Who is the best Canadian Baseball player to ever lace up a pair of cleats north of the border? I have debated this topic many times and you can seemingly make great arguments for many canucks but the likes of Tip O’Neill, Twinkle Toes Selkirk, Ferguson Jenkins and Larry Walker always seem to garner the most praise and deservedly so.
In saying that, I posed the question to current and former players, personalities and pretty much any Baseball Annie that didn’t block me on Twitter in an attempt to uncover the maple syrup secret and crown Canada’s most influential Louisville Slugger wielding, aspirin tablet tossing canuck to ever grace a diamond.
As early as 1887 the maple leaf was stamped in professional baseball when Springfield, Ontario native Tip O’Neill won the Triple Crown as a member of the St. Louis Browns leading the American Association with a .435 batting average. O’Neill to this day is the only Triple Crown winner not enshrined in Cooperstown.
In 1936, Huntsville native George “Twinkle Toes” Selkirk knocked in 107 runs batted in playing outfield alongside Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio as a member of the New York Yankees.
Chatham native Ferguson Jenkins remains the only Canadian elected into the Hall of Fame notching 284 career wins including seven seasons with 20 or more wins and a Cy Young award under his belt. Oh did I mention Jenkins was also a member of the Harlem Globe Trotters, how is that for a well-rounded athlete.
Former Montreal Expos outfielder Larry Walker ended his career with 383 home runs and sees himself on the Cooperstown ballot for the third time this year. Walker won a most valuable player award in 1997 as did Justin Morneau in 2006 and Joey Votto in 2010 respectively. The trio along with Matt Stairs have combined for 985 career major league home runs proving there is some pop in that Canadian lumber.
Modern day players like Joey Votto, Justin Morneau, Russell Martin, Jason Bay, Matt Stairs and Brett Lawrie have put Canada on the map as a baseball nation to be reckoned with.
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To date 230 Canadians have played major league baseball since 1871 including 26 currently on major league rosters.
Here are the results of the 33 people that I polled, drum roll please:
Jose Canseco, Former MLB Player and Blue Jays Masher: “Fergie Jenkins. One tough pitcher that was old school. Hall of famer. First Canadian hall of Famer. Second has to be Larry Walker. Walker had everything if he would’ve stayed healthy.”
Wade Boggs, HOF Inductee Former MLB Player: “Fergie Jenkins Hall of Fame says it all.”
Ellis Valentine, Former MLB Player and Montreal Expo: “Terry Puhl, I just admired his get the job done style of play. I wanted that but I came from a different environment.”
Gregg Zaun, Former MLB Player: “Larry Walker. 5 tool player with brains and instincts.”
Adam Stern, Former MLB Player: “Hard to argue from an offensive standpoint not to put Larry Walker at the top of the list. For a span of a decade he was one of the most productive hitters in the major leagues but most importantly paved the way for many of the current Canadians players playing in the minor leagues as well as the big leagues. Obviously Fergie Jenkins being the only Canadian in Cooperstown there is more than a valid argument to pick him, but being a position player I will say that Larry is the best Canadian Baseball Player ever. Just my opinion.”
Dirk Hayhurst, Former MLB Player and Analyst: “Aside from me, nothing really jumps out. Votto is helping the cause.”
CJ Nitkowski, MLB Pitcher: “It’s always difficult to compare pitchers and hitters but I think I would go with Fergie Jenkins.”
Scott Richmond, MLB Pitcher: “My vote is for Larry Walker being the best Canadian baseball player in my mind! He’s definitely HOF worthy!!! He was the guy that all Canadian my age aspired to be! He showed us that if you work and practice hard a Canadian can make it and be successful playing Major League Baseball!”
Jason Dickson, Former MLB Pitcher: “I’ll keep it simple. Fergie Jenkins. 19 years. 284 W’s. Six straight years of 20-plus wins. Cy Young winner. HOF induction. My pick today. Votto might catch him in the long run, and Walker’s numbers are impressive as well. But Fergie led the way. Plus he’s a pitcher making me bias!”
Scott Mathieson, MLB Pitcher currently with Yomiuri Giants: “Larry Walker. Grew up watching him and he got a lot of Canadians into baseball when baseball still wasn’t all that big in Canada plus he gave a lot back to the community.”
Aaron Guiel, Former MLB Player: “Joey Votto would get my vote… Great hitter, who missed time but came back strong, continues to have success even with all the pressure from the expectations of past seasons.”
Blake Hawksworth, MLB Pitcher: “Larry Walker. He was the complete ball player. Power, avg, approach, speed, defence… You name it, he could do it. Had the opportunity to get to know him in St Louis and I think most importantly he’s a great ambassador for baseball Canada.”
Mark Hardy, San Diego Padres Prospect: “I’d have to go with Larry Walker, my age group grew up watching him on tv and he performed every year, the numbers don’t lie. However if I was 5 or 10 years younger Votto might be the answer. If he keeps doing his thing for awhile, he could take it.”
Ryan Kellogg, Blue Jays Draft Pick: “I’m not sure if he was the best statistically but I think Stubby Clapp is arguably one of the best Canadian baseball players. He was the definition of a grinder. He may not be 6’5″ like all the scouts are looking for and he may not have all the best tools but the tools and the work ethic are there. Through his hard work he brought out the best in himself and made it to the MLB even though it was short lived. He wasn’t in the MLB very long but he has made his presence known as a Canadian ball player in international play as well as being a coach. With the JNT we got to have him talk to us about his experience and the work that went into getting him there. He is a ball player through and through but he isn’t just a ball player, he is a Canadian ball player.”
Maxx Tissenbaum, San Diego Padres Prospect: “Larry Walker. Five-time MVP, who kind of led the charge for Canadians into pro ball. For a guy to have an impact not only as an incredible hitter, but also on the country’s future in pro ball is pretty impressive. He opened a lot of eyes to the fact that we can play really high quality baseball. People really woke up to that idea as he kept putting up monster numbers every year.”
David Otterman, Milwaukee Brewers Prospect: “Ferguson Jenkins, I think the career numbers speak for themselves, not to mention the fact he’s the only Canuck in Cooperstown.”
Cal Quantrill, Team Canada Pitcher: “Larry Walker – put up hall of fame numbers over a long career – five-time all-star – 97 MVP season-senior national team coach.”
Marcus Knecht, Blue Jays Prospect: “Based on circumstances, mentality, heart and love for the game Stubby Clapp takes the cake. Legend!!!!!”
Tyson Gillies, Philadelphia Phillies Prospect: “Larry Walker, He was not only strong with the bat but was one heck of a right fielder.”
Kellin Deglan, Texas Rangers Prospect: “For me, Larry Walker, He hit for power and average and played good defence in right field also had a cannon.”
Justin Atkinson, Blue Jays Prospect: “Justin Morneau from New Westminster! Hits for power, average, plays a good 1st base, MVP. Supports and Represents Canada well.”
Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays Prospect: “Justin Morneau- Great player on the field. Represents & gives back to Canada. Very well spoken & humble. Role model to look up to.”
Jimmy Van Ostrand, Washington Nationals Prospect: “Larry Walker- he was the face of Canadian baseball for an entire generation putting up hall of fame caliber numbers.”
Julian Service, Baltimore Orioles Draft Pick: “I think the best Canadian player would be Larry Walker because he played the game hard every time and he was a very humble player. Also he had a .313 career avg, received MVP, and had seven Gold glove awards and he made it to the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.”
Tim Smith, Atlanta Braves Prospect: Larry Walker – “If you take a look at his numbers over the years, you’ll catch yourself stopping quite a few times along the way just to say “wow”. His numbers were beyond gaudy and not just offensively, he was a five-tool player. On a personal level, he is a left handed swinging outfielder, as am I, so he was always someone to look up to.”
Jeff Sammut, Fan 590 Radio Personality: “Thankfully, there are plenty to choose from. And you can make an argument for many. But if I had to pick one, I’d have to go with Fergie Jenkins. Only one in Cooperstown…so far! Hard not to pick Larry Walker though.”
Mark Hebscher, TV Anchor Sportsline: “Fergie Jenkins. Only Cdn born HOFer. Stud pitcher in the era of Gibson, Koufax, Perry, Drysdale, etc. Huge innings eater.”
Gregor Chisholm, Blue Jays Beat Writer: “Ferguson Jenkins. Hall of Famer, best Canadian pitcher of all-time, had a huge impact on his generation. ”
Jonah Keri, Baseball Writer and Author: “Fergie by a fair margin.”
Michael Grange, Rogers Sportsnet Personality: “Fergie Jenkins.”
Scott Carson, Blue Jays TV statistician: “Larry Walker. Hit for avg, power & was a superior defender. Oh and was a class act devoid of controversy.”
Jim Lang, Fan 590 Radio Personality: “I will go with positional players 1. Larry Walker 2. Joey Votto 3. George “Twinkle Toes” Selkirk, His numbers playing alongside Joe DiMaggio were impressive.”