October 8, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
*Please note that a prize will be awarded to this week’s trivia question winner.*
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) confirmed on the Dan Patrick Show on Friday that he plans to play in 2024. There was speculation that the 40-year-old first baseman would retire after enduring two injury-shortened seasons. But Votto said he’d like to return to the Reds. The Reds have a $20-million option on him for 2024 or they can pay him a $7-million buyout. The Reds are likely to opt for the latter, but that doesn’t rule out Votto, who batted .202 with 14 homers in 65 games this season, from returning to the Reds. “The last couple years were crummy,” Votto told Patrick. “I wasn’t healthy for two years, so I’d like to play well. It’s not the taste I want to leave in my mouth.” Votto also told Patrick that he’d consider signing with another club if the Reds weren’t interested in bringing him back. With left-handed hitting DH Brandon Belt unlikely to return to the Blue Jays, Votto could be a nice fit with his hometown club. Another season would allow Votto the opportunity to pass Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, B.C.) for most hits by a Canadian. Votto has 2,135 major league hits, just 25 behind Walker.
-It dawned on me while I was watching the Arizona Diamondbacks in their Wild-Card series against the Milwaukee Brewers that their first base coach, Dave McKay (Vancouver, B.C.), is the only Canadian to have coached on three different major league teams in the postseason. McKay was a coach with the Oakland A’s (1986 to 1996) and St. Louis Cardinals (1996 to 2011) before joining the D-Backs in 2014. And it should’ve dawned on me earlier than this, the D-Backs, with McKay on their staff, made the postseason in 2017.
-Let’s give a tip of the hat to Baseball Canada’s Greg Hamilton and Ernie Whitt this postseason. Heading into the off-season after the 2022 campaign, Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.) was a decent prospect in the Minnesota Twins system. But Julien’s stock rose considerably after Hamilton and Whitt opted to bat the 23-year-old leadoff for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in March. All Julien did was go 7-for-13 for Canada with two home runs. It was a performance that vaunted Julien up the Twins’ prospects list and into the major leagues much sooner than expected. During the regular season, Julien set a record for most home runs by a Canadian second baseman in a major league season with 16. He also led Twins’ regulars in on-base percentage (.381) and was second in OPS (.839). He hit a double for the Twins on Saturday in the opening game of their American League Division Series against the Houston Astros. According to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, this made him the 14th Canadian to hit a double in the major league postseason.
-That certainly was an ugly end to the Blue Jays season. People have asked me what I think will happen next. Well, GM Ross Atkins confirmed in a very confusing press conference on Saturday morning that John Schneider will return as manager. I think what many are missing here is that is contingent on Atkins returning as GM. I’m not sure how safe Atkins’ job is or should be. The one prediction I will make is that I’ll be very surprised if Buffalo Bisons’ hitting coach Matt Hague, who worked wonders with Davis Schneider, Ernie Clement, Spencer Horwitz, Orelvis Martinez, Nathan Lukes and Rafael Lantigua in triple-A this season, is not on the Blue Jays’ big league staff next season. Fun fact about Hague: his father, Paul, was born in Toronto.
-The 2023 season ended on a high note for right-hander Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.). After being released by the Chicago Cubs in mid-July, the 30-year-old right-hander signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays and was assigned to the triple-A Bisons where he proceeded to strike out 38 batters in 21 innings, while allowing just 10 hits. That’s good for a whopping 16.3 strikeout per nine inning rate. That has to be good enough to earn him at the very least an invite to a major league camp next spring. After parts of four seasons as an effective reliever with the Cubs, Wick failed to crack the big league team’s roster out of spring training in March and struggled to an 8.60 ERA in 23 appearances with triple-A Iowa before the Cubs released him on July 15.
-On this date 38 years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays played their first postseason game. They beat the Kansas City Royals 6-1 in the first game of the American League Championship Series at Exhibition Stadium. Dave Stieb got the start and pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, while striking out eight. Ernie Whitt and Tony Fernandez had two RBIs each to lead the Blue Jays’ offence.
-In case you missed it, I wrote an extensive feature about former Blue Jays closer Tom Henke that was published yesterday. Without Henke in the bullpen in the final two months of that 1985 season, the Blue Jays likely wouldn’t have won their first division title. One story that I couldn’t weave into my Henke article was a great one he told me about the late great Tony Fernandez. “Tony and I were great friends. He was a great spiritual man. He played the game the way it was supposed to be played. And God bless him. I miss him,” said Henke. “I’ll tell you a funny story about Tony. One time I was getting my rear end handed to me in Baltimore. I think I gave up five runs and they were hitting bullets off me everywhere, and then Tony comes running in from shortstop, and I think he thought he was the pitching coach. And he says, ‘Hey, don’t throw any more fastballs, you’re going to get somebody killed.’ And at that point, I was about ready to kill Tony for his expert advice. But you know thinking back on it, it’s kind of funny.”
-Happy 64th Birthday to former Montreal Expos infielder Bryan Little! He batted .251 in 220 games in parts of three seasons with the Expos from 1982 to 1984. He was also the best bunter I’ve ever seen. It’s a lost art today, but Little had eight sacrifice bunts in 1984 alone. He also bunted for several more base hits that season. In 2014, Little was brought into Chicago White Sox spring training camp as a special instructor to work with Adam Eaton and Alejandro De Aza on their bunting skills.
-Forty-seven years today, the Toronto Blue Jays hired Boston Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr to be their first hitting coach. Doerr, who had batted .288 and collected 2,042 hits in a 14-year big league career with the Red Sox, would remain the Blue Jays batting coach through the 1981 season when Cito Gaston took over. Five years after he left the Blue Jays, Doerr was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
-This week’s trivia question: Over the years, two Canadians have hit home runs for the Minnesota Twins in the major league postseason. Name one of them. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first one to answer correctly will win a copy of the official 2022 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction program.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (John Hiller’s shutout against Cleveland on October 1, 1970 made him the second Canadian left-hander to throw a shutout for the Detroit Tigers in a regular season game. Who was the first?) was Mike Kilkenny (Bradford, Ont.) who threw four shutouts for the Tigers in 1969.