Bob Elliott knew he was destined to cover baseball…even while watching hockey. For the Canadian-born son of a super-athlete and the grandson of a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the script could not have featured a more natural plot line.
And, like every good story, it now has a happy ending, culminating with the highest honor in the craft bestowed upon the former Toronto Sun writer.
Elliott is the 2012 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, presented annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Since the late 1970s, Elliott has been covering baseball in Canada, with a tenacious knack for leaving no stone unturned while providing a colorful look into the sport’s biggest personalities.
The road to Cooperstown began with his first beat assignment in 1979 covering the Expos and continues to this day. But that dream began as an 8-year-old watching the Montreal Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer, sensing the inherent beauty of hockey, relating baseball to how the individual effort in the construct of baseball personified the team sport.
“Baseball is a fair game,” said Elliott. “It is a beautiful, beautiful game that has so many amazing moments. It is an equal opportunity employer, and has endless stories. My job is the best one on earth.”
His love for the game was instilled by his father, Bob, a great semi-pro baseball player who lost his left eye in his youth in an accident, yet would become one of the greatest athletes Kingston, Ontario, has ever known.
As youngster, Elliott rooted for the Braves and his favorite player, Eddie Mathews, who would be the inspiration for his son’s middle name – Mathews.
Writers that Elliott counts as inspirations include Terry Johnson, Vern Plagenhoff and Neil Hohlfeld, all who provided guidance at the onset of his career. He also recalls how he would – while traveling on the beat – buy the Boston Sunday Globe and read every word of Peter Gammons’ column, then read the entire sports section, before going back and re-reading every word of Gammons again.
“Everyone among the BBWAA fraternity shares common experiences,” said Elliott. “We build friendships off those shared experiences because we all know what each other is going through.”
In his career, Elliott has followed two championship clubs – the Blue Jays of 1992 and 1993 – and developed relationships that have enabled him to share the most insightful angles on baseball with readers. One of those relationships is with 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Pat Gillick, Toronto’s general manager from 1977-94.
“Pat is thoughtful and considerate,” said Elliott. “He’s such a good person and we’ve developed a strong friendship over the years. He’s always on the lookout for more information than the next guy.”
“I’m certainly not in the class of (1987 Spink Award winner) Jim Murray. This is just such a tremendous honor and it is so humbling,” said Elliott. “It is staggering to look at the names of those who have won the Award and realize the next one is going to be me.”
2012 J.G. Taylor Spink Award Winner Bob Elliott (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)