Strong list of candidates for Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award
St. Marys, Ont. – In a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted baseball schedules everywhere, there were still plenty of standout performances by Canadians.
In the major league ranks, two Canuck pitchers Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) emerged as go-to relievers for the American League’s Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays respectively. Meanwhile, after being dealt from the San Diego Padres to the Indians with Quantrill, Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) set a major league record when he registered hits in his first five postseason at bats and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) also got his first taste of postseason action with the Blue Jays after topping all Canucks with 58 hits during the regular season.
Over in the National League, Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.) continued to serve as a key late-inning reliever for the Chicago Cubs, while Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.) provided elite defence in left field for the St. Louis Cardinals and was recognized with a Rawlings Gold Glove Award. Meanwhile, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.) topped all Canuck big leaguers with 11 home runs.
And while those Canadians were starring in North America, Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) was once again excelling in a full season with the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), belting 32 home runs and 32 doubles in 139 games. And after an injury-shortened 2019 campaign, left-hander Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) rebounded to post a 3.66 ERA in 17 games with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League.
So in a year with so many highlights, how do you choose which Canadian stood out the most?
That’s the dilemma the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame faces, and they would like your input to determine Canada’s top performer as they prepare to choose their 2020 James “Tip” O’Neill Award winner. This honour is given out annually to the player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals.
The Hall encourages you to vote for the players you think are worthy of this award by noon E.T. on Thursday, November 19. You can e-mail your top three choices (please be clear on your first, second and third selections) to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can vote on the Hall’s website at www.baseballhalloffame.ca.
Fan votes will be one of the criteria the Hall will take into account when selecting the winner, which will be announced on December 3.
Here’s a summary of the prime contenders (and their 2020 accomplishments) in alphabetical order. (The Hall also welcomes write-in votes for players not on this list):
Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.)
After an injury-riddled 2019 season with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League, this 35-year-old southpaw was once again a key starter for his Japanese club in 2020, posting a 3.66 ERA in 17 games, while striking out 70 in 96 innings.
Brock Dykxhoorn (Goderich, Ont.)
This 6-foot-8 right-hander was named the Outstanding Player of the Taiwan Series after he helped propel the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions to a championship. Dykxhoorn picked up a win and a save in the Taiwan Series that went seven games against the CTBC Brothers and allowed just one earned run in 17 innings. He also posted a 5-3 record and a 5.81 ERA in 13 regular season appearances – including 12 starts – for the Lions.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.)
This 21-year-old slugger enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign with the Blue Jays. He topped all big leaguers born in Canada in batting average (.262), slugging percentage (.462), runs (34), hits (58), doubles (13) and RBIs (33) while playing in all 60 games. He also saw his first postseason action with the Blue Jays and went 1-for-7 in their Wild Card series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.)
After hitting .278 in 18 games for the Padres to begin the season, this left-handed hitting slugger was dealt to the Indians, along with fellow Canadian Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) on August 31. Naylor proceeded to bat .230 in 22 regular season games with the Indians prior to excelling in the postseason. The Mississauga, Ont., native set a major league record when he notched hits in his first five postseason at bats. He also became just the second big leaguer (equaling Chris Burke with the Houston Astros in 2005) to collect four extra-base hits in their first five postseason at bats. In all, Naylor went 5-for-7 (.714 batting average) with three doubles and a home run in two postseason games.
Tyler O’Neill (Maple Ridge, B.C.)
After playing parts of two seasons with the Cardinals in 2018 and 2019, O’Neill took over as the club’s starting left fielder and belted a career-high seven home runs in 50 games. He also provided elite defence in left field. For his efforts, he won a National League Gold Glove Award and a Fielding Bible Award. The 25-year-old Canuck had nine Defensive Runs Saved in 2020 and fielded all 89 defensive chances he had flawlessly, finishing with a 1.000 fielding percentage. With his honours, O’Neill became the first Canadian to win a Fielding Bible Award and the first Canadian outfielder to win a National League Gold Glove Award since fellow Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker captured one with the Colorado Rockies in 2002.
Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.)
Quantrill started his sophomore big league campaign by posting a 2-0 record and a 2.60 ERA in 10 contests (one start) with the Padres before he was traded with Naylor to the Indians on August 31. He continued to be a versatile and effective pitcher for his new club, registering a 1.84 ERA in eight appearances, including two starts. In all, he combined to make 18 appearances and finished with a 2.25 ERA and topped all Canadian big league pitchers in innings pitched (32) and strikeouts (31) and tied with Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) for most wins (2). He also made his postseason debut in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the Indians’ Wild Card series against the Yankees. He struck out Yankees’ outfielder Aaron Hicks to close out that frame.
Jamie Romak (London, Ont.)
While his major league counterparts were playing an abbreviated 60-game schedule, this right-handed hitting slugger competed in 139 contests for the SK Wyverns of the Korean Baseball Organization where he was an offensive force. Romak batted .282 with 32 home runs and 91 RBIs, while rapping out 32 doubles and walking 91 times. Romak also had 85 runs, a .399 on-base percentage, .546 slugging percentage and an .945 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) – the latter three numbers topped all Canadians in professional baseball in 2020.
Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.)
After appearing in 17 games for the Blue Jays in 2019, this hard-throwing right-hander emerged as a dominant late-inning reliever this year. The 6-foot-5 Canuck did not allow a hit or a run through his first eight appearances. In all, in 15 games, he recorded a 1.23 ERA and a 1.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) – both of these statistics were the best among Canadian pitchers. His two wins also tied him with Quantrill for the most by a Canuck. He also earned two saves and struck 21 batters in 14-2/3 innings before being sidelined with a finger injury.
Abraham Toro (Longueuil, Que.)
In his second major league season, Toro played in 33 games for the Astros and had 13 hits – including two doubles and three home runs. When he walked in his pinch-hit appearance for catcher Martin Maldonado in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, he became the first Canadian since Terry Puhl (Melville, Sask.) in 1980 to appear in a postseason game for the Astros.
Joey Votto (Etobicoke, Ont.)
This veteran Cincinnati Reds first baseman topped all Canuck big leaguers in home runs (11), walks (37), on-base percentage (.354) and OPS (.800). He also had 32 runs and 22 RBIs in 54 games and helped the Reds to their first postseason appearance since 2013.
Rowan Wick (North Vancouver, B.C.)
This hard-throwing right-hander continued to be a go-to, late-inning reliever for the Cubs. He led Canadian big league pitchers in appearances (19) and saves (4), while posting a 3.12 ERA and striking out 20 in 17-1/3 innings before being shut down with an oblique injury.
Unfortunately, James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) and Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.), the previous two Tip O’Neill Award winners, had their 2020 seasons end prematurely due to injuries. Paxton posted a 1-1 record and a 6.64 ERA in five starts for the New York Yankees before being sidelined with a flexor strain in his throwing arm. Soroka, meanwhile, registered a 3.95 ERA in three starts for the Atlanta Braves before he tore his Achilles tendon in a start on August 3.
Right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.) also pitched in a combined five major league games with the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox in 2020.
The Hall’s Tip O’Neill Award is named after Woodstock, Ont., native James “Tip” O’Neill who was one of Major League Baseball’s first legitimate stars. With the American Association’s St. Louis Browns in 1887, O’Neill set big league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage and total bases, while compiling a major league record .492 batting average. Walks were counted as hits in 1887, but if O’Neill’s average was calculated by today’s standards, it would be .435, the second-highest in big league history to Hugh Duffy who hit .440 in 1894.
Past winners of the James “Tip” O’Neill Award:
1984 – Terry Puhl
1985 – Dave Shipanoff
1986 – Rob Ducey
1987 – Larry Walker
1988 – Kevin Reimer
1989 – Steve Wilson
1990 – Larry Walker
1991 – Daniel Brabant
1992 – Larry Walker
1993 – Rob Butler
1994 – Larry Walker
1995 – Larry Walker
1996 – Jason Dickson
1997 – Larry Walker
1998 – Larry Walker
1999 – Jeff Zimmerman
2000 – Ryan Dempster
2001 – Corey Koskie
2001 – Larry Walker
2002 – Eric Gagné
2002 – Larry Walker
2003 – Eric Gagné
2004 – Jason Bay
2005 – Jason Bay
2006 – Justin Morneau
2007 – Russell Martin
2008 – Justin Morneau
2009 – Jason Bay
2010 – Joey Votto
2011 – Joey Votto
2011 – John Axford
2012 – Joey Votto
2013 – Joey Votto
2014 – Justin Morneau
2015 – Joey Votto
2016 – Joey Votto
2017 – Joey Votto
2018 – James Paxton
2019 – Mike Soroka
2020 – ??????