Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hardball heroics

The greatest moments in Canadian baseball history

erry Seinfeld once described the act of rooting for a particular team as “cheering for laundry.” Basically, he said, we decide who to support based on what colour of shirt they’re wearing.

This sums up many of Canada’s greatest baseball moments — the shirts may have said “Toronto” or “Montreal,” but the players inside were mostly Americans and Dominicans. Still, we cheered.

Of course, actual Canadians have also authored some spectacular moments over the years. While most of those have been individual triumphs, every so often Canadian players have come together and shown they belong on the same field as the best teams in the world.

As the second World Baseball Classic unfolds over the next couple of weeks, let’s hope the guys wearing the Canada shirts can give us a few more reasons to cheer.

10. Vive les Expos

Something magical happened on April 17, 1969, just nine games into the Montreal Expos’ inaugural season. In his fifth major league start, unknown right-hander Bill Stoneman tossed a no-hitter to beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-0. Already on his way to becoming a Montreal icon, right-fielder Rusty (Le Grand Orange) Staub went 4-for-5 with three doubles and a homer.

9. Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!

With many of our best players injured or unavailable, it was hard to get excited about Canada’s entry in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, especially after a lackluster 11-8 opening-game win over South Africa. That all changed on March 8, 2006, when Team Canada, led by the clutch hitting and defence of centrefielder Adam Stern, upset the heavily favoured Americans 8-6 in Phoenix, Ariz. Unfortunately, the excitement only lasted one day, as Mexico knocked Canada out of the tournament with a 9-1 thrashing in their final first-round game.

8. Canada’s pastime

On June 4, 1838, the first documented game of baseball was played in Beachville, Ont., between the Beechfield Club and a team from the nearby township of Zorra. Although details are scarce and the rules likely differed somewhat from the game we know today, it was nonetheless an important moment in the sport’s history — and one that explodes the myth that American Abner Doubleday “invented” baseball in 1839.

7. Stubby stands tall

On July 26, 1999, pint-sized second baseman Stubby Clapp drove in the winning run with a bloop single into shallow left field, as Team Canada upset the United States 7-6 at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. The 11-inning, come-from-behind win over an American team that featured future big leaguers Brad Penny, Mark Mulder and Adam Kennedy earned the Canadians a berth in the semifinals. They went on to capture a bronze medal.

6. Pennant fever

On Oct. 11, 1981, Montreal Expos ace Steve Rogers beat Philadelphia Phillies ace Steve Carlton 3-0 in the fifth and deciding game of the National League Division Series. Not only did Rogers throw a six-hit shutout, he also drove in the winning runs with a two-run single to centre in the fifth inning. After winning their first and only National League East pennant, the Expos went on to lose a heartbreaking NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

5. Fantastic Fergie

On Oct. 26, 1971, Chatham, Ont.’s Ferguson Jenkins was named the National League Cy Young winner, making him the first Canadian to win a major individual award. After four straight 20-win seasons, the Chicago Cubs right-hander outdid himself in 1971, finishing with a 24-13 record, a 2.77 ERA, 263 strikeouts and a mere 37 walks, along with an incredible 30 complete games. He also helped himself at the plate, hitting six homers and driving in 20 runs in just 115 at-bats.

4. Rocky mountain high

On Nov. 14, 1997, Maple Ridge, B.C.’s Larry Walker capped one of the most remarkable seasons in baseball history, becoming the first Canadian to be named Most Valuable Player in either league. The Colorado Rockies right-fielder won the award on the strength of his .366 average, 49 homers, 130 RBI and 33 stolen bases, not to mention his 409 total bases — the most since Stan Musial’s 429 five decades earlier.

3. Champs at last

On Oct. 24, 1992, in their 16th season, the Toronto Blue Jays won their first World Series, beating the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in 11 innings to take the series four games to two. The winning margin was provided by slugger Dave Winfield, who chopped a two-run double down the third-base line in the top of the 11th before reliever Mike Timlin closed the door in the bottom of the inning.

2. Barrier broken

On April 18, 1946, six months after signing his historic contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 27-year-old Jackie Robinson made his minor-league debut with the Montreal Royals. The fleet-footed second baseman didn’t disappoint the 25,000 fans who came out to see the man who would break baseball’s colour barrier, going 4-for-5 and driving in four runs in a 14-1 rout of the Jersey City Giants. Robinson went on to win the batting title that season, leading Montreal to the International League championship.

1. Joltin’ Joe

On Oct. 23, 1993, Toronto’s Joe Carter gave the Blue Jays their second consecutive World Series title, golfing a 2-2 pitch over the SkyDome’s left-field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6, turning a 6-5 Philadelphia lead into an 8-6 Toronto win. He became only the second player to end a Fall Classic with a homer and effectively ended the career of Phillies closer Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, whose two blown saves were the difference in the series.

Related Posts by Categories

Buy MLB Merchandise at our online MLB Shop DieHardFans.com