Bell, Raines elected to Canadian Hall of Fame
TORONTO -- This year's voting process for the Baseball Hall of Fame didn't result in any living players being inducted, but the same won't be said for Canada's version of the baseball shrine.
Former Blue Jays star George Bell and Expos standout Tim Raines were among the five inductees for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.
The list of honorees also includes the late legendary Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek, former Toronto outfielder Rob Ducey and Nat Bailey, who was heavily involved in professional and amateur baseball in the Vancouver area.
"This year's inductees represent a cross section of individuals who have both left their mark on baseball in Canada and enriched the game for all Canadians," Allan Simpson, chair of the Hall's selection committee, said in a statement.
"We will be honoring two of the most celebrated players in the history of the Blue Jays and Expos, the most influential voice in Canadian baseball history, a pioneer in the development of baseball at all levels in British Columbia and a Canadian who had a lengthy big league career and helped Canada become a respected international opponent."
Raines, who received 52.2 percent of the vote in his sixth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, played in Montreal for 13 seasons and posted a career batting line of .294/.385/.425 with 808 stolen bases over the course of his 23-year career. He was named to seven All-Star teams as an Expo and ranks among the franchise's leaders in just about every offensive statistic.
There was a sense of disappointment for Raines when he came up short in his quest for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his vote totals have increased every year, and while it has been a long wait, there's still the possibility he will eventually become successful in the quest.
In the meantime, Raines said he was overwhelmed to be recognized for the 13 years he spent playing north of the border for the since-relocated Expos organization.
"The emotions of not getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame is something I've been dealing with for five years," Raines said during an afternoon conference call with reporters. "But getting into the Canadian Hall of Fame, it's the highest honor I've gotten in my career since I've played professional baseball. This is a great moment for me [and] my family, and I was ecstatic hearing about it."
While Raines was leading off for the Expos in the 1980s, Bell was lending his power bat to the Blue Jays' lineup. The left fielder played in Toronto for nine seasons, batting .286/.325/.486 with 202 homers and 740 RBIs. He won the '87 AL MVP Award after hitting .308/.352/.605 with 47 homers and 134 RBIs and remains the only Blue Jays player to win the award.
Following his MVP campaign, Bell spent three more seasons in Toronto before eventually departing for the Cubs as a free agent in 1991. The Dominican native went on to play for three more years, but he said nothing compares to the time he spent with the Blue Jays.
"The experience I had with the Toronto Blue Jays was the best I ever had in my life," Bell said. "I grew up as a player in Toronto, and to leave Toronto after the 1990 season was kind of disappointing in my career to go somewhere else."
Cheek's induction represents yet another honor in what has proven to be a busy year for his family. In December, he was chosen for the 2013 Ford C. Frick Award, which is given to broadcasters for "major contributions to baseball."
The former voice of the Blue Jays will forever be known for his "Touch 'em all, Joe" call when Joe Carter hit a walk-off homer in Game 6 to capture the 1993 World Series over Philadelphia. Cheek spent 27 years as the Blue Jays' radio broadcaster, and at one point, he called 4,306 consecutive games. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 66.
"I think my first reaction was shock, and then I said it was the trifecta, because Tom was inducted into the Vermont Association of Broadcasters on Dec. 1, because his career started there," said Shirley Cheek, who was Tom's wife.
"To Tim Raines, Tom was associated and got his start in Montreal filling in as a swing announcer for the Expos. So that award came, and then I found out about the Frick Award -- and yes, it took eight years; so don't give up, Tim -- then to find out about this, it really was a trifecta finding out about the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame giving Tom this great honor."
Ducey, a native of Toronto, played parts of seven seasons with the Blue Jays and spent half of his last season with the Expos, the first Canadian-born player to suit up for both franchises. Ducey was a career .242/.331/.396 hitter with 31 homers and 146 RBIs over a 13-year big league career.
The 47-year-old also spent some time with the Blue Jays' organization as a scout, where he saw firsthand how much the game has grown in Canada since his playing days. Ducey faced a lot of obstacles along the way to the big leagues, but a lot of those barriers have since been broken down for Canadian athletes as they look to make it into the professional levels.
"The rules have changed. When I was younger, Canadians were not eligible for the Draft," Ducey said. "Baseball Canada has done a wonderful job of promoting baseball in Canada and developing a program that has grown leaps and bounds over the course of the last 25 years or so.
"I think the exposure, Canadian players are now taken serious as far as having the ability to play the game. We were known as hockey players, and that was about it, because there was only a handful of players that had ever reached the Major League level when I was younger, but now they're throughout the Major Leagues."
Rounding out the class is Bailey, who was involved with baseball in his hometown of Vancouver. In 1978, Capilano Stadium was renamed Nat Bailey Stadium, which is currently home to the short-season Class A Vancouver Canadians of the Toronto organization.