Boucher/Siddall Celebrate 20 Years, Part 2

by on September 2, 2013

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* Joe Siddall (Windsor, Ont.) caught 67 games in the majors — none more memorable than 20 years ago — when he squatted behind the plate as LHP Denis Boucher (Montreal, Que.) took the mound for the Montreal Expos … only the eighth all-Canadian battery in history. ….

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Part 1: Early Batteries From the Great White North

Part 2: Boucher and Siddall together as one

 

By David Matchett

September 6, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable games in Montreal Expos’ history, when home town boy Denis Boucher (Montreal, Que.) made his Expos’ debut in front of an Olympic Stadium crowd of over 40,000 noisy fans.

Also memorable was the fact that Boucher’s catcher Joe Siddall is from (Windsor, Ont.) and together they formed the eighth Canadian-born battery. The last article reviewed the previous seven Canuck batteries. This one looks at the 1993 Expos and Boucher’s return home and the next article will review the other Canadian batteries since 1993.

The 1993 Expos are the only major league team to have had five Canadians play in the same season. Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) was the team’s regular right fielder and was with the club for most of the season but the others came and went and there were never more than three Canadians on the active roster at any one time.

When the club left training camp Walker was joined by countryman Mike Gardiner (Sarnia, Ont.). Montreal acquired him from Boston for the 1993 season and he appeared in 24 games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 5.21 ERA. He played his last game for the Expos was on July 24, was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa three days later and released in mid-August.

The next Canadian to play for the 1993 Expos was Matt Stairs (Saint John, NB). He spent a month with the Expos in 1992 but started 1993 in Triple-A before being recalled on May 30 when Walker was put on the disabled list. Stairs made one start and had five pinch hitting appearances but when Walker returned he was released and assigned to the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League.

After Eric MacKenzie’s single inning in 1955 no Canadian caught in the big leagues until Jim Lawrence (Hamilton, Ont.) was behind the plate twice in 1963, then it was another 30 years until the next Canuck backstop. Darrin Fletcher was the Expos’ No. 1 catcher in 1993 with Tim Laker and Tim Spehr taking turns as his backup. Tim McIntosh began the season as the third stringer but that ended when he was send down to the minors and Joe Siddall was promoted.

Siddall debuted on July 28 as a ninth inning replacement for Spehr then he got into another game as a pinch runner. On Aug. 3 he became the first Canadian to start a game behind the plate since Stubby Erautt (Vibank, Sask.) in 1951 and he wound up catching 15 times in 1993, the most for a Canadian since Tom Daly (Saint John, NN) caught 47 games in 1921. Siddall missed Gardiner on the major league roster by four days so they didn’t form a battery but that wouldn’t be the case with the team’s other Canadian pitcher.

In their first 24 seasons the Expos had only one player who was fluent in the local language; Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.), who pitched for them from 1969-1971. That changed in 1993 with the mid-season acquisition of Denis Boucher. Boucher was born in Montreal but it was Canada’s other team that originally signed him. After three seasons of double-digit wins in the minors Boucher started 1991 in the Blue Jays’ rotation. He was sent to Triple-A after seven starts then traded to Cleveland in June. He was taken by Colorado in the 1993 expansion draft then the Rockies traded him to San Diego in spring training. He started 1993 in Triple-A, going 5-7 with an ERA over 6.00, when the Padres made a trade that Boucher clearly approved of,

    “When Russ Nixon (manager of AAA-Las Vegas) called me in and told me I was traded to Montreal, I had tears running down my cheeks. I was going home.” (Montreal Expos 1994 Media Guide page 67)

The Expos sent Boucher to Triple-A Ottawa and he did a lot better back in Canada, compiling a 6-0 record of with an ERA under 3.00. He had earned another chance in the big leagues and the Expos recalled him on Sept. 1. Montreal was in the middle of a road trip when Boucher joined the team but they had a good marketing opportunity and waited until they came home before adding him to the rotation.

The Expos were averaging fewer than 20,000 fans per game but on Labour Day, Sept. 6, 40,066 showed. Boucher received a standing ovation throughout his pre-game workout and he didn’t disappoint the crowd. With Siddall as his catcher Boucher retired the Rockies in order on five pitches in the first inning and gave up only a single run over six innings, leaving with a 2-1 lead.

Reliever Mel Rojas immediately coughed that up and a Dante Bichette home run an inning later put Colorado ahead. But the Expos came back in the eighth, keyed by an RBI double by Siddall, and won the game 4-3. Boucher and Siddall formed the major leagues’ eighth Canadian-born battery and became the first to play for the winning team. Siddall was recently asked about the significance of being in a Canadian battery and said,

    “I think I became aware the day of the game when the lineup was posted. Then of course after game it became a huge story with the media. It had tremendous meaning since I was proud to be a Canadian playing in the big leagues and especially in Canada. Also, to share a special moment with a good friend and team mate.” (From an email exchange between Joe Siddall and the author, August 18, 2013)

The appearance of a Canadian battery was also not lost on the Expos’ manager,

     “Before the game, Expos manager Felipe Alou was advised that the ball used for Denis Boucher’s first pitch would be immediately taken from the game. The ball was to be autographed by the Canadian battery of Boucher and Joe Siddall and sent to Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame. ‘What happens,’ Alou asked, ‘if the ball is hit out of the park?’ Then Alou, in jest, offered a suggestion. ‘Maybe I should call for a pitchout.’ ” (An unattributed article in The Montreal Gazette, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1993 page F3)

There was a third Canadian connection in the game with Larry Walker as the Expos’ starting right fielder. Walker contributed a second-inning home run for the Expos’ first run and his presence in the lineup gave Montreal the first Canadian battery to have a countryman as a teammate.

The attendance at the Expos’ next three games averaged about 15,000 then Boucher pitched again on Saturday, Sept. 11 before almost 30,000. Tim Spehr started that game and Boucher was the winner in a 4-2 victory against Cincinnati.

The Expos were on a hot streak and Boucher’s win was their 14th in 15 games, closing the gap with first place Philadelphia to 6 1/2 games. With the Expos suddenly in a pennant race their three-game series at home against the Phillies a week later had an average attendance of over 45,000. They won twice but the loss was Boucher’s start on Sept. 18. Darren Fletcher caught that one as Boucher gave up three runs, two earned, in five innings to take the loss. Siddall came into the game in a double switch in the eighth inning; three frames after Boucher left.

Boucher’s next start was in New York against the Mets on Sept. 25 and he won 4-1 with Spehr as the catcher and Siddall didn’t get into the game. The Expos continued their winning ways and won 13 of their last 20 games but they got no closer than three games behind the National League champion Phillies. They came home one last time but they returned from the road four games out of first place with only three games to play.

The last game of the season was on Sunday, October 3 and it was Dennis Martinez’s scheduled turn to pitch. It would have been his last game as an Expo but the start went to Boucher instead. He rewarded the team’s faith in him by pitching into the seventh inning and Siddall was his catcher for the second time. They were both removed as part of a double switch with the Expos ahead 3-1 and this time the bullpen held the lead, making Boucher the first Canadian-born pitcher to pick up a win with a Canadian-born teammate doing the catching. Walker was once again the starting right fielder and the first base umpire was Canadian Paul Runge (St. Catharines, Ont.). Runge had been behind the plate in Boucher’s previous start but Siddall didn’t catch that game.

The Sept. 6 and Oct. 3, 1993 games were the only two in which Boucher and Siddall formed a battery. Siddall spent the next two seasons in Triple-A and earned a September call up with the Expos in 1995. He got into a few games with the Marlins in 1996 before returning to the Expos organization then he played for Detroit in 1998. Siddall caught 67 major league games, 10th-most amongst his countrymen (11th if Irish-born Canadian Jimmy Archer is included). And after two decades, that first pairing with Denis Boucher remains important to him:

     “That game means something special to me because I feel that I was a part of the beginning of an era where Canadian kids started to get great opportunities in baseball. It is very encouraging to see the opportunities Canadians are now getting in baseball compared to back then. I believe that is a direct result of the program being run by Greg Hamilton and baseball Canada.” (From an email exchange between Joe Siddall and the author, Aug. 18, 2013)

After the trade from San Diego, Boucher went a combined 9-1 with a 2.40 ERA between Triple-A Ottawa and Montreal. Things looked promising for 1994 and he was even on the cover of The Sporting News but the season didn’t start well for him and he was out righted to the minor leagues on May 27. He turned things around and went 7-6 with a 3.71 ERA in 18 starts for the Ottawa Lynx but the players’ strike didn’t allow for a September call up. He played two more seasons in the minors before ending his playing career in 1996 but he has remained active in the game as a scout and as a coach of the Canadian National team at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and at three World Baseball Classics.

Boucher and Siddall’s two games together matched or set a lot of records: They were the first Canadian-born battery since Ozzie Van Brabant and Eric Mackenzie in 1955 and the first to start since the Wood brothers in 1885. They were also the first to play in a game that their team won and the only one to appear in a game played in Canada. The Expos were the first team to have three Canadians appear in the same game since the 1965 Houston Astros had Claude Raymond, Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ont.) and Ken MacKenzie (Gore Bay, Ont.) all pitch on July 23. They were also the first team to have three Canadians in their starting lineup since the Philadelphia Quakers (now Phillies) in 1889. Pete Wood (Dundas, Ont., pitcher), Arthur Irwin (Toronto, Ont., shortstop) and George Wood (Pownal, PEI, left field) all started on Friday, May 31, 1889 in an 11-4 win in the second game of a double header against the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

As Joe Siddall noted, this was the start of an era when Canadians started to get more opportunities in baseball. The third article in the series will review the Canadian batteries that followed him and Denis Boucher.

 

David Matchett
The Expos played their first game a couple of weeks after David’s sixth birthday and some of his fondest childhood memories are of sitting in the bleachers at Parc Jarry. He inherited his passion for baseball from his Ted Williams-worshiping father and built on this enthusiasm listening to Dave Van Horne and Duke Snider call the games throughout his adolescence. His move from his native Lachine, Quebec to Toronto was perfectly timed to coincide with the Blue Jays’ two World Series Championships and he cheers for his new favourite team now that the ex-Expos are dead to him (curse you Jeffrey Loria!!!)

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