Ever since Bill Phillips made his debut for the Cleveland Barons in 1879, Canadians have played a meaningful role in America’s pastime. From that point on, there has been a Canadian every year at the Major League level – 245 in total.
In honor of the Canada Day long weekend here is a look at the best MLB players from each province.
DISCLAIMER: These rankings are completely opinion-based, and Canuck Baseball Plus is not responsible for any thoughts or ideas expressed in this article. This list may also play fast and loose with the definition of ‘Canadian’ and could create some heated debates about the Deadball Era. ENJOY! BRITISH COLUMBIA
Larry Walker (Maple Ridge, BC)
Walker was the first Canadian to win an MVP, he was a five-time all-star, he won seven Gold Gloves, and three Silver Sluggers, contributing to a record nine Tip O’Neil Awards. The big lefty had a .313 career average, to go with a .400 OBP and currently leads all Canadians in home runs (383), RBI’s (1311), and stolen bases (230).
Canadian baseball fans will continue to watch Walker’s Hall of Fame bid. In his eighth season of eligibility, he received 34.1% of the vote, still well back of the 75% threshold.
Runners-up: British Columbia has produced many of Canada’s best baseball players, including Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Ryan Dempster, and current Mariners ace James Paxton. But Walker is still hands down the best. THE PRAIRIES
Josh Johnson (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
The one-time Blue Jay is the first, but by no means the last American on this list. Like Freddie Freeman and Jameson Taillon, Johnson doesn’t have Canadian blood pumping throw his veins. Johnson’s parents moved from Calgary to Minnesota shortly before Josh was born. In 2013, Johnson suggested he’d be open to pitching for Canada as a tribute to his father. His 58 wins put him 14th all-time among Canadians, and his 917 strikeouts are eighth. Johnson was a two-time all-star and finished his injury-riddled career with a 3.40 ERA, and an 8.3 SO/9.
Runners-up: The next best Albertan would be Chris Reitsma, who was coincidentally also born in Minneapolis. But unlike Johnson, he was raised in Alberta. Atlanta Braves rookie Mike Soroka also hails from Calgary and is currently the only player from the Wild Rose province.
Terry Puhl (Melville, Saskatchewan)
The longtime Houston Astro was a career .280 hitter, had 217 stolen bases (second most among Canadians), and made one all-star team. Puhl was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995. He was also the first-ever winner of Tip O’Neil Award in 1984.
Runner-Up: Of the nine Saskatchewanian MLB players, Puhl and pitcher Reggie Cleveland are the two that stand out. Cleveland is one of only four Canadian pitchers to have 100-wins (105), and his 930 strikeouts rank seventh.
Corey Koskie (Anola, Manitoba)
The former Blue Jay saw his once-promising career derailed by injuries, officially retiring in 2009. After suffering a concussion with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, Koskie attempted a comeback in 2009 but called it a career part way through spring training. He finished with a 24.6 WAR in his shortened career. Koskie still managed 124 home runs (9th among Canadians), 506 RBI (13th overall), to go with a .275 average. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 and won the Tip O’Neil Award in 2001.
Runner-up: Former Yankee starter Russ Ford was worth 33.4 WAR over a seven-year career between 1909-1915. The Brandon native’s best season was 1910, when he went 26-6, with a 1.69 ERA, and 209 strikeouts for the New York Highlanders.ONTARIO
Ontario has produced three of the greatest players this country has ever seen – Fergie Jenkins, Joey Votto, and Tip O’Neil. All three come from very different eras, but they were the cream of the Canadian crop during their generation. If you thought the Manitoba debate was intense, buckle up!
Tip O’Neil (Woodstock, Ontario)
Known as the ‘Canadian Babe Ruth,’ O’Neil was the first real MLB star from the Great White North. Between 1883-1892 he was a .326 hitter and his .435 average in 1887 stands as the second highest single-season mark in MLB history. Since 1984 the Tip O’Neil Award has been presented annually to the top Canadian baseball player, named in honor of one of the greatest Canadians.
Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ontario)
As the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame, Jenkins would seem a clear choice here. He was a three-time all-star, had 284 wins, 3,192 strikeouts, and won the National Cy Young in 1971 (one of two Canadians to do that).
In the Canadian context, Jenkins has 152 more wins and 1,117 more strikeouts than the next highest Canadian.
Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ontario)
The Reds slugger is currently tied with Matt Stairs for second on the Canadian home run list and is considered by many to be Hall of Fame bound. He is a .313 hitter, with a .428 OBP, and has won one MVP, one Gold Glove, six Tip O’Neil Awards, and has made six all-star appearances.
Winner: Jenkins wins for now, but Votto could be Mr. Ontario a few years down the line.QUEBEC
Russell Martin (Chelsea, Quebec)
Martin may have been born in Ontario, but he is the face of Quebecois baseball. Whenever the Jays play at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Martin is routinely greeted with a standing ovation.
The 35-year old was drafted by the Montreal Expos (the team he grew up watching) in 2000, but decided to go to college and was later drafted by the Dodgers. Martin will go down as one of Canada’s all-time greats. He is a four-time all-star, has won a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove. He is also considered as a great defensive catcher. He is one of only two Canadians (Larry Walker is the other) to have over 100 career home runs and stolen bases.
Runner-up: For a three year stretch between 2002-04, Eric Gagne was one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Montreal native won the Cy Young Award in 2003, made three consecutive all-star appearances, and saved 152 games in that span (84 in a row, an MLB record). But Gagné did use human growth hormones, so there will always be an asterisk beside his name. Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was born in Montreal and may take the Quebecois title later down the road. THE ATLANTIC PROVINCES
Pop Smith (Digby, Nova Scotia)
Smith grew up in Nova Scotia but moved with his family to Boston when he was a teenager. He stole 169 bases (third among Canadians), was a career .222 hitter, and was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 2005. Smith was the second Canadian in the pros, debuting a year after Phillips in 1880.
Runner-up: Vince Horsman (Halifax, Nova Scotia) was the last Nova Scotian to be in the MLB, serving as a relief pitcher between 1991-95. He had a career 4.07 ERA in 141 appearances and now serves as the pitching coach for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Matt Stairs (Fredericton, New Brunswick)
Over his 19-year career Stairs played for 12 different teams, including the Expos and Blue Jays. One of his most memorable moments was when he hit a game-winning, pinch-hit home run for the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS. That homer tied the series, and Philadelphia would go onto win their first World Series in 28 years.
The stout slugger was best known for hitting the long ball and (as of writing this) he is tied for the second most home runs by a Canadian.
Runner-up: Phillips, long-time Phillies reliever Rheal Cormier, and former Reds catcher Larry McClean would all be in the discussion for runner-up. But I’ll give the nod to Phillips because he did it first.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
George Wood (Pownal, PEI)
There isn’t much competition here since only three players have ever come from Canada’s smallest province. Wood had a 13-year career playing for six different teams. He hit .273, had 113 stolen bases, and lead the NL in home runs in 1882 (with a whopping seven homers). He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011, becoming the first player from PEI to be voted in.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
John Gibbons? (San Antonio, Texas)
Gibbons does not have any Canadian lineage, but he is the only MLB player with any sort of a connection with the province. The current Blue Jays manager was born in Montana, raised in Texas, but really is a man of the world. His father William was an optometrist in the US Army, and the family moved a lot, including stops in Puerto Rico and Goose Bay, Labrador. In 1969 his dad was posted at the air base in Goose Bay, and young John played his first little-league game on the shores of Lake Melville. The Mets 1980 first-round pick wasn’t a star by anyone’s definition, but he wins this category by default. Gibbons played two seasons for New York playing a total of 18 games, hitting .222, with one home run, and two RBI. Despite not having an illustrious career, he did win a World Series ring with the 1986 Mets, playing eight games behind the plate that year.
So there it is. This article may have to be updated somewhere down the line, but for now, these are the picks. Hope you enjoyed. Happy Canada Day!
(Photos: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Brian Bahr/Getty Images, Chris Young/The Canadian Press, Jim McIsaac/Getty Images, Minas Panagio/Getty Images, Chris McGrath/Getty Images)