July 1, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Happy Canada Day to you!
Let’s celebrate with a hodge podge of Canada Day baseball facts that I’ve gathered over the years.
· On July 1, 1940, Hunstville, Ont., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee George Selkirk, hitting fifth in the New York Yankees lineup behind Joe DiMaggio, socked a solo home run in the eighth inning to help his club to an 8-4 win over the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium. In all, Selkirk went 1-for-3 on the day. He also scored two runs and was a hit by a pitch. DiMaggio also homered in the game.
· One year after Selkirk’s Canada Day performance, fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Heath (Fort William, Ont.) went 4-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI to help propel Cleveland to a 10-6 win over the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park. Heath was batting cleanup and playing right field for Cleveland that day. So just how good was Heath in 1941? Put it this way, the starting outfield for the American League in the All-Star Game that season was Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Heath.
· On July 1, 1969, the Montreal Expos defeated the Chicago Cubs 11-4 in front of 19,858 fans at Jarry Park in the first major league game played in Canada on Canada Day. Expos pitcher Steve Renko was the star of the contest, holding the Cubs to four runs in 7 1/3 innings, while also contributing two hits and two runs. First baseman Bob Bailey led the Expos’ offence with three hits and three RBIs, while Adolfo Phillips, Garey Sutherland, Jose Herrera and Bobby Wine had two hits each. It was left-hander Ken Holtzman, and not Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins, who got the start for the Cubs. Holtzman was rocked for nine runs in 3 2/3 innings before being lifted.
· Right-hander Dave Pagan (Nipawin, Sask.) is the only Canadian to make their major league debut on Canada Day. Pagan started the second game of a doubleheader for the Yankees against Cleveland at Yankee Stadium on July 1, 1973 – 50 years ago today. The first big league batter he faced was Buddy Bell who hit a comeback ground ball to him that he fielded cleanly. The 6-foot-2 right-hander made it through the first inning without allowing a run, but he was lifted in the second after allowing four hits. The Yankees still won the game 11-3. Pagan proceeded to pitch parts of five seasons in the majors with the Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates. You can read my detailed feature article about Pagan here.
· In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays lost the first Canada Day game they ever hosted at Exhibition Stadium, 11-8 to the Texas Rangers. The contest was played on a Friday night with 21,089 fans in attendance. Doyle Alexander, who later starred for the Blue Jays, was the winning pitcher for the Rangers, allowing five runs in 6 2/3 innings. Former Expo Ron Fairly had three hits – including a home run – for the Blue Jays. Vancouver, B.C., native Dave McKay was on the Blue Jays’ roster, but didn’t get into the game.
· On Canada Day in Montreal in 1977, right-hander Bill Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.) became the first Canadian to pitch for the Expos on Canada Day when he tossed the final 1 1/3 innings and recorded the save in a 5-3 win over the New York Mets at Olympic Stadium. It was the second game of a doubleheader. The Expos were also victorious, 6-5, in the first game.
· So how did Canada’s greatest major leaguer fare on Canada Day? Well, Chatham, Ont., native Fergie Jenkins went 2-2 in five starts with a 3.89 ERA. His best performance came 53 years ago today when he tossed a four-hit shutout and struck out 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. For a detailed summary of Jenkins’ Canada Day performances, click on this link.
· So we know how Jenkins did, but how did fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker, the greatest position player our country has ever produced, perform on Canada Day? Well, while with the Expos the five-tool right-fielder was outstanding. In four July 1 contests with the Canadian club, Walker was 7-for-15 (.467) with a home run and six RBIs. But Walker wasn’t nearly as successful on July 1 with the Colorado Rockies, going 3-for-22 (two of those hits were home runs) in seven games. He was 1-for-3 in his only Canada Day contest with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005. In total, Walker was 11-for-40 (.275 batting average) in 12 Canada Day games with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
· On July 1, 1997, the Expos and Blue Jays faced off against each other in a regular season contest on Canada Day for the first and only time. The Expos edged the Blue Jays 2-1 at SkyDome. In an unlikely turn of events, Expos right-hander Jeff Juden outdueled Blue Jays ace Roger Clemens. In 8-1/3 innings, Juden allowed just two hits and struck out 14. Clemens permitted two runs on 10 hits in 8-1/3 innings before Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) got the final two outs for the Blue Jays.
· In case you were wondering, just four Canadians have pitched for the Blue Jays on Canada Day: Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) made relief appearances in 1996 and 1999, the aforementioned Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) toed the rubber in the 1997, 1998 and 2001 games, Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.) held the Los Angeles Angels scoreless for 2/3 of an inning at Rogers Centre in 2012 and John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings in relief against the Detroit Tigers in 2018.
· On July 1, 1999, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Minnesota Twins third baseman Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.) scored three runs in a game for the first time in his big league career in his club’s 7-5 loss to Cleveland at Jacobs Field. Koskie went 3-for-4 in the game and he belted a solo home run off Bartolo Colon in the fourth inning.
· On Canada Day in 2000, Florida Marlins right-hander and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.) started against Expos right-hander and fellow Canuck Mike Johnson (Edmonton, Alta.) in a contest at Olympic Stadium. It’s the first – and still only – time that two Canadian pitchers have started a regular season game on Canada Day in a Canadian big league park. Dempster allowed three runs in 6-2/3 innings to pick up the win.
· On July 1, 2008, Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) equalled a career-high when he scored three runs for the Los Angeles Dodgers in their 7-6, 11-inning win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. In all, Martin went 3-for-5 with a home run, a double, a single, a walk and three RBIs in the contest.
· Fittingly the last walk-off, game-winning pinch hit of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and Fredericton, N.B. native Matt Stairs‘ major league career came on Canada Day in 2011 while he was with the Washington Nationals. You can watch it below.