May 3, 2024

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Forty-seven years ago today, Toronto-born Barry Cort registered his only major league win and tossed his only big league complete game for the Milwaukee Brewers against the Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who spent the first six months of his life in Toronto before moving to Tampa, Fla., allowed two runs on nine hits in the Brewers’ 6-2 victory.

“Being here in my birthplace wasn’t as important to me as proving to myself and relatives that I could do the job,” Cort told United Press International (UPI) after the game.

Cort’s father, George, flew in from Tampa and sat with Cort’s uncle and one of his cousins, who resided in the Toronto area, for the game.

“This is the happiest thing that has ever happened to me,” the proud dad told the Toronto Star as he sipped on a beer in the Brewers’ clubhouse after the game. “I must have smoked – no ate – a package of cigarettes during the game. I think I was more nervous than he was.”

It was Cort’s first big league start after three relief appearances. The 21-year-old righty was happy with the win but was critical of his performance in which he walked a batter and struck out five.

“It wasn’t really a well-pitched game because it’s been so long since I threw a full nine innings,” Cort told UPI.

But to start a game in the big leagues was a dream come true for Cort.

Born in Toronto on April 15, 1956, he moved with his family to the Sunshine State just six months later. By his junior year at King High School in Tampa, he was the ace of the staff and was attracting the attention of big league scouts.

The Brewers would select him in the fourth round of the 1974 MLB draft. He signed and enjoyed success at each minor league level during his rise through the Brewers’ minor league ranks. On the heels of his outstanding 1976 campaign that saw him go 14-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) with the double-A Berkshire Brewers, Cort cracked the big league roster to start the 1977 season.

Prior to his first major league start, he had allowed three earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in three relief appearances.

To earn his win, Cort got offensive help from Brewers second baseman Don Money who homered in the third inning. Von Joshua, Sixto Lezcano and Sal Bando also had two hits each for the Brewers. Hall of Famer Robin Yount played shortstop behind Cort.

“The cold affected me (it was 11 degrees Celsius) because I’m used to playing in the sun and so I had to move the arm a lot and put heat on it,” Cort told UPI.

Overall, the game was a confidence boost for Cort.

“I’ve always had confidence I can go out and win and I always will have,” Cort told the Toronto Star. “I would have liked to finish stronger, but I haven’t gone nine innings since last year. I’ll get stronger as the season goes along.”

For his part, Brewers manager Alex Grammas was impressed by Cort. He told UPI that the young right-hander was “a bear down kind of kid with lots of determination and courage.”

For an encore, Cort had another strong start 11 days later against the Detroit Tigers. In that contest, he permitted just two runs in 7 1/3 innings but was saddled with a tough-luck loss.

Four days after that, he started against the Blue Jays again, this time at County Stadium, but things didn’t go as well. He was lifted after allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in two innings.

Cort would make just one more relief appearance with the Brewers on June 14 before he was sent down to triple-A Spokane.

Cort told Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell for his Great Canadian Baseball Stories series in August 2016 that even in 1977, he was pitching with a shoulder injury.

He tried to rehab the injury and pitch through it over the next three seasons in the high minors, but he never returned to the big leagues. He retired after appearing in three games for the Oakland A’s double-A affiliate in West Haven in 1981.

After hanging up his professional playing spikes, Cort followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as a commercial painter.

In 2016, when Campbell caught up with Cort, the former big leaguer was living on a golf course north of Tampa.

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