October 10, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former national team pitcher and onetime Toronto Blue Jays prospect Perry Lychak died on September 20 at the age of 65.
Best known for the three-hitter he hurled against the powerhouse Cubans at the 1981 Intercontinental Cup in his hometown of Edmonton, Lychak passed away in Kinston, N.C., where he worked as a school teacher following his baseball career.
No cause of death has been released.
Lychak’s performance against the Cuban national team at the Intercontinental Cup on August 9, 1981 propelled Canada to what, at the time, was hailed as the country’s greatest baseball victory.
“If my arm falls off today, if I never step to the mound again, having that moment I had in my hometown in Renfrew Park, makes it all worthwhile,” Lychak told the Edmonton Journal following the game.
Growing up in Alberta
Born in Glendon, Alta., on April 29, 1958, Lychak showcased a strong throwing arm at an early age. He spent his early years on his family’s farm before they moved to Edmonton.
By the age of 15, Lychak was toeing the rubber for the Edmonton Dusters of the Alberta Major League, the province’s premier independent senior circuit. After graduating from W.P. Wagner High School in 1976, he headed to Edmonds College in Lynwood, Wash., prior to securing a baseball scholarship at Indiana State University.
In 1978, Lychak helped lead Indiana State to the NCAA Division 1 Midwest Regional tournament and when not at school he found time to pitch for the Canadian national team. He took the mound for Canada at the 1979 Pan Am Games and 1980 World Cup before getting the starting nod against Cuba in the Intercontinental Cup in his hometown in August 1981.
The expectation was that he’d throw three innings, but he was so dominant that Canadian manager Eric MacKenzie stuck with the young lefty. Lychak finished the game with eight strikeouts in Canada’s 2-1 win. It was Cuba’s first loss at an international competition in five years.
“Perry Lychak dominated the game from the very beginning,” Cuban manager Servio Borges told the Edmonton Journal. “He had a fantastic game and deserved the victory. We were up for the game. But against a pitcher like that, there’s not much you can do about it.”
Lychak couldn’t recall pitching a better game.
“I had all my stuff tonight. I kept the ball down and made them hit a lot of ground balls,” Lychak told the Edmonton Journal. “I tried throwing mostly my slider and spotting my fastball. I had my curveball, too, and I got a lot of ground outs with it.”
The 23-year-old Lychak’s performance also opened the eyes of major league scouts.
“I want to play pro ball. I wasn’t drafted,” Lychak told the Edmonton Journal the day after his win against Cuba. “I thought I might have a chance to be drafted but I wasn’t. But I know there are major league scouts here.”
One of those scouts was Wayne Morgan, who was working for the Blue Jays, but earlier in his career he had scouted and signed Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.) for the Houston Astros.
Morgan convinced the Blue Jays to offer Lychak a contract and the young lefty chose to sign with the Canadian club, despite also drawing interest from the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets.
“I’m really glad to be with Toronto,” Lychak told the Canadian Press. “I figure they will give me a better look than if I signed with one of the American teams. There will be a better chance I’ll be noticed with the Blue Jays, because if I do well, a Canadian pitcher could eventually sell tickets in Toronto.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound southpaw finished up his senior year at Indiana State before reporting to the Blue Jays where he was assigned to class-A Kinston of the Carolina League. In five starts in 1982, he went 2-2 with 2.51 ERA and had 27 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings before an arm injury shut him down for the season.
Finds home in Kinston
He returned to Kinston the following year and the Blue Jays converted him into a reliever. He continued to work out of the bullpen for Kinston for the next three seasons, and by 1985, he was the club’s closer. That season, he posted a 4-2 record and a 1.75 ERA with 14 saves in 48 appearances.
By that time, however, he was 27 and was experiencing rotator cuff issues, so the Blue Jays released him the following spring. But he managed to land with the class-A Kinston club again, even though they were no longer affiliated with the Blue Jays. Serving as a player-coach, Lychak posted a 2.41 ERA and had 14 more saves in 44 appearances in his final season.
After hanging up his professional playing spikes, he settled in Kinston and became a popular teacher at Woodington Middle School and later at South Lenior High School.
He continued to coach baseball for American Legion teams.
A funeral service for Lychak will be held in the Woodington Middle School gym on November 4. A celebration of life will be held at a later date in Edmonton.
He is survived by a brother and two sisters.
You can read his full obituary and leave online condolences here.