By Matt Graves
Now that the World Series is over, we’re entering awards season for baseball. The finalists have been revealed for this year's awards, but let’s go back in time a bit. 2004 was a first for three-time All-Star Jason Bay. He became not only the first Canadian, but the first Pittsburgh Pirate to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
The right-handed-hitting outfielder graduated from high school to play at Gonzaga University for two years. Bay’s strong performance at the college level was enough for the Montreal Expos to take him in the 22nd round of the 2000 MLB Draft. The Trail, B.C. native spent two seasons in the Expos’ farm system but was then dealt twice in 2002, to the New York Mets and then the San Diego Padres. He made his Major League debut with San Diego on May 23, 2003 before he was traded to Pittsburgh, along with left-handed pitchers Oliver Perez and Corey Stewart, in exchange for outfielder Brian Giles on Aug. 26, 2003. Bay finished the season hitting .287 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 30 games.
It wasn’t until the following year that Bay found his footing in the Majors. His season start was delayed due to offseason surgery; however, he became the Pirates' everyday left fielder when he returned. Even though he missed time, Bay made up for it by producing excellent numbers compared to his fellow National League rookies. In 120 games, Bay led all NL rookies in home runs (26), RBIs (82), slugging percentage (.550), extra-base hits (52), and total bases (226). Bay’s 26 home runs broke a Pirates rookie record of 23, which Johnny Rizzo set in 1936. It also matched Ralph Kiner’s rookie home run total in 1946.
When Bay won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, he was listed first on 25 ballots and second on the other seven, submitted by two writers from each league city, for 146 total points. Khalil Greene of the Padres was the only other player on every ballot, with seven first-place votes. The shortstop hit 15 home runs with 65 RBIs and a .273 average. His teammate, pitcher Akinori Otsuka, finished third in the voting, going 7-2 with a 1.75 ERA and two saves in 77 1/3 innings.
Before Bay won, four Pittsburgh players were former Rookie of the Year finalists: Donn Clendenon (1962), Johnny Ray (1982), Mike Dunne (1987), and Orlando Merced (1991). Bay ranks in the top 10 in most offensive statistical categories among Canadian-born players, including home runs (fifth, 222), doubles (sixth, 240), runs scored (ninth, 737) and hits (10th, 1,200). In addition, his 1,200 career hits make him one of the 13 Canadians to record 1,000 hits or more in their MLB career.
Matt Graves is an editor and writer for Last Word on Sports Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @LWOSGraves.