Toronto Maple Leaf Baseball — Memoirs

maple leafs baseball

Earl asked me to write a memoir type of entry regarding my earliest recollections of watching baseball so to accommodate this request we have to go back to circa 1955.

I would have been seven at the time.

As you read take into account that there is no research to determine if the facts are correct. These are my memories only, stemming from the mid fifties and manifesting themselves here in 2007

My interest in baseball I am sure came from my father who constantly listened to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League broadcasts over 590 CKEY (now the FAN) in Toronto and their cross-lake rivals the Buffalo Bisons on 55 WGR.

The Toronto play-by-play tandem consisted of Joe Chrysdale and Hal Kelly. Kelly was the older brother of Dan Kelly who went on to become a famous hockey play-by play commentator for CBC and later the voice of the St. Louis Blues. Dan was also behind the mike when Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal for Team Canada against the USSR in the 1987 Canada Cup.

mapleleafsbaseball

Bill Mazur was the voice of the Buffalo Bisons and he became a somewhat noted hockey announcer in the US during the NHL’s earliest attempts at gaining a hockey foothold south of the border. Probably worked for CBS.

But I digress.

So from these beginnings my interest in rounders was born. My father was not athletic in any sense and if I were to describe his interest in sports it was truly as a fan. And he was your typical homer fan. When his team lost it was because they were a bunch of bums and the umpires or referees cheated the home team. He never seemed to enjoy the games because of the paranoia he felt regarding the officials and the dread of the home side letting him down. There was no objectivity at all. No analysis. Just the opportunity to gloat over the fact that his team had beaten the opposition or bemoan the fact that his team lost.

Maple Leaf Baseball

The first World Series I recall was the 1955 Classic between the Dodgers and Yanks. Three Dodgers stick out in mind from that Series and for no particular reason other than they were Roy Campanella, Charlie Neal and Johnny Podres. I also recall Don Newcombe, Gil Hodges and Peewee Reese. But I don’t remember Jackie Robinson or Duke Snider. For the Yankees I guess it was my first introduction to Mantle, Berra and Elston Howard and Elston Howard was a link back to the Toronto Maple Leafs as he was their catcher 1954.

My first visit to a Professional Baseball game was somewhat unique in that rather than just being a single game it was in fact a triple-header. I am not sure if this was in ’55 or ’56 but it was on a Labour Day Monday

I attended, as with most youngsters, the games with my father. I remember going to the games on the streetcars since my dad did not have a car at that time.

We got off the Bathurst (Exhibition) streetcar right in front of venerable old Maple Leaf Stadium (2 great photos here and here). It was located at the foot of Bathurst St in an awkward intersection with Fleet Street and what turns into the now present Queen’s Quay. It was a large stadium for a minor league park with seating in the neighbourhood of 20,000. The location is now occupied by townhouses but the one remnant of the area is a street bounding the complex is called Stadium Rd.

Maple Leaf Stadium

maple leaf stadium

The International League season in those days end on the weekend following Labour Day and the Leafs were in a dogfight for the pennant.

It was a cool overcast and misty day as I recall and the reason it was a tripleheader was that the schedule had originally called for a standard double header - a nine-inning opener and a seven-inning nightcap. However in Toronto and again I always have to go back to “in those days” they had what was called the Sunday Blue Laws. In short nobody was supposed to have fun on Sundays. Games on Sunday would start at 1:30 but no pitch could be thrown after 6:00 pm.

So on this particular Sunday the curfew came and the rules stated that the game had to be completed immediately before the start of the next scheduled game between the two teams. That was on the Monday. Therefore Monday’s activities consisted of the completion of the suspended game followed by the regularly scheduled double header.

And as fate would have it the home nine lost all three games and fell out of pennant contention.

I don’t recall anything about those first games and I could not even remember any of the players. When it comes to the players all I can offer up are names that may have appeared that day. In other words here is a list of my first recollections of Toronto Maple Leafs.

The catchers were Ebba St. Claire and “Tim” Thompson.  Joe Chrysdale every now and then would give us Tim Thompson’s full as Charles Lebanon Thompson. Why do players with a name of Tim not use their real names (I refer you to our beloved Tim Horton whose real name was Miles Gilbert).

joe chrysdaleebba st. claire

At First base was Rocky Nelson. Rocky went on to play for other teams in the International League and had a fairly solid Major League career with Pittsburgh. He took part in Harvey Haddix’s pitching gem and won a World Series thanks to Maz’s dramatic Home run.

rocky nelson

The second baseman was Mike Goliat. He was a career minor leaguer but was part of the Philadelphia Phillies whiz kids who won the NL pennant in 1950.

mike goliatmike goliat

The shortstop was Hector Rodriguez. Don’t know much about him although I remember him as a crowd favourite. He played one season in the majors.

At third base there were two players who come to mind. One was Stan Jok from Buffalo N.Y and the other was a career minor leaguer as well Steve Demeter. Demeter had his biggest success with Rochester Red Wings and is one of their honoured players.

stan joksteve demeter

In the outfield there was a fellow by the name of Archie Wilson who played left field. The centerfielder was Sam Jethroe who besides being one of the earliest black players in the Majors was also Rookie of the Year in 1950. The right fielder was a longtime Maple Leaf Lew Morton. He had been with the Leafs for so long they even had a special day for him.

The pitchers that come to mind had some strange names. There was Lynn Lovenguth who had a cup of coffee in the majors. There were two pitchers name Johnson. One was Don and the other’s name was Connie. Being a kid I thought it weird for a pitcher to have a girls first name. The big relief pitcher was Bobby Tiefenauer. He also pitched in the majors for a long time. He came with the moniker “Tief for Relief”

Lynn Lovenguthbob tiefenauer

The first Manager I recall was Luke Sewell who a catcher in the majors as well as a player manager for the St. Louis Browns and the coach was Bruno Betzel. Another manager I recall was multiple time all star in the majors Dixie Walker who had a brother who also managed in the majors Harry “the Hat” Walker.

luke sewelldixie walker

Those are the names I will call as my first recollection all-star team.

George "Sparky" Anderson

Next: The Havana Cuba Sugar Kings

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toronto maple leafs baseball


  • Hugh Thomas

    Best pitcher: Connie Johnson
    Best outfielder: Jackie Waters
    Question: Does anyone remember Russ Rosburg-home-run hitter from Texas league
    he played part of 1 season with Leafs?
    Someone gave him the nickname ‘the lumberjack’ because he broke so many bats.

  • kenwest

    This is a letter I wrote to the Globe and Mail. It occurred to me only recently that Jethroe sounds like “jet throw”.
    Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2001 16:07:29 -0400

    To:

    Subject: Sam Jethroe

    Thank you for today’s obituary of Sam (Jet) Jethroe. It’s too bad you
    didn’t go back into your own files to add to the New York Times account
    and note his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team in the mid
    fifties.

    Maple Leaf Statium, called the “Fleet Street flats”, beside the still
    standing Tip Top Tailors building was a classic minor-league stadium
    where the smell of fragrant emerald grass mixed with the heady aroma of
    strong cigars, and the Leafs, full of used-to-be’s like Lew Morton and
    yet-to-be’s like Elston Howard would only occasionally emerge from
    mediocrity through most of the decade.

    It was, however real baseball. I remember the first time I saw Sam
    throw a runner out at the plate with an absolute bullet from deep centre
    field without a bounce, and uttered, with the rest of the crowd, a deep
    murmer of of awe, and my father explaining to me: “He used to be in
    the majors”.

    Indeed.

  • not quite an oldtimer

    I have two recollections about Maple Leaf Stadium and the Triple A Maple Leafs. My memories may not be absolutely accurate, but here goes.
    The first professional game I ever attended was the inaugural International League All-Star Game when the IL All-Stars played against the Milwaukee (!) Braves with Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Wes Covington (3 homers), Joe Adcock and others who would win the World Series a few years later. Not sure what year this was, maybe 1958 or 1959.
    The second game I recall was a near no-hitter pitched by Rip Coleman of the Maple Leafs. He lost the no-hitter on a “bang-bang” play that was called safe with two out in the ninth inning.
    Does anyone have any corrections or additions?

    • kenwest

      If this was the Inaugural All Star game, I believe that it must have been before 1958.

      I saw an All Star game and I’m sure it was no later than 1956, probably
      1955. As you say, Milwaukee won the World Series “a few years later”, and in fact, they
      won in 1957, so 1955, or even 1954 is a better bet.

      It might have been your game that I saw, I’m not sure, but it
      probably was, because there would not have been many All Star games
      played in Toronto.

      I don’t remember the major league team, but I do remember that the
      big leaguers were so clearly superior to the ILs — it was a real
      eye-opener.

      It’s great that you can remember the players and some of the hits. Did you keep a scorecard?

  • Clay Marston

    COLOUR PHOTO, THIRD UP FROM BOTTOM, SHOWS CHARLIE DRESSEN AS MANAGER OF THE TMLs IN 1962, HAVING COMPILED A 91 – 62 RECORD …

    BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO, FOURTH UP FROM BOTTOM, IS OF BASEBALL HALL OF FAME INFIELDER TONY LAZZERI WHEN HE WAS WITH TMLs BRIEFLY IN 1939 AND 1940.

  • Clay Marston

    INITIAL BLACK AND WHITE LEADOFF PHOTO AT TOP SHOWS BASEBALL HALL OF FAME RHP LEON DAY ON THE LEFT, TML OWNER JACK KENT COOKE IN MIDDLE AND CATCHER / PINCH HITTER CHARLIE WHITE ON RIGHT ON THE 1951 TML TEAM.

    FOR AN ACCOUNT OF THE BASEBALL LIFE OF LEON DAY YOU WILL WANT TO READ -

    DANDY, DAY and the DEVIL by JAMES A. RILEY

    WITH A FORWARD BY MONTE IRVIN

  • Clay Marston

    COLOUR PHOTO, SECOND DOWN FROM TOP, SHOWS TORONTO MAYOR NATHAN PHILLIPS ON THE LEFT, TML OWNER JACK KENT COOKE IN MIDDLE WITH METRO TORONTO CHAIRMAN FRED ” BIG DADDY ” GARDINER ON THE RIGHT, TAKEN ON OPENING DAY AT OLD MAPLE LEAF STADIUM IN 1960.

    • JERRY BROWN

      AS VISITING TEAM BATBOY IN 1959 IHAVE MEMORIES OF MEETING LUKE EASTER WHO HAD JUST BEEN ACQUIRED BY THE ROCHESTER REDWINGS FROM BUFFALO THE NIGHT BEFORE. THE CATCHER FOR ROCHESTER WAS TIM MCCARVER WHO WAS 19 AND WENT UP TO THE CARDINALS THE NEXT YEAR.BUFFALO WAS ALWAYS A GREAT RIVAL. I REMEMBER BEING ON THE ONDECK CIRCLE WITH S.S, RUBEN AMARO , WHEN A FOUL BALL CAME ROLLING BY HIM BUT I FIELDED IT AND HE SAID ‘GOOD HANDS’ HIS SON IS G.M. FOR THE PHILLIES. THE NICEST GUY WAS DERON JOHNSON . HE WAS A YANKEE PHENOM AND SUPPOSED TO SUCCEED CLETE BOYER AT THIRD ,BUT NEVER DID. I HAD JUST PUT ON NEW PAIR OF CLEATS AND DEVELOPED A BLISTER ON HEEL. HE TOOK THE TIME BEFORE A GAME SOFTEN THE LEATHER AND PUT TAPE ON MY HEEL. I NVER FORGOT THIS AND IN 1970 GAVE MY FIRST BORN SON THE NAME OF DERON. JOHNSON WAS A BENCH COACH WITH THE ANGELS WHEN HE DIED OF LUNG CANCER.I MET HARVEY TRIVETT IN HAVANA APRIL 1959 WHEN I WON A TRIP ON CKEY TO SEE THE LEAFS OPENER SERIES.IT IS GREAT TO READ ALL THE OLD MEMORIES OF THE INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE. IN 1959 THE SUGAR KINGS WON THE LITTLE WORLD SERIES ON GREAT PITCHING AND STELLAR DEFENCE . I GUESS IN BASEBALL THIS STILL IS THE KEY TO WINNING

      • Clay Marston

        ANOTHER EXCELLENT REMEMBRANCE OF THOSE MANY GREAT DAYS LONG AGO …

        ONE SUNDAY LUKE EASTER TOOK ME ON THE BUS WHERE I WAS ABLE TO HAVE THE ENTIRE ROCHESTER RED WINGS TEAM SIGN A TEAM SHEET … HE WAS ONE OF THE NICEST MEN YOU COULD EVER KNOW AND MEET …

        TIM McCARVER WAS ALWAYS A FAVOURITE AND ANOTHER EQUALLY FINE FELLOW …

        YES, DERON JOHNSON WAS ONE OF THE BEST OF THAT GROUP AND HE WOULD BE PROUD YOU ADDED HIS NAME FOR YOUR SON, BEING ANOTHER OF THOSE GOOD MEN GONE TOO SOON …

        HOPEFULLY MORE WILL SEE THESE REMEMBRANCES THEN ADD SOME OF THEIR OWN …

        LET US HEAR FROM YOU.