Given that the Seattle Mariners’ Canadian pitcher James Paxton recently threw a no-hitter against, ironically, the only Canadian team in the majors the Toronto Blue Jays, I thought it might be fun to look at who are the top Canadian major league ball players – both of all time and currently. Interestingly, Paxton, a native of British Columbia, accomplished the feat in his home country of Canada. Also interesting is that Paxton played college baseball for the University of Kentucky Wildcats, which matters to me because that is where I went to university. Paxton has played for the Mariners for six years and has a record of 32 Wins and 21 Losses – not bad for a Mariners’ team that is about a .500 team during those six years.
Baseball is a mental game, and there’s much to think about if you are a fan. And, if you are a Canadian baseball fan, there are statistics, history, and also a sense of national pride.
I am a Canadian baseball fan. Fortunately, I have seen lots of in-person baseball games in my day. When I was a student at the University of Kentucky, I often drove 90 minutes up the highway to see Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and the like. When I was a student at the University of Texas for my PhD, I went to lots of Rangers’ games – where perhaps the greatest Canadian baseball player of all time was playing. That player was Ferguson Jenkins. Fortunately, I also had the good fortune to meet Jenkins – we talked hockey, and he noted he was an Islanders’ fan. Go figure.
Before I note my list of the top current Canadian baseball players, let me make my call on who I think are the best Canadian baseball players in history.
#1: Ferguson Jenkins (Starting pitcher)
James Paxton's no-hitter brought back memories of Canadian Ferguson Jenkins' own brushes with history over his Hall of Fame career.https://t.co/lIFdXucXmT
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 9, 2018
Ferguson Jenkins played one year for the Philadelphia Phillies and ended his career with the Boston Red Sox, but he is probably best known as a pitcher for the Cubbies and the Rangers. He is the only Canadian Hall of Famer, and he was a great athlete – few people know that he also played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Jenkins was a Cy Young winner as the pitcher of the year in 1971. And, he won 20 games each year for six seasons in a row, the last pitcher in baseball history to do so.
#2: Larry Walker (Outfielder)
Larry Walker Expos 1989-94, Cards 2004-05. pic.twitter.com/zSDCxoHh5C
— ExposBlog (@ExposBlog) March 12, 2018
I liked that Larry Walker played for the Expos from 1989-94, and if not for the strike-shortened season of 1994 Montreal might still have a team. In 1994, the Expos were the class of the National League, going 46−18 until the players’ strike stopped the season on August 11. Led by Walker, Ken Hill, HOF pitcher Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, and Marquis Grissom, the Expos were World Series bound. But the World Series was never played, and the next year the Expos lost many core players to free agency and an inability to pay salaries. The team never recovered and moved to Washington, where they became today’s Nationals.
Walker, a three-time NL batting champion and MVP, spent the rest of his productive career in Denver where he put up big numbers in the high altitude of Coors Field in the 1990s. In 1997, he hit .366 with 49 home runs and 130 RBI. It is unlikely the Maple Ridge, British Columbian, will reach baseball’s HOF like Jenkins did, but he has the numbers and, to my mind, was Canada’s best major league hitter ever.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau (First Baseman, Minnesota Twins)
— Rockies Report (@rockies_fanly) May 9, 2018
Morneau, from New Westminster, British Columbia, played for 14 years – mostly for the Minnesota Twins. He was the 2006 AL MVP, and suffered a concussion that took him out of action in 2010. He never recovered. He was a 4-time All Star and had more than 100 RBIs from 2006-09. His career totals are a .281 BA, 247 HR, and 985 RBIs.
That leaves us with the question: who are Canada’s best current major league baseball players? Here’s my list.
1) Joey Votto (First baseman, Cincinnati Reds)
#OTD 10 years ago, Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto belts three home runs to lead the Cincinnati Reds to a 9-0 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Votto becomes the third Canadian to sock three homers in a MLB game after Larry Walker and Justin Morneau. pic.twitter.com/6TAwm1NeQG
— Kevin Glew (@coopincanada) May 7, 2018
Joey Votto, from Toronto, is an amazing player. Probably – in the end – he will rank right up there with Jenkins and Walker as Canada’s best major league ball players of all time. He is off to a fantastic career start. Already, the Reds’ 1st baseman was NL MVP in 2010 – with a batting average of.324, 37 homers, and 113 RBI. He gets on base more than 2 times in 5 at bats and is a Gold Glover at first base. A .313 lifetime hitter, he has played for 12 years (counting this season) and his HR and RBI totals already match Morneau’s – with 262 HRs and 851 RBIs.
2) Russell Martin (Catcher, Toronto Blue Jays)
Please do not refer to Russell Martin as just a catcher pic.twitter.com/v4kuvTlht6
— BP Toronto (@BProToronto) May 12, 2018
Martin, from Toronto and Montreal, had a great start to his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also played for the Yankees and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to the post-season in 2013. His major league totals are a .251 BA, 180 Home Runs and almost 800 RBIs. He is signed with the Blue Jays through the 2019 season.
And, for honourable mention, let’s go with James Paxton. Paxton was only the second Canadian to throw a no-hitter – the other Canadian was Dick Fowler who did the no-no in 1945. And, as noted, Paxton was the first Canadian pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Canada.
Thanks to British Columbia and Toronto for producing Canada’s best ball players.