A certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, a borderline candidate, and a true scoundrel from the early days of the game are among the players we’ve selected for the All Time team of players born (but not necessarily raised, of course) in Toronto.
Hogtown is more known for producing hockey players, but the city has produced its fair share of Olympic medallists and basketballers as well. Baseball has been popular in the city since at least the 1870s, but since those early days, just over 30 players from the Greater Toronto Area have suited up for an MLB team.
Selecting a Catcher for the All GTA team was easy. Russell Martin was born in East York, which was long ago swallowed by the growing city geographically and politically. He was raised mostly in Montreal, but we’ll take him. In the twilight of an excellent career, Martin has accumulated just shy of 40 WAR, and over the course of his career has helped redefine how we view the position. As defensive metrics have improved, we’ve come to learn that a Catcher’s greatest contribution come from behind the plate: blocking, receiving, and framing pitchers, working with his Pitchers to help them utilize their strengths, and developing a rapport with umpires are part of the job description. Anything they produce offensively is not necessarily a bonus, but the bulk of their job description involves what they do defensively. He’s provided decent offensive production over much of his career, but it’s in the other category that Martin has excelled, and his 58 career post season games played speak to the value of his skills.
If you’re looking for a back up, you could do a lot worse than Goody Rosen, who played for the Dodgers for half a dozen years in a career that lost five seasons to WW II.
At 1B, the search begins and ends with Joey Votto. The six-time All Star and 2010 MVP’s 62 WAR trail only Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Larry Walker among Canadian MLBers, and Votto’s inclusion at Cooperstown should be all but automatic once his career ends. Votto has led the National League in walks six times, OBP seven, and OPS twice in a career marked by its consistency. You can even throw in a Gold Glove for good measure.
So, with Martin and Votto, we’ve gotten off to a good start. The team gets a little threadbare from here, especially with the remaining infield positions. But here we go….
Up the middle, we’ll go with a sibling double play combination. John Irwin was only two years old when his Irish immigrant parents packed up the family and moved to Boston, but we’ll take the 8 year MLBer who made his NL debut with Worcester in 1880. He was mostly a utility player in a career spent mostly with Washington.
At Short Stop, Irwin’s older brother Arthur Irwin gets the nod. Irwin was a rascal in an era full of them,and has been called one of the most polarizing players in early MLB history. Better known as “Foxy,” Irwin was one of the inventors of the baseball glove, inspired a character in a western novel, coached and managed at the college and minor league level, as well as scouted in a career that lasted over 40 years. He also appeared to have led something of a double life; when he disappeared over the side of a steamer heading to Boston from New York after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, it was discovered that he had wives and children in both cities. Irwin produced 15 WAR in a 13 year career spent mostly with the Phillies.
Third Base is another position where we had to reach to find a candidate, and came up with Jimmy Knowles. In a five year career that began in 1884, Knowles produced 4 Wins. The high-water mark for Knowles was the 5 HRs and 84 RBIs he produced at the height of the dead ball era in 1890 for Rochester.
The All Time Toronto team features three Outfielders who spent time in a Blue Jays uniform. Born in Toronto but raised down the 401 in Cambridge, Rob Ducey‘s production never matched his tools. He did manage to carve out a 13 year career, and has gained considerable respect throughout the industry as a scout and minor league hitting instructor. Like Ducey, Dalton Pompey did not quite live up to the levels his physical talents prophesized, and signed with Arizona in the off season after being unable to crack Toronto’s roster. As far as Pompey is concerned, we’ll always have 2014, when he made his MLB debut after a breakout minor league season. Joining Pompey and Ducey would be Leaside’s Rob Butler (you could easily swap him for his brother Rich), who won a World Series ring with Toronto in 1993.
On the mound, we’ll go with Dick Fowler, who won 66 games over a ten year career interrupted by WW II. Just weeks after his discharge from the army, in 1945, he threw the first no-hitter by a Canadian, a feat not matched until James Paxton no-hit the Blue Jays in 2018. Fowler and fellow Ontarian Phil Marchildon provided a solid one-two top-of-the-rotation punch for the Athletics for much of the peacetime 1940s.
John Hiller of Scarborough is the Relief Pitcher on the All Time Toronto team. After making his debut in 1967, Hiller saved 125 games for the Tigers over a fifteen year MLB career in an era when closers pitched multiple innings. He suffered a heart attack and missed a season and a half at the age of 28, but came back to lead the AL in Saves with 38 in 1973, a year in which he finished fourth in Cy Young Voting.
Only two Canadians have managed MLB teams – Arthur Irwin was one of them, leading Boston to a title in 1891. We’re comfortable with giving him the role of Player-Manager, which he held for a number of seasons.