Reigning National League most valuable player Joey Votto soon could have another piece of hardware to show off to family and friends during the holiday season.
The Cincinnati Reds first baseman is the favourite to win the Tip O'Neill Award, presented annually to the Canadian player "judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball."
Toronto-born Votto earned 31 of 32 first-place votes and 443 points in National League MVP balloting from the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Nov. 22 to best St. Louis player Albert Pujols, who had prevailed the two previous years.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is welcoming e-input from fans until Dec. 9, with the winner announced the next day. They can email email@example.com or visit the website www.baseballhalloffame.ca. "Our committee reads each of the opinions that are sent in," said Tom Valcke, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame president and chief executive officer.
Also in the running for this year's honour is:
- Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford of Simcoe, Ont.
- Free-agent relief pitcher Jesse Crain of Toronto.
- Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster of Gibsons, B.C.
- Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C.
- Canadian women's team first baseman Kate Psota of Burlington, Ont.
- Outfielder Jamie Romak (London, Ont.), who plays in the Kansas City Royals' organization.
In 2010, Votto established career highs in batting average (.324, second in NL), homers (37, third), RBIs (113, third) and on-base percentage (.424).
He ranked in the top three in 11 offensive categories — leading in six, including on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.600) — finished top five in 15 categories and top eight in 18.
Votto also reached first base in a career-best 41 consecutive games from May 15 to July 3 — the longest streak for a Reds batter since Pete Rose reached the mark in 48 straight contests in 1978.
Shockingly, Votto was left off the original 2010 NL all-star roster, but he secured the final spot after 13.7 million ballots were cast for him online through MLB.com's All-Star Final Vote.
Axford, 27, took over the stopper's role in Milwaukee during his rookie campaign early last season for inconsistent veteran Trevor Hoffman. He finished with eight wins, 24 saves and a 2.38 earned-run average.
Crain is a free agent after seven seasons with the Twins, including a 2010 campaign in which he posted a 3.04 ERA and struck out 62 batters in 68 innings pitched.
Dempster ranked among the NL top 10 in starts (34, second), strikeouts (208, seventh) and wins (15, ninth), and sported a respectable 3.85 ERA.
Post-concussion syndrome kept Morneau sidelined for the second half of the MLB season. The 2006 and 2008 Tip O'Neill recipient was hitting .345 with 18 homers, 56 RBIs and .437 on-base percentage when he suffered the injury, and finished with the fourth-highest home run total on Minnesota's roster despite playing in only 80 games.
Other Canadian stars shine
Psota has been a fixture with the Canadian women's national team since its inception in 2004. In the summer, she led all players at first base with a .500 batting average — good for fourth overall — at the World Cup in Venezuela. Canada's MVP also shone on the mound, fashioning a 0.88 ERA over eight innings.
Romak captured MVP honours at the World Cup/Pan American Games qualifying tournament in San Juan, where he batted .448 with five home runs and boasted a 1.103 slugging percentage. Between single-A and double-A, Romak recorded 128 hits, 13 home runs and 64 RBIs, and averaged .296 in 127 games.
New York Mets outfielder Jason Bay was named the Tip O'Neill winner in 2009.
O'Neill is one of the MLB's first legitimate stars. In 1887, the Woodstock, Ont., native set major-league records in hits (225), doubles (52), slugging percentage (.691) and total bases (357) while batting .492.
Walks were included as hits that season, so if his average were determined by today's standard, it would be .435, second all-time next to Hugh Duffy's .438.