Denis Boucher never liked attracting attention. He may never be able to attract him more than on Saturday, when he will have to deliver his induction speech to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
But a few days before his induction into St. Mary’s, Boucher was still busy tweaking it.
“You’d have to write me three or four good pages!” he told The Canadian Press. I’m not sure where to start: I don’t want to forget anyone, but I don’t want to bore people either. Find three or four little jokes and anecdotes that people haven’t heard a thousand times! »
Yet these are not the anecdotes that should be missing in Boucher’s career, which now spans more than 45 years, whether in minor baseball, among the professionals, or within the national senior program.
A career that has earned him heartfelt praise from a compatriot who, like Boucher, was once associated with the Montreal Expos, but in a different role.
“Denis Boucher represents all that is good in baseball in Quebec,” said Alex Agostino, regional supervisor for the Philadelphia Phillies and member of the Canadian Hall selection committee.
“He was quite an athlete: he was throwing, he was hitting, he was doing a bit of everything on the field, while he could also play first base. He is one of the most competitive athletes on the field that I have known.
“He wasn’t the hardest throwing guy, but he was one of the smartest on the court. He’s a guy who, from the moment he signed his contract with the Blue Jays, he knew how to throw: fast, shifting, spin. It’s not like today, where some pitcher is ‘rocking’ at 100 miles an hour not knowing where the ball is going to land: he was pitching to get you out. That’s why he was successful in the minor leagues, in the majors and with the Canadian team. »
The 55-year-old Quebecer played his minor baseball in Lachine, west of Montreal, before playing his junior baseball with the LaSalle Cards. Signed as a free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays in August 1987—the Canadiens were ineligible for the draft at that time—he successfully progressed through the minor league ranks before breaking into the Jays’ rotation for the 1991 season.
When he made his first start on April 12, 1991, it had been nearly 20 years since there had been a Quebec player in the Majors, since Claude Raymond’s last pitch in September 1971.
His stint in Toronto was short-lived, however: in June 1991, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where he earned his first major league victory. Unprotected for the expansion draft, he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in November 1992, who later traded him to the San Diego Padres. He will not reach the Majors with these two organizations. But when the Expos acquired him in July 1993, he showed all of baseball what he was capable of.
His September 1993 put him among baseball’s elite: a 3-1 record and one m. p. Mr. of 1.91 in five starts. His 222 ERA (advanced stat that compares pitchers to pitchers) doesn’t lie: while an average gunner receives a rating of 100, his is among the best in baseball.
“As a player, I always say there are two defining moments,” Boucher recalled. There is my first start in the Majors in Toronto and my first in Montreal. Between that, there were others, like the transaction that brought me to Montreal. It was a big moment too. »
This first start in Montreal, on September 6, 1993, is remembered by all baseball fans in the province. They were 40,066 at Olympic Stadium to see him dominate the Rockies batters for six innings, during which he gave up only one run on six hits.
A member of the rotation at the start of 1994, injuries prevented him from pursuing his dream and he would not return to the Majors after May 21 of that year.
His career did not end there, however: back in Lachine, he took over the reins of the local association, of which he became president, a position he still holds today. Beginning in 2003, he also became the pitching coach for the senior national program. In this role, he helped Canada qualify for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, at three Pan American Games, where the team was crowned twice, in 2011 and 2015, in addition to taking part in the five Classics world baseball.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame tries to reward great professional careers, but also the influence given to Canadian baseball. On this point, Boucher is unanimous.
“It’s a package: his career as a player was excellent for a Canadian of that era. He opened the door to others, said Marc Griffin, an analyst at RDS, but also a former teammate in the national program and opponent in professional baseball. He is a guy who enjoys great credibility and who is unanimous within the baseball community in Canada. »
“He’s there because of his accomplishments on the pitch, off the pitch and his work with the national team,” added Agostino. The guys who had him in the national team, I don’t know one who speaks badly of him. It’s rare ! There is no one who played with Denis or for Denis who wouldn’t go to war for him.
“He had an impact in many facets of Canadian baseball at all levels. »
“I don’t realize what I gave back,” said the principal. It was normal for me to participate in these tournaments with the Canadian team. It was a great opportunity for me to continue in baseball. I also found it normal to give back to minor baseball as I did in Lachine. »
Being reminded of his greatest feats of arms does not, however, make him more comfortable.
“It’s a nice honor, but I’m not doing this for honors and I’m not very comfortable receiving them. »
Boucher, now a scout for the New York Yankees, will be inducted Saturday, along with ex-Jays and Yankees outfielder Jesse Barfield, ex-Oakland A’s pitcher, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers Rich Harden, as well as builder Joe Wiwchar.
These people will share the stage with ex-Expos commentator Jacques Doucet and ex-Jays first baseman John Olerud, elected in 2020, but who had not yet been officially inducted.
Finally, La Presse Canadienne will be well represented with Richard Milo, recipient of the Jack-Graney Award, given to a media representative who has made a significant contribution to the influence of baseball in Canada. Milo has covered the Expos for 28 seasons, the last 20 of which with the French services of the national agency.
MLB: 6-11, 5.42, 146 ML, 77 RB, 54 BB
Minor Leagues: 76-55, 3.80, 1086ml, 679rab, 367bb.