But What Do I Know? … Larry Walker, Roberto Clemente, Adam Loewen
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
_ The Colorado Rockies strongly pushed Larry Walker’s case for the National Baseball Hall of Fame on social media this year. In 10 seasons with the Rockies from 1995 to 2004, the Maple Ridge, BC, native won three batting titles, five Gold Gloves, two Silver Slugger Awards and the 1997 National League MVP Award. He was also a four-time All-Star. So why haven’t the Rockies retired his No. 33? The only number the Rockies have retired is Todd Helton’s No. 17, but surely Walker is worthy of the same honour.
_ It was 63 years ago today that the Brooklyn Dodgers signed a skinny, 19-year-old Puerto Rican outfielder named Roberto Clemente to a one-year, $5,000 contract with a $10,000 signing bonus. A rule at the time stipulated that any team signing a rookie to a contract over $4,000 must keep that player on their major league roster for the season or risk losing them in an off-season draft (similar to today’s Rule 5 draft). With an outfield that already boasted all-stars Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, the Dodgers gambled and shipped Clemente to their triple-A Montreal Royals, where the young outfielder played sporadically. Some believe this was by design and that the Dodgers were trying to hide Clemente so that others teams wouldn’t select him in the draft after the season. Clemente would bat .257 with just 12 RBIs in 87 games for the Royals, but Pittsburgh Pirates scout Clyde Sukeforth had seen enough of the youngster to convince his general manager Branch Rickey to choose Clemente with the first pick in the off-season draft. The rest, as they say, is history. Clemente went on to rap out exactly 3,000 hits in 18 major league seasons for the Pirates.
_ Surrey, BC, native and former Toronto Blue Jay Adam Loewen signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers on Monday. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training. The 6-foot-6 lefty made eight appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season and posted a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings with the triple-A Reno Aces. The 2002 first-rounder had previous pitching stints with the Baltimore Orioles (2006 to 2008) and Philadelphia Phillies (2015) and played for the Blue Jays as an outfielder in 2011. He’ll also toe the rubber for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.
_ Speaking of ex-Blue Jays named Adam, Adam Lind inked a one-year, $1.5-million contract with the Washington Nationals on Monday. The deal reportedly includes a $1-million base salary for 2017 and a $500,000 buyout if his $5-million mutual option is not picked up for 2018. Last season, Lind batted .239 with 20 home runs in 126 games for the Seattle Mariners. It was a disappointing campaign after his solid .277, 20-home run performance with the Milwaukee Brewers the previous season. After nine seasons with the Blue Jays, Lind was swapped to the Brewers for Marco Estrada on November 1, 2014.
_ In other ex-Blue Jays news: Aaron Hill signed a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants on Friday. He’ll reportedly be paid $2 million in 2017 if he makes the big league roster. The veteran infielder, who batted .265 and socked 96 home runs in seven seasons with the Blue Jays from 2005 to 2011, split 2016 between the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox. Prior to that, he suited up with the Arizona Diamondbacks for parts of five seasons.
_ Please take 10 minutes to read this heartbreaking, but important article about former Toronto Blue Jays draft pick Jake Eliopoulos. A Baseball Canada alumnus, Eliopoulos was a promising left-handed pitching prospect before being sidelined by an arm injury. He later battled mental illness. In this article, Eliopoulos’s father, Jim, a former bullpen catcher for the Blue Jays, courageously shares his son’s story in hopes that it will help other parents who have children facing similar issues.
_ Please take a moment to remember London, Ont., native and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Colman who passed away 34 years ago today at the age of 64. After hitting .300 with the triple-A International League Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, Colman’s contract was purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He toiled with the Pirates for parts of five seasons, including 1944, when he hit .270 and knocked in 53 runs in just 252 at bats. In 1946, he was signed by the New York Yankees and he’d make his pinstripes debut on September 22, the same day as Yogi Berra. Manning right field in the second game of a doubleheader, he recorded a home run, single and a walk in three plate appearances. The Canuck outfielder, who roomed with Berra, also belted two pinch-hit homers for the 1947 World Champion Bronx Bombers. Colman later came back to Canada to serve as a player-coach with the Maple Leafs from 1951 to 1953, before returning to his birth city in 1954 to fulfill a similar role with the London Majors. The following year he purchased the Majors and guided them to a championship in 1956. In 1955, he co-founded London’s Eager Beaver Baseball Association (EBBA), a minor ball organization that’s now one of the most respected in the country. For his efforts, Colman was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.
_ Former Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Batista turns 46 today. He’s also one of the answers to a very tough Canadian baseball trivia question: What three pitchers have recorded a save for both the Blue Jays and Montreal Expos? The other two pitchers are Graeme Lloyd and Dale Murray. Batista pitched parts of three seasons with the Montreal Expos from 1998 to 2000. He later returned to Canada to pitch two seasons with the Blue Jays in 2004 and 2005. In the latter year, he served as the Blue Jays closer and recorded 31 saves.
_ It was 15 years ago today that a 37-year-old Jose Canseco signed a minor league deal with the Montreal Expos. The 6-foot-4 slugger was released on March 28 before the club headed north, but that was still enough time for Topps to produce a baseball card of him. His stop in Montreal, the last of his big league career, would’ve been his second north of the border. Canseco belted a career-high 46 home runs with the Blue Jays in 1998.