (2004).
-Shi Davidi, of Sportsnet, tracked down recently retired ex-Jay Travis Snider and wrote this excellent feature article. From the article, it’s clear that the 34-year-old Snider has gained a lot of wisdom during his parts of 15 seasons in the pro ranks. “With all the ups and downs and the injuries and the trades and the designations, I’m thankful because it’s what’s preparing me for these next 30, 50, 70 years, however long I’ve got,” Snider told Davidi. “These last seven years [in the minors], especially, have humbled me in a way that spending 10 years in the big-leagues and making $100 million never would have. And that’s what I thought I was going to do. I’m grateful now looking back on this. I feel like I have a better chance at life after baseball because of what I experienced and those failures that I had to grind through.”
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the first Montreal Expos player to steal 50 bases in a season for the club? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the player in the following photo? Three hints: He led the Blue Jays in pinch hits in their first season. He was the Expos’ first-round pick in the Secondary Phase of the June 1970 MLB draft. He also played for the White Sox.) was Sam Ewing.
You got it, Larry, Nice job! Thanks for your support.
In 2014 I wrote a story about Doc Younker and one of the highlights of his years as a trainer when he saved the career of Brooks Robinson. Here it is:
DOC & THE VACUUM CLEANER
BY LEN CORBEN
Spending two hours with Harold “Doc” Younker talking baseball – and vacuum cleaners – is a special treat.
You see, Doc – who turns 93 on August 4th – was not only a trainer for baseball clubs and other sports teams for some 50 years, which earned him a place in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, but also a hall-of-fame vacuum cleaner repairman.
Okay, okay, there is no Vacuum Cleaner Repairmen Hall of Fame, although Brooks Robinson would be the first to nominate Doc for induction if there were one.
Yes, that’s the same Brooks Robinson who was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1983 after earning gold gloves as the American League’s top-fielding third baseman in 16 of the 17 full seasons he played for the Baltimore Orioles over 23 years (1955-77).
However, unless you are a very big baseball fan, you wouldn’t know that in 1959 the plug could have been pulled on Robinson’s soon-to-be-stellar major league career while playing for the Vancouver Mounties of the “AAA”-level Pacific Coast League if it had not been for Doc and his expertise with muscles and vacuum cleaners.
Well, at least one vacuum cleaner.
No, not a Hoover or an Electrolux, but a Brooks Robinson model. You see, Robinson would soon become widely known as “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” for his fielding superiority in scooping up grounders and snagging line drives at the hot corner.
But 55 years ago – on May 17, 1959 – Robinson snagged something else while chasing a pop foul at Vancouver’s beloved Capilano (now Nat Bailey) Stadium. Reaching for the ball over the Mounties’ dugout railing, he caught his right arm on a piece of metal protruding from the top of the chain link fence.
The sharp object pierced Robinson’s throwing arm and coiled itself around the tendon. So he was literally hooked on the fence and Doc had to quickly figure out how to carefully get him off without career-ending damage.
“I see him hanging on the fence,” recalls Doc as he relives in his mind’s eye one of the defining moments in both their lives.
“What am I going to do? I’ve never had one of these [situations],” he remembers saying to himself. “All I’m thinking of is how I’m going to get Brooks Robinson off that fence. I got a stepladder and took him down with help from some of the players. I got a bottle of merthiolate and put that on and put a tourniquet on him and wrapped him up in my white towels.
“I called the ambulance but they never showed up [so] I said I’m taking you to the hospital, I’m not waiting any longer. I put on all the lights on my car and somebody called [Nat] Bailey’s store on the corner [the White Spot near the ballpark on Cambie] and they went out and one of the guys stopped the traffic and I made a right turn down the street and away we went with the vehicle full of blood.”
Younker says he got into a bit of hot water with the Mounties’ management over his decision to transport Robinson to the hospital himself. But, hey, you’d have to say his cool handling of Robinson’s impaling and his impatience with the ambulance service paid off big time as the pair were to be forever linked on their way to hall-of-fame immortality.
Robinson, who played the full season with Baltimore the year before but was sent to the minors to improve his anemic 1958 batting average of .238, had successful surgery on the arm while missing 25 Vancouver games.
He was still only hitting “AAA” pitching for a .263 average when the accident happened exactly one day before his 22nd birthday. Oddly, though, when he returned to action he crushed the ball at a .352 pace and was called back up to Baltimore on July 8th just in time to meet his future wife, a stewardess from Windsor, Ontario, on an Orioles’ flight out of Kansas City later that month.
While Robinson continued his hall-of-fame journey in the east, Younker did likewise on the West Coast.
Born in Auburn Washington, the same year as his wife Mary, Doc umpired in the class-“A” Western International League during the 1953 season before becoming trainer for the 1954 WIL-champion Vancouver Capilanos and the 1955 PCL-winning Seattle Rainiers.
After spending 1956-59 with the Mounties, he took on various major and minor league assignments including 1961 with the American League-expansion Los Angeles Angels and 1976-85 with the San Diego Padres (whose 1984 National League championship ring he still wears).
Other highlights on his extensive resume include work with Team Canada’s baseball squads at the Pan-American Games in Mexico in 1975, Puerto Rico in 1979, Indianapolis in 1987 and Cuba in 1991, plus the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
He even spent time with the Los Angeles Jets of the one-season American Basketball League in 1961-62 and with Junior A hockey’s Langley Lords during the 1970s.
He also established training rooms at several Arizona high schools, teaching classes in First Aid and physiotherapy, and was a dozen years with National Baseball Institute teams in Vancouver. More recently he was trainer for UBC’s baseball Thunderbirds and the Okanagan-based Big League Experience camps.
No wonder he received Baseball BC’s Roll of Honour Award as a builder in 1990 and Baseball Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, to say nothing of his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary’s, Ontario, in 2005, the same year Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays and Steve Rogers of the Montreal Expos were also inducted.
“I’m proud as a peacock,” he says quietly. “I’ve been around the world and really, really enjoyed it [his career].”
After living in places all up and down the West Coast as his work dictated, he resided in Langley for over 30 years, then for five in the Okanagan and two in North Vancouver before moving in 2012 to his current address in West Vancouver, putting Doc and his wife of 71 years closer to their daughter Vicki Thomas.
Awhile back, after having some health issues, Doc received a photo in the mail with a message on it. Now framed and hanging on his wall along with other baseball photos, it says, “Long time no see. Thinking about you and all the great times we had. Good Luck. Brooks Robinson.”
That freak injury so long ago has bonded Robinson and Younker for life.
That’s a great story, Len. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks for another great Sunday morning Canadian baseball fix.
Thanks for reading and your support.
Lots of great info Kevin.
Amazing photo of George Selkirk. Thanks for sharing.
Tyler and Joey crushing the ball. Two great hitters.
Thanks for your support, Scott.