By Mike Koreen
ST. MARYS - Leave it to the “cutest five-year-old in New Brunswick” to sum up Bob Elliott’s feelings on Hall of Fame weekend in this picturesque town.
Elliott’s son, Bob, his wife Sarah and their son, young Xavier (who also won the cutest four-year-old award in New Brunswick last year, the older Bob noted), made the trip from Moncton to get a sneak peak at the Sun man’s plaque in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame about Friday night, 15 hours before Saturday’s induction ceremony.
“He looks at it and he goes ‘Gam-PEE, what is that, what are you doing in here?” Elliott, the baseball columnist, said. “I went ‘I don’t know.’ “
But as much as the proud Kingston native tried to play up the “one of these things is not like the other” storyline, his fellow members of the impressive 2015 class were having none of it.
At a news conference prior to the ceremony, Corey Koskie needed one sentence to explain why Elliott was sharing the stage with the Manitoba- born infielder, former Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado, longtime Montreal Expos manager Felipe Alou and the big-hitting Matt Stairs.
“To me,” Koskie said, “(Elliott) is an icon of Canadian baseball.”
Indeed, just look at Elliott’s timeline the past six years--he’s gone into the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians Hall of Fame, the Kingston Sports Hall of Fame and the Okotoks Dawgs/Seaman Stadium Hall of Fame; received the Canadian Baseball Hall’s Jack Graney Award for media members and, of course, became the first Canadian to receive the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2012 in Cooperstown.
But far more telling than any award is what those in the baseball industry say about Elliott, who isn’t one to try to shout others down on assignment, on Twitter or on the phone with the office. In fact, there often are prolonged periods of silence when you converse with him.
“My (first) impression of him was he was very shy,” Alou said. “I thought he was so shy that I kind of feared he was an imposter. It didn’t take me long to find out he was knowledgeable and respectful-- and he never changed. He was very fair, still is.
“He was not looking for crap,” Alou continued. “I’m glad to see him inducted because it tells me that you don’t really have to be looking for crap to be inducted. I believe you can be good at everything being fair -- as a manager, player, writer or a broadcaster.”
Added Delgado in his acceptance speech: “If I sucked, he wrote I sucked. If I was doing good, he wrote I was doing good.”
That honest, straight-forward approach has won Elliott respect across the big leagues, which he started covering in 1978 with the Ottawa Citizen. But his true passion --and that’s what made Saturday so significant for Elliott-- is Canadian baseball.
As his longtime friend Don Campbell (formerly of the Ottawa Citizen) pointed out this week, Elliott’s favourite three days of the year are the major-league draft--now moreso than ever because of the increasing Canadian content. This year, 30 Canadians were drafted--and every one of them gets ink from Elliott.
“I have a friend from Denver ask me ‘what is this (day) for, why are you being honoured’ and that’s a reasonable question,” Elliott said in his speech at the jam-packed, large outdoor tent, drawing plenty of laughter.
“But I don’t think it’s for my lead on (the story from) Game 103 in Cleveland in 1990.”
This award was all about not only Elliott’s unwavering commitment to focusing on the Canadian game and the recognition he’s earned in this country and around the sport’s landscape.
Baseball, of course, is the ultimate numbers game-- and Elliott correctly stated that the four other 2015 hall of famers combined for 1,068 career big-league home runs and 3,769 RBIs. Elliott’s key numbers as a player? Seventeen and 19--the amount of steps back to the third-and first-base dugouts, respectively, after striking out as a bantam in his Kingscourt league in Kingston.
Good for a chuckle, sure, but entirely meaningless in the big picture --stats just aren’t everything, even at the ballpark.
“Everywhere I go, they know him,” Alou said. “He not only knows about the big leagues, he knows about the minor leagues, he knows about winter ball, he knows about the draft and Puerto Rico ... I don’t know where he finds the time or how much space he has in his brain to keep all of this information that has taken place over the last 30 years.”
With trademark Diet Coke in hand, Elliott walked up to the stage, where the greatest Canadian ballplayer of them all, Ferguson Jenkins, presented him with his hall of fame jacket.
One day, Xavier and his brother or sister (Bob’s son and Sarah are expecting in August) will see that photo and gain a greater understanding of just how important their grandfather is on the Canadian baseball scene.
“He’s very wise,” Alou said. “He had an approach to find out (information) without hurting anybody or compromising anybody. He’s very special.”