Bob Elliott is Canadian baseball giant

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

TORONTO - If there wasn’t such a thing as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Bob Elliott probably would have started his own.

After all, it mixes his two greatest passions into one — baseball and Canada. For him, it’s hard to separate one from the other, which makes Saturday such a special occasion.

Father’s Day is on Sunday but just about the best present Elliott could receive comes one day early when he becomes the first Toronto writer in 23 years — and only the third ever — to be presented with the Jack Graney Award, which is the journalistic equivalent of being inducted in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. It is an honour that’s not only warranted and deserved, but also overdue.

If you don’t know Bob Elliott in this country, you probably don’t know baseball. I arrived at the Toronto Sun in the winter of 1987 and the month before I was hired, the great sports editor, Wayne Parrish, hired Whispering Bob.

He also hired Boxing Bob. Boxer. Chuck. Big Boy. Elliott doesn’t just lead the American League in words written in a season: He leads in nicknames, a sign of both the respect and popularity he holds within the industry.

And the only thing he loves more than family and baseball, is Canadian baseball. It’s why he wrote the book, The Northern Game. It’s why he’s on a first-name basis with Joey Votto and Larry Walker and Justin Morneau, not to mention Ferguson Jenkins. It’s why the website, canadianbaseballnetwork.com has become a labour of love for him.

Any baseball writer can tell you that Adrian Gonzalez is leading the American League in just about everything. But how many can tell you that 35 Canadians were selected in the most recent Major League draft and that 11 have already signed big league contracts — and knowing Bob, he probably has a home number, an email address, and a scouting and coaching contact for all of them.

Bob doesn’t tell you what happened in a baseball game. He tells you why it happened. And he tells you all the background of how it got to happen. As a journalist, that’s what I admire most about Bob. When a Roy Halladay is traded, I don’t want to read anybody else. I want to read Bob. I want to know how the deal came to be made. And I know he’s going to bring that to me.

When Roger Clemens signs as a free agent, any of us can go to the press conference and scribble down the inane quotes from a man in love with himself. Not Bob. He travelled to Texas and spent time at his home. “You never see him in the scrums,” said Howard Starkman, the Jays’ former PR man. “He gets his information on his own.”

You can do that if you’re Bob Elliott, because you have credibility, because everyone in your sport knows who you are, because you haven’t just earned the trust and respect, you’ve lived it every day for 30 years of baseball writing, and spent a good portion of your life whispering into a cell phone.

I didn’t know Bob when he covered the Montreal Expos but most people in baseball did. We met while covering the world junior hockey championship in 1986 in Hamilton. He was working for the Ottawa Citizen. I was working for the Calgary Herald. I probably talked too much. He was the guy who mumbled. Who knew then that a year later, we would be hired at the Sun and the first story I would write for the Sun would be a dual byline with Bob on the subject of whether they could use natural grass at the stadium they were building called SkyDome.

Thankfully, Bob went on to bigger things, this being another Hall of Fame stop for him. The Jack Graney Award was meant for him. It goes to the media member who has made a significant contribution to the game of baseball in Canada through their life’s work. Milt Dunnell won the award in 1987 and later Tom Cheek was awarded the Graney. Nice company to keep — and it could get even better in the future when Elliott is elected to the writers’ section of the baseball Hall in Cooperstown. In last year’s vote he finished second. The next vote should be his.

But knowing Bob, the Canadian award hits him right in the heart, this kid from Kingston who shares a birth date with Roger Maris and the MVP Votto. His victory here is a victory for reporters everywhere who always make the extra phone call, who make sure they know the name of every scout they meet, for the father of Alicia, who followed him in the newspaper business and sells ad for the National Post, and of Bob Jr,, who is an accountant with the giant, Grant Thornton.

The award for this journalistic owl who works all night, sleeps some of the day, coaches kids’ ball in the summer, must be shared with his wife, Claire, who has put up with the most unconventional of schedules.

Enjoy the day, my friend. Loads of us who can’t be there are applauding from afar.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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