My son asked me to write a memoir-type of post regarding my earliest recollections of watching baseball. To accommodate this request we have to go back to circa-1955. I would have been seven years old at the time.
As you read, take into account that I have done 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 baseball team of the International League broadcasts over AM radio 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.
Bill Mazur was the voice of the Buffalo Bisons and he became a somewhat noted hockey announcer in the U.S. during the NHL’s earliest attempts at gaining a hockey foothold south of the border. He 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 only as a fan. 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. Otherwise he would bemoan the fact that his team lost.
The first World Series I recall was the 1955 Classic between the Dodgers and Yankees. Three Dodgers stick out in mind from that Series and for no particular reason other than the fact 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. 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, these 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. It was located at the foot of Bathurst Street in an awkward intersection with Fleet Street and what turns into the now present-day Queen’s Quay. It was a large stadium for a minor league park with a seating capacity in the neighbourhood of 20,000. The location is now occupied by townhouses, but the one remnant of the area is the street that surrounds the complex – Stadium Road.
The International League season in those days ended on the weekend following Labour Day, and typically 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 triple-header 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.
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 name as Charles Lebanon Thompson. Why do players with the name of Tim not use their real names (I refer you to our beloved Tim Horton whose real name was Miles Gilbert).
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 Bill Mazeroski’s dramatic Home run.
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.
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. His name was Steve Demeter. Demeter had his biggest success with the Rochester Red Wings and is one of their honoured players.
In the outfield, there was a fellow by the name of Archie Wilson who played left field. The centre-fielder 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”
The first Manager I recall was Luke Sewell, a catcher in the majors as well as a player-manager for the St. Louis Browns. 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.
Those are the names I will call as my first-recollection all-star team.
Next up: The Havana Cuba Sugar Kings
Photos courtesy of the City of Toronto archives.