By Dan Rankin
Former Blue Jays pitcher and 1993 World Series champion Pat Hentgen said that, growing up near Detroit in the 1970s, some of his earliest memories about Toronto’s young baseball franchise were the old pitching duels that Blue Jays legend (and 2005 Canadian Hall inductee) Dave Stieb had with then-Tigers star Jack Morris. “That’s what I remember the most as a young kid in Detroit – obviously rooting for the Tigers at the time,” Hentgen told the media members gathered for a phone conference Tuesday afternoon.
“I graduated from high school and became a Toronto Blue Jay and that’s when my loyalty swung,” said the three-time all-star. “I’ve been a Blue Jay a long time, and I’m proud of it. I’m looking forward to having a great weekend out there.”
What a weekend it will be, in St. Marys on June 16, as Hentgen is joined by fellow Hall of Fame class of 2016 inductees including former Montreal ace Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez, as well as Wayne Norton, the founder of Vancouver’s famed National Baseball Institute, longtime Toronto Blue Jays executive Howard Starkman, and former Blue Jays TV analyst (and three-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees) Tony Kubek. Completing the list of inductees is 19th Century Hamilton baseball pioneer William Shuttleworth, who will be inducted posthumously.
“We’re proud to honour such a diverse class,” said Hall of Fame director of operations Scott Crawford. “Each of the new inductees has made a significant contribution to baseball in Canada in their own unique way. We’re looking forward to celebrating their careers in St. Marys this June.”
The induction ceremony will be part of a festival of events that will also include a celebrity slo-pitch game and home run derby (June 16), the Hall’s 20th annual celebrity golf tournament and banquet (June 17) and a Downtown Family Baseball Street Festival (June 18).
Born in 1968, Hentgen has been part of the Toronto Blue Jays organization as a player, coach, ambassador or special assistant for 26 years. Selected by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 1986 MLB amateur draft, the righty saw his first regular big league action in 1992 when he pitched 28 games, primarily out of the bullpen, for the franchise’s first World Series-winning squad.
The following season, he became a starter and blossomed into an all-star, registering 19 regular season wins to go along with a victory in Game 3 of the World Series. From there, Hentgen evolved into the club’s ace, suiting up as the starter for opening day in 1997 and 1999. In 1996, he won 20 games and topped the American League in innings pitched (265-2/3), complete games (10) and shutouts (3) to become the first Blue Jay to win the American League Cy Young Award. For an encore, he led the American League in games started (35), innings pitched (264), complete games (9) and shutouts (3) again in 1997.
In the Blue Jays record books, he ranks fifth in wins (107), games started (238), innings pitched (1,636), strikeouts (1,028) and shutouts (9). After hanging up his playing spikes, he returned to the Blue Jays to work as a spring training instructor, a team ambassador and as the club’s bullpen coach. He’s currently a special assistant with the team.
On the phone during the teleconference, Hentgen was reminded that he faced fellow 2016 inductee Martinez at least once during their overlapping careers. “We knew he was an upper-echelon type guy, a top-tier pitcher,” Hentgen said.
“Pat was one of the best at that time when we faced each other,” Martinez chimed in. “I loved his composure on the mound and his aggressiveness. I was the same way too. I loved to compete against the best.”
Martinez said he remembered it being a close game, but neither could recall the score. When they were told it had been a 4-3 win for the Cleveland Indians, who Martinez pitched for at the time, Hentgen could be heard to say “Dang!”
“I’m sorry, Pat,” Martinez said with a chuckle.
Born in 1954 in Granada, Nicaragua, Martinez recorded 100 wins in parts of eight seasons with the Montreal Expos from 1986 to 1993 – the second-most in franchise history. The durable right-hander also ranks second all-time amongst Expos pitchers in games started (233) and innings pitched (1,609), and is third in strikeouts (973), complete games (41) and shutouts (13). Nicknamed “El Presidente,” Martinez was the first Nicaraguan to play in the major leagues. When Martinez tossed a perfect game on July 28, 1991 – the only one in Expos history – the club’s play-by-play man and 2014 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Van Horne famously quipped “El Presidente, El Perfecto.”
Reflecting on his perfect game, Martinez called it a day he’ll never forget.
“When we get together here with the grandchildren, I try to show them a bit of that game so they can realize what their grandpa did, and also so they can know baseball was my passion all my life,” he said, speaking on the phone from Miami. “They’re too young – but just to let them know the excitement I went through the day it happened. Every time I see that game, I’m living a dream.”
Martinez was named an all-star in 1990, 1991 and 1992. In 1991, he led the NL in ERA (2.39), complete games (9) and shutouts (5).
Martinez was traded to Montreal on June 16, 1986 after accumulating 108 wins in his first 11 seasons with the Orioles. Also registering 100 wins for the Expos, Martinez became one of only 10 pitchers to reach the century mark in wins in both the NL and AL. He finished with 245 victories, including some for the Indians, Mariners and Braves, which ranks 52nd all-time.
“I felt so great to hear this news to be inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame,” Martinez said. “It’s a great honour for me to share this award with my family and the Canadian people. This is something that I will hold onto for the rest of my life.”
For a little levity at the expense of the current field of Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, Kubek joked, “Dennis, El Presidente, I think we might need you in the States.”
Born in Milwaukee in 1935, Kubek won three World Series as a shortstop with the New York Yankees between 1957 and 1965 before becoming a popular broadcaster for NBC. He spent 25 seasons behind the mike for the network and called 11 World Series and 10 All-Star games.
The Toronto Blue Jays landed Kubek as an analyst on their TV broadcasts in 1977 and, during his 13 seasons in the booth for the club, he educated Canadian viewers on CTV and TSN about the sport.
For his efforts, Kubek was the first broadcaster working exclusively as a TV analyst to win the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in 2009. He was also the first Ford C. Frick Award winner to have called games for a Canadian team.
Kubek described his call to be inducted as “unexpected.”
“I was doing exactly what I’ve loved doing for much of my life, playing, watching and talking baseball,” he said. “I’m grateful for being accepted by Canadian baseball fans, and for this wonderful honour.”
He said induction into the Canadian Hall of Fame is tied for second among all the honours he’s received. The first? Being inducted into the Polish American Sports Hall of Fame.
Born in Toronto in 1945, Starkman has spent four decades as an executive with the Blue Jays. He was initially hired as director of public relations on July 4, 1976. Among his other early roles, he was responsible for the club’s “Name the team” contest prior to the inaugural season.
Reflecting on the contest, Starkman said they received around 34,000 entries, 144 of which were “Blue Jays.”
“With the Cardinals and Orioles, birds were a popular name for teams,” he said. “Of course, the ‘Blue’ had an attachment to the city because of the Maple Leafs, the U of T team and the Argonauts all had blue on their uniforms, so that fit in well. Then, last but not least, with Labatt having the ownership, it fit in very well with Labatt Blue.”
Some other options he remembers were the “Towers” and even the “Exhibitionists.”
“There were some really wild ones that wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “The Blue Jays ended up a pretty good name. It’s worked well for us for 40 years.”
Starkman also doubled as a public relations official for Major League Baseball for 15 World Series and 10 All-Star games. For his efforts, he was presented with the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Robert O. Fishel Award in 1995, an honour that’s bestowed annually for excellence in public relations. Among Starkman’s numerous other achievements, in 2014 the Blue Jays established the Howard Starkman Award, naming him the first recipient. The award is now handed out annually to the Blue Jays Employee of the Year “who best exemplifies the values of integrity, innovation, accountability, team work and a passion for winning.”
“I am truly honoured to be selected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Starkman, who continues to serve as a consultant with the Blue Jays. “I obviously spent a lot of time in baseball and enjoyed it, but I’ve never swung a bat or threw a ball, or ever considered myself a Hall of Famer. But it’s very gratifying my contributions have been so recognized and I certainly am very humbled by it.”
Born in 1942 in Port Moody, B.C., Norton played in 1,206 minor league games – including five seasons in Triple-A – before becoming a trailblazing baseball executive and scout in Canada. In the mid-1970s, Norton founded and established Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team. He became a long-time coach and manager for the organization, doubling as a part-time scout for the Montreal Expos. He managed Canada’s Pan Am Games team in 1975 and, in the late 1970s, was enlisted to create and write Baseball Canada’s first coaching manuals.
In 1986, Norton established the National Baseball Institute (NBI) in Vancouver. The NBI evolved into the best baseball academy ever created in Canada and is often cited as the standard for similar facilities. Among NBI graduates to play in the big leagues are 2015 Canadian Hall of Famers Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) and Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.), as well as Paul Spoljaric (Kelowna, B.C.) and Rob Butler (East York, Ont.), among others.
Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Pat Gillick hired Norton to scout for the Orioles and, later, the Mariners. As a scout for Seattle since 2000, Norton has signed several Canadians, including current Blue Jay Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.).
“It is gratifying to have my contributions to baseball in Canada recognized and valued by my peers and acknowledged by the selection committee,” Norton said. “I look forward to what promises to be a fantastic couple of days in St. Marys!”
Born in Brantford in 1834, the contributions Shuttleworth made to baseball in Canada have come to light in recent years thanks to research by noted Canadian historian Bill Humber, who was present for the phone conference this week.
When Shuttleworth was living in Hamilton in 1854, he organized Canada’s first formal baseball team, which was called the Young Canadians of Hamilton. From 1854 through the 1870s, Shuttleworth was a driving force behind the sport in Canada and he served as vice-president of the first Canadian baseball organization in 1864.
Shuttleworth transitioned the team from the old Canadian rules – 11 players on each team, two-inning games – to the New York rules (much closer to the rules of today’s game) in 1860. But Shuttleworth was not just an organizer, he was also a catcher and leadoff hitter. He participated in the second-ever international baseball game in 1860. While he was still active as a player, he doubled as the team’s president until 1871.
Shuttleworth was also a member of the Ontario team, featuring Hamilton and Guelph players, that finished third in a major Detroit baseball tournament in 1867. He passed away on March 31, 1903 and is buried in Hamilton. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Humber said he thinks Shuttleworth, who played in an era when catchers played without gloves, “would be ecstatic over this recognition.”
However, to date, he has yet to find a living relative of Shuttleworth who might share in the honour.
“I keep hoping one of them will come out of the woodwork,” he said. “Maybe, this recognition will be enough to bring somebody out.”