Cormier, Melvin, Staub, 2011 gold medallists Canadian Hall inductees
* Lefty Rheal Cormier (Moncton, N.B.), who played more seasons (16) in the majors than anyone other than Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.), Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) and Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC) was one of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2012.
By Bob Elliott
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame named its class of 2012 on Tuesday with a lineup that resembled a documentary of the game in this country over the previous six decades.
Rusty Staub, the first Montreal Expo legend; lefty Rheal Cormier, who pitched 16 years in the majors, retiring in 2007; Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin; and Team Canada, which won gold at the Pan-Am Games in Mexico three months ago will be inducted June 23 at St. Marys, Ont.
When “Le Grand Orange” arrived at Parc Jarry in April 1969 to play the first major league game in Canada, Mack Jones knocked in five runs as the Expos edged the St. Louis Cardinals 8-7. Staub, who had two hits that day, won the province over with line drives and by learning how to speak French.
“Jean-Pierre Roy and I, the two of us, would travel to places like Troies-Rivieres and little towns in Quebec for banquets,” Staub told reporters on a conference call from West Palm Beach, Fla. “I reached the point where I could give a short baseball speech in French.
“A lot of those drives with J.P. were filled with ‘Comment dit-on?’ ”(Which translates to “How do you say?” in French.)
The Expos were big on caravans and travelled farther than Thetford Mines and Chicoutimi, Que.
“Once we flew into Kamloops,” said Staub, a nervous flyer, as he explained his trip into the mountain airport. “My knuckles were white. That was my only trip there.”
During Year 1 of the Expos, Staub said there were 25,000 children enrolled in the young Expos club. There were 75,000 in Year 2.
Staub, now 67, sees plenty of retired Canadians in his travels in Florida who either saw him play in the early years of the Expos or upon his return in 1979, when he pinch-hit before 59,260 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Olympic Stadium.
The ovation began when Staub came out of the dugout.
“Then the Pirates changed pitchers, bringing in Grant Jackson, and the noise didn’t stop. It was difficult, I had to gain control of my emotions with an at-bat coming up,” Staub said. “When they do the autopsy of me, they’ll find an ‘MTL’ on my heart.”
Cormier was 12 when Staub’s return was coast-to-coast news with the Expos chasing the Pirates in the National League East.
Spotted at a national team workout camp at Waterloo in 1985, Cormier pitched in the 1988 Olympics and, after his major-league career ended, was back pitching in the 2008 Bejing Olympics.
Born in Moncton, N.B., Cormier’s 16-year career is the fourth-longest Canadian tenure in the majors behind Fergie Jenkins and Matt Stairs (19 each) and Larry Walker (17).
“To be mentioned in the same breath as the Canadians already inducted is an unbelievable honour,” said Cormier, now 44, from Park City, Utah, another Olympic city where he moved so his children could excel at winter sports.
To raise money to attend Community College of Rhode Island, Cormier worked over the holidays as a lumberjack.
“Never figured out how one Canadian could release another,” Melvin said jokingly.
Melvin drove to Florida, threw a bullpen for Pat Gillick and Cloyd Boyer and was signed by the New York Yankees.
“When the Yankees released me, I stayed close with Pat, Roland Hemond and Pat were my mentors,” said Melvin, who as a high shooler played hoops and never passed the ball to Toronto Sun scribe Bill Lankhof.
Melvin, who threw indoor winter bullpens at John McGregor Secondary School alongside Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Montreal right-hander Billy Atkinson, dealt Brett Lawrie to the Jays for Shaun Marcum.
“Five years from now, Brett may be a star and Shaun may be gone, but right now it’s a good trade for both teams,” Melvin said.
While Cormier didn’t come with gold, like every other team with the exception of John Haar’s gold medal-winning 1991 world juniors, manager Ernie Whitt guided the Canucks to a 2-1 win over Team U.S.A. in the Pan Am Games, in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“All those times we stood on the podium listening to Team U.S.A. or Cuba sing their anthems, I was so proud of our guys being on the highest podium with U.S.A. and Cuba on either side.”