Canadians don’t punch above their weight in the MLB to the extent they do in the NHL, but there have still been many great baseball players over the years. From pitchers to hitters, the MLB wouldn’t be the same without its Canadian players. Here are some of the best that have played for the Baltimore Orioles over many years.
Not to be confused with the American politician of the same name, Tip O’Neill (full name James Edward O’Neill) is a real golden oldie, his career as a professional baseball player stretching from 1875 to 1892. Not only was Queen Victoria still on the throne when he retired, he actually predated the Orioles under their modern guise but was a star player for their predecessor team: the St. Louis Browns. In 1953 the Browns relocated to Baltimore and adopted their current name of the Baltimore Orioles.
Although he played a long time ago, Tip O’Neill could be a contender for the greatest Canadian hitter the sport has ever seen. During his first stint with the Browns, (he returned for one year in 1891) he won a quartet of pennants and crowned his season with the club by claiming the 1886 World Series, defeating the Chicago White Stockings (later to be known as the Cubs) by 4 games to 2. In the second game, O’Neill hit not one but two home runs. Perhaps unsurprisingly he was the top player in the series with a .400 batting average, eight hits, and two home runs.
This was far from O’Neill’s only achievement. He also became the second person in league history to hit for a triple crown in 1887, with a .435 batting average, 14 home runs, and 123 runs batted in (RBIs). His performance that year remains on the record books to this day, in second place (adjusted) with his stat of a .435 batting average only bettered once despite being set over a century ago.
Having firmly written himself into baseball league legend, O’Neill’s nickname of ‘Canada’s Babe Ruth’ is pretty fitting. He’s also a member of both the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame and his name has been given to the award handed out annually to the best Canadian baseball player. Tip O’Neill is one of the best players the team has ever had, fully worthy of standing alongside the likes of Brady Anderson and Bob Nieman.
There are few careers more lucrative than playing sports at the elite level, which has made some of the wealthiest sports stars in Canada immensely wealthy. These stars made a lot of money thanks to their immense talent, money which, in many cases, has not only supported comfortable lifestyles but also helped out philanthropic courses and the sports that made such wealth possible to start with.
A man of many teams, Érik Joseph Bédard is a former baseball pro who played for the Baltimore Orioles in two different stints (2002, 2004–2007) as well as spending time with five other sides in professional baseball. A rather more recent player than the august O’Neill, Bédard was a pitcher who rose to be staff ace, making Oriole fans’ hearts race in 2007 when he set the franchise single-season strikeouts per nine innings record at 10.93.
This talented southpaw made his major league debut for the Baltimore Orioles in 2002. After his first dozen games, his performance had been good enough for Baseball America to consider him the Eastern League’s best pitching prospect. Bédard’s 2003 season had to be skipped because of elbow problems, but he returned to pitching for the Orioles in 2004 after impressing during pre-season training. A combination of coaching and regular appearances helped Bédard sharpen up his skills, and in 2006 his stats were looking good with 15–11 in 33 starts, a 3.76 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP.
Next season saw him named the team’s Opening Day starting pitcher and in July he matched the team’s franchise record (set by Mike Mussina) by striking out 15 Texas Rangers. This was also a new Canadian record for the most strikeouts in a game, and he was awarded the American League Pitcher of the month award. Sadly, Bédard did not end his time with the Orioles playing but recovering from injury and he subsequently moved to the Seattle Mariners. Despite some speculation in 2013 that he might return it wasn’t to be.
We head back to the distant days of the 19th century for our final top player: Bob Emslie. Born in Guelph, Ontario in 1859, Emslie was a talented pitcher who would go on to set records as an umpire for his longevity officiating. From 1883 to 1885 he played for the Baltimore Orioles (under that name, an earlier franchise to the modern-day one), with his best season coming in 1884. Emslie’s stats that season were a 32–17 record, with a full completion of his 50 starts, and he had a 2.75 ERA.
Unfortunately his arm didn’t stay strong, possibly due to an excessive indulgence of the curveball. In 1885 he spent a year with the Philadelphia Athletics, before embarking upon his post-playing baseball career as an umpire. Emslie has been made a member of both the Honor Rolls of Baseball and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
And that finishes our look at some of the best Canadians to ever pitch or hit for the Baltimore Orioles, from the dim and distant past to rather more recent years. Perhaps we’ll soon see a second Tip O’Neill enter the sport and rewrite the record books.