Call him the Fergie Jenkins of baseball writers.
No, Toronto Sun baseball columnist Bob Elliott wasn’t blessed with the Canadian pitching legend’s athleticism, but he does possess Jenkins’ work ethic, durability and penchant for producing consistently excellent results.
So it’s fitting that Elliott – similar to Jenkins becoming the first Canadian player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 – will become the first Canuck scribe honoured by the Cooperstown shrine.
The highly respected journalist will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, presented annually for meritorious contributions to baseball writing, on Saturday, July 21 in a ceremony at Doubleday Field. The award is the highest honour a member of Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) can receive.
From Kingston to Cooperstown, it’s been a remarkable career for the reporter nicknamed “Boxer” who fell in love with baseball while watching games with his dad – also named Bob – on Saturday afternoons as a youngster. A Kingston & District Sports Hall of Famer himself, Elliott’s father played for and coached the Queen’s University football team, was an outstanding baseball player and competed in the Brier as a curler.
A second baseman who discovered early in his teens that he couldn’t hit the curveball, Elliott turned his attention to baseball statistics. His career in journalism began when he started compiling box scores for Kingston’s senior team and submitting them to the Kingston Whig-Standard. When he was 17, he was offered a job as a sports reporter by the paper.
His mother burst into tears when he asked if he could accept the position. She wanted him to attend Queen’s, but Elliott pleaded with his father who eventually brought his mother on side. His dad told him he could take the job on two conditions: one, that he finished Grade 12 and two, that he wouldn’t be like one of those Boston writers who didn’t vote for Ted Williams for the American League MVP in 1941 because they didn’t like him.
After his tenure with the Whig-Standard, Elliott would cover the Montreal Expos for the Ottawa Citizen from 1978 to 1987, before landing his current position with the Toronto Sun. For his outstanding contributions to baseball writing in Canada, he was named the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Jack Graney Award winner in 2011. Now poised to receive the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a baseball scribe, Elliott continues to pen grassroots stories about Canadians both through his work with the Toronto Sun and through the Canadian Baseball Network.
To put into perspective just how prestigious this honour is, I did some digging to find out more about the history of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award:
The award was first presented in 1962 to J.G. Taylor Spink himself, who was the publisher of The Sporting News from 1914 to 1962. Offering extensive coverage of professional baseball from the lowest levels of the minors to the big leagues, The Sporting News became known as the bible of baseball during Spink’s reign as publisher.
According to SABR, the award was created when the BBWAA discovered that Hall of Fame rules prevented them from voting Spink into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a member. So to ensure that Spink was properly acknowledged, they opted to create to their own award.
Elliott will become the 63rd recipient of the award. There have been multiple winners of the award 12 times in its history.
To put into perspective the esteem that Elliott is held in, the Toronto Sun columnist was voted the winner by his colleagues in the BBWAA, which numbers close to 600 members. So he was chosen out of several hundred scribes to receive this honour.
The winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award is traditionally announced at baseball’s annual winter meetings in December. Each year three finalists are selected and then BBWAA members vote on who they think should be the winner.
Members of the BBWAA are located in the U.S, Asia and Latin America, but Elliott will be the first Canadian to receive the honour.
Recipients receive a certificate on Hall of Fame weekend and are recognized with a permanent place in the Hall’s “Scribes and Mikemen” exhibit near the museum’s research library.
Among the legendary writers that have won this award in previous years are Fred Lieb, Shirley Povich, Grantland Rice, Dick Young and Peter Gammons.
Elliott is the first Canadian winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink award, but in recent years other media personalities with Canadian links have captured the Ford C. Frick award, which is handed out for broadcasting excellence. In 2009, former Blue Jays TV analyst Tony Kubek became the first recipient to have been part of broadcasts for a Canadian team. Two years later, Dave Van Horne, the longtime voice of the Montreal Expos, captured the same honour.