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Canadian Baseball

You’ve probably heard the saying that baseball is America’s favourite past time, but baseball isn’t reserved for Americans; in fact, the sport is quite popular in its northern neighbour – Canada. This is the topic for today’s article – baseball in Canada – how the sport started there and a little bit about famous Canadian baseball teams.

Baseball in Canada, the Beginning

As you might know, baseball was adapted from the British games of rounders and cricket, and it’s thought that baseball was simply a regional version of these games. Since it’s a British invention, it only makes sense that past British colonies, namely Canada and the United States, adopted the practice.

Baseball developed simultaneously in Canada and the United States, but it was the latter that had more influence and went on to codify the rules of baseball we’re familiar with today. However, the first official baseball game ever recorded in North America was played in Beachville, Ontario, Canada on 4 June, 1838, so although the US created modern baseball, Canada played the first North American version of it.

It’s thought that English immigrants brought the game to Canada. The first mention of baseball can be found in John Newbery’s book A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744), while the first recorded baseball game happened in Surrey, England and featured none other than Frederick, Prince of Wales. It’s believed this version of the game found its way to Canada.

Initially, the rules of baseball weren’t codified and they varied from region to region. Some games in Ontario, for example, featured five bases whereas the players would bat each inning. There were eleven players in a team and the bats resembled those used in cricket. This game was called “The Canadian Game”.

The American version, however, featured nine players and four bases, so gradually “The Canadian Game” was phased out. Ontario was the first Canadian province to adopt the American rules, and it did so in 1860.

Canada and Modern Baseball

The rules for baseball are still being amended today, so it’s a bit hard to use the history of rules codification to say for certain when “modern baseball” emerged and when its rules were implemented in Canada. Still, we will use the date we mentioned in the previous paragraph, 1860, as the starting point of modern baseball in Canada.

The United States was responsible for codifying the rules of baseball, and the first set, called the Knickerbocker Rules (after the New York team), were published by Alexander Cartwright on 20 September, 1845. The American teams then assembled to discuss and amend the rules during the Base Ball Convention of 1857.

Many rules were changed in the following decade, but it’s the 1870’s that really “set things in stone” with the creation of three professional baseball leagues, The National Association of Base-Ball Players (1871-1875), the International Association for Professional Base Ball Players (1877-1880; 1888-1890) the National League (1876-today), which is now known as Major League Baseball or MLB.

Canadian teams played in the International Association for Professional Base Ball Players; the two founding teams in the league were the London Tecumsehs (based in London, Ontario, and Guelph Maple Leafs (based in Guelph, Ontario), which are now known as the Guelph Royals. The London Tecumsehs had final standing at 14-4-2 (1877), dominating the board.

In 1878, the Guelph Maple Leafs left the Association. In the next reincarnation of the Association (between 1888-1890), two new Canadian teams joined, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Canucks. The Association, however, was short-lived, and the teams had to join other leagues after its fall in 1890.

Still, many baseball players went on to have great careers; Patsy Donovan of the London Tecumsehs had already 201 hits, scored 103 runs and stole 80 bases when he joined the MLB in 1890. He also scouted Babe Ruth, who hit his first homerun on Canadian soil, so you can see how Canada and the US have always worked together to give the viewers an incredible baseball experience.

The International League (est. 1884) can be thought as a successor of the Association. It’s a minor American league that has historically included teams from the US, Canada, and Cuba, but since 2008, there have only been American teams.

Baseball in Canada Today

Canada doesn’t have its own major baseball league like the US; it only has independent minor and junior leagues, some of which are associated with better-known baseball teams. Still, Canadian teams play in American minor leagues, as well as the MLB.

The first Canadian team to join the MLB (National League) was the Montreal Expos in 1969. The London Tecumsehs tried joining the MLB back in 1877, but they were refused admission because they wanted to continue playing exhibition games with local teams.

The Toronto Blue Jays became the second Canadian team to join the MLB (American League) in 1977, and they became the first Canadian team to win the World Series, managing to even win back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.

Nowadays, the Toronto Blue Jays are the only Canadian team in the MLB, because the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. This decision wasn’t taken lightly, but after a series of poor managing choices, the team had to choose between survival and dissolvement.

Canada also has a national baseball team governed by Baseball Canada. The team competes in the Baseball World Cup, the World Baseball Classic, and in the Summer Olympics. Canada won bronze at the 2009 Baseball World Cup, their highest finish so far.