Baseball in Canada

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Baseball in Canada
A game of baseball in progress during the 2017 Canada Games
CountryCanada, Ontario
Governing bodyBaseball Canada
National team(s)
First playedBeachville, Ontario, 1838
National competitions
Club competitions

Baseball in Canada is played at various levels throughout the country, including by Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, founded in 1977 (Canada's first MLB team, the Montreal Expos, formed in 1969, relocated to Washington, D.C. in 2005) and Minor League Baseball's Vancouver Canadians, an affiliate of the Blue Jays competing in the High-A Northwest League. There are also several teams that compete in independent baseball leagues, such as the Trois-Rivières Aigles of the Frontier League and the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association.[1]

Notable amateur leagues include the Intercounty Baseball League (Ontario), Ligue de Baseball Majeur du Québec (Quebec), and the collegiate Western Canadian Baseball League (Alberta and Saskatchewan). There are additionally amateur-level baseball teams playing in each province in the summer months under the auspices of Baseball Canada. Several American-based collegiate leagues have teams in Canada.

History[edit]

19th century[edit]

Adapted from the British game of rounders—and by extension, cricket—the game of base ball or "townball" became popular in the early 19th century in Southwestern Ontario (then Canada West or Upper Canada), New York and New England.[2]

Bronze plaque with light-colored raised lettering on a dark-colored background
Plaque in Beachville commemorating the oldest verified baseball game played in Canada

University of Western Ontario professor Bob Barney researched the oldest verified baseball game played in Canada, based on a letter from Dr. Adam E. Ford of Denver, Colorado, formerly of St. Marys, Ontario, and Beachville, Ontario, to the editor of Sporting Life, published on May 5, 1886. In the letter, Ford described in detail a game he witnessed on June 4, 1838—Militia Muster Day, played in Beachville, Ontario.[3][4] Barney verified the names of participants and descriptions of the field; by researching tax forms, census records, maps, church records, and tombstones, and found that all of the participants and details in Ford's letter were correct.[4][5][6]

The Journal of Sport History published Barney's findings in 1988.[3] The Canadian claim to the oldest verified baseball game was subsequently recognized by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.[6] Barney opined that following the American Revolution, settlers in Southwestern Ontario brought their recreational activities.[3] Ted Spencer, curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and historian Tom Heitz, noted that records exist of earlier bat and ball games played in the United States that evolved into baseball, and agreed that American settlers in Canada likely brought the game with them.[5]

Originally, the rules of the game were informal in nature and often modified to reflect regional preferences.[7]

In Ontario, a variant of baseball known as "The Canadian Game" was most prevalent. It featured five bases, bats that resembled those used in cricket or rounders and eleven players per team. All eleven players went to bat each inning, which would not end until they were all retired.[8]

The American variant of baseball had nine players a side instead of eleven, and four bases instead of five. Southwestern Ontario was the first region in Canada to adopt this version of the game, doing so in 1860.[9] The so-called "Canadian Game" soon fell out of favour.

The London Tecumsehs of London, Ontario, were charter members of the International Association and won its first championship in 1877, beating the Pittsburgh Alleghenies.[10]

Rather than competing nationally in an east–west fashion, local baseball clubs would instead compete with their American neighbours to the south. This meant that teams from the Maritimes played teams from New England, teams from Quebec played against teams from New York and teams from British Columbia competed with those from Washington.[9]

The first Canadian to appear in a Major League game was Bill Phillips, who played for Cleveland. In his first game on May 1, 1879, the Saint John, New Brunswick native went hitless, although managed to get three hits the next game. In his second season, in 1880, he became the first Canadian to hit a home run in the Majors.[9]

By the 1880s black Canadians were barred from playing in white professional leagues, but Emancipation Day black vs white matches provided an opportunity for black teams to shine, such as when the Northern Stars trounced a white team in Edmonton.[11]

Early 20th century[edit]

Delormier Stadium in Montreal was home to the Montreal Royals of the International League from 1928 to 1960.

By 1913, there were 24 minor league baseball teams in Canada, a number which has been unequalled since.[9]

Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run on Canadian soil on September 5, 1914, at the former Hanlan's Point Stadium on Centre Island in Toronto. Ruth was playing for the Providence Grays against the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team of the International League.[2] In 1985, the City of Toronto erected a small plaque to denote the location, but it is difficult to locate, given the parklike setting and remote nature of the Toronto Islands.

In 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey assigned new-signing Jackie Robinson to the Montreal Royals of the International League, Brooklyn's Triple-A farm team. Robinson would famously go on to break Major League Baseball's colour barrier the following year in 1947, but during his season in Montreal Robinson led the Royals to the Governors' Cup, the IL championship, and became a beloved figure in the city. In Ken Burns' documentary film Baseball, the narrator quotes Sam Maltin, a stringer for the Pittsburgh Courier: "It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."

Following Robinson's breaching of the colour barrier, in the 1950s many other players from the declining Negro leagues travelled north to ply their trade in Canada, including Hall of Famers Leon Day, Satchel Paige and Willie Wells, who like many other African-American players competed in the Mandak League.[12][13]

In 1957, former Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Glen Gorbous, a native of Drumheller, Alberta set the current world record for longest throw of a baseball at 445 feet 10 inches (135.89 m) in Omaha, Nebraska.

Late 20th century and beyond[edit]

The first Canadian in the National Baseball Hall of Fame was Ferguson Jenkins, a right-handed pitcher who compiled a 284–226 record, 3.34 ERA and 3,192 strikeouts in 19 seasons from 1965 to 1983 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox. Jenkins is one of the Black Aces, a group of African American pitchers with at least 20 wins in a single major-league season[14] (although Jenkins is actually a Black Canadian, not African American). In 2020, Larry Walker became the second Canadian inducted into the Hall of Fame. Walker played right field for the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals from 1989 to 2005, winning the National League MVP in 1997 with the Rockies.

A baseball game during the Toronto Blue Jays's inaugural season. The team later became the first Canadian-based team to win the World Series.

The London Tecumsehs were refused admission to the National League in 1877 because they refused to stop playing exhibition games against local teams. While baseball is widely played in Canada, the American major leagues did not include a Canadian team until 1969, when the Montreal Expos joined the National League. The team enjoyed a widespread following until about 1994, when the Expos were in first place in the NL East; after the strike shortened year, a series of poor management decisions, disputes with the city, and neglect by the ownership caused the Expos to be routinely last in MLB attendance.

In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League. They later became the first Canadian-based team to win the World Series, winning back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993.[2]

In 1993, besides the two Canadian major league clubs, Canada hosted four Triple-A teams (the Calgary Cannons, Edmonton Trappers, Ottawa Lynx and Vancouver Canadians), one Double-A team (the London Tigers), two Class A Short Season teams (the St. Catharines Blue Jays and Welland Pirates) and two rookie-level teams (the Lethbridge Mounties and Medicine Hat Blue Jays).

In 2003 an attempt to create the Canadian Baseball League was launched, but the league folded halfway through its first season.

In 2004, the Expos, then owned by MLB itself, moved to Washington, D.C., and became the Washington Nationals, leaving the Toronto Blue Jays as the only remaining Canadian MLB team.

In the 2010s, the sport experienced a surge of popularity.[15][16][17][18]

Governance[edit]

The Canadian national baseball team playing at the Rogers Centre during the 2006 World Baseball Classic

The governing body of baseball in Canada is Baseball Canada, which is based in Ottawa and was founded in 1964. Baseball Canada is a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and the International Baseball Federation.

National team[edit]

The Canadian national baseball team represents Canada in international competitions. Since 1970, the team has participated in 17 Baseball World Cups. Canada earned the bronze medal in the 2009 Baseball World Cup, their highest finish in the history of the competition. In the 2004 Summer Olympics they placed fourth, losing the game for 3rd place to Japan and, in 2008, they finished fifth. In four appearances so far at the World Baseball Classic, the team has not finished higher than 9th place. The national team also won gold medals at the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games.

Club competition[edit]

After the Montreal Expos were relocated to Washington, D.C., only one Canadian team plays in Major League Baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays. Among the Minor League Baseball system, a collection of minor leagues that hold a formal relationship with Major League Baseball, only one is based in Canada, the Vancouver Canadians. The Vancouver Canadians are presently affiliate of the Blue Jays, and play in the Northwest League at the High-A level.

Several other Canada-based teams play in low-tier American independent circuits, including the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, and the Frontier League.[19]

Notable players[edit]

Ferguson Jenkins, one of only two Canadians in the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Canada has produced some successful players in Major League Baseball. Ferguson Jenkins and Larry Walker are currently the only Canadians in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The following table lists other achievements earned by Canadian baseball players.

Award Player Year
MLB Most Valuable Player Award Larry Walker 1997
MLB Most Valuable Player Award Justin Morneau 2006
MLB Most Valuable Player Award Joey Votto 2010
MLB Most Valuable Player Award Freddie Freeman 2020
Cy Young Award Ferguson Jenkins 1971
Cy Young Award Éric Gagné 2003
MLB Rookie of the Year Award Jason Bay 2004
Silver Slugger Award Justin Morneau 2006, 2008
Silver Slugger Award Russell Martin 2006
Silver Slugger Award Larry Walker 1992, 1997, 1999
Silver Slugger Award Jason Bay 2009
Gold Glove Russell Martin 2007
Gold Glove Larry Walker 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002
Rolaids Relief Man Award John Axford 2011

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Goldeyes Add Canadian National Team Member, Trade Two Arms". OurSports Central. 2022-06-21. Retrieved 2022-11-10.
  2. ^ a b c Samuel R. Hill. (2000). Baseball in Canada. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 8(1), 37–72.
  3. ^ a b c North, Andrew. "The Beachville Game". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  4. ^ a b "Baseball Has Border Dispute". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. June 20, 1995. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  5. ^ a b Rodgers, Ted (April 14, 1995). "Canada stakes its claim as the birthplace of baseball". Kenosha News. Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Sporting News. p. 23.
  6. ^ a b Jory, Bill (February 22, 1996). "Americans in futile fuss over baseball's origins". The Sun Times. Owen Sound, Ontario. Southam News. p. 16.
  7. ^ "Drawing the Color Line: 1860s to 1890s | Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson | Articles and Essays | By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s | Digital Collections | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2022-11-10.
  8. ^ "Canadian Game - Protoball". protoball.org. Retrieved 2022-11-10.
  9. ^ a b c d "2010–2014 Strategic Planning Document" (PDF). Baseball Canada. 2010. pp. 2, 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 6 January 2011.
  10. ^ "1877 London Tecumsehs". Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved 2022-11-10.
  11. ^ Henry, Natasha L. (2011). Talking about freedom : celebrating Emancipation Day in Canada. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 1459700503. Blacks played against Whites, but there were no teams mixed with players of both races: "In the afternoon a baseball match in which the local colored nine, the Northern Stars, swamped a picked team of white players caused many a dusky son to show his ivory..." It provided a venue where Blacks could laugh at Whites and shout out comments without any fear of racial reprisal
  12. ^ Stahl, Michael (30 April 2017). "The secret history of black baseball players in Canada's great white north". Salon. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  13. ^ Morgan, T Kent (8 April 2015). "The first time Satchel Paige pitched in Winnipeg". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  14. ^ Grant, Jim "Mudcat"; Sabellico, Tom; O'Brien, Pat (2007). The Black Aces: Baseball's Only African-American Twenty-Game Winners. Aventine Press. ISBN 978-1593304881.
  15. ^ Riper, Tom Van. "The Toronto Blue Jays Push to Reignite Baseball In Canada". Forbes.
  16. ^ Brait, Ellen (7 September 2015). "Soaring Blue Jays have got Toronto – and Canada – back in love with baseball" – via The Guardian.
  17. ^ "Turning Canada blue: Hockey nation embraces baseball's bat-flipping Blue Jays". 16 September 2016.
  18. ^ "Canada: Baseball participation, popularity rising across the nation". WBSC.org. 2016-10-12. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  19. ^ "Frontier Baseball League merges with Can-Am League".

External links[edit]