Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Canada's All-Time Baseball Team

Okay, there are lots of people in Quebec who would still prefer a returned Expos. And there may be a few people in Western Ontario, near Windsor, who prefer the Detroit Tigers. And there may be a few people in Manitoba who like the Minnesota Twins. And there may be a few people in Saskatchewan and Alberta who prefer the Colorado Rockies. And there's probably a lot of people in and around Vancouver who like the Seattle Mariners.

But I'm putting the entire Dominion of Canada into the Toronto Blue Jays' "market," thus putting Canada at 17th in the MLB rankings.

17. Canada's All-Time Baseball Team

Although the Jays have only had that one good period, 1985 to 1993, their predecessors, the Triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom the legendary hockey team was named, won Pennants in 1897, 1902, 1912, 1917, 1918, 1926, 1934, 1960, 1965 and 1966, the last 2 of these helping to produce some of the Boston Red Sox players who won the 1967 “Impossible Dream” Pennant.

And while the Expos only reached the postseason once, as second-half National League Eastern Division Champions in 1981, and had the best record in baseball when the Strike of ’94 hit, their predecessors, the Triple-A Montreal Royals, won Pennants in 1898, 1935, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1955 and 1958, all but the first 2 as the top farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Can an all-time All-Hoser Team measure up to that? Possibly: Canada has 34 million people, and 243 natives have reached the major leagues.

1B Justin Morneau of New Westminster, British Columbia. He's one of those guys about him you can now say, "It's funny how these winning teams keep following him around." He spent 10 seasons with the Twins, and they made the postseason in 6 of them. Last year, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and they reached the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

He was named American League Most Valuable Player in 2006 and nearly again in 2008. He's a 4-time All-Star with a career OPS+ of 121, 221 home runs, and 4 100+ RBI seasons. He turns 33 in May, so he should remain productive for the time being. (In fact, he was born on a good day for baseball: May 15, 1981 was the day of Len Barker's perfect game.)

Honorable Mention to Joey Votto of Toronto. It seems silly to not have him as the starter, since he's one of the top 5 players in the game right now. He's got just as many MVPs (NL 2010) and All-Star berths as Morneau, a Gold Glove (which Morneau doesn't yet have), a higher career OPS+ (155), and is hitting home runs at a better rate (157 in just 6 full seasons). And he has helped the Cincinnati Reds reach 3 of the last 4 postseasons. But these teams I'm making are weighted toward career achievement. If the Reds win a Pennant before Votto surpasses Morneau in terms of career numbers (if he does, as now seems likely), then I'll reassess.

2B Sherry Robertson of Montreal, Quebec. It was said that the only reason the Washington Senators kept him around as a coach was because he was the adopted son of owner Clark Griffith -- and thus the adoptive brother of the next owner, Calvin Griffith. There was even a rumor that the Twins, whom the "old Senators" became in 1961, had retired his uniform Number 47 (which he never wore as a player, and the rumor was shattered by Jack Morris in the Twins' 1991 World Championship season.)

But Robertson wasn't a terrible player. In 1949, he hit 11 home runs and had 42 RBIs, despite playing only 110 games, and his home games in Griffith Stadium, which had distant fences and was terrible for hitters. And second base is a very weak position for Canada.

SS Arthur Irwin of Toronto, Ontario. Pickings were slim at shortstop as well, and I had to go back to the 1880s to find this guy, but he was a productive hitter for a time and a good baserunner. He played on 2 Pennant winners, the 1884 National League Champion Providence Grays (best known for pitcher Charlie "Old Hoss" Radbourn) and the only Players' League Champions, the 1890 Boston Red Stockings.

3B Corey Koskie of Outbank, Manitoba. In 2001, his 26 homers and 103 RBIs were one of the things that boosted Twins attendance, and may have helped them avoid being contracted. He later helped the Twins win the 2003 and '04 AL Central Division titles.

LF Jason Bay of Trail, British Columbia. It's easy to laugh now, but he was once one of the best players in the game. A 3-time All-Star, he was NL Rookie of the Year with the 2004 Pirates, and has 222 home runs, 4 100-RBI seasons, and a 121 OPS+. And he did help the Red Sox reach the 2008 and '09 postseasons, before signing that embarrassing contract with the Mets. He is currently a free agent after being released by the Mariners after the first half of last season, and at age 35 1/2, this Canada goose may be cooked.

Honorable Mention to James "Tip" O'Neill of Woodstock, Ontario. The "Woodstock Wonder" was the first great Canadian-born baseball player, and as a result the annual award for the country's best baseball player is named for him. A career .326 hitter with an OPS+ of 144, he had 3 100-RBI seasons in a pitcher's era. He was an original New York Giant in 1883, but made his mark with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, the team that would become not the AL's Browns, but the NL's Cardinals, winning 4 straight Pennants, 1885-88. In 1887, he led the AA in batting (.435), runs, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, home runs and RBIs -- possibly the best hitting year that 10-year league ever had.

If he could have done anything close to his 19th Century career numbers within a 20th Century framework, he could have been a Hall-of-Famer. As it is, Baseball-Reference.com has him at 112 on their HOF Monitor, where 100 means you should be in; while they have him at 33 on their HOF Standards, where 50 means you should be in. How he would have fared in the era of international, multiracial opposition, night games and coast-to-coast travel is a mystery, but, clearly, he had talent. (He also started the tradition of men named O'Neill with 2 L's being nicknamed "Tip," as with the legendary Boston Congressman Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.)

On my original team, my left fielder was Jeff Heath a very good hitter who made 2 All-Star teams, had 2 100-RBI seasons, and 5 times received votes in the MVP balloting. Twice while playing for the Cleveland Indians, he led the AL in triples, in 1938 and 1941. But while he was born in Fort William, Ontario, he grew up in Seattle.

CF Terry Puhl of Melville, Saskatchewan. An All-Star in 1978, his first full season in the majors, he hit 13 homers and drove in 55 runs despite playing his home games in the Astrodome, helping the Houston Astros reach their first postseason. A .282 career hitter, with a 112 OPS+, he also stole 217 bases thanks partly to his natural speed, and partly to that awful Astrodome carpet. In short, he was a natural fit for the 1980s Astros.

He actually played more right field in his 14 seasons with the Astros (plus one more, 1991, with the Kansas City Royals), but center field is another weak position for Canadians: Only 2 other men born in that country played the position much in the majors, and not for long. I considered moving 1930s Yankee All-Star George “Twinkletoes” Selkirk of Huntsville, Ontario, or more recent slugger Matt Stairs of St. John, New Brunswick over from right field, but I decided Puhl was a better choice, as he was a good defensive outfielder, I’ve never seen footage of Selkirk in the field, and Stairs has never been all that mobile. So Selkirk and Stairs will have to be backups in RF to…

RF Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He could be the greatest hitter the Great White North has ever produced, and is easily the best Canadian player to play for a Canadian team (the Expos). He has a .313 lifetime batting average, 3 batting titles (peaking at .379 in 1999, 1 of 4 times he hit .350 or higher), a 140 OPS+, 471 doubles and 383 home runs (a lot hit in the thin air of Denver, though), 5 100-RBI seasons, 5 All-Star berths, 7 Gold Gloves, and the 1997 NL MVP.

He helped the Rockies reach the postseason in 1995, only their 3rd season of play, and the Cardinals to get there in 2004 (his only World Series appearance) and '05. He is now eligible for the Hall of Fame, but hasn't come close to being elected. His B-R HOF Monitor is 148, and his HOF Standards are 58, both meaning he should obviously be in. If the voters are holding Coors Field against him, they also need to remember that he played 5 years in the Montreal Olympic Stadium, which wasn't exactly a homerdome.

C Russell Martin of Montreal, Quebec. No, he's not the Yankees' catcher anymore, but he's still one of the best defensive catchers in baseball (he's won a Gold Glove), and he's still got some power (enough to be a 3-time All-Star). And he's been to 6 of the last 8 postseasons: 2006, '08 and '09 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2011 and '12 with the Yankees, and 2013 with the Pirates. Yeah, another one of those guys that winning teams seem to follow around.

Honorable Mention to George Gibson of London, Ontario. Not much of a hitter (.236, OPS+ a mere 81, never topped 52 RBIs), but he must have been good defensively, because he stuck around the majors for 14 seasons, and was a member of 2 Pennant winners: He helped the Pirates win the 1909 World Series against Ty Cobb's Tigers, then got the Giants into the 1917 Series which they lost to the Chicago White Sox with Shoeless Joe Jackson. Gibson is also the manager of this team, almost by default. (No, De Fault is not a village in Quebec.)

SP Russ Ford of Brandon, Manitoba. The first Ford to be a great pitcher for the Yankees wasn't Whitey. He was one of the trickiest pitchers of his time, throwing a knuckleball, a spitball, and a pitch he claimed to have discovered accidentally, the "emery ball." He threw a warmup pitch that hit a post, noticed a scuff on the ball, and saw that it curved funny afterward. From that point onward, he carried an emery board with him in his back pocket, to "doctor the ball." Like the spitball, the emery ball was outlawed in 1920.

He won 48 games for the Highlanders, as the Yankees were then known, in 1910 & '11. He bolted for the Federal League in 1914, winning 21 for the Buffalo team that year and leading the FL in winning percentage and, although these 2 categories weren't known at the time, ERA+ and WHIP. But he tumbled from 21-6 to 5-9 in 1915, suggesting an injury. Despite going 16-9 for the high minors' Denver Bears in 1916, the next season was his last in pro ball, and he was done at age 34. (Although I can find no record of it, he may have missed the 1918 season, and part of 1917, due to serving in World War I, and then been so stale after the Armistice that he simply couldn't catch on anywhere.) He went 99-71 in his major league career, with an ERA+ of 124 and a WHIP of 1.154.

SP Ferguson Jenkins of Chatham, Ontario. The only Canadian thus far elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, he won 284 games, and is a member of the 3,000 Strikeout Club. He only made 3 All-Star teams, and never reached the postseason, mainly because he played for some snakebit franchises: The Phillies, the Cubs, the Rangers and the Red Sox. But he had 7 20-win seasons -- including 6 in a row. But he did have 7 20-win seasons, including 6 in a row. One of these was 1971, when he got the NL Cy Young Award.

SP Reggie Cleveland of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Okay, not the best Reggie in baseball in the 1970s -- or even the 2nd-best, that would be Reggie Smith. And he was sub-.500 for his career, 105-106. Still, he's 1 of only 4 Canadian-born pitchers to win 100 games in the majors, and he did help the Red Sox win the 1975 AL Pennant.

SP Kirk McCaskill of Kapuskasing, Ontario. His career W-L record resembles Cleveland's, 106-108. But he did last 12 seasons in the majors, and helped the California Angels get to within 1 strike of the AL Pennant in 1986, and the White Sox to within 2 games of the 1993 Pennant.

SP Ryan Dempster of Gibbons, British Columbia. He'll be 37 in May, but he's not ready to pack it in. He's a 2-time All-Star who, unlike Fergie Jenkins, has reached the postseason with the Cubs and the Red Sox -- think about that combination! In fact, he got to the postseason with the Cubs in back-to-back seasons, 2007-08, and won a ring * with last year's Red Sox. Like Cleveland and McCaskill, he's just under .500 for his career (132-133), but from 3 seasons as the Cubs' closer (including those 2 trips to the postseason), he's also got 87 saves.

I originally had Erik Bedard as one of the starters on this team, but, while born in Navan, Ontario, he grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut.

RP John Hiller of Scarborough, Ontario. In 1968, he was in the bullpen for the Tigers' World Championship team. He suffered a heart attack at age 28, and missed the entire 1971 season, and wasn't able to contribute much to their 1972 AL East title. But in 1973, he saved 38 games, a new major league record that stood for 12 years, and went 10-5. The next season, as the Tigers got old in a hurry, he only saved 13, but went 17-14, making the All-Star team. He ended up winning 87 games and saving 125 others.

Honorable Mention to Claude Raymond of St. Jean, Quebec, who bounced around the majors in the 1960s, including an All-Star berth with the 1966 Astros, before being picked up by the expansion Expos in 1969, making him the first Canadian-born player (French or otherwise) to play for a Canada-based team. In fact, the Expos' first stadium, Jarry Park, was built on the site of a sandlot where he had played as a boy.

Raymond later became the Expos' French voice on radio from 1972 until their "death" in 2004. This did not, however, make him the first Canadian-born broadcaster in the majors. Jack Graney of St. Thomas, Ontario was the first former player -- a left fielder with the Indians from 1908 to 1922, including their 1920 World Championship -- to become a broadcaster, also for the Indians.

Also available for the Canadian bullpen is Rheal Cormier of Moncton, New Brunswick, who pitched 16 years in the majors, and actually won more games as a reliever (40) than he did as a starter (31).

Now, you might be asking about Eric Gagne of Montreal. No. He cheated, and he got caught. As such, he was much closer to Sammy Sosa, who never would have amounted to much if he hadn't cheated, than to Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez, who didn’t need to cheat but did anyway.

*

Best players from each Province, going West to East:

British Columbia: Larry Walker of Maple Ridge.

Alberta: Mike Johnson of Edmonton, a pitcher who spent 5 years straddling the new millennium with the Expos.

Saskatchewan: Terry Puhl of Melville.

Manitoba: Russ Ford of Brandon.

Ontario: Fergie Jenkins of Chatham.

Quebec: Russell Martin of Montreal.

New Brunswick: Matt Stairs of Fredericton.

Nova Scotia: Charles “Pop” Smith of Digby, an infielder who played for several teams, mostly the Pirates, from 1880 to 1891.

Prince Edward Island: Vern Handrahan of Charlottetown, a pitcher for the 1964-1966 Kansas City Athletics, is easily the best of the 3 from PEI to make it to the majors.

No player born in Newfoundland and Labrador, or in any of Canada’s Territories (Yukon, Northwest, Nunavut), has ever reached the major leagues.

*

In case you're a hockey fan (and if you're not, what the hell is wrong with you?), here are my picks for the best hockey players from each of the Provinces and Territories:

Nunavut: As yet, no player from there has reached the NHL.

Yukon: Peter Sturgeon of Whitehorse, 6 games with the 1980 and '81 Colorado Rockies, not the Denver baseball team but the hockey team that, in 1982, became the New Jersey Devils. Byron Baltimore is the only other Yukon native to reach the NHL, and while neither scored a goal, Sturgeon, at least, got an assist.

Northwest: Geoff Sanderson of Hay River, easily the best of the 5 NT players who've made it, scoring 355 goals for several teams, playing the longest for the Hartford Whalers.

British Columbia: Joe Sakic of Burnaby. Steve Yzerman was born in Cranbrook, but grew up in Ottawa, Ontario.

Alberta: Mark Messier of Edmonton. And remember: He's not only the Hair Club Team Captain, he's also a client!

Saskatchewan: Gordie Howe of Floral.

Manitoba: Bobby Clarke of Flin Flon.

Ontario: Bobby Orr of Parry Sound. Yes, ahead of Wayne Gretzky of Brantford -- and I place Howe ahead of both of them.

Quebec: Maurice Richard of Montreal.

New Brunswick: Don Sweeney of St. Stephen, an All-Star defenseman with the Boston Bruins in the 1990s.

Nova Scotia: Al MacInnis of Port Hood.

Prince Edward Island: Gerard Gallant of Summerside, who scored 211 goals, mostly for the Detroit Red Wings, including 4 30-goal seasons.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Keith Brown of Corner Brook, a defenseman who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win several Division titles.

5 comments:

amari said...

Mr. Uncle, in case you want to reconsider your ranking of the pitchers -- Erik Bedard is not only Canadian-born (Ottawa), but also raised (Navan). He did attend college in Norwalk, CT, but only that. He still lives in the Ottawa area.

amari said...
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Uncle Mike said...

Sorry, but according to Baseball-Reference.com, Bedard went to Norwalk High School. So did Basketball Hall-of-Famer Calvin Murphy.

amari said...

I figured that is where you saw that. I don't know about Mr. Murphy, but Baseball-Ref is wrong about Bedard. He went to Norwalk College, not high school. Here and here are stories about it. He went to Garneau High School in Orleans. I'll search for that story later if you aren't convinced. :-)

Philippa Masini said...
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