Yes, 2013 was a banner year for Canadian baseball players – 22 of whom competed in the big leagues this season.
But 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 present their James “Tip” O’Neill Award. 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 midnight ET on Friday, December 6. 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 13.
Here’s a summary of the prime contenders in alphabetical order. (The Hall also welcomes write-in votes for players not on this list):
This 28-year-old southpaw made his big league debut in 2013 and promptly tossed 17-1/3 shutout innings in his first two starts. In all, in 10 starts with the Twins, he posted a 4.05 ERA and walked just seven batters in 60 innings. Prior to his August call-up, Albers recorded 11 wins and a 2.86 ERA in Triple-A. For his efforts, he was named the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
John Axford (Port Dover, ON)
Co-winner of the 2011 Tip O’Neill Award, Axford tied a career-high by appearing in a combined 75 games with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. After being dealt to the Cardinals on August 30, Axford posted a 1.74 ERA in 13 games and helped the Redbirds to a National League pennant.
Toeing the rubber for the Houston Astros, this six-foot-one southpaw pitched 151 innings and struck out 138 batters in 2013 – his highest totals in those respective categories since 2007. Bedard’s best three-month stretch came from May through July when he recorded a combined 3.67 ERA.
Jesse Crain (Toronto, Ont.)
Before being sidelined by a shoulder injury, this reliable right-hander was enjoying one of the best seasons ever by a Canadian reliever. In 38 games with the Chicago White Sox, he posted a miniscule 0.74 ERA and fanned 46 batters in 36-2/3 innings. For his efforts, he was selected to the all-star game for the first time. He was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 29, but never pitched for his new club due to his shoulder injury.
After signing with the Boston Red Sox in the off-season, this veteran right-hander made 29 starts and posted a 4.57 ERA in 2013. Dempster was moved to the bullpen for the Bosox post-season run, where he allowed one run in three innings in relief. Dempster became the first Canadian to hoist the World Series trophy since Matt Stairs (St. John, N.B.) did so with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. In January, he also became the fifth member of Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence.
Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.)
This 31-year-old right-hander assumed the Milwaukee Brewers’ closing duties from fellow Canadian John Axford in April and proceeded to register 28 saves (tied for 11e best in the National League). Henderson struck out 75 batters in 60 innings and compiled a solid 2.70 ERA. For his efforts, he was named the relief pitcher on Topps’ 2013 Rookie All-Star team.
The Toronto Blue Jays sparkplug third baseman managed 102 hits and 11 home runs despite missing more than 50 games to injuries in 2013. Lawrie also rapped out 18 doubles, collected nine stolen bases and provided the club with sparkling defence at third base. He found his batting stroke after the all-star break when he hit .283 and recorded a .346 on-base percentage.
Jordan Lennerton (Langley, B.C.)
This 27-year-old first baseman recorded a .382 on-base percentage for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2013 and was selected to play in the Futures Game. In 139 games in Triple-A this season, he finished with 17 homers, 84 walks, a .430 slugging percentage and a .278 batting average. He also won a minor league Gold Glove award for his fielding prowess.
After inking a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the season, this Canadian catcher proceeded to toss out a Major League-leading 36 runners and lead National League catchers in fielding percentage (.998) and assists (103). For his efforts, he was named the Pirates’ Wilson Defensive Player of the Year. No slouch at the plate, Martin also slammed 15 homers, 21 doubles and placed 24e in the National League MVP voting.
Justin Morneau (New Westminster, B.C.)
After batting .636 for Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Morneau went on to belt 17 homers and drive in a Canadian-best 77 runs in 2013. Splitting his season between the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates, the left-handed hitting first baseman also topped Canadians with 36 doubles and finished second to Joey Votto with 148 hits. Heavily involved in community and humanitarian efforts, Morneau was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award and was named the Twins’ Bob Allison Award winner, which is handed out to a player who exemplifies determination, hustle, tenacity, competitive spirit and leadership on and off the field.
After posting a respectable 4.45 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, this six-foot-four lefty held the Tampa Bay Rays to one earned run in six innings and recorded the win for the Seattle Mariners in his big league debut. He was similarly effective in three ensuing starts, finishing the season with three wins and a 1.50 ERA.
Michael Saunders (Victoria, B.C.)
This six-foot-four outfielder was named to the World Baseball Classic All-Star team after hitting .727 for the Canadian squad. He followed that up by slugging 12 homers and swiping 13 bases (the most by a Canadian) in 131 games for the Seattle Mariners in 2013. He also racked up 23 doubles, 54 walks and a .400 slugging percentage.
Stéphanie Savoie (Québec City, Que.)
On the strength of her tournament-leading .529 batting average at the Canada-Japan International Series in Granby, Que., in July, Savoie was named MVP of the Canadian national women’s team for a second consecutive year. In five games at the Granby event, the Canadian catcher rapped out three doubles and a triple and knocked in six runs – the second-most at the tournament.
Selected to his fourth consecutive all-star game, the Cincinnati Reds first baseman set new Canadian records for walks in a season (135) and times on base (316). He also led the National League in both of those categories, as well as in on-base percentage (.435), games played at first base (161), plate appearances (726) and assists by a first-baseman (154). The left-handed-hitting slugger topped Canadians in every offensive category except for doubles, RBIs and stolen bases and finished sixth in National League MVP voting.
Canadians Jim Adduci (Burnaby, B.C.) and Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) made their big league debuts in 2013, while Phillippe Aumont (Gatineau, Que.), Jason Bay (Trail, B.C.), Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.), Jeff Francis (Vancouver, B.C.), George Kottaras (Scarborough, Ont.), Chris Leroux (Montreal, Que.), Mike Nickeas (Vancouver, B.C.) and Pete Orr (Toronto, Ont.) also appeared in the big leagues.
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 (.438).
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