St. Marys Twenty years after being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Andy Bilesky's coaching legacy continues as one of his former players, Jason Bay, has been named as the 2004 winner of the Tip O'Neill Award.
Bilesky, a grass roots legend who was inducted in 1984 along with Charles Bronfman, Jack Graney, Claude Raymond, and Goody Rosen, brought an 11-year-old Bay and his undefeated team (42-0) from Trail, BC, to the 1990 Little League World Series in Williamsport, where they lost in the foreign finals to Taiwan. Bilesky described Bay as a youngster as a "chip off the old block" - he coached Bay's father Dave as well - "a speedy, scrappy crouch hitter who always played hard."
In the year where there was a good argument for more than ten candidates, the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie sensation edged two-time winner Eric Gagné, nine-time winner Larry Walker, fellow rookie Jeff Francis and slugger Justin Morneau for the award given annually by the Ball Hall to the Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to the highest ideals of the game of baseball.
A pair of well-qualified National Team players, Women's Team MVP Melanie Harwood and Olympian Peter Orr, led the internet voting poll conducted on the Hall's website baseballhalloffame.ca that was presented to the panel as part of the decision-making process. Others receiving strong consideration were Rich Harden, Corey Koskie, Matt Stairs, Paul Quantrill and Shawn Hill.
Jason Bay, the first Canadian to be named National League Rookie of the Year, compiled a Pittsburgh Pirates and Canadian rookie record with 26 homeruns along with 82 RBI, a .282 batting average and .550 slugging percentage. The stats are even more staggering considering that the 26-year-old did all that in just 120 games, as he missed Spring Training and the first month of the season due to a shoulder injury. He was the lone unanimous selection to the Topps Rookie All-Star Team picked by MLB managers. He also was named Sporting News Rookie of the Year and Players Choice NL Rookie of the Year.
"The other names on the Tip O'Neill trophy are huge," said an elated Bay this morning from Seattle en route home from his honeymoon. "Canadians are very patriotic people, and the support I've had throughout these post-season accolades is tremendous incentive to keep producing next year."
"I put too much pressure on myself early," Jason Bay said in reference to his slow start. "But after I calmed down and tried to stay within myself, good things began happening at the plate. From there, it's always easier to step up your game when you're on a roll versus digging out of a slump."
On Eric Gagné, Bay said: "I did have a single off of Eric this season, but he blew me away in the other two at bats. His presence is ominous and he has the best change-up in baseball."
On Larry Walker, Jason Bay noted that, "due to the timing of our injuries and Larry's trade to St. Louis, we never faced each other, but I'm looking forward to meeting him and seeing him play."
"Jason's accomplishments speak for themselves, and his class and professionalism gives Canada yet another tremendous ambassador in the major leagues" explained Ball Hall president & CEO Tom Valcke. "It isn't that we're taking a 45-save year (Gagné) or a the first World Series appearance by a Canadian in 11 years (Walker, who batted .298 with 17 HR in just 82 games) or the first Canuck ever to be named Minor League Player of the Year (Francis) or a 41-homerun season (Morneau - 22 in Triple-A and 19 with the Twins) for granted."
"And how about Rich Harden's 8-1 record for the A's in the second half, or Corey Koskie's 25 homers, or Stairs 117 hits, or Paul Quantrill's fourth consecutive season with 80-plus appearances, not to mention the outstanding performances by our National Team players? It has truly been an amazing year in Canadian baseball history. Any one of these athletes could have won the Tip with easy justification."
Jasson Bay, whose sister Lauren played on Canada's Olympic Softball team in Athens, will be presented with the Tip O'Neill Award during the 2005 season at a game to be designated by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His game jersey and the bat he used in his 8 RBI game are on display in the museum of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Past winners of the James "Tip" O'Neill Award:
James 'Tip' O'Neill was one of Major League baseball's first legitimate stars. With the St. Louis Browns in 1887, O'Neill batted .492, Slg-.691, Hits-225, Doubles-52, Triples-19, Homeruns-14, Total Bases-357, Runs-167 (4th all-time for a single season), RBI's 123. The outfielder from Woodstock, Ontario set major league records in hits, doubles, slugging percentage, and total bases that season while compiling an astounding .492 batting average (walks were included as hits in 1887, but if his average was calculated by today's standard, it was .435, the second highest in major league history to Hugh Duffy, .438). The former US Speaker of the House was named after the Canadian slugger.
ST. MARYS 2 December 2004