Jenkins still considered best among Canadians
Poll ranks Hall of Famer No. 1; Walker, Morneau, Votto follow
The Cincinnati Reds have made Joey Votto the wealthiest athlete in Canada, but the superstar first baseman has some ground to cover if he plans to reach the level of his homeland's all-time greats.
According to a distinguished panel of Canadian media members, Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins remains -- by virtually unanimous acclaim -- the best baseball talent produced by the hockey-mad country. Larry Walker, the complete right fielder, stands alone among position players.
Jenkins showed up on top of all 15 ballots cast, appearing twice as 1A, behind Walker. The durable right-hander shared No. 1 with the former Montreal and Colorado superstar, with two voters insisting on separating pitchers from position players.
"From what I've gathered," wrote broadcaster Jacques Doucet in an email, "there have been, since 1871, some 230 Canadians who have played or are still playing in the Major Leagues.
"As far as the pitchers are concerned, I find that Ferguson Jenkins is the best ever to come out of Canada. He's followed by Éric Gagné, who won a Cy Young but did not pitch long enough to really challenge Fergie.
"Of the position players, I put Larry Walker in the No. 1 spot. Larry, in my book, was a five-tool player, while others -- such as Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Matt Stairs, Russell Martin and Joey Votto -- do not fall into that category."
Morneau takes third by a slender margin ahead of Votto in the points-weighted balloting.
Fifth is Stairs, followed by George "Twinkletoes" Selkirk,Gagne, Bay, John Hiller, Terry Puhl, Ryan Dempster and Paul Quantrill.
Beset by the lingering effects of a concussion the past two seasons, Morneau, the Twins' first baseman, is in the process of regaining his stroke.
Canada's Top Nine
|1. Ferguson Jenkins, 148 points|
|2. Larry Walker, 114|
|3. Justin Morneau, 66|
|4. Joey Votto, 62|
|5. Matt Stairs, 20|
|6. Jason Bay, 14|
|7. Eric Gagne, 12|
|8. George Selkirk, 10|
|9. Tie among John Hiller, Terry Puhl, Ryan Dempster, Paul Quantrill and Tip O'Neill, 8 each.|
There is some irony in Morneau, who turns 31 next month, struggling with physical issues. As Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons pointed out, Justin "had to decide between hockey and baseball and gave up playing goal for ball."
Head injuries, alas, aren't limited to the chilling confines of flying bodies and pucks.
"Justin Morneau -- assuming he continues to resume a fine career after concussion problems -- is my No. 3," John Lott of the National Post said. "But Votto is 3A and rising."
Votto, at 28, was rewarded by the Reds with a 10-year, $225 million contract through 2023 in the wake of the monster deals signed by fellow first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder over the winter. Morneau's six-year, $80 million pact expires after next season.
Toronto born and Etobicoke, Ontario, reared, Votto carries a .312 career average with a .406 on-base percentage and .548 slugging mark. He has averaged 31 homers and 102 RBIs in his four-plus seasons as Cincinnati's centerpiece.
"He's in the conversation as one of baseball's best current hitters," noted Mike Wilner of Sportsnet Radio FAN 590 in Toronto.
Along with Morneau, Votto, Bay, Dempster and Martin, active players drawing attention of the voters included third baseman Brett Lawrie and pitchers John Axford, Rich Harden and Erik Bedard.
A handful of panel members consider Lawrie, the Blue Jays' second-year force, a candidate to crack the big five -- and, like Votto, possibly even challenge Jenkins and Walker.
"Around here, of course," Toronto-based Ian Harrison of The Associated Press volunteered, "there's hope that Brett Lawrie will become the best Canadian in the game."
Bob Elliott, venerable Toronto Sun scribe, alludes to Jenkins, the pride of Chatham, Ontario, as "the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame."
With characteristic modesty, Elliott neglects to point out that he'll join Fergie in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July. As the 2012 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Elliott -- who has entertained and informed readers for three decades in Ottawa and Toronto -- will be the first Canadian journalist so honored.
Jenkins was enshrined in 1991, in his third year of eligibility. The 1971 NL Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs, for whom he won 167 of his 284 games, Jenkins finished second twice and third twice in the balloting.
A seven-time 20-game winner with 267 complete games, he ranks 12th all-time in strikeouts with 3,192 -- right ahead of Pedro Martinez, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.
Jenkins "did it all and now is a wonderful ambassador for baseball and Canada, giving so much of his time," observed Jerry Howarth of Sportsnet Radio FAN.
Walker, Maple Ridge, British Columbia's gift to the grand old game, won three batting titles, hitting .313 lifetime with a .400 on-base percentage and .565 slugging mark. He captured seven Rawlings Gold Gloves and was the 1997 NL MVP, drawing votes in seven other seasons.
In his second appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, Walker drew only 22.9 percent of votes in 2012. This doubtless reflects the impression that he benefited inordinately from playing 597 of his 1,988 games -- 30 percent -- at Coors Field, where he hit .381 with 154 of his 383 homers.
Walker, in Wilner's view, "deserves to join Fergie in Cooperstown, but his accomplishments will likely be overlooked because he spent so much time in Colorado. An all-timer, to be sure."
"He dominated like no other Canadian position player," submitted Shi Davidi of Rogers Sportsnet, "and I give him the nod over Jenkins because of how many current Canadian players point to [Walker] as their inspiration -- and the father-figure role he maintains to Canucks in the game."
Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star called Walker "the best outfielder I've seen," adding, "[Scott] Rolen said he's his best teammate ever."
Elliott shares a tale linking Walker with Morneau. Before Morneau's Major League debut on June 10, 2003, with the Twins in Minnesota -- batting cleanup in Interleague Play against the Rockies -- Walker sent to the Minnesota clubhouse for Morneau an autographed bat inscribed "Do Canada proud."
Morneau dutifully has followed those instructions, carrying his homeland's banner and taking young Canadian players under his wing.
Stairs, the power plant from Saint John, New Brunswick, finished fifth by appearing among the top five on five of the 15 ballots.
A 19-year veteran who wore 12 Major League uniforms, the travelin' man hammered 265 homers and drove in 899 runs. No pitcher wanted to see him stroll out of the dugout late in a close game.
"His 265 lifetime homers are second to Walker's 383 for a Canadian," noted former Montreal Expos beat writer Danny Gallagher, adding that Stairs is the "all-time MLB leader in pinch-hit homers, with 23."
Davidi sums up Stairs: "Underrated career, put up numbers at all stops, good character player, never got cheated in an AB."
"The toughest decision was at No. 5," concluded Michael Farber, the graceful Sports Illustrated writer, "where Jeff Heath and Twinkletoes Selkirk were in the mix."
Farber, who decided on Dempster as No. 5, reached into the pages of history to call attention to Heath, a left fielder for 14 seasons starting in 1936, with his best work in Cleveland. Heath, from Fort William, Ontario, earned MVP Award votes five times and was a two-time All-Star, putting together an impressive career slash line of .293/.370/.509.
Selkirk, another Ontario product born in Huntsville, replaced Babe Ruth in right field and spent nine highly productive seasons with the dynastic Yankees. Twinkletoes also was ahead of his time with a .400 lifetime on-base percentage to go with a .290 average and .483 slugging mark.
Steve Milton, columnist for the Hamilton Spectator, has Selkirk ranked second, between Jenkins and Walker.
Reaching back into the 19th century, we find Tip O'Neill, from Springfield, Ontario. He won the 1887 Triple Crown with the St. Louis Browns, batting .435 for a team that went 95-40 but lost the championship, 10 games to five, to the Detroit Wolverines.
A number of our participating historians gave a tip of the fedora to O'Neill as the father of the game in Canada.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.