Mark Hebscher 

(ISN) – The Bluejays improved their outfield situation by trading J.A. Happ to Seattle for Michael Saunders. That is a fact. But why did all the news stories read “Canadian-born outfielder Michael Saunders…”? Why not “Lefthanded hitting outfielder Michael Saunders”? After all, that’s what the team needed, right? Did anyone out there say “We’ve got to get another CANADIAN player on the roster”? Does it even matter?

The perception that adding a Canadian-born player to the Toronto Bluejays would somehow be important to Canadian baseball fans is a misguided one. If you can win a World Series, it shouldn’t matter where the players were born. But, for some strange reason, we need to be reminded constantly that this player is CANADIAN, so maybe we should cut him some slack or cheer for him louder. Nonsense. Michael Saunders is a middle-of-the-road outfielder who plays fine defense and can hit the ball out of the park every so often. Being born in Victoria B.C. should not trump the fact that he’s a lifetime .230 hitter with a lifetime O.B.P. of .301. He’s 28 years old. Seattle traded him even up for a back-end starter. If Saunders were born in South Carolina, we’d be all over the Jays for this trade. But, since he’s CANADIAN, some will give him the Brett Lawrie treatment, which means he gets the benefit of the doubt BECAUSE he’s Canadian and will play better on a Canadian team. Hey, Russell Martin is a fine catcher, and worthy of the 82 million dollars he’s going to earn from the Jays, but I don’t like him any more because he was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal. He’s a starting catcher first. A righthanded hitter second. A contact hitter third. A nice guy fourth. A good handler of pitchers fifth. A clubhouse leader sixth. A good interview in English and French seventh. And then, maybe, a proud Canadian eighth. If Michael Saunders hits a homerun this year, he’s “Canadian slugger Michael Saunders”. If he drops a ball in left field, or strikes out with the bases loaded, I guarantee announcers and writers will overlook his place of birth when describing him.

Nevertheless, the Jays seem to be taking on a CFL style roster, with mostly imports but now a minion of non-imports featuring the first legitimate Canadian born player drafted and developed by the Jays farm system who has a chance to make an impact with the big club. With all apologies to Rob Ducey and Paul Spoljaric (signed as amateur Free Agents) Dalton Pompey of Mississauga, Ontario, a 16th round draft pick of the Jays in 2010, is the real deal. And, while Saunders and Martin SHOULD have been scouted and drafted by the Canadian-centric Bluejays (along with Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, Eric Gagne, Joey Votto, John Axford, Jason Bay, Ryan Dempster, etc.) they ended up with other organizations and when they achieved a level of success in the major leagues, we ended up referring to them with “Canadian born” as the prefix to their full names. Like they were the one’s that got away. Like those players represent Canada and Canadians EVERY time they go to the plate or take the mound. The old “Canadian flag tattooed on their butt”. Nonsense!

Back in 2013, when Canada was assembling their roster for the World Baseball Classic, Russell Martin was asked to join the team as a catcher, since that was his position and Canada had no experienced catchers on their roster. Martin, who had just signed with the Pirates, initially agreed, but later changed his mind because he was worried about the wear and tear on his body and the workload involved in learning a new Pirates staff AND a new Baseball Canada staff. He said he would only consider playing shortstop. And while most people laughed, the best shortstop on Canada happened to be Cale Iorg, son of Garth, the former Bluejay. Cale Iorg was barely a .200 hitter in AAA. Canada might’ve given up something on defense, but the Pirates and Baseball Canada said “no” to Martin playing shortstop, so he dropped out. Meanwhile, Brett Lawrie, a Bluejay at the time, called out Martin in the media, basically saying that his decision to quit the team was “weak” and questioning his loyalty to Canada and all that stuff. Of course, the irony here is that Lawrie was injured soon after that statement (oblique muscle) and couldn’t help Canada OR the Jays. And now, Lawrie is an ex-Bluejay and Russell Martin is a current Bluejay. Do you think Martin might’ve had a conversation with Alex Anthopoulos before he signed with Toronto about Lawrie? Is it possible that Lawrie’s comments in 2013 precluded him from being a Toronto Bluejay upon Martin’s arrival? Don’t kid yourself. But don’t think for one minute that Bluejays fans really care whether or not a player was born in this country. If he’s got the talent and ability and can help the team win, it matters not where he was born. Or whether he chose to represent Canada in a pre-season baseball tournament or not. And by the way, Martin DID represent Canada at the 2009 WBC. And Michael Saunders played for Canada in 2013. So they’ve already done their patriotic duty. Like that means anything when you’re chasing a World Series.