CBN founder honoured by Baseball Canada
*Bob Elliott honoured at the 10th annual Team Caanada banquet.
By Kevin Glew
When Baseball Canada president Ray Carter presented Bob Elliott with a Team Canada jacket in a ceremony at the national teams awards banquet on Saturday night, he summed up how most of the close to 200 people in attendance feel about the soon-to-be Hall of Fame scribe.
“Bob’s been on our team for so long that we wanted to present him with a uniform,” said Carter.
The beloved reporter and passionate Canadian baseball ambassador, who will be honoured with the Baseball Writers of America Association’s prestigious J.G. Taylor Spink Award in July, was touched by the gesture and the standing ovation that accompanied it.
After the Toronto Sun columnist and Canadian Baseball Network founder accepted the jacket, emcee Jerry Howarth asked him to name the most memorable game that he has covered. And true to his passion for his country and Canadian players, Elliott – who has been in the press box for World Series, no-hitters and 34 consecutive Opening Days – cited Canada’s 8-6 triumph over the U.S. at Chase Field in the inaugural World Baseball Classic on March 8, 2006.
A staple at this yearly event, Elliott is used to writing the story, not being the story. And though he’s appreciative of his upcoming Cooperstown honour and thankful for the congratulatory messages and handshakes, all of the attention heaped on him over the past six weeks has made him a little uncomfortable.
The well wishes continued on Saturday night with a steady stream of fans, friends and associates stopping by his table to congratulate him on becoming the first Canadian recipient of the Hall’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The diamond shrine presents this honour annually to a reporter who has made meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Elliott will receive the award as part of the Hall’s induction weekend on July 22.
“I’m very happy for him,” said longtime friend Remo Cardinale, who coached the Mississauga North Tigers with Elliott for four years. “It’s a well-deserved honour. He’s done a lot for Canadian baseball. He’s done a wonderful job of providing exposure for Canadian talent.”
When the announcement was made that Elliott had won the award on December 6 at baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas, former Jays general manager Pat Gillick was on hand to heckle.
Along with hearty congratulations from his colleagues, Elliott received close to 500 e-mails, 78 text messages and countless phone messages, including calls from Fergie Jenkins, Roberto Alomar and Joey Votto. Word of his accolade also inspired 129 comments on his Facebook page and roughly 500 more people to follow him on Twitter. He also participated in seven TV interviews, four radio interviews and the Sun featured a 10-page tribute the following day.
“I’ve saved all the emails in a master file so my kids can show their grandkids,” said Elliott, who has lived in Mississauga since 1987. His wife Claire and he have two children, Alicia, 33, and Bob, Jr. 30. “I printed it the other night and there are 41 1/2 pages of congratulations. People from every province and from Oregon to Florida to California.”
At Saturday’s Baseball Canada fundraiser, people approached Elliott and asked to have their picture taken with him and the Cooperstown-bound author has also started receiving autograph requests through the mail.
“Who the heck would want my autograph?” asked Elliott. “But they’re collectors. I’m paying the postage and asking them to make a donation to the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation run by Dennis Gilbert in California or Baseball Canada.”
A few days after the award announcement, the celebration seemed to have died down a little until his friend and fellow Kingston native, Don Cherry, congratulated him on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner. With this, Elliott’s inbox filled up again.
From Kingston to Cooperstown, it’s been a remarkable career for the reporter nicknamed “Boxer” who fell in love with baseball while watching games with his dad – also named Bob – on Saturday afternoons as a youngster. A Kingston & District Sports Hall of Famer himself, he played for and coached the Queen’s University football team, was an excellent baseball player and competed in the Brier as a curler.
“My father gave me my passion for baseball,” Elliott told the banquet audience. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get his athletic genes.”
A second baseman who discovered early in his teens that he couldn’t hit the curveball, Elliott turned his attention to baseball statistics. His career in journalism began when he started compiling box scores for Kingston’s senior team and submitting them to the Kingston Whig-Standard. When he was 17, he was offered a job as a sports reporter by the paper.
His mother burst into tears when he asked if he could accept the position. She wanted him to attend Queen’s, but Elliott pleaded with his father who eventually brought his mother on side. His dad told him he could take the job on two conditions: one, that he finished Grade 12 and two, that he wouldn’t be like one of those Boston writers who didn’t vote for Ted Williams for the American League MVP in 1941 because they didn’t like him.
After his tenure with the Whig Standard, Elliott would cover the Montreal Expos for the Ottawa Citizen from 1978 to 1987, before landing his current position with the Toronto Sun.
Now poised to receive the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a baseball scribe, Elliott continues to pen grassroots stories about Canadians.
“I’ve been hearing Bob Elliott’s name since I was 16 years old and he’s been writing about baseball players in Canada for almost as long as I can remember,” said Jeff Francis, now a 31-year-old big league veteran. “Bob is well deserving of the Cooperstown honour. He’s just a really respectful guy. He knows the game really well. He knows the Canadian game really well. He doesn’t take cheap shots like a lot of writers do. He’s fair and there’s a reason why he’s getting the (Cooperstown) honour.”
Longtime New York Mets scout, Claude Pelletier, agrees.
“I’ve known Bob as long as I’ve been scouting and I’m starting my 25th year. If anybody in Canada deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, I think he does,” said Pelletier. “He’s one sportswriter that really pushes the sport of baseball in Canada . . . He’s just tremendous when it comes to writing about baseball in Canada, and he knows a lot about it.”
Elliott was honoured with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award in June 2011. This honour is presented to a representative of the media who has made a significant contribution to the game of baseball through their life’s work.
The highly respected scribe has also been one of biggest supporters of our country’s national teams. Surrounded by players, scouts, managers, executives, colleagues and readers at Saturday’s banquet, Elliott sat in a room full of friends.
“It’s critically important for our program to have someone like Bob Elliott,” said Greg Hamilton, director and head coach of the national teams. “Not only does Bob support it, he sincerely cares about it. There’s a difference to me in covering something and being passionate about something. And with Bob covering it, he’s passionate about it. And all of us in baseball in this country are fortunate for that because he cares about the game at the grassroots level. And to him, it’s more than just a story, it’s his passion.”
Jason Dickson, former big league all-star and vice-president of Baseball Canada agrees.
“We’ve worked really hard to put a lot of good Canadian players out there and develop them. . . I think where Bob comes in is him covering them and their development and raising the profile of the programs that we have in Baseball Canada and the players that are in it,” said Dickson. “It benefits everybody – in the sense of players getting drafted and drafted higher, finding good schools, raising the profile of the good coaches we have in Canada. From a Baseball Canada standpoint, he talks about all of the good things that we do and he just kind of sheds some light on all of the hard work and the good people that we have here in Canada that work on baseball.”
So when Elliott shares a stage with Barry Larkin and legends like Hank Aaron, Paul Molitor and Willie Mays in Cooperstown this July, there’s little doubt that he’ll trumpet the triumphs of the Canadian national teams in 2011. And though he’s about to be immortalized with the highest honour a baseball writer can receive, you get the feeling that this legendary reporter is most comfortable at events like this Baseball Canada banquet, even if that now involves shaking more hands and signing autographs.