Joyeux le 14 de Juillet

Posted by Jonathan @ RGB Cards | Posted in

It's Bastille Day, the French national day. I'm currently watching the Tour de France, where the malliot jaune is being worn by a Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler.

Did you know that there are nine Major League Baseball players who were born in France? Here's profiles of the three whose baseball cards are in my collection.

Steve Jeltz was born in Paris on May 28, 1959, and is perhaps best known for his exploits with the Phillies throughout the 1980s. He also holds most of the career records for players born in France, including most singles, doubles, triples, RBI and games played. But it's not all sunshine and lollipops - Jeltz also holds the record for most career strikeouts by a French-born player. His most famous game came in 1989, when the Phillies faced the Pirates in Pittsburgh. After the Buccos put up a 10-spot in the first inning, the game seemed over. However, Jeltz, who entered the game as a substitute, led an improbable comeback. A switch-hitter, he became the first Phillie to hit a home run in the same game from each side of the plate. Even more remarkable, Jeltz had exactly five home runs in his career - and two of them came in that game! After seven seasons in Philadelphia, Jeltz finished his career with the Royals in 1990.

Charlie Lea was born on Christmas Day, 1956, in Orléans. No, not New Orleans, but the town that the Big Easy is named after. Old Orleans, if you prefer. Lea spent most of his seven-year big league career in Montreal, so you'd imagine that he felt right at home. Except that Lea grew up in Memphis, then starred at Memphis State, and even played his Double-A ball with the Memphis Chicks. Lea's career highlight came in 1981, perhaps the année miraculous of Montreal baseball history. On May 10, Lea pitched a no-hitter against the Giants, becoming the first Expo not named Bill Stoneman to pitch a no-no (Dennis Martinez and his perfect game was the third and final Spo to accomplish the feat). In 1984, Lea made his only All-Star appearance, being named the starter for the National League (over players such as Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden) and picked up the win. Sadly, he wrecked his elbow, and missed both the 1985 and 1986 seasons. He pitched one inning for the Expos in 1987 before finishing his career with the Twins in 1988.

Perhaps the best-known and most successful French-born major-leaguer is Bruce Bochy. Bochy, of course, is the manager of the defending champion Giants. He became the first (and only) European-born manager to win a title, as well as the first to manage in the World Series when his Padres won the NL pennant in 1998. Bochy's father was in the Army, which explains why Bruce was born in Landes-de-Boussac in central France. Bochy first broke into the big leagues with the Astros in 1978, but it is with the Padres that he acheived the most fame. Prior to becoming the Padres manager, his most notable feat was perhaps being the catcher on the field when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's all-time hit record. Bochy also holds the career record for home runs by a French-born player, with 26 circuit clouts.

As a manager, Bochy led the Padres to the post season four times, winning the NL pennant in 1998. After leaving San Diego for the Giants at the end of the 2006 season, Bochy has proven to be a steady hand on the wheel, mentoring young Giants pitchers such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.

Six other major leaguers were born in France, all of whom played parts of one or two seasons, most in the dead ball era. They are Ed Gagnier, Claude Gouzzie, Paul Krichell, Duke Markell, Larry Ressler and Joe Woerlin.

As I write, the day's racing in the Tour de France has come to an end, and although Sammy Sanchez, a Basque, won the stage, Thomas Voeckler has kept his overall lead and will wear the yellow jersey again tomorrow. Vive La France! Joyeux le 14 de julliet!

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