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120 Years of Feuding – Dodgers and Giants, Old Foes, Have First Postseason Meeting

120 Years of Feuding – Dodgers and Giants, Old Foes, Have First Postseason Meeting

Believe it or not, tonight will be the very first meeting between the Dodgers and Giants in the postseason. They have been rivals for over 120 years, on two coasts, and have given us epic games with infamous dust-ups, but it’s never been quite like this – with postseason glory on the line. And yet, when the Dodgers and Giants were just making the move from New York back in ’50s, some wondered if the rivalry would be the same in California. Here’s what Roger Kahn had to say in the January, 1958 issue of SPORT: “The pennant race of 1951 [between the Dodgers and Giants, which ended in a best-of-3 play-in series, technically still part of the regular season] was a struggle built upon almost 60 years of baseball feuds and, no matter what happens next season, it is going to take a little while for the rivalry’s new roots to look like the old. But while there are Giants to play Dodgers, and partisan fans to care about what happens, there will be fireworks.” In the 60+ years since that move, these two teams have proved Mr. Kahn right; there have been fireworks. But there’s sure to be a heck of a lot more over the next few days! Want a recap of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry up to this point? Check out this great video by MLB Network!

Did the Writer of Film Bull Durham Borrow from Satchel Paige??

Did the Writer of Film Bull Durham Borrow from Satchel Paige??

In the film Bull Durham, a realistic and smart comedy about the charming grind that is minor league baseball, a number of philosophical baseballisms are said. One of them, given to young fireball pitcher Nuke Laloosh by wily veteran catcher Crash Davis, is this:  Well I think the writer of Bull Durham, Mr. Ron Shelton, may have gotten his inspiration for that pearl of wisdom from legendary pitcher Satchel Paige. I was putting together an Instagram post today – Satchel was born on June 6, 1906 – and used a quote:  All of a sudden the connection clicked! The two quotes are so similar, my bet is definitely that Shelton, while writing and looking for inspiration, came across Paige's wise words and adapted them for the screen!  My understanding of the quote(s)? Baseball is much like life; yes there are highs and lows, but it’s really all about the process. (And many of life's issues are out of our hands anyway.) We just have to show up each day, that's the most important thing. Wise indeed. Thanks for the incite, Satchel, and Happy (Heavenly) Birthday!

Spread the Word: Larry Doby is a Legend

Spread the Word: Larry Doby is a Legend

Every year on April 17th, the sporting community comes together to celebrate the trailblazing achievements of Jackie Robinson, the man that broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier. We’ve always taken part, whether online or in our galleries. I even got a Robinson tattoo late last year, based on one of our shots from the archive!  Celebrations of Robinson are always necessary; he’s that important to the game. But there are some other ballplayers from his era who went through the same experience, that don't get the same love. The big one is Larry Doby, who came into MLB only three months after Robinson, and who broke the same barrier in the American League.  Many thought initially that Doby himself might be the first Black player in MLB, he was that good. Originally from South Carolina, Doby spent his high school years in New Jersey. He was a four-sport star and received a basketball scholarship offer, but decided instead to join the local Negro Leagues team, the Newark Eagles. His time there was shortened by wartime service in the Navy, but Doby still had a chance to play Josh Gibson: My first time up, Josh [playing catcher] said, 'We're going to find out if you can hit a fastball.' I singled. Next time up, Josh said, 'We're going to find out if you can hit a curveball.' I singled. Third time up, Josh said, 'We're going to find out how you do after you're knocked down.' I popped up the first time after they knocked me down. The second time, I singled. In 1946, the Eagles beat Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro World Series. Doby was a stand out, collecting 5 RBIs and 3 steals alongside a .371 average. It’s clear he, and other players like Paige and Monte Irvin, were the real deal, no matter what league they might be in. Even still, Doby wasn’t optimistic: “I never dreamed that far ahead. Growing up in a segregated society, you couldn't have thought that that was the way it was going to be. There was no bright spot as far as looking at baseball until Mr. Robinson got the opportunity to play in Montreal in '46." But the call did come. Bill Veeck, the outside-the-box owner of the Cleveland Indians and later the White Sox, had his eyes on Doby. Unlike Jackie Robinson, who got a whole season in the Dodgers farm system to prepare for his MLB debut, Doby was kept with the Eagles until his time to start for Cleveland came. (Doby was actually the first to go directly from the Negro Leagues to MLB!) That day came: July 5, 1947. Veeck hired two police officers to protect his new, at-risk player, which they did, but most of Doby’s teammates wouldn’t even shake his hand upon first introduction.  The lack of preparation combined with the tepid response from his new teammates made for a sour cocktail, and Doby struggled; he had a .156 batting average over 29 games that season. But, given some time, the strong centerfielder made some noise. In ‘48 he put together a .301 average and snagged 66 RBIs in 121 games. Cleveland made it to the World Series that season, and Doby ended up as the team’s best hitter. He hit .318 overall, and in game four, became the first African-American to hit a home run in a World Series game. Back in the clubhouse after the final out, a photo was taken of Doby embracing with teammate Steve Gromek. According to Richard Goldstein of The New York Times, the photograph is "a signature moment in the integration of Major League Baseball.” Doby himself said “The picture was more rewarding and happy for me than actually hitting the home run. The picture finally showed a moment of a man showing his feelings for me." Cleveland would go on to win the series.  In 1950, Doby had his first of five seasons with more than 100 RBIs. He led the league with 126 in '54 and finished second in MVP voting. He was also an All-Star seven-straight times. In 1956, after nine seasons in Cleveland, Doby found himself on a new team in a new town: the White Sox, in Chicago. He had two more good seasons with the Pale Hose – crossing the RBI century mark one last time – before becoming increasingly affected by injuries. After bouncing between Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit (and Baltimore, for one Spring Training) to finish his 15-season MLB career, Doby contemplated minor league life with the AAA Toronto Maple Leafs, but injuries prevailed, and he retired. The universe did have Canada in the cards for Doby; he became a scout for the Expos in 1969 and then moved into a coaching role a couple of years later. Just as Robinson did when playing with the AAA Royals, Doby fell in love with Montreal. Though not perfect, Canada felt welcoming and inclusive compared to much of the United States at the time. He spent five years with the Expos in total, but decided to move on for his career. “Please let everyone in Montreal know that I feel just like I’m leaving home,” Doby said at the end.  With the hopes of becoming MLB’s first Black manager, Doby went back to where he felt most established: Cleveland. He served as first base coach for a year with the expectation that he was next in line for the skipper’s spot. But when it did become vacant, Frank Robinson was chosen instead. Obviously Doby would have been happy to see a Black man finally become an MLB manager, but he was also deeply hurt by not being picked. In the late ‘70s, Bill Veeck, now owner of the White Sox for a second time, came up big for Doby once again; he hired his former player as batting coach, and then, a season later, named Doby manager. “It's so nice to work for a man like Bill Veeck,” the new Sox skipper said. “You just work as hard as you can, and if the opportunity arises, you will certainly get the opportunity to fulfill your dreams.” He took that shot, becoming the second Black manager in MLB as a result. But, unfortunately, Doby’s time in the position didn’t last long – he got one partial season as skipper, putting a 37-50 record together in that time, and then Veeck moved him back to the batting coach role. You have to think that Doby deserved more time to bring the pieces together… that short spell would be his one and only.  After one last season coaching the Sox sluggers, Larry Doby left dugout life for good. He continued on in sport, though, becoming the (then-) New Jersey Nets’ director of communications and community affairs. In 1998, Doby finally made it to Cooperstown, and he received the news via a phone call from Ted Williams. “This is just a tremendous feeling,” Doby said. “It's kind of like a bale of cotton has been on your shoulders, and now it's off.” Today, Doby isn’t the household name that Jackie or even Frank Robinson is – the curse of coming second – but he certainly deserves to be. Doby went through the same challenges and suffered the same hurt. What he didn’t get was the same support, but the man played great baseball regardless, and did what no Cleveland player has done since: lead the team to a World Series trophy. So go on and spread the good word, folks, Larry Doby is a legend.

The SPORT Magazine Baseball Preview of 1952

The SPORT Magazine Baseball Preview of 1952

Baseball is finally here! The red-white-and-blue bunting has been dusted off and hung. The players – and, thankfully, some fans – are in the building. Hope abounds as we embark on this season’s marathon journey. In honour of this special time, here's a look at SPORT Magazine's baseball preview from 1952. Alvin Dark, "Symbol of the New York Giants," graces the cover.  Today, Dark is best known for taking over as manager for the World-Champion Oakland Athletics in 1973 and bringing them to glory two more times. Back in '52, though, the infielder was getting ready for his sixth season in the bigs and would get his second of three career All-Star nods that coming season. The Giants, still on the East Coast, were perennial National League favourites and often met the Yankees in the World Series. "Wild scrambles for both pennants and the fall of the defending champions are forecast for the coming season. There should be plenty of excitement! This coming season, more than any time since the war, most clubs are looking to a few prominent members to carry the load made unusually burdensome by the loss of players to the service and the scarcity of well-developed farmhands. The retirement of Joe DiMaggio and the recall to active service of Ted Williams are, of course, the most striking signs of the times." A closer look at the preview itself provides an interesting story; Major League Baseball in 1952, much like today, was going through a time of disruption and change. We’ve had the pandemic to contend with, but back then it was war.  As SPORT explains, some key players were lost to service or retirement, so the standouts that did remain were especially integral to their teams. There’s some brilliant colour head shots of these men, some of whom – like Stan Musial – you’ll definitely know. Others, not as much; Irv Noren, anyone? (A Washington Senator at the time, Noren hit .275 over ten years in the bigs and made one All-Star team.) Three former Negro League players – Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin, and Minnie Minoso – feature in the 16-player spread, five years after Jackie Robinson became the first. “Is there a better catcher than Campanella?” the writer asks. “He was picked as the National League’s MVP in 1951 and is our choice as the Dodgers’ most valuable member.” SPORT was a vocal supporter of integration in baseball, right from the start.  Also featured is Gil McDougald, a lesser-known Yankee that we’ve actually written about before. Prior to making New York’s roster, McDougald was a star for the Victoria (B.C.) Athletics! He’s almost certainly the only soul to have gone from Royal Athletic Park to Yankee Stadium, and to have made the cover of SPORT (earlier that year in March). Another piece in this issue of SPORT that sounds as if it could be printed today: “Baseball’s Road Show Must Go On.” In 1952, professional ballplayers were dealing with the wear and tear of Spring Training, which provided much more rudimentary comforts than today, and with regular railway travel between America’s East Coast and Midwestern cities. This was before aviation and wifi came into the mix.  "This is the way it is: The players ship most of their clothes home and live out of suitcases. They seldom see a real bed. In the gruelling series of one-afternoon stands, everything is done on the run [...] Sleeping, if any, is done in the berth of a train that lurches, rolls and jerks. Shaving is accomplished to the tempo of a moving train." Take this issue and apply it to 2021, though, and you feel the weight of the pandemic. One has sympathy for today’s players and how they must deal with quarantines, restrictions, and constant testing. They most likely won’t see their families for months, too. But, as in ‘52, the “show must go on.” *** Once all of the predictive analysis is done, all there’s left to do is study the summer schedule… You love to see the page bursting with games, just as it will do for the 2021 dates. Play ball!

Women's History Month: Bonnie Baker and The AAGPBL

Women's History Month: Bonnie Baker and The AAGPBL

By now, many people know of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) thanks to the popular 1992 film, A League of Their Own. If you don't, the story is this: World War II ravaged Major League Baseball's rosters as it did to factories, so in order to keep the game going in some capacity, one team owner, the Cubs' Phillip K. Wrigley, decided to get creative. Women from across North America were recruited or tried out, teams formed, and the AAGPBL was born. The league, which ran from 1943 to '55, was an amazing achievement for women's professional sport; most players earned more than the average worker, and as many as 910,000 fans attended in a single season. The quality of play, the rules of which evolved from quasi-softball to fully-fledged baseball, was quite high. This was the real deal.  (It is also worth noting, however, that there were still many issues typical of the era, and of male-dominated industries. AAGPBL players did not wear pants like their male counterparts, but instead were made to don short skirts. They were taught "proper etiquette" during spring training and received "beauty kits." The league was also unofficially segregated, so athletes of colour were overlooked.) The AAGPBL was based in the American Midwest, but one in ten players were from Canada, including one of the primary faces of the league, Mary "Bonnie" Baker. Born and raised in Regina, Baker won a provincial softball championship in 1940, and was actually sought out by scout Hub Bishop, the man who snagged Gordie Howe for the Red Wings. Baker played in nine of the AAGPBL's 12 seasons, most of them as catcher for the South Bend Blue Sox. In 1950, she served as player/manager for the Kalamazoo Lassies, becoming the only woman in league history to lead a team. By the end of her AAGPBL career, Baker had played in 930 games, registering 255 RBIs and a whopping 506 steals; she was widely seen as the best defensive catcher in the league, as well, and finished with a .965 fielding percentage.  The best – and/or most conventionally attractive – players in the league received a fair amount of publicity. Baker was quite popular; she featured in major pieces by SPORT and Life magazines, and on television. You can still find her appearance on the gameshow What's My Line? thanks to YouTube, which is a prime example of the reach AAGPBL players had, but also the clear misogyny they were subjected to.   After the 1950 season, Baker took leave from the AAGPBL to have a child, but returned for one final go in '52. She then moved back to Canada permanently, becoming a successful softball player once more – batting .500 in the World Ladies Softball final – and also the manager of the Wheat City Curling Club in Regina, a position Baker held for 25 years.  In late 1964, Baker was hired as sports director of local radio station CKRM, which was then, and still is, the flagship station for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Covering a 'Riders press conference, she became Canada's first female sportscaster, and was introduced as such to a group of all-male reporters. “I’ve been on radio and television many times before, but it’s always me who was being interviewed,” she said. “I’ve never been the interviewer.” It wasn't until the release of A League of Their Own, however, that Baker and her AAGBPL colleagues became more widely known and started to gain their legend status. In the film, Geena Davis' character, determined catcher Dottie Hinson, is said to be largely based on Baker. More tributes came; a mural was painted in Regina's Central Park, and the softball diamond there was named in her honour.  Baker, who passed in 2003, was also inducted into the Canadian Baseball, Saskatchewan Sports, and Canada's Sports Halls of Fame. And her memory lives on at our gallery, too, of course!

Gil McDougald: Out of Somewhere

Gil McDougald: Out of Somewhere

It’s March, 1952, and on the cover of SPORT magazine – America’s premier sports publication at the time – is Gil McDougald of the New York Yankees. Sorry, who? Yes, there’s a long list of Yankees legends you’d recognize from the first half of the 20th century, but Gil McDougald probably isn’t one of them. McDougald was a defence-first player (.975 career fielding percentage), originally from San Francisco, that played all of his ten Major League seasons with the Yankees. He won five World Series during that time, was a six-time All-Star, and won Rookie of the Year in ‘51. A career to be proud of, no doubt, but it wasn’t enough to get McDougald into the Yankees’ Monument Park, nor Cooperstown. He’s best known for coming “from out of nowhere,” as SPORT put it, to win that RotY award, and for hitting pitcher Herb Score right in the eye with a line-drive (unintentionally, of course). Score would recover, thankfully, so the lasting memory we have of McDougald is rightfully that ‘51 season. The Yankees had won the World Series in three of the last four seasons prior to McDougald joining the team, and had five future Hall of Famers on the roster: Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, and Mickey Mantle. The Mick was also a rookie that season. So for McDougald to make the impact he did – .306 batting average (the only Yankee to hit .300 or better), 63 RBIs, and 72 runs – was no small feat. McDougald had an unusual batting stance. He would start by standing with his front foot out pointing towards the pitcher, completely open, with the bat parallel to the ground and his head tilted to one side. It would come together a bit as he swung, but you can’t blame folks for assuming this ugly duckling wouldn’t be able to hit big-league pitching. But did he come "from out of nowhere?” Well, I for one will argue that just isn’t true. On his way to New York, Gil McDougald played ball in Victoria, BC! From 1946 to 1951, Victoria was home to the Western International League “Athletics.” The Athletics played at Royal Athletic Park (which today is still in operation and plays home to the Victoria HarbourCats, a summer-collegiate team), and were a Yankees minor league affiliate from 1947-49. McDougald spent the ‘49 season with the Athletics.  While the stats from that season are incomplete, we know McDougald hit .344 with 13 homers. He actually had very consistent power numbers, hitting at least ten round-trippers a season for ten-straight seasons. Only in his last two years did he drop below that. Not bad for a shortstop of that time. As it happens, one of The SPORT Gallery’s own alumnus, Ian Brackman, has a connection to the Victoria Athletics: his grandfather was an ardent supporter and one-time batboy. In one of his old programs from the '49 season, there is mention of McDougald. It says the infielder was named “most outstanding rookie” for his first season of professional baseball, in 1948, with Twin Falls. He was also voted “the player most likely to reach the major leagues.” Aha!  So, while we can forgive SPORT for their claim – anyone would have seemed “from out of nowhere” compared to Mickey Mantle, one of the more natural ballplayers that ever was – they should have done better research. Those who watched McDougald knew he was bound for greatness. And he did come from somewhere... Vancouver Island!   

Super 'Stache Bros: The Monumental Return of Hair to Baseball

Super 'Stache Bros: The Monumental Return of Hair to Baseball

You’ve probably never thought to notice, but try to think of the last time you watched a game of baseball that did not include at least one player with facial hair. You probably can’t, even if you’re weird and obsessive like me, because it hasn’t happened since the turn of the century.  Generally, in today’s society, facial hair is in. Men in hipster bars and boardrooms alike don beards. A man can wear long hair too, down brushing his shoulders or up in a bun. This follicle freedom didn’t start so recently, of course; hippy culture brought hair to the masses in the 1960s, and there have been times before that, at the end of the 19th century, say, where facial fuzz was en vogue. But the 2010s might be special in that men in more “professional” occupations have been free to grow, providing they’re well groomed.  Major League Baseball, however, currently has one team trying to upkeep more traditional values. The New York Yankees have long enforced an “appearance policy,” which instructs their coaches and players to keep their hair cropped and their faces clean. A tidy moustache is allowed, but that’s all. No beards, no matter how well groomed, and no long hair. When a hirsute player gets traded to the Yankees, he must shave and shear before taking the field.  This sounds crazy, and in today’s age it is, but it was more the norm than not for a long time. Listen to this: When the Oakland Athletics’ Reggie Jackson went into the 1972 season with a moustache, he was the first MLB player to do so since Wally Schang (who was also an A, incidentally) in 1914. That’s 58 years between!  Many players would let their hair grow in the offseason, but after Spring Training it always got shaved. MLB never had an official, league-wide rule requiring clean faces, it was just known to be preferred. And back then, before collective bargaining and the player’s association, the owners had all the power. It was better to not test the system. But, Mr. October, as he was not yet known, was never one to follow along. He knew he was special – a star – and wanted to stand out.  Initially, the A’s owner, Charles O. Finley, did not approve of his slugger’s ‘stache. Apparently he ordered the rest of his men to grow their hair out too, to make Jackson feel less special and therefore less inclined to see his growth as a stand-out feature. But, Finley, ever the profiteer, realized that there was money to be made here. With a whole team of moustachioed ballplayers he could market them as such, as a sight to behold. Plus, Finley was already making bold moves, like introducing baseball to all-yellow uniforms, and to a robotic rabbit ball-fetching machine. Moustaches weren’t so wild, all things considered.  The A’s did go forth, becoming the outcast rebels of baseball, and soon some made a point to stand their ground in opposition to the idea. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the man behind their appearance policy, establishing it in the ‘70s. And the Cincinnati Reds had the same policy, unofficially. When the A’s and the Reds faced off in the 1972 World Series, the press dubbed it “the Hairs vs. the Squares.”  In the ‘60s, the Reds went so far as to remove the handlebar moustache from their mascot, Mr. Red, who wore one since his creation in 1953 as an ode to Cincinnati’s old-time baseball roots – a previous iteration of the Reds, the Red Legs, were the sport’s first professional side. Facial hair was in then (the 1880s), and so Mr. Red was given a curly, black moustache as a throwback salute. Eventually, this did not match the team itself, and so the mascot was reborn as a “square.”  Many other clubs followed the A’s lead, however, and pretty soon a moustache or beard was nothing to take note of in the Majors. Fast-forward to the present day and you’ll see all sorts of styles; bushy beards, “chin-straps,” goatees, and, yes, moustaches. Even Mr. Red has been freed from his no-hair prison – the mo’ is back.  The Yankees still make the news now and again for their continued hair policing. Most famously when Johnny Damon, who was known for his beard and long hair with the Red Sox, went to the Bronx and got sheared. Losing his signature hair was losing his soul – at least if you asked Sox fans. That was a while ago now, but you’ll still see some before/after content circulate when a player is traded to the Yankees.  But perhaps the most interesting development in this baseball-hair world has been Don Mattingly’s ideological turnaround. Now manager of the Marlins, Mattingly spent his entire playing career with the Yankees. He was known for his contempt of the grooming rule, frequently taking fines for his bushy moustache and long hair. But as a manager, Mattingly did a 180. In 2016 he implemented – you guessed it – a no-facial-hair policy. Even moustaches were banned. The rule breaker became the rule maker.  That lasted just the one season, at least. For whatever reason, Mattingly backed off. Maybe he realized that he had forgotten who he was deep down. Or, perhaps a few players pointed out the obvious: that telling grown men how to groom is an outdated move. Even the army now allows short beards. Whatever the case, Mattingly gave up, and the Yankees once again became the only team in baseball – in all of North American sports, really – with an appearance policy.   Lately, MLB has been trying to modernize in order to attract and keep younger athletes and fans. We Play Loud is the league’s new slogan. These days you will see bat flips, colourful cleats, gold chains, and… facial hair. In spite of complaints by old-timers who say this new generation is “disrespecting the game,” these changes are fun and have been building for a long time – just ask the Reggie and the A’s! ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For more stories on the A's "Moustache Gang," look to Jason Turbow's book Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic. This piece would not have been possible without it.

Who Were They? The Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club

Who Were They? The Toronto Maple Leafs Baseball Club

We all know the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of hockey's Original Six franchises. They haven't won the Stanley Cup in a while, but they're still an iconic team with an incredibly dedicated fanbase. Even the average joe could point out their famous blue and white leaf logo from a crowd.  What many don't know is that there was another team in the city called the Maple Leafs, and they date back way earlier, to the 19th century. This team played a different game; not hockey, but baseball. The Leafs baseball club were a minor league team, playing in the International League for their entire history (1896-1967).  The Leafs aren't as well known as some other minor league teams, like the Montreal Royals for example. The Royals were the team that Jackie Robinson broke in with before being promoted to the Dodgers, so they have a bit more cultural cachet. The two teams actually played in the same league and went head-to-head in the finals of 1943, '52, and '58, with Montreal taking two out of three. Though the Royals had their rival's number both on and off the field, the Leafs do have a few stories to tell. Before moving into Maple Leaf Stadium, where they spent most of their history, the Leafs played at Hanlon's Point on Toronto's Centre Island. And in 1914, that would be where Babe Ruth hit is very first professional dinger. Because the Bambino, then with the Providence Grays, was focusing on pitching at that time, it would be his only minor league home run. He would go on to hit a few more in the majors, though.  Hitting fast forward, the Leafs had coaching legend Sparky Anderson on their side as both player and manager in the 1960s. He would go on to lead the Reds to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and '76, and won with the Tigers in '84 as well. Other notable players for the Leafs were Elston Howard, who went on to have a good career catching for the Yankees, and Al Cicotte, the great-grandnephew of one of the infamous "Black Sox," Eddie Cicotte.  The Leafs even got their own Jackie Robinson moment, though it was brief; number 42 donned their uniform for a media event at Maple Leaf Stadium in 1962. There is photo evidence of this, though Robinson doesn't look particularly pleased about the experience. Perhaps he felt like he was cheating on the Royals!  Despite a high level of play and some notable names coming through, the Leafs struggled for attendance in the '60s, mostly due to the increasing age of Maple Leaf Stadium. With costly renovations needed, ownership instead decided to sell the team to an American businessman, who moved the team to Louisville after the 1967 season. Toronto would not be without baseball for long, however, getting the Major League Blue Jays ten years later. 

Who Were They? The Montreal Royals

Who Were They? The Montreal Royals

When you think of baseball in Canada it is safe to guess that the Toronto Blue Jays come to mind. The Jays were the first Major League team outside of the United States to win the World Series, which they did in 1992 and 1993. This cemented their place in the hearts of Canadians everywhere. They wear the maple leaf on their hats and shirts, and brand themselves as "Canada's team." This title rings true as the Jays are now the only team north of the border, and all 162 of their games are broadcasted nationally on TV and the radio.  But the Jays aren't the beginning and end of baseball in Canada. You may also think of the Montreal Expos. Sadly, the Expos moved away to Washington D.C. in 2004 and became the Nationals. Montreal's MLB franchise was actually the first of it's kind in Canada, coming into the Majors in 1969 – they Jays weren't born until 1977. They never won a World Series title but had a number of great teams, and it's widely thought that had the 1994 season not been cut short by a labour strike, the Expos would have won it all.  The Expos have a sort of cult following, partially due to their quirks: they belonged to a french-speaking city, played in the unconventional Olympic Stadium, and had a wacky logo and uniforms. No team had worn a "pinwheel" hat before in the Majors, and it took some convincing to get people to believe that their cap actually did have an "M" on it. The Expos also had great, easy-to-love players, such as Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez, and Gary Carter. Guys that hustled and played with a smile on their faces.  The thing is, though – you can't stop at the Jays and Expos... Baseball in Canada is much more than that. The country has a long history of minor league, semi-pro, and, of course, amateur ball. Every major hub from east to west has some dirt-covered baseball story to be told, but for the sake of time, we're going to stick with Montreal right now. Not with the Expos, but with the other big club that has called the city home: the Royals, a professional minor league franchise that played from 1897 to 1917, and from 1928 to 1960.  The Royals were part of the International League during that second period, between 1928 and 1960, serving as an affiliate to three Major League clubs – the Philadelphia A's, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers – though the bulk being with one team, the Dodgers. This relationship lasted 21 years over two class designations, AA and AAA. The Royals, who played out of Delorimier Stadium, borrowed the Dodgers look, donning blue accents and a flowy, cursive script.  And it was the Royals' relationship with the Dodgers that ensured the team would be widely remembered. In 1946, Branch Rickey, President and GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract. This made Robinson the first black man to be part of a MLB-affiliated roster, breaking the unofficial, but thoroughly enforced, colour barrier. He was a sensation in Montreal from the start, winning the fans' hearts with a hot bat and daring base stealing. In his one season with the Royals Robinson hit .349 with 113 runs and a whopping 40 stolen bases.  That year Robinson would guide the Royals to 100 wins and a 1st-place IL finish, and to a Junior World Series victory against the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. Clearly ready for a shot at a Major League roster, off he went to the Dodgers pre-season camp in 1947. It's famously noted that Royals fans chased Robinson to the train station – described thusly by Sam Maltin, a freelancer writing for the Pittsburgh Courier: "It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind." The Royals would continue to have success after Robinson's departure, winning five more IL titles before 1960. They won an all-Canadian showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs to grab their final trophy, in 1958. Despite this success the Royals struggled to keep attendance up in the later years. In 1960 the Dodgers, now two years into their LA adventure, decided to cut ties with Montreal. This was the death knell – the Royals packed up and moved to Syracuse for the 1961 season.  While professional baseball has come and gone in Montreal, the legacy of the Royals and their 1946 season remains. They are part of baseball history, Canadian or otherwise. Jackie Robinson changed the game forever, and that journey started in Montreal.

Lefty O'Doul and the Mounties

Lefty O'Doul and the Mounties

In 1956 big-time baseball arrived in Vancouver. That's not to say the game wasn't being played here prior – there's a few great local stories to be told, like the rise of the Japanese-Canadian Asahi ball club, or Babe Ruth playing at old Athletic Park. But before 1956 baseball in Vancouver was all semi-pro. The Mounties, part of the Pacific Coast League, were a step above. The PCL brass were actually intent on becoming a "major league" and challenging Major League Baseball itself. That was until the Dodgers and Giants franchises moved west from New York to California, absorbing the market the PCL had previously controlled. Anyway, the left coast league didn't die, instead transforming into a feeder minor league affiliated with MLB. The PCL – and therefore the Mounties – became AAA ball in 1958.  In the Mounties Vancouverites got a taste of what real ballplayers could do. The lovely Nat Bailey Stadium (then called Capilano Stadium) was the scene – as it still is for pro ball – one of the prettiest minor league parks around. The Mounties also had a former Major Leaguer at the helm, the well-loved Lefty O'Doul, a lifetime .349 hitter. Lefty was an affable, gregarious man that served as an unofficial ambassador for the game wherever he went. He was particularly popular in San Francisco, his home town, and in Japan, where he toured with the aforementioned Ruth. Unfortunately, Lefty wasn't able to produce any significant results as manager (the team finished in 8th place), but he did have a stand-out moment at the plate. Yes, that's right, Lefty O'Doul made an appearance as player-manager. He stood in for a single at-bat – at age 59 – and hit a triple! It would be his first and only on-field appearance for the Mounties, and also his last professional at-bat. It's a great trivia tidbit.               

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