Three of the five people inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ontario, on Saturday were actually born in Canada. The others hail from elsewhere, namely the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. This is all well within the Canadian Hall's self-appointed mandate, which is to celebrate both Canadians in baseball, and baseball in Canada, even if said baseballing is done by non-Canadians.
Its very existence seems a bit defensive in nature, if not redundant, since baseball's brightest all qualify for enshrinement at Cooperstown (a six-hour drive away), but it springs from the premise that there's something unique about baseball in Canada, and the Canadians who play it.
Among those previously sanctified Canadians are the likes of Ferguson Jenkins and Larry Walker, unquestionably worthy inductees—Jenkins, after all, is in that other Hall, too—as well as players such as Rhéal Cormier and Rob Ducey, whose greatest accomplishments, so far as the folks in St. Marys are concerned, were having been born here. Viewed that way, the Canadian Hall of Fame is a component of the larger effort toward nation building, something like careful brand management, the brand being the amorphous notion of "Canada."
As we're both smaller and younger than the United States, the behemoth with which we share a landmass and our airwaves, as well as this sport, our numerical inferiority and the cultural effects thereof inspire us to think in terms of contrast, defining ourselves by what we are not: American.
Pierre Trudeau described it as "sleeping with an elephant," a frame of mind which shapes not just our charming little Hall of Fame, but pretty much everything we do. Crowded, clamouring America functions differently than does spacious, sparsely populated, frozen Canada. The former is supremely meritocratic, whereas the latter is a wee bit more inclusive, if the prevailing myth is to be believed. Likewise our respective temples to baseball. The stately brick and stone edifice in Cooperstown traditionally requires the prospective enshrinee to have achieved certain performance milestones: 300 wins, 500 home runs, or 3000 hits. For those seeking admittance to the modest farmhouse in St. Marys, it's mostly enough just to be from here, and to have given it your all, or to be from somewhere else and have done something kind of wonderful here. This explains the Cormiers and the Duceys, as well as the George Bells and the Roberto Alomars.
With all of that as a lens, this year's inductees come into clearer focus. Matt Stairs (St. John, New Brunswick) was able to parlay an uncomplicated affability and a softballer's body into a 20-season career as a bat-for-hire, setting a Major League record for pinch-hit home runs (23). Corey Koskie (Anola, Manitoba) was a third baseman whose star shone brightest early, sneaking in two or three really good seasons with the Twins before injuries began to slow him. Baseball writer Bob Elliott (Kingston, Ontario) has covered the Expos and Blue Jays since 1978, and has written three baseball books. He was awarded the Canadian Hall's Jack Graney Award in 2010, given to a member of the media for contributions to the game in Canada.
This year's outlanders are Felipe Alou (Haina, Dominican Republic), whose grandfatherly air would have made him likeable even if he hadn't been the man at the helm of that romantically doomed 1994 Expos team, and Carlos Delgado (Aguadilla, Puerto Rico), possessor of a megawatt smile that would have been enough to capture the nation's hearts, but who cemented his fame by becoming the Blue Jays' franchise leader in just about every offensive category.
This is the class of 2015, and it's a mixed bag, really.
Nobody would ever argue that Koskie was Delgado's equal on the field, but then nobody's being asked to make that argument. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is of the opinion that you can be important just by taking part, that simply competing is commendable, which is a pretty Canadian way of looking at things.
The Canadian Hall also exudes an aw-shucksy pan-regional folksiness, not unlike Hockey Day in Canada, when it's a thrill just to hear Ron MacLean mention your town by name. There's a happy trill of familiarity associated with thinking about folks stubbornly beavering away at a summer game in the wintry land of Saskatchewan or New Brunswick. It's less a stab at legitimacy or all-time greatness, and more an exercise in celebrating effort and determination—and that's kind of wonderfully Canadian, too.