“Our Game Too: Influential Figures and Milestones
in Canadian Baseball”
The editors: Andrew North, with Len Levin, Bill Nowlin and Carl Riechers
The publishing info: Society of American Baseball Research, in coordination with
The Centre For Canadian Baseball Research and the SABR Greater Toronto Chapter; 458 pages, $34.95, released May 20, 2022
The review in 90 feet or less
All hail the 50th Society for American Baseball Research convention, twice delayed by COVID but now underway in Baltimore — launching Wednesday, wrapping up Sunday and, in many ways, never really ending.
Having attended one in Long Beach in 2011, and also traveling for San Diego’s SABR 49 to chronicle the 50th anniversary of The Baseball Encyclopedia, we can vouch they are well worth the time and expense to track them down, a delightful gatherings of men and women who love to share their research with other like-minded folks, a group appreciation of the thrill of the search as well as finding that nugget you didn’t know was out there. And then discussing it all.
This year, they’ve scheduled excursions to an Orioles’ game, touring Babe Ruth’s birth place museum, and tracking down historic ballpark sites in the area (like Baltimore’s old Memorial Stadium). They’ve been having trivia contests, handing out awards, having authors talk about their books, and planting panel discussion on things such as: “Longer Game Lengths … How Much Are Foul Balls to Blame?” or “Meta Pitch Tracking: How The Changes in Pitch Tracking Technologies Should Change How We Look at the Data They Collect.”
Maybe we missed it on the schedule, but we were hoping there would be some recognition of this latest SABR-generated project about our neighbors to the north, and how the game played out in their history.
Call it: “Oh, Canada, Thank You For Thinking of Us”
Canada was the country during COVID that forced its lone MLB team, the Toronto Blue Jays, to shuffle off to Buffalo — if it was to have a season at all in 2020. You can’t do it here. Go there, whey they don’t seem to care about public health as much.
Canada also won’t allow U.S. teams to bring in players who aren’t vaccinated – leaving some squads to shamefully arrive without some of their top stars, and no real explanation for their freedom of personal choice over the safety of those who may come to watch them perform.
Canada stands on guard for all of us.
This isn’t necessary, considering how the U.S. may have had baseball first – or claim to it – but our foreign trade policy to our neighbors to the north with the game’s professional existence is rather embarrassing.
They once had two Major League Baseball teams, then forced one to legally immigrate and be housed in our nation’s capital. With no apologies. We wish we had the words to explain our appreciation. Is this workable?
Because of that mess, the MLB no longer has in circulation one of, it not the, coolest baseball caps in the sport’s history. Especially when you learn all the nuances of it:
In honor of this book – broken up into two sections, covering the 19th and 20th Centuries, with 37 contributors – and of the SABR convention coming back, and finding out new and cool things to have on file, we’ve decided to make our Top 10 things learned from this oversized research project, if ordered, will land on your porch like a Spiegel catalogue:
== The point person, Andrew North, is a retired developer of statistical software, director of the Centre for Canadian Baseball Research and serves on the editorial board of the Journal for Canadian Baseball.
== In 1793, there is a record of “a game of base ball” in Saint John, New Bruinswick. The first teams were formed in Hamilton, Ontario in 1854. William Shuttleworth formed the country’s first formal team that year called the Young Canadians. The first international game happened between the Burlingtons of Hamilton C.W. (Canada West, now called Ontario) and the Queen Citys of Buffalo in 1860 in a place called Clifton that no longer exists.
== More than 250 Canadian-born players have appeared in the major leagues. More than 130 of them are pitchers. Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman (born in Fountain Valley) has Canadian citizenship from his parents. Former Dodgers All Stars Eric Gagne and Russell Martin are among the most local notables born in Canada.
== Did the first official MLB game in Montreal happen with the Expos’ arrival on April 14, 1969 – with a team that needed a win in L.A. over the Dodgers on June 8 of that first year to end a 20-game losing streak? As SABR researcher David Matchett includes in his book-ending chapter about odds and ends he has found over the years, a July 24, 1918 story in the Boston Globe includes a piece about how the Boston Braves were going to play “the Chicago National League team” in Montreal on a Sunday coming up, and “net proceeds will be devoted to patriotic purposes (as this was during World War I) … and if the attendances warrants it, practically every team in the National and American Leagues, it is expected, will play in Montreal on Sundays.”
Blue laws kept Sunday baseball in Boston until 1929. Teams were trying to circumvent it. Then the Globe reported the next day saying the story was in error: “The game in Montreal will be an exhibition game, although both clubs will use their regular players.”
It was played at Delorimier Park, a horse race track that would be the future site of Delorimier Stadium (where Jackie Robinson played with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ top minor-league affiliate in 1946, the Montreal Royals). Boston won with two bases-loaded walks in the bottom of the ninth, 3-2. Only 2,500 attended.
So the Expos still kept the historical date of having a real game first.
== Springfield, Ontario-born James E. “Tip” O’Neill, dubbed “Canada’s Babe Ruth,” has an award named after him given to the best Canadian baseball player. In 10 seasons considered to be MLB-quality from the New York Gothams, St. Louis Browns, Chicago Pirates and Cincinnati Reds between 1883 and 1892, he won the American Association’s Triple Crown in 1887 with a .435 batting average. That mark, adjusted from .492, is second-best in the game’s history now, so says the Special Baseball Records Committee in 1968. O’Neill is one of seven MLB players in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary (home of the 1988 Winter Olympics). Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Larry Walker and Ferguson Jenkins are there, along with Phil Marchildon, Ron Taylor, John Hiller and Claude Ramond.
= Alfred H. Spink, who with his brother founded The Sporting News, that would become “The Baseball Bible,” was born in the 1852-range in Quebec City, Canada and moved to Chicago, and then St. Louis, as a journalist. The first edition of The Sporting News arrived on March 17, 1886, for 5 cents.
== Allan Roth, credited with pushing baseball analytics to a new level and became Vin Scully’s personal stat man in Brooklyn and L.A., was born in Montreal in 1917. Roth convinced Dodgers president Branch Rickey to hire him as not just a statistician, but someone who could provide proprietary data to the team’s benefits. Roth’s first day on the job with his expanded 17×14 scoresheets: April 15, 1947. He recorded every pitch of the team’s games for the next 18 years and Walter O’Malley moved him into the team’s broadcasting booth in 1954 to join Scully. “If you had some question that came to you in the middle of a game, he would reach down into the bag, and the next thing you knew you’d have your answer – it was marvelous,” Scully told Alan Schwarz, author of “The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics” for St. Martin’s Press in 2004. Roth went on to work for NBC’s Game of the Week. The SABR chapter of L.A. is named for him. More on his background here.
== Between 1941 and 1953, the Montreal Royals were the gold standard for minor league teams in North America. But it played its final game before 1,016 fans on Sept. 7, 1960, in their antiquated park, by passed for MLB status by five Triple-A franchises in Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul. By that point, Tommy Lasorda, “the longest-tenured and most recognizable Royal,” left the team after almost coming to blows with manager Clay Bryant, as noted in William Brown’s book, “Baseball’s Fabulous Montreal Royals” in 1996.
== Joseph Lannin, who owned the Boston Red Sox for less than four full years, was a native of Quebec, from Lac-Beauport, was orphaned and, according to legend, walked all the way to Boston. He brought Babe Ruth to the Red Sox as the team won two championships in 1915 and ’16. He then sold the franchise, tired of commissioner Ban Johnson’s “constant interference,” to Harry Frazee and Hugh Ward for $675,000, which included Fenway Park. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.
And two more for those in Baltimore might get a kick out of these:
== Brother Matthias, credited with finding and shaping the incorrigible George Herman Ruth into a ballplayer while sent off to be at the St. Mary’s Industrial Training School in Baltimore, was born as Martin Leo Boutilier on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia in 1872.
Ruth bought Brother Matthias a new Cadillac, but his vow of poverty resulted him in registering it to the St. Mary’s school. One night coming back from an event, the Caddy was stalled on a train track and demolished by a train. Brother Matthias and the boys in the car escaped unharmed. Ruth bought them another Cadillac. The story by Brian Martin is excerpted from his book, “The Man Who Made Babe Ruth” for McFarland in 2020).
How it goes in the scorebook
It translates well, even if the exchange rate can be oppressive — $34.95 in the U.S. and $45.99 in Canada. The book is also listed on Canada’s version of Amazon.com (if you didn’t know that existed).
Here’s the deal: First Canadian resident who sees this and requests it, we’ll mail it to them for free.
Love, your neighbor to the South.
You can look it up: More to ponder
== In January, 2022, a book landed called “Canadian Minor League Baseball: A History Since World War II,” by Jon T. Stott (McFarland, 242 pages), which details how from 1946 through 2020, 71 teams in 21 minor leagues represented 35 Canadian cities. Sixteen of those teams were only around for one season, including eight in the Canadian Baseball League of 2003. The Winnipeg Goldeyes have been around in the independent Northern League and American Association since 1994.
== Another book called, “Our Game, Too,” in 2017 by Billy and Jennifer Simpson, gets into the Asian Pacific Americans who played in the MLB.
== Josh Suchon’s podcast “Life Around The Seams” includes a recent episode with Tom Drees, who, as a member of the Triple-A Vancouver affiliate in 1989, threw three no-hitters, including back-to-back starts. He also threw three no-hit innings in the Triple-A All Star Game. But the Chicago White Sox never called him up the majors? Why? On July 6 of that year, when their paychecks had not arrived, the Vancouver Canadians players staged a walkout and refused to play a game, citing it wasn’t the first time checks were late. The story became national news, the White Sox were livid, and the organization took it out on the players the rest of the season.