An Intercounty Baseball League Primer

Since my last post on the latest addition to the Intercounty Baseball League, the Ottawa Fat Cats, there’s been quite a few questions about the league in general.  It seems the league is somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Some of the questions included:

  • Do they get paid?
  • How fast do the pitchers throw?
  • What is the level of play like?  One game I went to saw 4 errors – is every game like that?

At the risk of playing the clichéd back when I used to play card, I can speak to some of these questions based on my former playing experience.  Back when I used to play, I played for a team that was affiliated with the Barrie Baycats.  This affiliation meant that on occasion we would allow rehabbing Baycats pitchers to pitch in our games and some of our players would play for the Baycats to fill a need on a game-to-game basis.

First of all, let’s talk compensation.  Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Paul Spoljaric is currently a starting pitcher for the Barrie Baycats.  I can’t say for sure what he gets paid now, but before he was a Baycat he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was paid $1,000 for every game in which he stepped on the mound.

Paul Spoljaric

Spoljaric represents the high end of the scale.  Often times players (many college players) won’t be compensated directly by the team but will be found jobs by the team for the summer.  In the past some of these jobs have been fictitious, I can’t say whether or not that is still the case today.

I was talking with Matthias one weekend about how hard the pitchers throw in the IBL.  I brought up a closers I had seen play who threw in the low to mid 90’s.  He flat out didn’t believe me.

The one closer who I was referenced was Mark West.  Mark played in my league (the GTBL, a comparable league to the IBL but with less travel) as the closer for the Newmarket Hawks.  In only 10 innings pitched that year, he struck out 22 while walking 4.  However, having a 95mph fastball does not mean he is untouchable – he still gave up 4 runs in those 10 innings.  He is a former Canisius College all-star and still holds many of the school’s records.

Another example is one of the Baycats players who rehabbed with my team, Cam Newitt.  Cam was a 43rd round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1996 and played at Northwest Shoals Jr. College and Middle Tennesee State.  As a starter, Newitt would routinely touch 92-93 with his fastball.  A former teammate of mine, Scott Price (now a Baycat) pitches with similar velocity.

Current Baycats Player/Manager, Angus Roy was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 2003.  He played for the Augusta Green Jackets in single A ball before being released due to shoulder issues.  He pitches in the low 90’s.

To give you a better look at the calibre of play of a typical game, I went to the team of the city of which I currently live in, the London Majors.

But before I get into the nitty-gritty, let’s look first at the history of the league.

League History

The Intercounty League was formed in 1919 when Guelph and Kitchener (then called New Berlin) of the Canadian League joined with Stratford and Galt (now Cambridge) right after the first World War.  The third baseman for the Guelph team in that inaugural season was Lester B. Pearson, who would go on to be Prime Minister of Canada, create the Canadian flag and introduce peacekeeping to the world.

“I think the term good-field, no-hit was first used to describe me,” Pearson said in a 1970 interview, “and the only way I can add anything to that is to say I was on the verge of respectability.”

The League has contested a championship every year save for the World War 2 years of 1942-1945.  Following WWII, Intercounty baseball’s popularity exploded.  The IBL became a bona-fide professional league with teams engaging in bidding wars for players such as Goody Rosen and Phil Marchildon.  In Goody Rosen’s case, the Galt Terriers outbid the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs while also providing him with a car to commute to and from his home in Toronto.  This era also marked an influx of Afican American players looking for work as the Negro Leagues began to crumble.  Players signed out of the Negro Leagues included Homestead Grays pitcher Ted Alexander, Cincinnati outfielder Bob Thurman and Wilmer “The Great” Fields.

Attendance figures hovered around 7,000 for most games.

The high-water mark for Intercounty baseball in that post-war period came in 1948 when the league champion London Majors went on to capture the Ontario Baseball Association championship, the Canadian amateur men’s crown and, to top it off, the Can-Am North American championship, beating powerhouse American sandlot champs, the Fort Wayne General Electrics, in a best-of-seven series. The Majors earned $5,775 in prize money for their upset victory.

The Intercounty League went through a period of turmoil from the mid 1950’s – 1962 as teams came and went.  In 1958 there were 9 teams, in 1962 only 5.  By 1969 the league was on the up and up with 11 teams and attracted future and former stars.  Chris Speier, who went on to play 19 seasons for the Montreal Expos, played for Stratford.  Denny McLain, the last major leaguer to win 30 games in a single season, played for the London Majors.

Players from the 1959 London Majors

In the 70’s Jesse Orosco played for Cambridge and threw a no-hitter.  In 1984 and 1985 Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins played for the London Majors.  Other notable Canadians to have pitched in the IBL include Rob & Rich Butler, Pete Orr, John Axford, Scott Thorman, Dave Lemanczyk and Rob Ducey.  Even Wayne Gretzky played a few games for his hometown Brantford Red Sox until hockey commitments got in the way.

Today the IBL is a not-for-profit organization that carries a 36 game regular season schedule for 10 teams.  Like the Mexican League or Japanese League, teams are allowed to carry 3 import players but not all take advantage of this rule.  The best 8 teams at the end of the regular season square off in a playoff series.

Last season a matchup between two of the league’s best young pitching talents reportedly drew more than 40 scouts.  One of those pitchers was Brantford’s Jake Eliopoulos, who was drafted but unsigned by the Toronto Blue Jays.  Catcher Paul Bako was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Last season’s IBL Rookie of the Year Marcus Knecht was recently drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays (113th overall).

Marcus Knecht

The Game

Okay, let’s get to the game.

London plays out of beautiful and historic Labatt Park, the first place baseball was ever played in Canada.  This season the Majors are in the middle-of-the-pack, playing .500 baseball with a record of 7-7.

Labatt Park

The Majors are a young team this season with 11 of their 23 players currently playing in NCAA.  They took on the bottom feeding Hamilton Thunderbirds, who sit in the basement with a 2-10 record.

The starting pitcher for London was a Quebecker named Andy St. Gelais, one of the better pitchers in the IBL.  Heading into his start vs. the Thunderbirds, St. Gelais was 4-1 with an ERA of 0.50 and 30K against 12BB in 36 innings.  St. Gelais didn’t have his best stuff in this one, struggling with his command.  He did however, consistently keep the ball low in the zone all game long and when he missed it was because he missed low.  St. Gelais is more or less a 2-pitch pitcher with an upper 80’s fastball and a slider that is his out pitch.  Now and then he will flash a changeup.  He pitches 3/4 as well as sidearm with a little deception and hides the ball well.

St. Gelais allowed just two hits and struck out 12 over six innings .

Hamilton countered with a lanky right hander named Jordell Farquharson.  He allowed four runs on five hits with two strikeouts and five walks and was pretty much gassed after the 3rd inning.  He now sits with a 6.53 ERA with 12 walks compared to 10 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Doug Chrysler came on in relief of Farquharson and the forecast immediately changed to cloudy with a 100% chance of meatballs.  He served them up on a platter pitch after pitch and the Majors rocked him. Chrysler is good for 2 strikeouts every 9 innings and opposing hitters are hitting .351 against him.

Josh Palmer came on in relief of St. Gelais for the Majors, allowing three runs on five hits over three innings with four strikeouts and a walk.  He had some good life on his fastball and probably touched 90.

For readers like Tight_PP who are dying to ask “are there any sexy ladies at the ballpark?” The answer is yes.

Ottawa Fat Cats Update

The Fat Cats had their home opener in the middle of May and it was well received. 3,724 fans paid for their seats but the lineups for tickets were so long that the team started letting fans through the doors for free, pushing the number to well over 4,000.

The Fat Cats are led by the ace of their rotation, 34 year old David Steffler.  He was twice drafted by the Blue Jays but chose school instead.  He is a former IBL all-star with pinpoint control and command of 4 pitches.  Steffler first played in the IBL at age 18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Steffler posted an overall record of 20-2 and had 108 strikeouts in 156.1 innings during his years with the Leafs, leading up to his last campaign with the team in 2007.

He’s also played for Barcelona’s Club Beisbol Viladecans in the Spanish pro league.

David Steffler

Proving that they are a legitimate team, the Fat Cats pounced on perennial contenders – the Toronto Maple Leafs –  by sweeping a doubleheader in late May by scores of 20-1 and 5-3.

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5 replies on “An Intercounty Baseball League Primer”
  1. says: anne chamberlain

    I am a long term fan of the IBL (30+ years). Really enjoyed your writeup. Are you planning to do more?

  2. says: Barry Wells

    The first documented game of baseball in Canada was not played at Labatt Park (which opened as Tecumseh Park in 1877), but in Beachville, Ontario (near Ingersoll) on June 4, 1838.

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