A scene from the sixth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference held this past weekend in Toronto. Photo: Scott Crawford
November 9, 2023
By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
The sixth annual Canadian Baseball History Conference took place at Royal St. George’s College in Toronto on the weekend.
Organized by Andrew North – the Willie Mays of baseball conference convenors in our country – the event was a rousing success and nirvana for a Canadian baseball junkie like me.
Thank you to Andrew for all of the work he put into organizing the two-day event, which featured 17 presentations about topics ranging from the riot at Christie Pits in Toronto in 1933 to New Brunswick-born big leaguers.
I took 20 pages of notes, 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. During Stephen Dame’s excellent presentation, “Their Voices Rang With That Aryan Twang: Softball, Swastikas and the Riot at Christie Pits,” I learned that Toronto’s worst incident of civil unrest came during a junior softball game at Christie Pits in August 1933 when the local swastika club brought their flag and evil “Heil Hitler!” chants to a game between Harbord Collegiate Institute (a team of Jewish players) and St. Peter’s (a gentile squad). It sparked a bloody brawl that lasted more than six hours. It was an incident that, as Dame wrote in the description of his presentation, “permanently scarred the city of Toronto and its perennial branding as tolerant, orderly and just.” You can read more about it in Dame’s outstanding article that was published in the National Post here.
2. Prior to David Siegel’s presentation called “The Toronto Maple Leafs – The Barrow Years 1900-1902,” I knew Ed Barrow primarily as the Hall of Fame general manager of the New York Yankees from 1920 to 1945. His Yankees teams – including the immortal 1927 Murderers’ Row squad – won 10 World Series titles. But before his success in The Big Apple, Barrow was the manager of the Eastern League’s Toronto Maple Leafs from 1900 to 1902 and then again in 1906. I learned (among other things) from Siegel’s presentation that it was Barrow who nicknamed the Toronto club the Maple Leafs.
3. 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. The presentation focused on his father’s renowned “So You Think You Know Baseball?” column which started running in the Saturday Evening Post in 1949. I was a religious reader of it later in Baseball Digest. One of the things I learned from David Simmons was that while working in the MLB head office, his father recommended to Gerry Snyder, the Montreal city councillor who had headed up the city’s bid for an MLB team, that he hire John McHale and Jim Fanning, who are now hailed as the architects of the Expos.
4. Wayne Patterson made an interesting presentation about New Brunswick-born big leaguers called “Cradle of Canadians in Major League Baseball.” He pointed out that according to Baseball Reference, there have been 260 major leaguers born in Canada. And though 135 of those have been from Ontario, the richest source of Canuck big leaguers is actually New Brunswick. He shared that New Brunswick has a population of only 775,610, but the province has produced 17 big leaguers. That works out to 2.192 per 100,000 population. That makes New Brunswick the only province to have produced big leaguers at a rate of over two per 100,000 population.
5. Benno Rosinke shared in his fascinating presentation about alumni in the Canadian League, a minor league circuit that operated 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 Yankees, right-hander Urban Shocker collected 20 victories for the Canadian League’s Ottawa Senators in 1914. A year later, Shocker, who hailed from Cleveland, won another 19 games for the Senators. It’s also interesting to note that he pitched for Windsor, Ont., in the Border League in 1913 and for Toronto in the International League in 1916 before becoming a big leaguer. Shocker eventually earned 187 major league wins and posted a 3.17 ERA in 412 contests over 13 seasons. Sadly, he died in 1928 when he was just 37 from a combination of pneumonia and heart disease.
6. In his presentation on Sunday morning, Martin Lacoste shone the spotlight on two very different Hall of Famers that played in the Border League, a class-C circuit that operated from 1946 to 1951 that consisted of six teams from Ontario, Quebec and New York. From Lacoste, I learned that former Negro League star and Cooperstown inductee Willard Brown batted .352 in 30 games for the Ottawa squad in 1950 and that Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman Doug Harvey was a key contributor to that same Ottawa team for parts of four seasons from 1947 to 1950. Harvey’s best season was in 1949 when he hit .351 with 14 home runs and 109 RBIs in 109 games for Ottawa.
7. I learned from Dennis Thiessen presentation called “The Telegraph World Series and Canadian Baseball Fans, 1910-1930” how scoreboards were erected in towns in my area (Southwestern Ontario) during the Fall Classic. Baseball was hugely popular at the time and crowds would gather around these scoreboards to be updated on the action. The scoreboards were updated when an operator at the game would send a telegraph message to a local operator. The local operator would then pass the information on to a local “broadcaster” who, according to Thiessen, “with the aid of a megaphone . . . described the play to the awaiting fans.” It’s fun to think that this is how many people enjoyed the World Series in the early 20th century.
8. From Doug Fox’s excellent presentation on Sunday afternoon, I learned that 1931 National League batting champion and Hall of Famer Chick Hafey was sent by the Cincinnati Reds to the tiny town of Port McNicoll, Ont., to recover from severe bout of influenza in July 1932. Fox explained that this was because Reds manager Dan Howley was friends with Jim Shaw, an owner of a successful company that built grain elevators, who resided in Port McNicoll. Shaw allowed Hafey to stay with his family while he recovered. Fox said Hafey was in Port McNicoll for two weeks and whatever Shaw did worked. Hafey rebounded and appeared in more games in the next two seasons (144 and 140) than he did at any other point in his career.
9. Who is the only player to hit 10 home runs in three different stadiums in a major league season? Thanks to David Matchett’s presentation on Sunday afternoon, I know the answer. It was Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) who belted 10 home runs at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, 10 home runs at Sahlen Field in Buffalo and 10 home runs at the Rogers Centre during the 2021 campaign.
10. Matchett’s presentation included a number of other interesting Canadian baseball facts. For example, I didn’t know that Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) never threw to a Canadian catcher during his big league career. Matchett also pointed out that when Bo Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) caught Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) for the Cleveland Guardians on June 30, 2023, they became the 100th Canadian battery in major league history. Also, through some impressive detective work, Matchett was able to identify right-hander Scott Richmond (Vancouver, B.C.) as briefly appearing in a baseball scene in Ben Affleck’s critically acclaimed 2010 movie, The Town. The movie only shares a brief aerial shot of the action on the field at Fenway Park, but Matchett was able to establish that it was filmed on August 28, 2009 when Richmond tossed five innings against the Red Sox.