There was a time, long before his outstanding Major League career, when Jeff Francis actually wanted to give up pitching.
Seriously. At age 13 Jeff—nicknamed ‘Boomer’ by his grandfather—had taken one too many line drives off his legs that when the new season rolled around he felt done with pitching. Thankfully, there was one problem. He was too shy to tell his coach, who put him out on the mound, and like he always did, Jeff threw strikes and won games. He never stopped pitching after that. And as one of the greatest Canadian pitchers to play in the major leagues, what a career he had.
Growing up in North Delta, Jeff was a multi-sport athlete until baseball became his life at age 16 when he made the North Delta Blue Jays of the BC Premier Baseball League.
“I was a good pitcher, but wasn’t lighting up a radar gun,” he explained. “I wasn’t catching eyes. I was the kind of pitcher you had to come watch a lot of times to appreciate. I didn’t throw hard. I was left-handed. I was tall and really skinny, 6’3” and 130 lbs. I wasn’t much to look at on a baseball field I guess. I think if you’d seen me at 15 or 16, you wouldn’t have pegged me as the guy to go on to accomplish what I did.”
Lukewarm interest from US Division 1 universities made Jeff stay close to home and attend UBC beginning in 1999. It proved the best decision of his career. In three years with the Thunderbirds, he set 11 new team pitching records, twice was named an NAIA First Team All-American, and received the Bobby Gaul Award as UBC’s top male athlete. UBC retired his number 16 in 2019—the first T-Bird ballplayer to receive this honour.
After appearing on the cover of Baseball America magazine, Jeff was selected ninth overall in the 2002 Major League Draft by the Colorado Rockies—the second highest Canadian-born player ever chosen. His strong play in Colorado’s farm system put him back on the cover of Baseball America as he was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2004.
Making his MLB debut that same year, Jeff quickly became a key starter in the Rockies’ rotation, showcasing precision control and an ability to frustrate batters. Following in the wake of Larry Walker, like Ryan Dempster, Justin Morneau, and Jason Bay, Jeff was part of an impressive wave of BC major leaguers making names for themselves in the 2000s.
In 2007, Jeff put together a career season, finishing with a 17-9 win-loss record and 165 strikeouts in 34 starts, earning Cy Young Award consideration and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He helped Colorado complete one of baseball’s most memorable and unlikely late-season runs to the World Series, winning 21 of 22 games, before falling to the Boston Red Sox. During that run, Jeff became the first Canadian starting pitcher to win a major league postseason game and just the second to start in a World Series.
“Just the way we made it to the World Series. Just the way we made it to the playoffs to begin with was as exciting as you can make it,” he recalled. “Whenever us players get together we all talk about 2007. There’s a lot of stories to be told: funny, heartbreaking, joyous. It runs every gamut of emotions. Something I’ll never forget that’s for sure.”
After spending time with six major league clubs, upon retirement in 2015 he ended his 11-season career with a 72-82 win-loss record and 869 strikeouts in 254 games.
But there was time for one more highlight before the end. In 2015, at the age of 34, Jeff helped Team Canada to gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto, pitching eight gutsy innings in the gold medal game as Canada downed the favoured US 7-6.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
To read more on the career of Jeff Francis, please see the November 2020 Curator’s Corner article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/jeff-francis-this-boomer-was-more-than-ok-2020-inductee-spotlight/