The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is about to get four new members.
Outfielder Jason Bay, starter Ryan Dempster, longtime coach Rob Thomson and former general manager Gord Ash will all be inducted into the Hall Saturday in St. Marys, Ont.
With a variety of contributions to the game of baseball, it’s a broad class, but it’s certainly a strong one. The four soon-to-be members own a combined eight World Series rings, five All-Star appearances and four Tip O’Neill awards given annually to one exemplary Canadian player.
With one of the biggest days on the Canadian Baseball calendar on the horizon, TSN.ca takes a look at the storied careers of each inductee.
Hometown: Trail, B.C.
Jason Bay was used to playing on the big stage long before he reached the big leagues. Bay and his hometown team from Trail, B.C., represented Canada at the 1990 Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. After spending two seasons at Gonzaga University, he was selected in the 22nd round by the Montreal Expos in the 2000 MLB Draft.
But he never got to be an Expo.
Bay was traded not once, not twice but three times over the span of 18 months. When the dust settled, Bay was a Pittsburgh Pirate and he quickly made a name for himself at PNC Park. After playing just 30 games in 2003, Bay hit his stride in 2004, hitting 26 home runs en route to winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Bay was even better the next season. He hit 32 homers and made his first of three All-Star teams in 2005 and led the Pirates in almost every major offensive category. After two more solid seasons in Pittsburgh, Bay was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in a massive three-team trade also involving the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2008 trade deadline. Bay was clutch down the stretch of the season, helping the Red Sox return to the playoffs after winning the World Series the season before. In 2009, Bay took advantage of the Green Monster in left field to put up career-highs in home runs (36) and RBI (119) on his way to a seventh-place finish in MVP voting.
Bay’s strongest season yet earned him a four-year, $66 million deal with the New York Mets, but injuries quickly caught up to the British Columbia native. He played in just 288 games over three seasons in Flushing and was bought out following the 2012 season.
Bay played 68 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2013 before being released in August. He retired the following March.
While injuries may have cut Bay’s career short, he was undeniably one of the best and most consistent outfielders in baseball for the better part of a decade. He ranks fifth among Canadian Major Leaguers with 222 career home runs and sixth in OPS (.841). He also won three Tip O’Neill Awards in 2004, 2005 and 2009.
“I’m proud and honoured to be recognized with great people who have helped build baseball in Canada in various ways, to the elite level it has become,” he said.
Hometown: Gibsons, B.C.
Like Bay, Ryan Dempster was traded by the team that drafted him before he got a chance to make his debut. But, also like Bay, the move worked out in his favour.
Dempster was selected by the Texas Rangers in the third round out of high school in 1995 and was traded to the Florida Marlins in August of the following year.
Dempster made his debut just 20 days after his 21st birthday but was tagged for three runs in one inning of work. It was a microcosm of his rookie season as he finished with an ERA of 7.08 in 54.2 innings. But things got better.
Dempster showed vast improvement in each of the next two years and was named as the Marlins’ only All-Star in 2000. At just 23 years of age, he finished sixth in CY Young voting with a 14-10 record and an ERA of 3.66.
After a brief stint with the Cincinnati Reds, Dempster found his home on the north side of Chicago. He was used as a closer for most of his first few seasons with the Cubs but enjoyed the best season of his career when he jumped back into the rotation in 2008. In 33 starts, Dempster went 17-6 with a miniscule 2.96 ERA and was named an All-Star for the second time. Following several more productive seasons as a starter, Dempster closed out his career by winning a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013.
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Dempster celebrated his first ring by throwing batting practice at Fenway Park until 3:00 A.M. in street clothes.
“I am proud and honoured to be joining so many great baseball people in the Hall this summer in St Marys,” he said.
Hometown: Corunna, Ont.
Rob Thomson never made an All-Star Team, never signed a multi-million contract and, in fact, never even played above single-A. But he still found a way to impact the game of baseball as much as anyone in the 2019 class.
Thomson was drafted in the 32nd round by the Detroit Tigers in 1985 but didn’t progress through the minors the way Bay or Dempster did. In 1988, Thomson found another way he could stay in baseball – coaching. After spending two seasons with the Tigers as a coach in their system, he joined the New York Yankees in 1990. That began and incredible 28-year run with the Bronx Bombers.
Take a deep breath. Thomson served as a minor league coach, minor league manager, field coordinator, director of player development and special assignment instructor before he got his shot in the Yankee dugout in 2008 as a bench coach on manager Joe Girardi’s staff. He even managed three games that season filling in for Girardi, becoming the first Canadian to manage in the Majors since George Gibson in 1934. He became the Yankees’ third base coach the following season and won a World Series with the club later that year. He won a total of five rings during his time with the Yankees.
Girardi’s departure following the 2017 season spelled an end to Thomson’s era in the Bronx, but it didn’t take him long to land elsewhere. Thomson joined the Philadelphia Phillies as a bench coach and is still with the club today.
Thomson was also on Canada’s Olympic roster for the Los Angeles Games in 1984 when baseball was designated as a demonstration sport.
“Coming from a small town in Ontario and playing in front of 52,000 people at Dodger Stadium was an eye-opener. It was a great experience,” he said.
Hometown: Toronto, Ont.
Bay, Dempster and Thomson all made most of their impact on the field. Gord Ash is known for what he did off it.
Ash began his career working in the Toronto Blue Jays’ ticket office in their inaugural 1977 season but his talent was quickly recognized and it didn’t take him long to move up the organizational ladder. Ash served as director of operations (1980-83), player personnel director (1984-88) and was promoted to assistant general manager in 1989. He served in that capacity for five seasons, helping the Jays win back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993 under general manager Pat Gillick.
When Gillick departed after the 1994 season, Ash was named as his successor, becoming just the fourth Canadian to serve as an MLB GM. Ash guided the Jays for seven seasons and was responsible for drafting stars Roy Halladay, Michael Young and Vernon Wells.
Following his tenure in Toronto and a stint as a baseball analyst for TSN, Ash served as the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers for 12 seasons.
“Baseball was not a career for me but for parts of five decades and over 40 years and it was rather a way of life and I enjoyed every minute,” Ash said.