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Thursday, December 13, 2012
70 years ago, the greatest Canadian ballplayer of all-time was born: Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins.
When Fergie Jenkins entered the world in Chatham, Ontario on Dec. 13, 1942, plenty of Canadians had made it to the majors: 113 men, to be exact.
However, few of those 113 were memorable. More importantly, Canadians had become increasingly scarce in the majors. In terms of quantity, the golden age for Canadians appeared to be in the 1880s, when 40 Canadians made it to the majors.
Back in those days, few men west of the Mississippi or south of the Ohio made it to the majors. As major league baseball’s reach expanded across America, it seemed to dry up in Canada.
In the 1890s, 16 Canadians made it to the majors. Well, there was also contraction, with just 12 teams for most of those years. In the first decade of the 20th century, the number bounced up to 23. But in the 1910s, it collapsed to just eight—with none after 1916.
In the 1920s, six Canadians made it to the majors—and none played more than a half-dozen games. Just seven made it in the 1930s, though it included the first Canadian All-Stars, in George Selkirk and Jeff Heath.
A surge finally began in the early 1940s, and by the time of Fergie’s birth another 10 had made it to the majors. Still, the best Canadian players ever by then were guys like George Selkirk or 19th century batting champion Tip O’Neill. The all-time Canadian hits leader was George Wood, with 1,467. No Canadian had ever won 100 games. Russ Ford just missed, with 99.
More Canadians kept coming, but they were rarely notable. When Jenkins debuted in 1965, the most recent Canadian to play in 1,000 games was still Jeff Heath, who made it to the majors 29 years earlier. The next hitter to do it was Terry Puhl.
Thus when Jenkins retired, he was easily the best Canadian ballplayer of all-time. His 283 wins easily topped all his fellow members from Maple Syrup Land. No one else had half as many.
The only real challenger to Jenkins’ Canadian supremacy is former rightfielder Larry Walker. He was a terrific player and if he’d stayed healthy he could make a claim. But with under 2,000 games played in 17 seasons, he’s still second behind Jenkins.
Among current players the most notable Canadians are Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, Eric Gagne, Ryan Dempster, and Votto. Morneau has been derailed by injuries, as was Gange. Bay and Dempster had their moments but weren’t even close to Jenkins. Votto is the only guy currently playing with a chance, but he’ll have to be mighty good for quite some time to catch Jenkins.
For now Jenkins can celebrate his 70th birthday knowing he’s still the best Canadian baseball player of all-time.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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