By: Kevin Glew
Bob Elliott dreams “by day” and Canadian baseball is fortunate that he does.
The legendary writer was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., on Saturday afternoon, along with ex-players Carlos Delgado, Corey Koskie (Anola, Man.) and Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.), as well as former Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou.
In his humble, humorous and heartfelt induction speech in front of more than 1,000 spectators, Elliott, who prefers the spotlight be shone on others, paraphrased a powerful T.E. Lawrence passage that he had stumbled upon last week.
“All men dream but not equally. Men who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds often do so in vanity,” said Elliott. “But dreamers who dream by day may act upon their dreams to make it happen with open eyes.”
The beloved scribe then shared what he dreams about.
“I dream of a Canadian going every year in the first round as Josh Naylor did this week [12th overall to the Miami Marlins],” said Elliott. “I dream of us getting back to 23 Canadian big leaguers – not like when I was in school when we had our national treasure Fergie Jenkins and one other.”
Elliott dreams about Canada having its own baseball league.
“Canada ranks seventh of 124 countries in the world in baseball and it’s the only country of the top 14 not to have its own league,” he said.
The veteran Toronto Sun columnist also dreams about the Canadian national team repeating as gold medallists at the Pan Am Games next month.
“And above all, I dream of the Montreal Expos returning,” he said, evoking a roar from the crowd.
What Elliott dreams about shouldn’t surprise many in the Canadian baseball community. No one has been more devoted to covering Canadian baseball than him.
Born in Kingston, Ont., in 1949, Elliott was introduced to baseball by his father, Bob, and grandfather, Chaucer, both of whom were superb athletes. Three members – Guy White, Bobby Gilmour and Ron Earl – that were on the 1967 OBA champion Senior A Kingston Ponies team managed by Elliott’s father were present at the ceremony on Saturday.
A second baseman who discovered early in his teens that he couldn’t hit the curveball, Elliott soon turned his attention to statistics and his career in journalism began when he started compiling box scores for Kingston’s senior league and submitting them to the Kingston Whig-Standard – a job that paid him $100 for the season.
“Baseball is about numbers, so here are some numbers,” Elliott told the audience on Saturday. “1,068 – that’s how many home runs were hit by this year’s inductees. 3,769 – that’s how many RBIs these inductees have. Now, here are two other numbers about me – 17 and 19. Seventeen was the number of strides to my third-base dugout in Little League after I struck out. Nineteen was the number of strides to the first-base dugout.”
But while never a prospect on the field, Elliott did impress his editor off of it. When he was 17, he was offered a job as a sports reporter by the Whig-Standard. His mother burst into tears when he asked if he could accept the position. She wanted him to attend Queen’s University, 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.
But it wasn’t until 12 years later, when he was writing for the Ottawa Citizen, that Elliott would receive his first major league assignment – the Montreal Expos’ 1978 home opener. The hard-working scribe quickly became a top reporter and news breaker and a regular in the Expos press box until he joined the Toronto Sun as the Blue Jays beat writer in 1987. During his speech, Elliott thanked Wayne Parrish, his first editor at the Toronto Sun, who was present at the ceremony.
On the big league beat, Elliott has performed his job with passion, honesty and integrity; this has garnered him widespread respect from his colleagues and the players he has covered.
“To me Bob is an icon of Canadian baseball,” said Koskie, at the press conference prior to the induction ceremony. “Of all the writers I’ve been around, he knows the most about the game ... The one thing that I could always trust with Bob was when you told him something, he was going to be fair. He wasn’t going to change the context of the quote to make his story better.”
Stairs had similar experiences with Elliott during his playing career.
“Bob and I have known each other since probably 1984,” said Stairs. “We’ve known each other for a long, long time going back to my time with Baseball Canada. And I agree with Corey ... Bob was one guy that I always wanted to talk to. I looked forward to seeing him in spring training and during the season.”
Though he’s broken numerous stories about the Blue Jays and Expos, Elliott is best known in the Canadian baseball fraternity for shining the spotlight on homegrown talent. He is the founder of the Canadian Baseball Network website (www.canadianbaseballnetwork.com) which tracks the top Canadian draft candidates, college players and minor league players.
“People have asked me what I’m most proud of in my career?” said Elliott. “I tell them I’m proudest of the fact that when I started were not a lot of people that were writing about Canadian baseball and that has changed.”
In his close to five decades in journalism, Elliott, now the Toronto Sun’s baseball columnist, has also penned three books, including the bestseller Hard Ball about George Bell in 1990, The Ultimate Blue Jays Trivia Book in 1993 and The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way in 2005.
In 2010, Elliott was honoured with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award and he was the first Canadian recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2012. He has also been inducted into the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians Hall of Fame (2009), the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame (2013) and the Okotoks Dawgs/Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame (2014).
“I’m also in the typo Hall of Fame,” joked Elliott on Saturday. “You can ask the copy editors. I went in years ago.”
For a man who doesn’t like giving speeches, Elliott was poised, eloquent and sincere from the podium on Saturday. The audience was charmed by his self-deprecation and modesty and moved by the gratitude he expressed towards scouts such as the late Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Ridley, Walt Jefferies and Whitey Lockman, men who not only enhanced his stories, but taught him about the sport.
Elliott choked up when acknowledging Montreal Expos architect, Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer and friend, Jim Fanning, who passed away on April 25 at the age of 87. Fanning was eulogized beautifully by Scott Crawford, the Hall’s director of operations, and his son, Frank, at the ceremony. Fanning’s wife Marie and daughter Cynthia were also present.
Elliott also thanked Fanning’s co-Expos architect the late John McHale and longtime friend Remo Cardinale and expressed his love for his family. His wife, Claire, daughter Alicia and her fiancee James, son Bob and wife Sarah and his five-year-old grandson Xavier were in attendance, as was his sister, Elizabeth.
“My wife Claire is the reason the kids turned out so well,” said Elliott. “She actually looked after three kids Alicia, Bob and myself.”