By David Matchett
Russell Martin is having an All Star season and has become one of the leaders of the Jays. And now he is about to become one of the leaders in the history of Canadians in the major leagues.
Martin surpassed the Canadian record of games caught with his 1,195th game caught passing George (Moon) Gibson Tuesday night in Oakland as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Oakland A's 7-1 . Gibson was born in London, Ontario and was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ regular catcher from 1906 through 1915 before finishing his career as a player-coach with the New York Giants. Gibson also had two stints as the Pirates’ manager plus a month at the helm of the Cubs and he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987:
Gibson’s record has stood for almost 100 years because of a dearth of Canadian backstops since his retirement. The early 20th century was the golden age of Canuck catchers with Larry McLean (Fredericton, NB), Nig Clarke (Amherstburg, Ont.), Yip Owens (Toronto, Ont.), Tom Daly (Saint John, NB) and Irish-born Canadian Jimmy Archer (Toronto via Dublin) all seeing regular duty. But, between 1921 and Martin’s debut in 2006, fewer than 120 big league games were caught by Canadians, with more than half of those by Jays’ broadcaster Joe Siddall (Windsor, Ont.).
Martin caught no fewer than 93 games per season between 2006 and 2014 and is on pace to be behind the plate over 120 times this year. He is already #76 on the major league leader list (making Gibson #77) and if he gets regular catching duty for the last four-plus years of his current contract he can climb into the top 20 all time.
He is the third player in the last few years to make the list of most games by position for Canadians. Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) passed 19th century player Bill Phillips (Saint John, NB) at first base and Jason Bay (Trail, BC) passed Phillips’ contemporary George Wood (Pownal, PEI) in left field, both in 2013.
This is the list of the all-time and active leaders at each position for games played by a Canadian, through July 12, 2015:
Starting Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins (594), active leader Jeff Francis (217)
Relief Pitcher: Paul Quantrill (777), active leader John Axford (372)*
Catcher: active leader Russell Martin (1,195), George Gibson (1,194),
First Base: Justin Morneau (1,307) – all-time and active leader
Second Base: Pop Smith (713), active leader Brett Lawrie (41) **
Third Base: Corey Koskie (908), active leader Brett Lawrie (416)
Shortstop: Arthur Irwin (947), active leader Brett Lawrie (1) **
Left Field: Jason Bay (1,208), active leader Michael Saunders (178)
Centre Field: Terry Puhl (342), active leader Michael Saunders (263)
Right Field: Larry Walker (1,718), active leader Michael Saunders (113)
Designated Hitter: Matt Stairs (420), Justin Morneau (135)
* Jesse Crain has pitched in relief 532 times and is currently playing in Triple-A
** Pete Orr has played 128 games at second base and 9 at shortstop and is currently playing in Triple-A