From a statistical standpoint Ryan Dempster is the second best Canadian pitcher of all time – trailing only the legendary Fergie Jenkins. The now 42-year old Dempster, joked about the major gap that exists between him and Jenkins, during the 2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame Induction.
The B.C.-native is second to Jenkins in wins (132), strikeouts (2,075), starts (351) and innings pitched (2,387) by a Canadian. Over a 16-year career he established himself as a reliable mid-rotation starter and between 2005-2007 as a closer.
But what if I told you there was a “Canadian” pitcher (not named Fergie Jenkins) that had recorded over 3,000 MLB strikeouts, earned over 280 wins, and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
Here at Canuck Baseball Plus we sometimes liberally use the term “Canadian.” This writer in particular has referred to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jesse Crain (both born in Canada, raised outside it), Freddie Freeman, Jameson Taillon, Josh Johnson (born-and-raised in the US but had/have Canadian parents), and even John Gibbons (who’s father was briefly stationed in Labrador when he was a child) as bonafide Canucks.
But I have never suggested Hall of Famer (and former Saskatchewan resident) Bert Blyleven as a Canadian – until today.
BLYLEVEN AND THE CANADIAN CONNECTION
Blyleven is certainly not the flashiest player in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a 2-time all star and earned 287 career wins. On the flip side he never finished higher than third in Cy Young voting and his .534 career winning percentage is 71st among 81 Hall of Fame pitchers.
But other than Jenkins, Blyleven may have the greatest Canadian connection of the bunch.
The two-time World Series Champ was known throughout his career as the “Flying Dutchman” and remains the only Dutch-born player to reside in Cooperstown. But for three years in between the time he left his country of birth and came to America, Bert Blyleven called the Canadian Prairies home.
His parents and two older siblings left the Netherlands when Bert was 16 months old and emigrated to Canada. They first arrived in Montreal before settling in Melville, Saskatchewan. Bert’s father planned to join his brother in California, and Canada was suppose to be just a layover. But the family ended up spending over three years in Melville.
Melville is a city of under 5,000 people in south-east Saskatchewan and may be best known for being the birthplace of Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Puhl.
The Blylevens settled into Saskatchewan, with Bert’s father working on a farm as well as for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Two of Bert’s younger sisters were born here but the whole family moved to California when Bert was five.
So do these three years in the The Canada make Blyleven a Canadian? An immigration lawyer would likely say no (since Bert had no Canadian parents and never obtained citizenship). But I will try to make the case that Blyleven definitely deserves “honourary Canadian” status.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS
Blyleven spent a little over a year in the Netherlands, 63 years (and counting) in America, and over three years in Saskatchewan. But one could argue he spent some of his most important years north of the 49th parallel.
Journalist Amanda Tomlinson wrote an article on the importance of a child’s formative years in a 2015 article. “When it comes to development, the first five are the most important,” Tomlinson wrote. “This is when a child becomes the person they are going to be. It is when they learn appropriate behaviour, boundaries, empathy and many other important social skills that will remain with them for life.”
I don’t claim to be a child psychologist, but based on skimming this one article, I feel confident saying that Bert Blyleven’s formative years make him fundamentally and formatively Canadian.
His Hall of Fame plaque refers to him as “determined, durable, and fun loving” – these all seem like pretty Saskatchewanian traits to me.
COULD BLYLEVEN HAVE REPRESENTED CANANDA?
Blyleven would not have been able to represent Canada at the Olympic Games, as Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter states that all athletes must hold citizenship for the country they wish to represent. This would mean players like Guerrero Jr., Crain, Freeman, Taillon, and Johnson could all be eligible if they obtained the proper documentation – Blyleven and Gibbons would not.
The World Baseball Classic rules state that to be eligible to play for a national team a player must be a citizen, a current legal resident, be born in the country, have/had one or more parent born in the country, or could reasonably be considered for citizenship if they applied.
If the Blyleven’s had moved to Saskatchewan two years earlier, then it would be no question that the “Flying Dutchman” could have represented Canada on the international stage. But since he was born outside of Canada and his parents never obtained Canadian citizenship for him – Blyleven would not be eligible for Team Canada’s Olympic or WBC team.
I tried to take the Am I a Canadian Citizen test on the Government of Canada’s website, using the limited information I had about the Blyleven’s. I was informed that “I (Bert) am (is) likely not a Canadian Citizen.”
From a legal standpoint it seems safe to say that Blyleven is not a Canadian. From an emotional standpoint, Bert has never publicly identified himself as Canadian and he did not learn to play baseball until he was living in America.
If the Canadian Government doesn’t think Bert Blyleven is Canadian and if Bert Blyleven does not think he is Canadian – is Bert Blyleven Canadian?…Even I must begrudgingly say no he is not Canadian.
So for now Ryan Dempster remains the second greatest Canadian pitcher and for now Fergie Jenkins remains the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame. But it is neat to know there is another Cooperstonian with a real Canadian connection and in this writer’s opinion Bert Blyleven deserves the title of “honourary” Canadian.
Top Photo: (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)