In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, we asked veteran baseball historian, statistician and author Neil Munro to select the top Canadian players of all-time. The venerable North Bay, Ont., resident, who has served as a research consultant with STATS Inc. and is the former chair of SABR’s Records Committee, came up with what he would consider to be Canada’s all-time 25-man roster.
But because he thought there were so many Canadians worthy of recognition, Munro, being the tireless baseball researcher that he is, also created a second all-star team, as well as list of 100 more noteworthy Canuck players. In all, he highlights 150 Canadian baseball players to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday.
At the end of his article, he also answers the question of whom he considers to be the greatest Canadian baseball player of all-time.
Whether you agree or disagree with his lists (and that’s what makes these lists fun), you can’t help but admire Munro’s exhaustive knowledge and the tremendous passion he has for following the careers of Canadian baseball players.
Happy Canada Day to you!
Canada’s All-Time 25-Man Roster (First All-Star Team)
By Neil Munro
Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ontario)
The only member of the American and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fames, Jenkins won 284 games in his stellar career, winning 20 or more six times in a row with the Cubs and then adding a seventh 20-win season by posting a career best 25-12 record in 1974 with the Texas Rangers. Jenkins won the National League Cy Young Award in 1971, emblematic of the league’s best pitcher. He won 24 games and completed 30 of his 39 starts that year. He also struck out 263 batters while giving up just 37 walks in 325 innings pitched. Jenkins pitched more than 300 innings in five different seasons and struck out more than 200 batters on six different occasions. Jenkins finished his 19-year career in 1983 with 3,192 strikeouts, the sixth best total ever recorded up to that time. Today, he still ranks 12th in career strikeouts. Jenkins career pitching totals dwarf all other Canadian pitchers in virtually every important statistical category. He started 594 games, completing 267 of those starts. While striking out 3,192 batters, he surrendered just 997 walks. His 4,501 innings pitched is just about double the amount hurled by runner-up Ryan Dempster (he had 2,387 IP). Jenkins hurled 49 complete game shutouts in his career and finished with an impressive ERA of 3.34 (particularly so in light of the fact that he usually pitched in hitters’ ball parks). Fergie is our unanimous choice for being the Opening Day starter for this Canadian squad of all-star ball players.
Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, British Columbia)
Dempster won 132 games in his 16-year major league career, being named to the mid-season All-Star game twice while appearing in postseason play three times, including pitching in the 2013 World Series. His career wins, innings pitched (2,387), strikeouts (2,075) and games started (351) are second among all Canadians (behind only Jenkins). His best year was 2008 when he had a record of 17 and 6 with the Cubs and was named to the NL All-Star team. Ryan started that 2008 campaign a perfect 10 and 0 in the win-loss column. As a batter, he even led all major league players by recording 19 sacrifice bunts that year. Dempster actually worked as a relief ace for the Cubs for four seasons (from 2004 to 2007) and recorded 87 saves during this stint. This save total still stands as the fourth highest figure among all Canadian pitchers.
Russ Ford (Brandon, Manitoba)
Ford won 20 or more games three times in his career including his fabulous rookie campaign in 1910 when he posted a record of 26 wins against 6 losses with 8 shutouts, while fashioning an ERA of 1.65 (with the AL New York team known as the Highlanders in those years). In his rookie year, he became just the third pitcher in history ever to record 20 wins and strike out 200 batters (Ford fanned 209 hitters in 300 innings of work). The other two to have accomplished that feat are Christy Mathewson and Grover Alexander, two of the very best pitchers ever to play the game. Ford is best known as the inventor of the "emery ball," a pitch that was thrown with a baseball that was scuffed with a piece of emery cloth. Ford discovered this pitch by accident while playing in the minor leagues. One day when it was raining, he was warming up under the grandstands to keep from getting wet. He accidentally threw a ball into the wooden boards, scuffing its surface. After he threw another pitch with this damaged ball, he noticed how it would curve much more than his previous pitches with the shiny ball. Ford relied heavily on this pitch for the rest of his career (although he was also a master of the knuckleball). He finished his seven-year stint in the majors with 99 victories and a career ERA of just 2.59, the lowest figure ever logged by a Canadian.
Kirk McCaskill (Kapuskasing, Ontario)
McCaskill lasted a dozen seasons in the major leagues, winning 106 times. He posted a record of 17 wins against 10 losses with the California Angels in 1986 (striking out 202 batters). He won 15 games with the Angels in 1989, tossing four shutouts and posting an ERA of 2.93. In total, he had 242 big league starts among his 380 major league appearances. His other career stat line shows 1,729 innings pitched, 1,003 strikeouts and 11 shutouts. McCaskill was actually a star performer in two professional sports. He played pro hockey for the Sherbrooke Jets of the American Hockey League, a farm team for the original Winnipeg Jets. The Jets drafted him in the fourth round, 64th overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. Although he never made it to the NHL, his baseball career was certainly good enough to qualify him for a spot among the starting pitchers of this mythological team.
Reggie Cleveland (Swift Current, Saskatchewan)
The fourth (and to date, the final) Canadian hurler to have posted more than 100 career victories, Cleveland wrapped up his 13-year career with 105 wins in 203 starts. He often appeared in relief appearances as well, notching a total of 428 games pitched with 25 saves. Cleveland won 10 or more games eight times in his career, including seven straight seasons between 1971 and 1976. He pitched more than 200 innings four straight years (from 1971 to 1974) and had his best season with St. Louis in 1973. That year he won 14 games and lost 10, while posting an ERA of 3.01. He wound up his career with 12 shutouts (third best among all Canadians) and 930 strikeouts in his 1,809 innings pitched. He pitched in three games in the 1975 World Series (in a losing cause with Boston against the Big Red Machine).
John Hiller (Toronto, Ontario)
Probably Canada’s greatest relief ace, Hiller may also be its top comeback performer, recovering from a mid-career heart attack to post his greatest years. Hiller suffered the attack on January 11, 1971 and then required a lengthy recovery period missing the entire 1971 season. He was invited to the Tigers’ 1972 spring training, but was left off the roster and designated as a coach when the year began, starting the season only as a batting practice pitcher. He did return to active duty as a pitcher in July of that year, and went on to record a 2.03 ERA in 24 games with 3 saves. His only win of 1972 came at just the right time when he started a game and beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-1 in the last weekend of the year as his Tigers clinched the AL East title. Hiller pitched in an era where the definition of a save was considerably more stringent than the one used today, but he still managed to rack up 125 career saves in 545 games over a 15-year career. In 1973, he set the major league record with 37 saves. His record stood for another 10 years before it was broken. Hiller’s ERA that season was a scant 1.44, one of his eight seasons with an ERA of under 3 runs per game. As indicated, it was more difficult to qualify for a save when Hiller pitched, so his seemingly modest career total of 125 saves was actually the fourth best in American League history when he retired in 1980.
Éric Gagné (Mascouche, Quebec)
A strong contender for being Canada’s very best relief ace, Gagné is the only other Canadian besides Jenkins to win a Cy Young Award (turning the trick in 2003 with the Dodgers when he saved 55 games in 55 opportunities while posting a microscopic ERA of 1.20). While closing out game after game with the Dodgers, Gagné saved 152 games in 158 save situations between 2002 and 2004. Then Gagné played just sparingly in 2005 and 2006 due to injury, undergoing elbow surgery in 2005 and back surgery in 2006. When the Dodgers did not re-sign him after 2006, he moved on to start the 2007 season with the Texas Rangers. He was picked up by the Boston Red Sox before the trade deadline and did make a World Series appearance with the Red Sox against Colorado that year. When at his best with the Dodgers, Gagné set a major league record for relief pitchers that still stands today. He recorded a stretch of 84 consecutive relief appearances in save situations without having a single blown save. In his 10 big league seasons, he saved a total of 187 games, the top figure for any Canadian.
Paul Quantrill (Port Hope, Ontario)
Another relief ace, including working highly successful seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, Quantrill appeared in 841 games in the majors, the best figure of any Canadian hurler. He posted 21 saves in his career but was better recognized as a set-up man, earning numerous “holds” before his team’s closer appeared in the ninth inning to record the save. He led the league in holds twice during his career, having 27 in 1998 with the Jays and 32 in 2002 with the Dodgers. Quantrill led his league in pitching appearances four straight seasons from 2001 to 2004. Originally a starter with modest success, he blossomed as a bullpen specialist for most of his 14-year career in the majors. Quantrill pitched in 80 or more games in five different seasons, and the word around the league was that he must have a “rubber arm.” His teams just made it to postseason play once in his career (with the Yankees in 2004), but he did manage to record a victory against Minnesota in the American League Division Series that year.
John Axford (Port Dover, Ontario)
Still active in the major leagues (currently with the Oakland A’s) Axford was the best relief pitcher in the NL while with Milwaukee in the 2011 season. He led the league in saves that year (with 46 in 48 save opportunities) and was named the “Fireman of the Year,” emblematic of being the league’s top relief pitcher. He also struck out 86 batters in 74 innings and recorded an ERA of 1.95. Axford currently has 144 career saves, second among all Canadians. As of this writing, he has struck out 528 batters in just 463 2/3 innings of work. Axford has made 12 pitching appearances in postseason play (the most of any Canadian pitcher) and has recorded three saves in the playoffs. His lone World Series appearance came in 2013 with the St. Louis Cardinals (in a losing effort against the Red Sox).
Ron Taylor (Toronto, Ontario)
Doctor Ron Taylor was a top relief pitcher for 11 big league seasons, making significant contributions to two different World Series championship teams (the Cardinals in 1964 and the Miracle Mets in 1969). He finished his career with 74 saves in 491 pitching appearances in exactly 800 innings of work. His best season was probably in 1969 with the Mets, when we won nine times against 4 losses in relief. He posted 13 saves that year and had an ERA of 2.72. That was one of four occasions when his ERA was below 3.00 per game. As indicated earlier, he became a physician after his career in baseball ended, and then went on to serve as the team doctor for the Blue Jays where he is listed as the team Physician Emeritus to this very day. However it was his skill as a relief specialist that earns Taylor a spot on this team.
Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.)
Still active with the Blue Jays, Martin should rate among the top 10 or 15 catchers of all-time in several batting and fielding categories when he finally hangs up his spikes. He currently has hit 169 HR and 705 RBI in almost 1,500 career games and 6,000 at bats. One of the very few catchers to possess both power and speed, his next stolen base will be the 100th of his career. Six times in his career, Russell has thrown out more would-be base stealers than any other catcher in his league. His career total of runners gunned down leads all active catchers in this fielding category as well. With a Gold Glove (2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers) and four All-Star game selections to his credit, Russell’s greatest accomplishment may be the fact that his teams seem to always find a way to qualify for postseason play (nine times out of his 12 big league seasons). His 57 career games played in the postseason is easily the highest total ever achieved among all Canadians.
Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ontario)
The most spirited competition for a spot in the starting line-up on this team is certainly at first base. Votto gets the nod here (by a slim margin) over Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.) because his batting and slugging percentages are more impressive (Votto currently ranks 13th among all major league batters in history in on-base average). Votto has slugged 241 HR to go along with 809 runs scored and 783 RBI to date as well. His lifetime batting average sits at an impressive .312 at this point in his career. While Morneau has more career homers and RBI, his stellar career is either winding down or over. Votto (with his own Gold Glove at first base in 2011) should surpass almost all of Larry Walker’s career batting records for Canadians before he retires. Votto has been selected to participate in four All-Star games and was named the NL Most Valuable Player in 2010 when he hit 37 HR, 113 RBI and batted .324. He has led the National League in on-base percentage five times and in bases on balls four times. Votto consistently gets on base more often than any other active ball player.
Charles ‘Pop’ Smith (Digby, Nova Scotia)
Most casual baseball fans will not be familiar with our top Canadian middle infielders. Pop Smith’s 12-year career lasted from 1880 to 1891. Over that span he appeared in 1,112 major league games and had nearly 1,000 base hits in over 4,000 at bats. He also had 169 career stolen bases but this statistical category was only officially logged for approximately half of his playing days (initially recorded as a baseball statistic in 1886). Smith had good power for a second sacker and was noted for his speed in the field and on the base paths. He was considered to be a reliable infielder with the glove who possessed a strong and accurate throwing arm. Smith was also adept at getting on base via a walk or being plunked by a pitch. On April 17, 1890, he reached base six times in six official trips to the plate without having registered an at bat (he got five walks and was hit by a pitch.) This was the first time that a player accomplished that “feat.”
Arthur "Doc" Irwin (Toronto, Ontario)
Arthur Irwin (called Doc, Sandy, Cutrate or Foxy - take your pick from among his nicknames) was a gifted shortstop over an 11-year major league career. His career average was just .241 in 1,010 major league games but he was most renowned for his skill in the field. Interestingly enough, Irwin is best remembered today as the man who “invented” the use of a glove for playing in the field. While playing with the Providence Grays in 1883, Irwin broke two fingers on his left hand. He then used an oversized buckskin driving glove with a stuffed lining to shield the injury so that he wouldn’t miss any games. He then sewed the third and fourth fingers together in this padded glove to allow space for the bandages on his fingers. After his fingers healed, he continued to use the glove while patrolling the infield. A few other star players started to use a similar glove in 1883 and by the following year, almost every ball player was using the “Irwin” glove.
Corey Koskie (Anola, Manitoba)
Koskie is just one of several players on this Canadian club that had his career cut short by serious injuries. Koskie did play in 989 games and collect 124 home runs and 506 RBI in nine big leagues seasons, but he might have doubled his career batting statistical totals. He was considered to be one of the more athletic third basemen in the game and possessed both power and speed. His best year was 2001 with the Twins when he scored 100 runs, slugged 26 homers, batted in 103 runs and stole 27 bases. He finished with a career batting average of .275, having twice hit .300 or better. He signed with the Blue Jays in 2005 but lost a great deal of playing time because of a variety of injuries. The final blow came in the 2006 season when he suffered a career-ending concussion (playing with the Brewers at the time).
Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, British Columbia)
Walker stands at the pinnacle of success in ranking Canada’s best position players. His career statistics (.313 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage, .565 slugging percentage, 383 HR and 1,311 RBI) literally dwarfs the batting exploits of the other players on this team (Votto alone exceeds his mark in career on-base percentage). Walker was an excellent base runner (230 SB in his career and a season high of 33 in 1997) and one of the best right fielders in the history of the game. Walker garnered seven Gold Gloves over his storied career. Among his three batting titles, Walker reached a season-best mark of .379 in 1999. He hit his career high in home runs with a league-leading 49 in 1997 (when he was named the NL MVP for batting .366, driving in 130 runs and scoring 143).Walker began his 18-year career with the Montreal Expos in 1989 where he collected a couple of Gold Gloves and was named to an All-Star Game before moving on to Colorado after the 1994 strike-shortened season. He signed as a free agent with the Rockies in 1995 and finished his career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and 2005. His lone World Series appearance came with the Cardinals in 2004. Unfortunately the Cards were swept in four straight games by the Red Sox that year, but Walker did his bit by batting .357 and slugging .929 while blasting two home runs.
Jeff Heath (Fort William, Ontario)
Heath was another Canadian who could easily have added substantially to his already impressive batting credentials. His 14-year career spanned from 1936 to 1949. He would have been the American League Rookie of the Year in 1938 but the award was not created until 1947. Jeff batted .343 with 21 HR, 104 runs scored and 112 RBI as a rookie that year. His most productive season occurred in 1941 when he batted .340 to go along with 24 HR and 123 RBI. That season he became one of the very few batters in major league history to accumulate more than 20 doubles (with 32), home runs and triples (he had a league best 20) in the same year. As a slugger, Heath was exceptional at finding the gaps and driving the ball for extra bases. He finished with 279 career doubles, 102 triples and 194 home runs – all figures among the highest totals recorded by Canadian ball players. His career batting average was .293 in 1,383 games played. Unfortunately, a broken leg ended his 1948 season prematurely (and what would have been a World Series appearance). He was batting .319 with 20 homers in 115 games at the time. A very serious broken leg terminated his career for good the following year. He was batting .306 and slugging .613 with nine HR in 36 games at the time.
Terry Puhl (Melville, Saskatchewan)
Some of the outfielders on this squad have more impressive batting statistics than Puhl accrued in his 15-year career, but none was a better fielder (with the possible exception of Walker). When Puhl retired in 1991, he finished his career with the highest fielding average of any outfielder in major league history at that time. His record fielding average record (.993) has since been broken. Puhl’s Houston Astros ball clubs made it to the NL Championship Series three times in his career but never advanced all of the way to the World Series. However, he batted a spectacular .372 in 13 games in the NLCS. Puhl had the misfortune to play in an era when batting and slugging percentages were quite low and he also played in a ballpark (the Astrodome) that diminished offensive averages to a far greater extent than any other stadium in the majors. Nonetheless, his .280 batting average, 1,361 base hits in 1,531 games played and 217 stolen bases earns Puhl a position as a starting outfield on this Canadian squad.
James “Tip” O’Neill (Woodstock, Ontario)
In selecting Tip O’Neill as the designated hitter among these all-stars, it is important to realize that he finished his career (in 1892) more than 80 years before the designated hitter rule was put into effect. While he was viewed as better than average when patrolling the outfield, O’Neill was most renowned for his prowess with the bat. Dubbed Canada’s Babe Ruth years after he retired, O’Neill won two batting crowns and led his league in RBI twice during his decade in the majors. But his eye-popping 1887 season with the American Association’s St. Louis Browns is the one that truly stands out. He actually established eight new major league records that year (all of which have since been broken). O’Neill batted .435 (the second-best in major league history), had an on-base average of .490 and a slugging percentage of .691 (and these marks were achieved in the dead ball era where home runs were the exception.) O’Neill won the Triple Crown that season by adding 14 HR and driving in 123 teammates. He led the league in virtually every batting category and is still the only batter in history to lead in doubles (52) and triples (19) in the same year that he led in homers. His 167 runs scored in 1887 is still the fourth most ever recorded by any major leaguer (he is actually tied with Lou Gehrig’s 1936 effort for fourth).
Pinch Hitter – DH Backup
Matt Stairs (Fredericton, New Brunswick)
Stairs really does have more games played as a designated hitter (435) than any other Canadian batter (and of course O’Neill’s total is zero), but he was also one of the greatest pinch hitters in major league history. His final record as a substitute batter includes 492 appearances, 105 pinch hits, 23 HR and 87 RBI. His 23 pinch hit home runs remains the highest figure ever accumulated by any major league batter. Stairs certainly was a well-travelled batting star during his 19-year career. Stairs played for more teams than any position player in major league history (12). Technically he played for 13 different teams, but 12 franchises, as he played for the Montreal Expos and then the Washington Nationals after that franchise abandoned Montreal for greener pastures. Actually Octavio Dotel holds the record for all baseball players (pitchers included) with 13 different clubs. Still, we should not lose sight of the fact that Stairs was an excellent everyday performer in the outfield and at first base as his 265 career home runs and 899 RBI will attest. His 1,895 games played is still second only to the 1,988 accumulated by Walker. Stairs drove in more than 100 runs in two different seasons and had a single season high of 38 HR with Oakland in 1999.
Backup at First Base
Justin Morneau (New Westminster, British Columbia)
As indicated earlier, Morneau would certainly be a reasonable choice as the starting first baseman on this ball club. His 247 career home runs ranks third (behind Walker and Stairs) while his 985 RBI trails only Walker. Morneau is currently unsigned but he may still get the call later in the year when some ball club is in need of a first sacker or DH. Like Votto and Walker, Morneau has his own MVP award (batting .321 with 34 HR and 130 RBI with the Twins in 2006). Two years later he was runner-up for the same award when he batted .300 with 129 RBI with the Minnesota Twins. Morneau might also have had a longer and more productive career had he not suffered a concussion in 2010 (while playing against the Toronto Blue Jays no less). He missed all of the remainder of that 2010 campaign. That season may well have been his finest ever as he was batting .345 with 18 HR and 56 RBI in just 81 games when the mishap occurred. Morneau was never really the same batter after the concussion, even though he did manage to win a National League batting title, hitting .319 with Colorado in 2014.
Backup at Catcher
George “Mooney” Gibson (London, Ontario)
Gibson had the misfortune to ply his craft at the time when batting averages and home runs were at their lowest level in major league history. This was particularly true for catchers at the turn of the century in that they had very poor equipment compared to the backstops of today. If he had been born 20 years later (he played from 1905 to 1918) his .236 batting average and 15 career home runs would have been substantially higher. However Gibson’s main claim to fame was his talent as a catcher behind the plate where he set several major league fielding records for that position. If there had been a Gold Glove award at the time (it was first handed out in 1957) Gibson would surely have had a couple to place on his mantle. He received his greatest acclaim in the 1909 World Series when his Pittsburgh Pirates bested the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Gibson was credited with stopping the Tigers’ great base stealers (including Ty Cobb) from exploiting their running game. The Pirates ended up with 18 steals against just six by Detroit. Gibson, himself, stole two bases in that World Series.
Frank O’Rourke (Hamilton, Ontario)
O’Rourke makes the ideal reserve infielder for this Canadian all-star team because he truly excelled at three infield spots. Frank played 598 games at third base, 289 games at shortstop and 220 games at second base during his career. When O’Rourke made his baseball debut with the Boston Braves (on June 12, 1912), he was the youngest player in baseball at age 18. However, after batting just .122 in 61 games, he returned to the minor leagues until he was called up by Brooklyn in 1917. He was often among the league leaders in fielding average, double plays and range factor at all three infield positions (whichever one he was stationed at for any particular season). O’Rourke was primarily a singles batter, having connected for 1,032 base hits in 4,069 at bats in 1,131 games played. O’Rourke played with five different major clubs in his 14 seasons in the big leagues. His best year was with Detroit in 1925 when he batted .293, scored 88 runs and hit 40 doubles in 124 games played. He finished up his career playing for the St. Louis Browns in his last five seasons, hanging up his spikes at the end of the 1931 season. After that he served as a minor league manager and then a scout (mostly with the Yankees) for more than 30 years.
Jason Bay (Trail, British Columbia)
Bay could easily be named as a starting outfielder on this all-star team. His career totals were an impressive 222 HR and 754 RBI in 1,278 games. His career batting average was .266 and he had 95 stolen bases during his 11-year major league career. Bay had several outstanding seasons and was named to his league all-star team on three separate occasions. Bay was originally drafted by the Montreal Expos, but that club lost the opportunity to feature a future Canadian star by trading him to the Mets. In turn, the Mets sent him to San Diego Padres, where he was finally called up to the majors in 2003. Perhaps his best year was 2005 with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he batted .306 with 32 HR and 101 RBI to go along with 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts. The following season he elevated his slugging totals to 35 HR and 109 RBI. He set his season-high in RBI in 2009 (with the Boston Red Sox) when he plated 119 runs. His Red Sox clubs qualified for postseason play in both 2008 and 2009 but didn’t make it to the World Series. Bay batted .412 with 2 HR for Boston in the 2008 American League Division Series. He was named NL Rookie of the Year while playing for the Pirates in 2004 where he batted .282 and slugged 26 home runs.
Jack Graney (St. Thomas, Ontario)
Graney may be best known today for being the answer to three famous trivia questions, but he really should be remembered as being an excellent outfielder for the Cleveland Indians over a 13-year span. Graney was the first ball player ever to wear a number on his uniform (he was first because he was Cleveland’s leadoff hitter). The Cleveland squad began the practice of placing numbers on their players’ sleeves on June 26, 1916. Graney is also the first ex-player to broadcast a major league game (he called the play-by play for the Indians from 1932 to 1953). And finally, Graney was the first major league hitter ever to face Babe Ruth (recall the Bambino started his big league career as a pitcher). Besides being a dependable fielder, Graney was an excellent leadoff batter, twice leading the American League in walks. Graney plied his trade in the dead ball era, so his .250 batting mark and his career 18 HR might pale in comparison to today’s stars, but he was recognized for his extra-base power at the time (he managedcareer totals of 219 doubles and 79 triples in his 1,402 major league games). His only World Series appearance was in 1920, but he was a part-time reserve outfielder by then.
Second All-Star Team
The Second All-Star team, or the reserve squad, consists of the following 25 players. While the first team was assembled by player position in such a manner that it could compete as a 25-man squad with starters and reserves filling out the positions around the diamond, the second team simply compiles the next best 25 players regardless of position.
Here is the 25-player Second All-Star Team (in alphabetical order).
Jimmy Archer (Dublin, Ireland - moved to Montreal as a baby but grew up in Toronto), Catcher
Regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher, Archer played in two World Series (in 1907 with the Detroit Tigers and 1910 with the Chicago Cubs). His best season was 1912 with the Cubs when he batted .283 with 61 RBI. Archer was thought to have the best arm of any catcher in baseball and was known for his ability for throwing out baserunners attempting to steal. In all, he played in 847 games and registered 660 hits - including 16 HR – and had 296 RBI.
Érik Bédard (Navan, Ontario), Starting Pitcher
Bédard won 71 games in his 11-year big league career, having his best seasons with the Baltimore Orioles between 2002 and 2007. He had a 15-11 record in 196 innings in 2006 and then was a strong contender for the AL Cy Young award in 2007 but injuries cut his season short. He finished at 13-6 with 221 strikeouts in just 182 innings pitched. On July 7, 2006, Bédard struck out 15 Texas Rangers, tying the Orioles’ single-game franchise record. In the same game, he faced the minimum number of batters (27), as the only two batters who reached base were later out on double plays. His 15 strikeouts also established the record for the most strikeouts in a game by a Canadian pitcher. His performance throughout that month earned him the American League Pitcher of the Month award.
Ted Bowsfield (Vernon, British Columbia), Pitcher (starter and relief)
Bowsfield won 37 games pitching as a starter and in relief over seven seasons. His best season came in 1961 with the expansion Los Angeles Angels when he posted an 11-8 won-loss record. After a 9-8 record in Los Angeles in 1962, Bowsfield was sent to the Kansas City A’s where he finished up his major league career at the conclusion of the 1964 season.
Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, New Brunswick), Relief Pitcher
Cormier had a long career, logging 1,221 innings over 16 seasons, primarily as a relief pitcher. His 683 games pitched ranks second behind Paul Quantrill among all Canadian hurlers. He was 10-10 as a starter in 1992 with the Cardinals, but his best year was 2003 pitching in relief with the Phillies. Cormier was a perfect 8-0 that year posting an ERA of just 1.70 in 65 games. He appeared in 84 games in relief the following season and closed out his career with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. Cormier has the distinction of having played for Canada at the Pan Am games, the Olympic Games and the World Baseball Classic.
Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ontario), Relief Pitcher
Crain posted excellent career ratios in a 10-year career that was cut short by injuries. He pitched primarily in a set-up role, having five seasons with an ERA below 3.00. He was enjoying his finest year in 2013 with the White Sox, posting an ERA of 0.74 in his first 38 games including a team record 29 consecutive scoreless appearances from April to June. He was named to the AL All-Star squad that season, but a tear in his right pitching arm sidelined him from appearing in the mid-season classic, and unfortunately, he has never pitched again in the major leagues.
Bob Emslie (Guelph, Ontario), Starting Pitcher
Another 19th century Canadian star, Emslie pitched in just three major league seasons (from 1883 to 1885). However, he set the standard for single season highs in almost every pitching category (for Canadians) in 1884 when he started and completed every one of his 50 games pitched. Emslie posted a record of 32-17 with 264 strikeouts and just 88 walks as a workhorse logging 455 1/3 innings. He came down with a sore arm the following year (apparently from the manner in which he threw his curveball rather than from the workload) and he was soon out of a job as a pitcher. Emslie served as a major league umpire for 33 seasons, being behind the plate for some of the most famous and controversial incidents of that era. He was always highly regarded for his work as an umpire having an impeccable reputation for fairness.
Dick Fowler (Toronto, Ontario), Starting Pitcher
Fowler was highly regarded as a starting pitcher for parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues, but spent most of his time working for second division ball clubs. He won 15 games in each of the 1948 and 1949 seasons with the Philadelphia A’s but his best season was 1947 when he posted a 12-11 record with an ERA of 2.81 in 227 innings. Fowler’s 66 career victories would have been substantially higher had it not been for the fact that he lost three seasons in the military (serving with the Canadian army during World War II). Of course, his greatest game had to be September 9, 1945 when he was just a few weeks back from his military service and he tossed a no-hitter for the A’s against the St. Louis Browns. This still stands as the only major league no-hitter ever pitched by a Canadian.
Jeff Francis (North Delta, British Columbia), Starting Pitcher
Francis won 72 games in his 11-year major league career in 1,291 innings. His career ERA of 4.97 is more impressive when you consider that he pitched a large percentage of his games for the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field - a ballpark that favours batters far more than any other. Francis’s best year was 2007 when we went 17-9 for the Rockies as the ace of their World Series bound pitching staff. Sadly, a series of sore arms cut back substantially on his effectiveness after that season as he spent parts of seven more years with five different clubs. Still, his two playoff victories earned in the 2007 postseason are the most ever recorded by a Canadian hurler.
Rich Harden (Victoria, British Columbia), Starting Pitcher
Harden was another Canadian pitcher with incredible potential that succumbed to injuries which dramatically diminished his pitching statistical line. In the end, during his nine seasons in the big leagues, Harden won 59 games in 928 innings with a career 3.76 ERA. He had two fine seasons – 2005 with the Oakland A’s when he was 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA and in 2008 when he split his time between the A’s and the Chicago Cubs. That season he posted a 5-1 record with each club, but his work with Chicago was exceptionally impressive. Joining the Windy City’s north side team in early July, Harden struck out 89 batters in 71 innings while posting an ERA of 1.77. His career was over two years after that as a result of repeated injuries to his pitching arm.
Bob Hooper (Leamington, Ontario), Pitcher (starter and relief)
Hooper lasted just six seasons in the major leagues but was impressive enough to earn a spot on this Canadian ‘B’’ team. In his remarkable rookie campaign in 1950, he posted a record of 15 wins against 10 losses for the last-place Philadelphia A’s. Unfortunately his record tailed off significantly after that so that he wound up with a career record of 40-41 in 621 innings. Still this was accomplished with teams that generally languished near the bottom of the standings each season.
John ‘Spud’ Johnson (Unknown city, Canada), Outfielder
One of these years the SABR biographical detectives will discover Johnson’s birthplace in Canada, but his hometown is still listed as missing. ‘Spud’ did manage to produce one very outstanding season in his all-too-brief career as a major leaguer. Johnson played in just 331 big league games managing only four HR in his abbreviated career, but his 1890 season with the American Association’s Columbus Solons really stands out. That year he led his league in RBI (with 113) and batted .346 while legging out 18 triples. After hitting just .257 in 1891 with the National League’s Cleveland Spiders, his career as a major leaguer was over.
Brett Lawrie (Langley, British Columbia), Infielder
Lawrie has not signed with a major league team in 2017, but he’s still just 27 and may yet return. Lawrie has appeared in 588 major league games and netted 71 HR with 253 RBI. When he came up with the Blue Jays in 2011, he was heralded as a potential Canadian superstar. His batting marks dropped off substantially in 2013 and 2014, so the club began to give up on him. After moving on to the Oakland A’s in 2015, he had his best power statistics with 16 HR and 60 RBI. A hamstring injury cut short his season with the White Sox in 2016, and he has not seen action since.
Phil Marchildon (Penetanguishene, Ontario), Starting Pitcher
If you are looking for a genuine Canadian hero then Phil Marchildon is your man. He was not only a very effective starting pitcher for the perennial second division Philadelphia A’s, but he was a war hero as well. As with teammate Dick Fowler, Marchildon lost three productive seasons while fighting for his country during World War II. In the war years he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a tail gunner in a Halifax bomber and after being shot down, he was a prisoner of war at the infamous Stalag Luft III in Germany for the final nine months of the war. He had two outstanding seasons with the Philadelphia A’s, going 17-14 with a last-place team in 1942 and then pitching to an outstanding record of 19-9 in 277 innings in 1947. The rumour at the time was that near the end of the 1947 season, the A’s owner and manager, Connie Mack, benched him for the last couple of weeks to prevent him from winning 20 games and earning a higher salary. Injuries again curtailed his pitching production so that he wound up a nine-year career with 68 victories in 1,214 innings.
Dave McKay (Vancouver, British Columbia), Infielder
McKay was one of the Blue Jays’ first Canadian stars employed as an attempt to attract fans out of civic pride. The talented infielder came over to the Blue Jays from the Oakland A’s in 1977 and had his best year in 1978 appearing in 145 games and displaying sparkling defence at second base. His career average was .229 in a total of 645 big league games, but his value was always that of a defensive specialist rather than as a slugger.
John “Larry” McLean (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Catcher
McLean was just one of several outstanding catchers hailing from Canada during the first two decades of the 20th century. He played in parts of 13 different seasons with a career average of .262 in 862 major league games (most respectable for a catcher in the dead ball era). His best year was 1910 with the National League’s Cincinnati Reds when he batted .298 with 71 RBI. In 1907, his .289 batting average made him the ninth leading hitter in the race for the batting title in the NL. Still it was his expertise behind the plate that McLean was most respected for, as he was always among the league leading catchers in fielding average and double plays turned.
Roy “Doc” Miller (Chatham, Ontario), Outfielder
Miller was another Canadian star of the dead ball era that had an all-too-brief career. He appeared in 557 games between 1910 and 1914, amassing a very respectable career batting average of .295. His best season was with the National League’s Boston Rustlers in 1911. Miller was the second leading NL batter with a .333 mark in 1911, just being nosed out for the batting crown by the legendary Honus Wagner, who hit .334. Miller led the NL in hits (with 192) and singles (with 146) while placing in the top 10 in several batting categories. He slipped down to a .259 batting average in 1911 and then finished up as a part-time outfielder during his three final seasons.
John O’Brien (Saint John, New Brunswick), Second Base
O’Brien appeared in 501 career major league games, in parts of six seasons between 1891 and 1899. He played virtually all of those games at second base for six different ball clubs. Primarily regarded as a defensive specialist, O’Brien had a career average of .254 in 2,161 at bats. His first year as a regular was with the National League’s Louisville Colonels in 1895 when he batted .256 and had 82 runs scored. He had his best year in 1896 splitting his time between the Colonels and the Washington Senators when he batted .296. His batting marks tailed off substantially after those years, but his glove work kept him on a major league roster for two more seasons.
Bill Phillips (Saint John, New Brunswick), First Base
Bill Phillips is another 19th century Canadian star performer known for his reliable hitting and excellent fielding at first base. Unfortunately, Joey Votto and Justin Morneau have a permanent lock as the first sackers on our top club so Phillips is relegated to the “B” team. In all, Phillips lasted 10 seasons from 1879 until 1888, and he was a regular in each of those years. At one time, it was thought that Phillips was the very first Canadian to appear in a major league game, but recent research has shown that both Bob Addy and “The Only” Nolan actually played in the majors before 1879. Phillips appeared in 1,038 games during his career often playing in every one of his club’s contests (the seasons were much shorter in that era). His highest batting average was .302 in 1885 with the American Association’s Brooklyn Grays and he drove in 101 runs with that same team in 1887 (while playing in just 132 games). Over the span of his career, he amassed 1,130 hits, including 214 doubles, 98 triples and 17 home runs. His career .266 batting average was more than adequate for that period when the pitchers dominated the game.
Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Quebec), Relief Pitcher
Raymond pitched in relief almost exclusively, starting just seven times in his 449 major league appearances. His 83 games saved represent the fifth-best career total among Canadians. His best season in this regard was in 1970 after he had returned home to his native province to pitch for the expansion Montreal Expos. Raymond was a reliable addition to all five big league clubs he played for, posting ERAs of under 3.00 five times in his career. After his playing career, Raymond became the French-language broadcaster for Expos games from 1972 to 2001. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta (when baseball was an Olympic sport), Raymond was the public address announcer for the baseball games because he could call the action in both official languages.
Chris Reitsma (Minneapolis, Minnesota - Grew up in Calgary, Alberta), Relief Pitcher
Reitsma is a dual Canadian-American citizen, born in the U.S., but growing up in Alberta, he graduated from Calgary Christian High School. Reitsma began his career as a starting pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds in 2001, but after two losing seasons he moved to the bullpen. There he immediately showed a turnaround, posting a record of 9-5 in 57 games in 2003. In the following season, he pitched a career high of 84 games with a record of 6-4. In all, he pitched in 338 games during his seven-year career, twice pitching in the postseason (with Atlanta in 2004 and 2005). With the Braves, he was primarily a set-up man for their future Hall of Famer, John Smoltz.
Goodwin “Goody” Rosen (Toronto, Ontario), Outfielder
Rosen played in just 551 career games as an outfielder, but he had two very fine seasons with the Dodgers. In 1938, he batted .281 in 138 games played, scoring 75 runs and legging out 11 triples. During the war year of 1945, he played in 145 games and scored 126 runs while batting .325. That figure for runs scored is still the third-best ever achieved by a Canadian (behind only Tip O’Neill and Larry Walker). Rosen was a spectacular centre fielder, always near the top of the league in fielding percentage and range factor. After finishing his major league career with the Giants in 1946, he returned to his hometown to play one season with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
Michael Saunders (Victoria, British Columbia), Outfielder
Most recently playing with the Philadelphia Phillies, “Captain Canada” is best known by his legion of Canuck fans as being an integral part of the 2016 Blue Jays’ run at baseball’s World Series crown that came up just a little short. Saunders was an outstanding defensive outfielder early in his career with Seattle, but his serious leg injury in spring training in 2015 (when he stepped on a sprinkler head in the outfield) has since reduced his speed substantially. His best year with the Mariners was in 2012 when he hit 19 HR and stole 21 bases. Coming back from his 2015 mishap, Saunders made a great recovery and was tearing up the American League through the first half of 2016. On June 17, 2016, Saunders pounded out three home runs joining Walker, Votto and Morneau as the only Canadians to accomplish that feat. He was named as one of the five candidates in the 2016 All-Star game “Final Vote” category. This vote gives the fans one last chance to select a player who was not among the team selected by the usual fan vote or by the AL manager. Thanks to a massive show of support from the Canadian fans, Saunders won handily and was added to the roster for the mid-season classic. Saunders currently has 81 HR and 262 RBI at this stage of his career.
George Selkirk (Huntsville, Ontario), Outfielder
Selkirk had a fairly short major league career considering his outstanding batting statistics, playing in just nine seasons with the New York Yankees from 1934 to 1942. Of course he had to wait for a fellow by the name of Babe Ruth to finish up his stellar major league career before taking over for the ‘Bambino’ in right field in Yankee Stadium. Lucky to be a Yankee with teammates like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, Selkirk appeared in six different World Series (being part of the winning team four straight years from 1936 to 1939). Selkirk was a star player in his own right posting some impressive batting credentials. In 1935, he batted .312 with 94 RBI, and in 1936, he smashed 18 HR with 107 RBI while batting .308. His best year may have been 1939 when he hit 21 HR, scored 103 runs, with 101 RBI and accumulated 103 walks, good for an on-base average of .452. He finished with a career batting mark of .290 in 846 games.
Mark Teahen (Redlands, California - Naturalized Canadian citizen), Third Base
Teahen was born in, and grew up in California, but was proud to have dual Canadian-American citizenship. He actually played for Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. His primary defensive position was at third base but he did see extensive action in the outfield in his 831 major league games. Teahen accumulated 67 HR, 332 RBI while batting .264 in his career. His best season was with the Royals in 2007 when he batted .285, scored 78 runs and knocked in 60. He was recognized as an above average fielder at both third base and in the outfield. He wound up his seven-year major league career by realizing a personal dream and playing with the Blue Jays. By then, his injuries had limited him to pinch hitting and being a defensive replacement at a variety of positions around the diamond.
George Wood (Pownal, Prince Edward Island), Outfielder
You would think that George Wood would be a shoo-in for a spot as a starting outfielder with the No. 1 Canadian team in light of his batting accomplishments. However, the all-star team is loaded with outstanding outfield talent and there is just room for three of them. In 13 seasons between 1880 and 1892, Wood appeared in 1,280 games with 5,371 at bats, hitting .273 with 68 HR and 965 runs scored. Wood had three seasons in which he scored more than 100 runs and was the home run champ with the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in 1882 (albeit with just seven round trippers, but this was the dead ball era). In 1890, he batted in 102 runs with the Philadelphia A’s and then had his best batting average the following season, hitting .309. Wood easily has accumulated the most career triples of any Canadian major leaguer, legging out 132 three baggers, including seven seasons with ten or more triples. Wood is the first major league player ever to hail from Prince Edward Island. In point of fact, his family moved to Boston when he was a youngster, so he really developed his skills growing up in New England. Still, Wood ranks in the top 10 among all Canadian-born players in almost every significant career batting category.
Rounding out the Top 150. . .
Finally, we round out the top 150 by listing the remaining 100 Canadian players, unranked, in alphabetical order only. Some of these players were regulars at one point in their careers or contributed impressive statistical performances in at least one season. A couple of them even made World Series appearances. Many of the names will be familiar to casual baseball fans while some are just memories from the distant past. A few of them are active and may someday replace members of the two teams named above. Even the players from 100 years ago or more should be remembered as being among Canada’s best 150 in 2017.
Jim Adduci, Bob Addy, Andrew Albers, Bill Atkinson
Ed Bahr, Vince Barton, Reno Bertoia, Denis Boucher, Ted Bowsfield, Ryan Braun, Joe Brown,
Tom “Tim” Burgess, Rich Butler, Rob Butler
Paul Calvert, Jay Clarke, “Chub” Collins, Frank Colman, Clarence Currie
Tom Daly, Ray Daviault, Scott Diamond, Jason Dickson, Rob Ducey, Gus Dugas
Doug Frobel (Ottaawa, Ont.)
Mke Gardiner, Roland Gladu, Glen Gorbous, Taylor Green, Aaron Guiel
Tim Harkness, Blake Hawksworth, Jim Henderson, Shawn Hill, Vince Horsman, John Humphries
Albert “Abbie” Johnson, Mike Johnson, Oscar Judd
Win Kellum, Mike Kilkenny, Danny Klassen, Jonas “Joe” Knight, Jimmy Knowles, George Kottaras, Joe Krakauskas
Byron “Ty” LaForest, Sam LaRoque, Ron Law, Louis “Pete” LaPine, Christopher Leroux, Dick Lines, Adam Loewen
Ken McKenzie, Bill Magee, Georges Maranda, Matt Maysey, Cody McKay, Charlie Mead, Chris Mears, Jon Morrison, Billy Mountjoy, Henry Mullin, Larry Murphy, Aaron Myette
Kevin Nicholson, Mike Nickeas, Edward “The Only” Nolan
Bill O’Hara, Bill O’Neill, Peter Orr, Frank “Yip” Owens
Dave Pagan, James Paxton, Ron Piche, Dalton Pompey
Ryan Radmanovich, Newton Randall, Kevin Reimer, Scott Richmond, Sherry Robertson, Johnny Rutherford
Joe Siddall, Paul Spoljaric, Bob Steele, Adam Stern
Jameson Taillon, Oscar Taveras, Scott Thorman, Rene Tosoni
Harry ‘Rube’ Vickers
Dave Wainhouse, Milt Whitehead, Lefty Wilkie, Steve Wilson, Pete Wood
Some might question the selection of a few of the names listed here, preferring that other Canadians should rightly be honoured instead. There is no doubt that selecting the final 10 or 12 members simply reflects my personal preference here. However, the vast majority of these players would easily be consensus picks on anyone’s list.
Who is the greatest Canadian baseball player?
Finally there is the matter of which of these 150 Canadian superstars, regulars and part-time players should be recognized as the greatest Canadian ever to don a major league uniform. My choice for that distinction goes to Ferguson Jenkins – but only by a whisker ahead of Larry Walker. Jenkins accumulated his impressive statistical credentials playing in ballparks that clearly rewarded batting performances over pitching accomplishments to a significant degree.
On the other hand, Walker fashioned his finest seasons in a ballpark that greatly favoured the sluggers. As indicated, the decision is probably too close to call conclusively, and if you ask me tomorrow, I might even select Walker instead.
If these 150 individuals were parading into an Olympic Stadium representing Canada, then we could give Jenkins the honour of being our flag bearer in the opening ceremonies and then pass the flag over to Walker for the closing ceremonies. Perhaps that is the best way to settle the matter of who is No. 1. Let the games begin!