By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Some Canadian baseball news and notes:
-Fifty-three years ago today, the Montreal Expos played their first spring training game. They defeated the Kansas City Royals 9-8 in front of 1,768 fans in a road game at Terry Park Ballfield in Fort Myers, Fla. With this, the Expos became the first Canadian team to participate in a major league game. Florida governor Claude Kirk threw out the first pitch, while Expos owner Charles Bronfman made a short speech in French to the fans prior to the game. Trailing 8-6 in the top of the ninth inning, Expos first baseman Bob Bailey belted a 423-foot, three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Expos ahead 9-8. Hard-throwing rookie right-hander Bob Reynolds registered the final three outs for the Expos in the bottom of the frame. The first pitcher to take the mound for the Expos in their spring training debut was Jack Billingham, who later starred on two World Series-winning Cincinnati Reds teams in 1975 and 1976. Billingham, who allowed four runs on eight hits in three innings, was dealt to the Houston Astros prior to pitching a single regular season game for the Expos. The rest of the Expos’ staff was also hit hard. Left-hander Dan McGinn was the most impressive, limiting the Royals to one run in three innings.
–George Farelli, of the Canadian Baseball Network, reported on Tuesday that the independent Frontier League’s Quebec Capitales have traded right-hander Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) to the High Point Rockers of the independent Atlantic League for a player to be named later. Born in 1993, Case moved West to hone his skills at the Prairie Baseball Academy, while attending Lethbridge Community College. The 6-foot-2 hurler was uncertain if he had a future in professional baseball until he dominated at the inaugural Tournament 12 (T12), an annual showcase of the top Canadian amateur players with collegiate eligibility, at Rogers Centre in 2013. At that event, Case tossed a seven-inning no-hitter and helped lead the Maritimes team to the tournament championship. His performance convinced the Toronto Blue Jays to sign him and he became the first player to earn a contract with a major league team out of T12. Case began his career as a relief pitcher in the Blue Jays’ system with the class-A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians in 2014 and in his six seasons with the organization he made it as high as triple-A before he announced his retirement in April 2019. But Case returned to the mound in 2021 to pitch for the Capitales, posting a 2.60 ERA with 10 saves in 20 relief appearances.
-Here’s another tweet that illustrates the remarkable durability of Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) as a starting pitcher over the course of his 19-season major league career:
-Speaking of Jenkins, I wanted to applaud the detective work of Al Yellon, of the Bleed Cubbie Blue blog, who was able to pinpoint the date of this fantastic photo of Jenkins warming up in the bullpen at Wrigley Field that has been circulating on the Internet. Yellon makes a convincing case in this blog entry that this photo was snapped on April 26, 1970.
-The Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) announced on Thursday that Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) will be the featured celebrity guest at the league’s All-Star Game which will be played at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Alta. on July 23. Stairs made his big league debut with the Montreal 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. Prior to suiting up with the A’s, however, he enjoyed a torrid hitting stretch with the triple-A Edmonton Trappers in 1996, batting .344 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs in 51 games which earned him a promotion to the A’s where he would sock 10 home runs in 61 games. In 1997, Stairs walloped 27 homers for the A’s and 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 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. The Okotoks Dawgs will host the WCBL’s All-Star Game, which will pit the best players from the summer collegiate circuit’s Eastern division against the stars of the West division.
-Given how far apart Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association seem to be in negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it seems unlikely there will be any spring training games in Dunedin, Fla., this month. So I thought I’d re-share one of my favourite spring training photos from the past. This photo (below) shows Blue Jays outfielder Rob Ducey (Cambridge, Ont.) signing autographs in Dunedin in March 1988. It was taken by Dan Turner for his excellent book from that same year titled, Heroes, Bums and Ordinary Men.
-If you’re nostalgic about those mid-80s Blue Jays teams like I am, you have to listen to longtime Canadian broadcaster Mark Hebscher’s interview with former Blue Jays third baseman Garth Iorg that was recorded on Friday. Click on the YouTube link below to listen to the interview to learn all about Iorg’s famous batting stance, his relationship with platoon partner Rance Mulliniks and about what he thought of Jimy Williams as a manager during the Blue Jays’ collapse at the end of the 1987 season. Note: The Iorg interview begins at the 36:10 minute mark in the video.
-It was one of the darkest days in Montreal Expos’ history. Thirty-five years ago today, Andre Dawson, after starring for parts of 11 seasons with the Expos, departed and signed with the Chicago Cubs. Desperate for a reprieve from the unforgiving turf at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium which had wreaked havoc on his knees, Dawson and his agent famously handed the Cubs a blank contract. The Cubs filled in a $500,000 salary (additional bonus incentives were later added) for one season, which was way below market value. (Note: Major League Baseball owners were later found guilty of collusion for this period). Dawson proceeded to enjoy an MVP season with the Cubs in 1987, belting 49 home runs and knocking in 137 runs. He would spend five more seasons at Wrigley, earning four more All-Star nods, before splitting his final four seasons between the Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins. Dawson was originally selected by the Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 amateur draft. After minor league stints in Lethbridge, Quebec City and Denver, he made his big league debut on September 11, 1976. The following year, he hit .282 and belted 19 home runs, earning himself National League Rookie of the Year honours. In all, in his 11 seasons with the Expos, the five-tool outfielder was selected to three All-Star teams, won three Silver Slugger Awards and captured six Gold Gloves. He also accumulated 225 home runs, 838 RBIs and 2,679 total bases – all numbers that rank second in franchise history. In total, in parts of 21 big league seasons, Dawson recorded 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, 1,591 RBIs and 314 stolen bases. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2010.
-Please take a moment to remember Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, who would’ve turned 82 today. The Pittsburgh Pirates legend passed away in 2001. On July 16, 1969, Stargell became the first major leaguer to hit a home run into the pool beyond the right field fence at Jarry Park. It was estimated that this home run travelled 495 feet. It was a feat that Stargell repeated a few times throughout his career, earning the Jarry Park pool the nickname “La piscine de Willie.” Stargell also clubbed the longest home run in the history of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It was a three-run homer off Expos hurler Wayne Twitchell in the fourth inning on May 20, 1978 that landed in the second deck in right field, an estimated 535 feet from home plate. That was Stargell’s second homer of the game and the 407th of his career. The seat the ball ricocheted off of is now part of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s collection in St. Marys, Ont.
-This week’s trivia question: Who is the oldest living former Toronto Blue Jays player? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who was the first player in Montreal Expos history to win a Gold Glove Award? Hint: It was before 1975.) was first baseman Mike Jorgensen in 1973.