Remembering some of Canada's greatest baseball players
Walker, Votto and Jenkins are the best of an impressive bunch
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Yesterday in Cincinnati, Joey Votto appeared in his 1,989th Major League Baseball game, surpassing Larry Walker for the most ever by a player from Canada. In honour of that achievement (and also, quite frankly, because it's the dog days of August) how about we remember some Canadian baseball guys today? Here's a slightly (OK, quite) nerdy look at a few of the best this country has produced, starting with the big three and moving on to some honourable mentions:
Joey Votto: Currently in his 16th big-league season, all with the Reds, the 38-year-old Torontonian is arguably the best pure hitter ever to come out of Canada. Though he's never won a batting title, Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage a whopping seven times, including three years when he topped the entire majors. He's shown plenty of pop too, hitting 24 or more home runs nine times and at least 36 three times. Votto's best year was 2010, when he won his only NL MVP award after leading the league in both on-base and slugging percentage while socking 37 homers, driving in 113 runs and adding 16 stolen bases. Votto has walked 425 more times than any other Canadian and is also the country's career leader in OBP and OPS+ (that's on-base-plus-slugging percentage, adjusted for league and ballpark). By Baseball Reference's measure, he ranks 143rd all-time in Wins Above Replacement with 64.6, just ahead of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
Larry Walker: The only Canadian hitter in the Baseball Hall of Fame is the country's all-time leader in home runs (383), batting average (.313), RBIs and stolen bases. Walker, who played 17 seasons, also won a Canadian-record seven Gold Gloves, making him a rare "five-tool" talent and the best all-around ballplayer Canada has ever produced. Like Votto, Walker captured one MVP — for a monster 1997 with the Rockies in which he piled up 49 homers, 130 RBIs and 33 steals (all career highs), led the NL in both on-base and slugging percentage as well as total bases, and won a Gold Glove for his nimble, cannon-armed work in right-field. Walker went on to win all three of his batting titles in the next four years. Yes, many of his offensive numbers were inflated by Colorado's thin air. But Walker was a star with the Montreal Expos before arriving in Denver and, unlike many other sluggers of his era, the Maple Ridge, B.C., native was never linked to steroids. Walker ranks 90th all-time in Baseball Reference's WAR — four spots ahead of Derek Jeter.
WATCH | Canada's Larry Walker inducted into baseball's hall of fame:
Fergie Jenkins: In his 19 big-league seasons, the greatest pitcher in Canadian history racked up 284 wins and 267 complete games — more than doubling any other Canadian's totals in those categories. Jenkins' 3,192 strikeouts are also a Canadian record, by more than 1,100. The Chatham, Ont., righty had his best run with the Chicago Cubs, winning at least 20 games for six consecutive years from 1967-72 (back when wins meant a lot) and in 1971 becoming the first Canadian to win a Cy Young Award. Jenkins also had a great year with Texas in '73, leading the majors with 29 wins and 25 complete games (no pitch counts back then) and finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. In 1991, Jenkins became the first Canadian inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His 84.1 career WAR puts him 55th all-time, ahead of Pedro Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Nolan Ryan. Read more about Jenkins here.
Honourable mentions: New Westminster, B.C.'s Justin Morneau is a great "what if" case. He won the AL MVP with Minnesota in 2006 and averaged close to 30 homers and 118 RBIs over four straight seasons before concussion problems derailed his career in 2010. Matt Stairs of Saint John ranks third in home runs by a Canadian (behind Walker and Votto) and played 19 seasons in the bigs. Trail, B.C.'s Jason Bay won the 2004 NL rookie of the year with Pittsburgh before averaging 31 homers and 103 RBIs over the next five seasons with the Pirates and Red Sox. Toronto-born, Montreal-raised Russell Martin was one of the better catchers in baseball for several years and spent four years with the Blue Jays late in his career. On the mound, Ryan Dempster of Gibsons, B.C., had some very nice years with the Cubs in the early 2000s (17-6 in '08) and ranks second behind Jenkins in career wins and Ks by a Canadian. Bespectacled Montrealer Eric Gagné was one of the most dominant closers of the early part of this century, stringing together 52-, 55- and 45-save seasons for the Dodgers before an elbow injury sidelined him and he was named as a steroid user in the Mitchell Report.
And if we want to get cute: How about Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? Though he identifies as Dominican and was raised in the D.R., he was born in Montreal during his Hall of Fame dad's tenure with the Expos. Also, Guerrero won the Tip O'Neill Award for Canadian baseball player of the year in 2021, so clearly some of us are trying to claim him. With 95 home runs at the age of just 23, Vladdy is already 11th on the all-time leaderboard for Canadian-born players.