By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes:
-A new Canadian baseball history book called “Our Game, Too: The Development of Canadian Baseball” will be released this spring (likely in early May). Andrew North, the co-founder of the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research and the organizer of the annual Canadian Baseball History Conference, served as the editor on the project which will be published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The book includes 50 essays written mostly by Canadian baseball experts about the history of baseball in our country in the 19th and 20th centuries. North is a wonderful guy who has put his heart and soul into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for many years. This book will be a must-read. North recently previewed the book in a video that you can watch here.
-Happy 54th Birthday to 2015 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Matt Stairs! Born in Saint John, N.B., Stairs grew up in Fredericton, N.B. hoping to become a professional hockey player until he sustained a serious knee injury in high school. When he recovered, he decided to focus on baseball and he honed his skills at the National Baseball Institute in Surrey, B.C. and with Canada’s Junior National Team. In 1988, he competed for Canada in the Olympics and hit .362 at the Baseball World Cup. His international success helped convince the Montreal Expos to sign him as a free agent in 1989. After parts of four seasons in the minors, the stocky Maritimer made his big league debut with the Expos on May 29, 1992. Over the next four seasons, he split time between triple-A, the Expos, the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League and the Boston Red Sox, before inking a deal with the Oakland A’s on December 1, 1995. After belting 10 home runs in 61 games with the A’s in 1996, Stairs walloped 27 homers the next campaign. He followed that up with 26 and 38 home runs in 1998 and 1999 respectively and drove in more than 100 runs in both of those seasons to become the first Canadian to register back-to-back 25-home run, 100-RBI campaigns. Stairs was traded to the Chicago Cubs after the 2000 campaign and over the next 11 seasons, he suited up for 10 different teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays in 2007 and 2008. During that time, he developed into one of the best pinch-hitters in big league history. For his career, Stairs clubbed a major league record 23 regular season, pinch-hit home runs. In all, the New Brunswick native’s career spanned 19 big league seasons and he hit 265 homers, the third-most by a Canadian.
-I’m guilty of thinking of Canadian baseball legend Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) solely as a Chicago Cub and tend to forget about his success with the Texas Rangers. So just how good was he with the Rangers in 1974? This good:
-Happy 38th Birthday to national team alum and longtime Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson! Born in Vancouver, B.C., Mathieson honed his skills in his home province and with the Junior National Team before being selected in the 17th round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He’d spend nine seasons in the Phillies’ organization, including parts of three in the big leagues, before signing with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japan Central League prior to the 2012 campaign. Over the next eight seasons, Mathieson evolved into one of the best foreign pitchers in the franchise’s history and as the most successful Canadian pitcher ever to toe the rubber in Japan. In 433 appearances with the Giants, the Canadian righty posted a 2.50 ERA and struck out 513 batters in 450 1/3 innings. He retired at the end of the 2019 season but he returned to the mound to pitch for Canada in the Americas Olympic Qualifier last spring.
-Former big league infielder and scout Frank O’Rourke will be inducted into the Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame. The announcement was made on Friday. A baseball lifer in the truest sense, O’Rourke, who was born in Hamilton in the 1890s (different birth dates have been recorded for him), spent more than 70 years around the diamond as a player, manager and scout. He was the youngest player in the National League when he debuted as a 17-year-old shortstop with the Boston Braves on June 12, 1912. After 61 games with the Beantown squad, he returned to the minors for four seasons. He would resurface in the big leagues as a third baseman with the Brooklyn Robins in 1917. After major league stints with the Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox, and two standout seasons with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, O’Rourke starred with the Detroit Tigers. His finest big league season was in 1925, when he hit .293 and racked up 141 hits – including 40 doubles (fifth best in the American League). He suited up for his final five major league seasons with the St. Louis Browns. Following his playing career, the scrappy Canuck would manage minor league clubs in Milwaukee, Charlotte, El Dorado and Cordele, but scouting seemed to be his true calling. He is best known for his more than 30 years evaluating talent for the New York Yankees. O’Rourke passed away on May 14, 1986 in Chatham, N.J. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously 10 years later.
-I stumbled upon a tweet this week that discussed Wayne Gretzky winning the 1980 Canadian Press Male Athlete of the Year award. Given Gretzky’s supernatural scoring abilities, it was not surprising that he secured the honour. What I didn’t realize was that Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.) finished second in the voting. In 1980, Puhl batted .282 with a .357 on-base percentage and set career-highs in home runs (13) and outfield assists (14). He also added 27 stolen bases and five triples, and according to Baseball Reference, Puhl’s WAR for that season was 6.2 (Note: Any WAR over 6.0 is generally considered an MVP-caliber season). Puhl’s heroics helped the Houston Astros to their first National League West division title. In the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Puhl set a postseason series record (since broken) with 10 hits in 19 at bats, good for .526 batting average. Unfortunately, the Astros lost the series in five games.
-My grandma, Elma Jewitt, died 21 years ago today at the age of 82. She was a wonderful woman who made the best pies and stored them in her dishwasher to keep them fresh. She kept potato chips in her freezer with some of her money. And even in her later years, with her eye sight failing, she’d often drive an hour and a half from her home in Clinton, Ont. to ours in Dorchester, Ont. on a whim, and when she arrived, she’d announce, “I’ve come to be entertained.” Best of all, she was a source of unconditional love and support. When I close my eyes, I can still hear her deep hearty laugh. She was also a Blue Jays fan. In 1991, my parents and I took her on a trip to Cooperstown where this photo (below) was taken. I sure do miss her.
-Eleven years ago today, Hall of Famer Duke Snider passed away at the age of 84. Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a 17-year-old, the power-hitting outfielder suited up for 131 games with the Newport News of the Piedmont League (Class B) in 1944. After fulfilling his military obligations in 1945 and part of 1946, Snider split the remainder of the 1946 campaign and the 1947 season between the minors and the big leagues. After starting the 1948 season with the Dodgers, Snider was assigned to the Montreal Royals in mid-May. In his first two games with the Royals, he homered in both ends of a doubleheader. Playing his home games at Delorimier Stadium, the young slugger hit .327, belted 17 homers and drove in 77 runs in 77 games, enough to earn him a big league call-up in August. After leaving Montreal, the “Duke of Delorimier” would become Brooklyn’s “Duke of Flatbush” and enjoy an 18-year big league career that saw him hit .295, belt 407 home runs and drive in 1,333 runs. Following his playing career, he managed in the Dodgers’ and Padres’ organizations before returning to Montreal to serve as a TV analyst on Expos broadcasts from 1973 to 1986. He was also the Expos’ hitting coach in 1974 and 1975. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.
-This week’s trivia question: Who was the first player in Montreal Expos history to win a Gold Glove Award? Hint: It was before 1975. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who holds the Toronto Blue Jays’ record for most stolen bases in a season?) was Dave Collins who swiped 60 bases in 1984.