Canadian Baseball History Conference organizer Andrew North shares a story with the attendees at the conference in Windsor, Ont. on the weekend. Photo: Scott Crawford
November 15, 2022
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
The fifth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference took place in Windsor, Ont., on the weekend.
Organized by Andrew North – the Willie Mays of baseball conference convenors in our country – with help from his wife, Elena, the event was a rousing success and nirvana for a Canadian baseball junkie like me.
Thank you to Andrew and Elena for all of the work they put into organizing the two-day event which featured 16 presentations about topics ranging from The Canadian League (1911 to 1915) to the Charles Bronfman years of the Montreal Expos from 1969 to 1990.
I took 24 pages of notes at the conference, so it would be impossible for me to share everything I learned. Instead, I have narrowed it down to 10 interesting facts that I scribbled down during the event:
1. Former Detroit Tigers infielder and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Reno Bertoia, who lived in Windsor, Ont., for most of his life, really liked his nonna’s spaghetti sauce. How do I know this? Well, the recipe was included in the folder conference recipients received on the way into the event. The recipe can be found in a letter written by Bertoia on January 27, 1995. So what’s the secret to nonna’s delicious sauce? It’s white wine, according to the document.
2. Stephen Dame shared in his excellent presentation, “Coloured Diamonds: Integrated Baseball in the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1918” that Ethelbert (Curley) Christian, who was born in the U.S., but had come to Canada to play semi-pro baseball in Brandon, Man., enlisted in the Canadian Army and joined the 78th Battalion in the First World War. He was one of 20 Black soldiers who charged Vimy Ridge on Easter, Monday in 1917. Unfortunately, an explosive landed close to him and he was buried alive for around 30 hours. After he was found, he lost his arms and legs to gangrene, but he survived, making him the only quadruple amputee to survive the First World War. Christian returned to Toronto after the war and even served as a recruiter for the Army for the Second World War. He also continued to play baseball with his artificial limbs. Dame pointed out that Christian is believed to be the inspiration behind the Metallica song, “One.”
3. Martin Lacoste highlighted the Canadian-American League’s Quebec Alouettes (Braves) rise from last place in 1948 to first place in 1949 in a fascinating presentation. He also noted that the 1949 squad was managed by former Cincinnati Reds slugger Frank McCormick, who was the 1940 National League MVP and a nine-time National League All-Star. In four full seasons during his 13-year MLB playing career, McCormick, who led the Quebec squad to a 90-48 record, had more home runs than strikeouts. In 1939, McCormick batted .332 with 18 home runs and 128 RBIs and struck out just 16 times in 156 games for the Reds.
4. I had no idea that Pumpsie Green, who became the first Black player in Boston Red Sox history in 1959, had played with the Indian Head Rockets in Saskatchewan prior to his major league career until Andrew North’s outstanding presentation about post-war baseball in Saskatchewan that included a great in-person interview with former Delisle Gems pitcher John Farley.
5. I also didn’t know that Hall of Fame hurler Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless innings, while striking out seven, in a start for the Minot Mallards against the Brandon Greys in the Manitoba-Dakota (Mandak) League in 1950 until Max Weder’s wonderful presentation called “Canada’s Greatest Baseball Tournament.” Weder’s presentation shone the spotlight on a renowned prize money tournament that was held in Indian Head, Sask., from 1947 to 1955.
6. Benno Rosinke shared in his interesting presentation about the Canadian League from 1911 to 1915 that before becoming a four-time 20-game winner with the American League’s St. Louis Browns and a World Series champion with the 1927 New York Yankees, right-hander Urban Shocker collected 20 victories for the Ottawa Senators in 1914. A year later, Shocker won another 19 games for the Senators.
7. David Simmons made an outstanding presentation about his father and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Harry Simmons, who was an influential executive and Major League Baseball’s primary schedule maker from 1952 to 1982. Simmons, who lived in Montreal for a long stretch, created all of the major league schedules before there were computers. David shared an image of a letter his father received from Blue Jays president Peter Bavasi prior to the 1978 season, pleading for Simmons not to schedule their home opener until at least May 15 due to the unforgiving Toronto spring weather. That would have been more than a month later than they usually began major league games in Toronto, so Simmons had to decline the request. David also shared that his father said that the Blue Jays’ schedule was often the most challenging to put together for a number of reasons, including the aforementioned weather and the different Canadian holidays. David also noted that the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts had a lease at Exhibition Stadium that preceded that of the Blue Jays, so the Argos got priority for their games at the stadium. Another wrinkle was that, at one point, the Toronto airport had a 11 p.m. curfew, which meant teams could not fly in or out after 11 p.m.
8. Warren Campbell shared in his excellent presentation about the 1975 Intercontinental Cup of Baseball that was played in Moncton, N.B., and Montreal, that the Canadian team in the tournament was coached by three Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees John Haar (Vancouver, B.C.), Wayne Norton (Port Moody, B.C.) and Vern Handrahan (Charlottetown, P.E.I.). Also, Doc Younker was the trainer and he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.
9. I thought I knew a lot about Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jack Kent Cooke until I listened to David Siegel’s presentation about the 1960 International League Toronto Maple Leafs. I knew that Cooke owned the Leafs and after he sold them, he went on to own the Los Angeles Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington NFL club. What I didn’t know was that at one point Cooke also owned the Chrysler Building in New York City.
10. Who is the only player to have played in both the National Hockey League and in Major League Baseball? The answer is Jim Riley (Bayfield, N.B.). Wayne Patterson made a virtual presentation about Riley that noted that Riley was a forward for nine NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Cougars during the 1926-27 season. Prior to that, Riley was an infielder for six big league games – four with the St. Louis Browns in 1921 and two with the Washington Senators in 1923.