Hentgen headlines class of six entering Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Pat Hentgen joins Prime Time Sports to discuss being honoured by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, stretching out Aaron Sanchez and why Drew Hutchison needs to get back to basics.

Pat Hentgen got to know the Toronto Blue Jays by rooting against them. There was no doubt whose side he was on when he sat in the Tiger Stadium stands with his father watching Jack Morris face Dave Stieb.

“That’s what I remember the most, as a young kid in Detroit, obviously rooting for the Tigers at the time,” Hentgen recalled.

Before long he was learning from both Morris and Stieb with the Blue Jays. The 1986 draft pick would eventually star in Toronto as a two-time World Series champion and the first Cy Young winner in franchise history.

With 10 seasons in Toronto and three all-star appearances, Hentgen was a worthy candidate for induction to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame even before he spent another decade working for the team, but the news surprised him nonetheless.

“When I got the call I was overwhelmed,” Hentgen said. “I mean what an honour.”

Hentgen and fellow MLB all-star Dennis Martinez will be recognized for years of pitching excellence when they lead a deep class of 2016 inductees this summer. Canadian scout Wayne Norton, longtime Toronto executive Howard Starkman, former Blue Jays broadcaster Tony Kubek and baseball pioneer William Shuttleworth round out the class of six, which will be formally inducted June 18 in St. Marys, Ont.

“We’re proud to honour such a diverse class,” said Scott Crawford, the Hall of Fame’s director of operations. "Each of the new inductees has made a significant contribution to baseball in Canada in their own unique way.”

Hentgen, now a special assistant with the Blue Jays, finished sixth in Cy Young voting for the 1993 champs then became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win the award three years later. The Detroit-born right-hander made an impression on teammates and opponents alike during a 14-year career in which he posted a 131-112 record with a 4.32 ERA.

“What I enjoyed the most was being able to compete against the best,” Martinez recalled. “Pat was one of the best at that time. I knew I had to minimize the damage because otherwise the game would be over.”

Martinez, the first Nicaraguan to play in the big leagues, spent parts of eight seasons with the Montreal Expos. He pitched the only perfect game in franchise history on July 28, 1991 and represented Montreal at three all-star games. The 245-game winner posted a 3.70 ERA over the course of a 23-year career.

“Dennis was a guy where you’d make contact but not hard contact and you had to get lucky and get the ball to bleed through the holes,” Hentgen said. “He was an upper-echelon type guy, a top-tier pitcher and you really had to be on top of your game.”

Dennis Martinez is among six selected to the 2016 class of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (Andre Pichette/CP)

Dennis Martinez is among six selected to the 2016 class of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame (Andre Pichette/CP)

While Hentgen and Martinez starred on Canadian teams for years, the Hall of Fame will also recognize four others who made an impact in other ways.

Norton played an integral role in developing Baseball Canada and scouted for MLB teams for decades. The longtime minor-league player founded Baseball Canada’s Junior National Team and created Baseball Canada's first coaching manuals. A Port Moody, B.C. product, Norton also scouted for the Expos, Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners.

“It’s gratifying to have my contributions to baseball in Canada recognized and valued by my peers,” said Norton.

Starkman was the Blue Jays' public relations director from 1976-1998 before becoming VP of media relations then VP of special projects. A Toronto native, Starkman was responsible for the “name the team” contest that chose Blue Jays from a pool of 34,000 entries. He said he was flabbergasted and humbled to be chosen for induction.

“I spent quite a lot of time in baseball,” Starkman said. “I enjoyed it, but I never swung a bat and never threw a ball, never considered myself a Hall of Famer.”

Beyond his work in Toronto, Starkman doubled as a PR official for Major League Baseball, working 15 World Series and 10 All-Star Games.

Kubek, a former shortstop who won three World Series with the New York Yankees, spent 13 seasons broadcasting Blue Jays games. At the time, the Blue Jays were an expansion franchise but the city was starting to embrace the team.

“I just fell in love with the city and the organization,” Kubek said. “It was great.”

The Milwaukee native was honoured with the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in 2009.

Shuttleworth (1834-1903) contributed to Canadian baseball by organizing the country's first formal baseball team. The Brantford, Ont. native served as vice-president of the first Canadian baseball organization and even played catcher in an era that players didn’t wear gloves.