November 3, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Due to a commitment on the weekend, I’m publishing my regular Sunday column a couple of days early.
Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:
-Now that the Major League Baseball season is over, awards season is set to begin. So, while we ponder who will be the American League MVP or the National League Cy Young Award winner, let’s also contemplate who was the top Canadian player in 2023. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame presents the Tip O’Neill Award each year to the top Canuck player. I can’t think of another year where there have been so many worthy candidates, yet no clear-cut favourite. Should the winner be Toronto Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) who matched a career-best with 36 saves? Or how about Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) who had 97 RBIs for the Cleveland Guardians? Or Seattle Mariners reliever Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) who topped major league pitchers in appearances with 78? And let’s not forget Edouard Julien (Quebec City, Que.) who had 16 home runs for the Minnesota Twins during his rookie season. It’s a tough call. Who would get your vote?
-Speaking of awards, Major League Baseball announced their Silver Slugger Award finalists on Thursday. And Naylor’s name is conspicuously absent from the list of American League first basemen. The four first baseman that are finalists are Yandy Diaz (Tampa Bay Rays), Triston Casas (Boston Red Sox), Nathaniel Lowe (Texas Rangers) and Spencer Torkelson (Detroit Tigers). As Scott Crawford, of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, shared with me in an email, you can understand Diaz being a strong contender. After all, he won the American League batting title (.330 batting average) and had a .932 OPS. But Naylor arguably had a better season than each of the other three candidates. Scott provided me with the following stats:
Torkelson – .233 batting average, .759 OPS
Naylor – .308 batting average, .843 OPS
Casas – .263 batting average, .857 OPS
Lowe – .262 batting average, .774 OPS
-And speaking of award winners again, it was three years ago today that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) won his first National League Gold Glove Award at the left field position. After playing parts of two seasons with the Cardinals in 2018 and 2019, O’Neill took over as the club’s starting left fielder in 2020. That season, he had nine Defensive Runs Saved, which was four more than any other left fielder in the National League. He also fielded all 89 defensive chances he had at his position flawlessly, finishing with a 1.000 fielding percentage, and his range factor per nine innings improved to 2.33 from 1.26 in 2019. O’Neill would repeat as the Gold Glove Award winner at the same position in 2021.
-It was great to see legendary Minnesota Twins slugger and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) on Sportsnet’s Baseball Central panel for Game 5 of the World Series on Wednesday. By my count, that marked the sixth consecutive season that Morneau has participated in Sportsnet’s World Series coverage. Morneau has also served as an analyst on Minnesota Twins’ TV broadcasts for Fox Sports North for the past six seasons.
-Happy 55th Birthday to longtime major league reliever and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.)! Selected by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round of the 1989 MLB draft, Quantrill made his MLB debut with the Red Sox on July 20, 1992 and would pitch in a Canadian record 841 games during his 14-year big league career that also included stops with the Philadelphia Phillies, Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, San Diego Padres and Florida Marlins. The rubber-armed reliever posted a 3.67 ERA in 386 contests with the Blue Jays from 1996 to 2001. His finest season came with the Blue Jays in 2001 when he posted an 11-2 record and a 3.04 ERA in a league-leading 80 appearances. For his efforts, he was selected to participate in the All-Star Game and was named the Blue Jays Pitcher of the Year. Following that season, Quantrill was dealt to the Dodgers and he proceeded to top the National League in appearances in 2002 and 2003, before landing back in the American League with the Yankees to once again lead the league with 86 appearances. In all, in 14 major league seasons, Quantrill recorded a 3.83 ERA in 1,255 2/3 innings. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010.
-Outfielder/first baseman Jared Young (Prince George, B.C.) was outrighted off the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster on Thursday. That means he can become a minor league free agent. In two stints with the Cubs this season, Young had eight hits – including three triples and two home runs – while scoring eight runs. His final promotion came on the heels of his excellent triple-A campaign with the Iowa Cubs that saw him bat .310 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs in 90 games. The 28-year-old Canuck also homered and had three runs in four games for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. Young made his MLB debut with the Cubs last season, going 5-for-19 (.263 batting average) in six games in September.
-A few years ago, I was working on a project about Canadian George Selkirk’s days as the Washington Senators general manager. Someone gave me Frank Howard’s number. I called and left a message, thinking I’d probably never hear from him, which is generally what happens when I cold call a player and leave a message. The next morning, however, the phone rang. It was Frank Howard. That was a big thrill. We must have talked for 20 minutes. And he started telling me stories about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. It was one of the most memorable interviews of my life. So, I was sad to hear that Howard, who belted 382 home runs in 16 big league seasons, passed away on Monday at the age of 87. He was a feared 6-foot-7 slugger, but a gentle and kind man. I’ll always remember him for taking the time to call me back and share his memories with such warmth to a writer from Canada he’d never met.
-And the winner of the best Canadian baseball themed Halloween costume goes to Karin Sullivan’s kids who dressed up as Blue Jays infielder Davis Schneider and in-game reporter Hazel Mae (see photo below).
-I had forgotten that Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) played for the Texas Rangers. He belted three home runs in 26 games for the Rangers in 2006. That was just long enough for him to appear in the team photo that was used for this 2007 Topps baseball card below. Can you find him in the photo?
-I’m looking forward to the sixth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference in Toronto this weekend. I’ve been to every one of them. This year’s event has again been organized by longtime Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame volunteer and co-founder of the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research Andrew North. It will include two days of interesting presentations on Canadian baseball history. For more information and for a complete list of the presentations, you can click on this link.
-This week’s trivia question is a tough one: Who was the first Canadian pitcher that Bruce Bochy caught during his major league playing career? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
-The answer to last week’s trivia question (Who is the only Canadian to have pitched in a regular season big league game for the Arizona Diamondbacks?) was Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.) who made eight mound appearances for the D-Backs in 2016.