Bob Elliott – 2008
by Bill Lankhof
Growing up in Kingston, Toronto Sun baseball writer Bob Elliott must have felt a little like the guy batting behind Reggie Jackson or like someone trudging on stage after Patsy Cline. You know … tough acts to follow. His grandfather, Ed, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball club and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a referee. His dad, a local curling legend, is enshrined in the Kingston Hall of Fame and the Queen’s University football hall of fame.
“I was just a second baseman who couldn’t hit a curve,” said Elliott, after being nominated at the Baseball Writers Association of America meeting in New York for the Taylor Spink Award and induction into the writer’s wing at Cooperstown. “My father,” he says, “would be proud.”
In more than a quarter century of covering baseball for newspapers in Ottawa and since 1987 for the Sun, he has hit pretty much every curve life has thrown at him, becoming one of Canada’s top sport writers. He’d break more stories in a year than some would in a lifetime.
He has chronicled the great and the small achievements in baseball in this country.
He was there when the Blue Jays won their World Series, he was there when the Expos were young and when they died, he was there with his Mississauga minor baseball teams in victory, he was there when his son, Bobby, hit a home run and he was there when Joe Carter hit his.
It doesn’t matter much to Bob where the baseball is being played, or who is playing it. It just matters that it is being played.
“I think I like it because it’s the most honest game in the world. I remember watching Yvan Cournoyer in the playoffs when I was a kid and asking my dad why he couldn’t score in the playoffs. Dad said it was because they had a shadow on him. It didn’t seem fair that guys could hang all over him.
“You don’t have someone grabbing Reggie Jackson’s bat when he’s trying to swing.”
Honesty. Fairness. Respect. They’re all pretty much part of how people describe Elliott, now 58 and living with his bride, Claire, in Mississauga.
His son Bobby is with the Toronto accounting firm, Grant & Thornton, and his daughter, Alicia, is national account manager for Style at Home magazine.
“Bob has more connections in the world of Major League baseball than some baseball managers,” says Toronto Sun sports editor Dave Fuller.
Yet, it is what Elliott has done for Canadian baseball’s grassroots that he is often recognized.
Bob has been an ongoing positive influence on an entire country for the past 25 years — and counting. Never has there been more Canadian college players, Canadian minor league players and as many contributing major leaguers from the Great White North than in the past decade and it’s guaranteed every one of those players, their parents and coaches have reached out at one time or other for advice and counsel from Bob,” writes Richard Griffin, president of the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers of America, in the letter nominating Elliott for the Hall of Fame.
A player agent in the U.S. likes to tell the story about how he was trying to impress the father of a Canadian player with his baseball contacts. He mentioned representing players such as Jeff Reardon and other ‘name’ players. Somewhat flummoxed, the agent mentions he’s been talking to Bob Elliott. The father, finally impressed, stopped him dead: “You KNOW Bob Elliott!!!”
Bob hates it when people tell that story. “It’s not because I write about the Blue Jays, I think baseball people know me more because I’m involved with Canadian baseball.”
More than a decade ago, he started running a draft list of Canadian players like Baseball America does. It went on the Sun website. “I saw how hard these kids worked and they got zero recognition,” says Elliott. In 2000, there were 490 Canadian kids playing at U.S. colleges; by 2008 there were more than 700.
In 1998, there were 66 Canadians in the minors — today there are 111, with 53 more on independent pro teams. If there is a baseball prospect between Salmon Arm and Betty’s Cove, then Elliott will either know about him or know the scout who does know about him.
When Bob isn’t at a ballgame, he’ll be in his office, on the phone — always on the phone until two or three in the morning talking to writers, scouts or agents on the west coast.
His love for the game comes from his father, whose influence still hangs over him.
“It was 1967 and I worked part time at the Kingston Whig-Standard. It’s March and they had an opening in the sports department.
“I said I’d take it as soon as school was out. They said they couldn’t wait. I went home and told mother. She cried. Father had gone to Queen’s.
“Grandfather had gone to Queen’s. I was supposed to go to Queen’s. Dad just said, ‘Leave it with me,’ and a couple days later mother said OK, but you’ve got to talk to father. I figured this would be a snap.
“That’s when he told me if I became a sports writer I couldn’t be like the guy in Boston in 1941 who left Ted Williams (who had an on-going battle with the press) off an MVP ballot because he didn’t like him.
Years pass. Bob’s father passes away. “It’s 1993 and I’m filling out my MVP ballot and I’ve got Albert Belle second and I’m thinking, ‘He’s a jerk’ and I move him to sixth.
“And as I’m sitting there … I remembered what father said. I moved him back to second. You judge people by what they do, not by the way they treat you. But, how spooky is that?”
So he walks the diamonds with peewees and dreamers, with George Brett and Jason Bay. And whether it’s the kid hooked on Bazooka Joe or the idol with a cheek full of chaw, he never treated them much different. They all got respect.
Maybe that’s why Bob always gets it back, too.