06 February 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Canada

This is the second in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Previously, we reviewed Australia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

The body of the Canada article was written by Chris Lindsay.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 6th
2013 Pool USA


2013 Players of Note Russell Martin, C

Joey Votto, 1B

Justin Morneau, 1B

Brett Lawrie, 3B

Adam Loewen, OF

2009 Record 0 - 2, Round 1

2006 Record 1 - 2 2 - 1, Round 1

As everyone knows, in Canada ice hockey is king. But Canadians, like Americans and Australians, are an extremely sporting people, and play all sorts of sports. Baseball is very popular there and Canada has a long history with the game. 

In fact, baseball seems to have evolved almost in parallel in Canada and the US. Because both countries shared the British colonial heritage, traditional bat and ball games like rounders were played on both sides of the border. Although modern baseball as we know it evolved out of the games played around New York City in the early nineteenth century, it was very similar to games being played in Canada at the same time. The first documented playing of a game called 'baseball' was in Beachville, Ontario, in 1838, although as was usual for the era, the rules were quite different from the modern game. (The game featured five bases and eleven-man lineups, raising the question of whether they used a fourth outfielder or two shortstops along with a fourth baseman!) As the game evolved into the modern form we know today, Canadians quickly adopted it. Throughout the nineteenth century, baseball was played all over Canada and Canadians often played against US teams. 

For geographic, economic, and cultural reasons, Canada is closely linked with the US, and so Canadian baseball has always been closely linked with US baseball. Various amateur, independent, and minor league teams have always existed in Canada. The only major league teams based outside of the US have been the Montreal Expos (1969-2004) and the Toronto Blue Jays (1977-present). Surprisingly, there is currently only one minor league team, the Vancouver Canadians, the Short-Season A affiliate of the Blue Jays. But there are other independent and semi-professional leagues, so most Canadians can see adult baseball games in person without making the trek to Toronto or Vancouver. Also, a second Canadian team is in the mix as the Birmingham Binghamton Mets have been slated to move to Ottawa for the 2014 season.

Professional teams in Canada have historically suffered from two challenges. The first is climactic - even the southernmost cities in Canada can suffer from cold Aprils and Octobers, making a dome (and artificial turf) a necessity for a major league team. Through scheduling or endurance, minor and independent leagues make do with open fields. The second challenge has been financial, as the Canadian dollar was weaker than the US dollar for many years, making it difficult for the Expos and Blue Jays to compete with rising MLB payrolls. The Canadian dollar now trades at parity with the US, however, and at least for the moment the Blue Jays are once again a big payroll team after an offseason of big signings and trades.

In any event, regardless of the fortunes of professional teams, Canadians continue to follow and play baseball. Children all play baseball or softball in school and many play in youth leagues and amateur leagues. Thus there is a constant, though minor, presence of Canadians in MLB. Canada has produced a number of great players, including historic greats Tip O'Neill and Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. More recently, Canadian stars have included Larry Walker, Matt Stairs, Jason Bay, Ryan Dempster, Justin Morneau, and Joey Votto. 

International Play History

Canada has seen some modest success in international baseball competitions. They won a bronze medal at the 2009 amateur Baseball World Cup, and placed fourth in the 2004 Olympics. 

Canada played in the first two World Baseball Classics, and its performance was disappointing, failing to advance out of the initial round in both tournaments. In 2006, the team went 1-2, with the lone victory coming against South Africa, and failed to advance to the second round. Then in 2009, Canada went 0-2.

I saw the 2009 team play in Toronto, which was a great experience. The first game of the pool was Canada against the US, and the Rogers Centre was nearly full for the event. There was clearly a large crowd of Americans who had made the trip up, but the majority of the crowd was Canadians, and very enthusiastic. Canada played decently. Joey Votto and Russell Martin had great days, and Jason Bay walked three times but couldn't get a hit, but Justin Morneau and the rest of the lineup were mostly ineffective. The crowd roared whenever Matt Stairs came to the plate, but in this game his trademark all-or-nothing swing produced nothing. In the end the Canadians kept it close the whole game but fell just short, losing 6-5. On the whole it was a very good game, as the Canadians had made a good showing against a superior team, but the crowd was clearly disappointed as it shuffled out of the Rogers Centre.

And they never shuffled back. For the rest of the week the stadium felt empty. Less than 13,000 showed up to see Canada play Italy, and the rest of the home crowd were probably wise to stay away. Morneau and Bay hit well, but the rest of the lineup went down in order inning after inning, baffled by Italian-American hurlers Chris Cooper and Jason Grilli. Meanwhile six Canadian pitchers combined to make Chris Denorfia look unstoppable, and every one of the Italian starting lineup reached base. Italy waltzed out with a 6-2 victory, and Canada was eliminated from the tournament with a whimper. 

Because they failed to win a game in 2009, Canada was forced to qualify for this year's tournament. In the qualifying round, played without major league players since it was held in September of last year, Canada easily trounced Germany and Britain to win their pool and qualify for the tournament.

Current Players 

The roster for this year's tournament, like in previous years, possesses a few bona fide major league stars, backed up by a host of journeymen and minor leaguers. 

Canada has no apparent ace starter. There is no word yet on whether Ryan Dempster will be available - he is apparently still weighing whether he wants to participate, but he did not play in 2006 or 2009. Former Oriole Erik Bedard is evidently unavailable because he will be competing for a roster spot in the Astros' spring training camp. Rich Harden appears to be in a similar position with a minor league contract with the Twins. If they fail to secure the services of any of those pitchers, Team Canada's most experienced major league starting pitcher will be Shawn Hill, who has made 44 starts in parts of seven seasons, most recently for the Blue Jays, with a career ERA of 4.69, WHIP of 1.44, and unremarkable strikeout and walk rates. They may also use minor leaguer starters Chris Leroux and Andrew Albers.

The Canadian bullpen should be quite effective, however, with several quality major league relievers including Phillippe Aumont, John Axford, Jesse Crain, and Jim Henderson.

The heart of the lineup is the trio of Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, and Russell Martin. After his disappointing 2012, Jason Bay is not participating.  Other major leaguers in the lineup include Brett Lawrie, Michael Saunders, and Pete Orr.

Morneau is famous as a great hitter, but in fact has not had a great season since his 2010 was cut short by concussion. Returning in 2011, he was plagued by neck and shoulder injuries and continued concussion symptoms. Last season he returned to everyday play, posting respectable numbers slightly below his career averages. 

Joey Votto is probably the greatest active Canadian hitter, but is not yet on the team's roster. He returned from knee surgery to play in September, but has not yet been cleared to play in the WBC. Votto and team officials maintain that his passing of an insurance physical should be a routine matter. Obviously if caution requires Votto to sit out the tournament it will be a big blow to Canada's prospects.

Russell Martin, though he is not the hitter he was in his early years with the Dodgers, has remained a productive player, compensating for a steady decline in OBP with increased slugging during his years in New York.

Brett Lawrie had an excellent debut as the Blue Jays' third baseman at the end of the 2011 season. Playing his first full season last year, Lawrie's numbers were respectable but not impressive. He just turned 23 last month, so he has plenty of potential left and should be an exciting player to watch.

Canada will compete in Pool D with the USA, Mexico, and Italy. On the whole, this year's team looks a lot like the 2009 team, and Canada's manager Ernie Whitt says that's a good thing. "The familiarity our players have with one another, and the coaching staff, will be beneficial in a short tournament like the World Baseball Classic."  Who knows: there's always a chance that this year it won't be so short for them.


A. Queequeg Jacobs said...

It's the Binghamton Mets not the Birmingham Mets that might be moving to Ottawa.

Anonymous said...

Canada went 2-1 in 2006, beating South Africa and the United States.

adiep15 said...

Canada went 2-1 in 2006's WBC, beating the U.S. in one of the greatest victories of their international history. Despite sharing the same record as Mexico and the U.S., they didn't advance based on runs for/against.