Category Archives: Baseball History

Reggie and Me…

I’m sure I’ll get into the World Cup of Hockey when it starts up for real in a few days. But September is for baseball and pennant races! Of course I wish that the Blue Jays were doing better than 3-and-8 this month, but I’m trying to remember that for years (decades!) before last season, all I wanted was meaningful games in September. And, well, we’ve certainly got that now.

I was at the Blue Jays-Red Sox game on Saturday (the good one, that we won 3-2) with my two brothers and my nephew. Jorey is 13 now, and pretty much exactly like his father and uncles were at that age. At one point during the game, he wondered if any of us knew who was likely to be the next player to reach 3,000 career hits early next season. We didn’t.


Once upon a time, I’m sure I would have known that immediately. These days, of course, I could look it up with a few taps and swipes on my phone (which I’ve since done – though on my laptop). It’s funny how, now that it’s so easy to know this stuff if you want to, I don’t know it anymore. Back in the old days, when I had to study the all-time lists in the annual preseason Street & Smith’s Baseball Magazine and then, basically, keep it in my head all season, I pretty much did. Now I don’t.

So, any idea who, as of last night’s game, got his 2,926th hit (and 443 home run, by the way)? I’ll put the answer in at the bottom of this story … and I’ll be curious to hear from anybody who can tell me they honestly knew it without looking it up!

Jorey also asked us who, in 40 seasons as Blue Jays fans, is the greatest player we’ve ever seen. We threw out a lot of names, and then finally decided it was probably Ken Griffey Jr. But good as he was, Griffey never really won anything. So I was wondering if, maybe, given all he did on the largest stage, the greatest player was Reggie Jackson. All those “Mr. October” moments definitely made an impression on me when I was Jorey’s age.

That being said, I never liked Reggie Jackson. (I know I’m not alone there.) He was just too pompous and arrogant. But I do have one good Reggie Jackson story from my days on the Blue Jays ground crew.

During the early summer of 1983, when the Jays were first becoming contenders, the California Angels were in town. On this Saturday (June 18), Jim Clancy had pitched seven strong innings but surrendered our tight, 3-2 lead when he gave up back-to-back doubles leading off the top of the eighth. Joey McLaughlin came in, put a couple more guys on, but got out of trouble. The Jays then took back the lead with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, highlighted by a two-run home run from Lloyd Moseby.


But the Angels weren’t done. Bobby Grich led off the ninth with a homer and then, with two out, Rod Carew and Juan Beniquez singled, bringing Reggie Jackson to the plate. Bobby Cox went to the bullpen for a lefty – rookie Stan Clarke, who’d made his Major League debut just 11 days before. Clarke quickly jumped ahead 0-2.

“I wanted that situation bad,” Clarke told reporters after the game. “I wanted to strike him out. That’s all I wanted to do.”

In my memory, you could literally see Clarke shaking with the excitement of it. Almost laughing that he’d actually gotten Reggie Jackson to foul off a couple of pitches and was going to strike him out and save the game.

“I stepped back off the mound, and I told myself: ‘Relax and throw your best pitch.’ But it didn’t work out that way.”

Reggie slugged the next pitch for a three-run homer, and glared at Clarke as he rounded the bases. He’d seen the young lefty shaking too.

“I just wondered what he was doing when he was pounding his glove and jumping up and down after the first two strikes,” said Reggie after the game.


There was still the bottom of the ninth to come, but you just knew it was over. “The Blue Jays had no chance to recover,” wrote Allison Gordon in The Toronto Star. “It wasn’t meant to be.”

Now it was me who was practically shaking, but with anger. Anybody who knows me (and especially those who knew me then) will have no trouble envisioning me stomping around flailing my arms, muttering, “Stupid Reggie! Stupid Blue Jays! Stupid Game! How Could They Blow It!” Which is what I was doing when I fell down the steep flight of stairs that was practically a ladder after taking down the flags from atop the press box a short time later. (I threw down the flags as I was slipping and managed to grab onto the railing and break my fall.)

Getting back to what is sort of the point of this story, because I knew all the stats in those days, I knew that Reggie’s 476th career homer moved him past Stan Musial and Willie Stargell on the all-time list. So, the next day, when I happened to find myself standing beside the cage before the game while Reggie was awaiting his turn for batting practice, I said to him, “Congratulations on passing Stan and Willie, but I’m sure you understand why I’m mad at you.”

CNE Stadium
I was up there near the lower part of the red square when I fell …
but I would only have fallen as far as the bottom red line.

He didn’t say anything. Just nodded and smiled a self-satisfied smile. Stupid Reggie!

Oh, and the answer to Jorey’s question: It’s Adrian Beltre.

Upon Further Review … Fastball (2016)

Barbara and I recently watched the documentary Fastball. Loved it! As a review this past spring in the Los Angeles Times noted, “You don’t have to be a baseball fanatic or for that matter a historian or a physicist to appreciate [this] fittingly zippy tribute to the art of the pitch.”

Fastball PosterjpgNarrated by Kevin Costner, filmmaker Jonathan Hock (who directed the ESPN 30 for 30 episode about The Miracle on Ice, among his many credits) uses an impressive cast of baseball Hall of Famers to discuss the fastest pitchers of all time. The film also explains the science of how someone can throw the ball at the very upper limits of human mechanics, and how someone else can still manage to hit a pitch whose speed is at the very edge of how quickly a human being can physically see and react. Fascinating!

Plenty of today’s fastest pitchers are featured, and there’s also the sad story of 1960s minor league phenom Steve Dalkowski, who could never master his control. But the movie goes all the way back to Walter Johnson, who pitched 20 years in the Majors from 1907 to 1927 with the Washington Senators.

Virtually everyone of his era agreed that Walter Johnson was the fastest pitcher they had ever seen. As early as 1912, his speed was measures scientifically by the U.S. Army … who tracked him at 122 feet per second. That was considered astonishing at the time, but it works out to only 83.2 miles per hour – which struck me as pretty disappointing for such a legendary fastballer. But more on that in a bit.

When Bob Feller burst on the scene 80 years ago this summer as a 17-year-old phenom, he quickly became the new fastball king. Could he throw harder than Walter Johnson? Perhaps you’ve seen the old film clips of Feller firing his fastball alongside a speeding motorcycle doing 86 miles per hour, but Feller was also given a more scientific rating by the U.S. Military. In 1946, his speed was determined to be 98.6 miles per hour. Now that’s more like it!

Fastball Feller

Feller had begun his career at about the same time that Jesse Owens won the 100 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics in a time of 10.3 seconds. The current world record of 9.58 seconds was set by Usain Bolt in 2009. The film points out that if fastballs had improved at a similar rate, there would be dozens of guys throwing 120 miles per hour these days. But, of course, there aren’t.

In 1974, Nolan Ryan became the first pitcher to be clocked while he was pitching in an actual game. Radar tracked him at 100.8 miles per hour in 1974 — making him the fastest pitcher ever. Aroldis Chapman currently has that distinction, hitting 105.1 mph in 2010 and again just recently on July 18. But here’s where the measurements get interesting.

Back in 1912, Walter Johnson’s 83.2 pitch was clocked about 7.5 feet beyond the 60-foot-6-inch distance from the mound to home plate. Feller’s pitch was timed just in front of home plate, and Ryan’s at about 10 feet in front. Today’s modern radar guns record the speed of a pitch at about 10 feet from the pitcher’s hand … some 40 to 58 feet prior to where Johnson, Feller and Ryan were measured. It might not sound like a lot, but any extra distance allows gravity to slow down the speed of the ball as it moves through the air.

Making adjustments for the different distances (1 mile per hour for every 5.5 feet, says the science guy), Walter Johnson’s fastball jumps from 83.2 to 93.8 miles per hour. That’s a little more like it! Feller’s 98.6 improves to an incredible 107.6 mph. And Nolan Ryan? He clocks in at 108.5.

So take that, modern flamethrowers!

DiMaggio & Williams

Seventy-five years ago this summer, Major League Baseball witnessed two extraordinary feats. Ted Williams (who was in only his third season, and didn’t turn 23 until August 30) became the last player to hit .400, while Joe DiMaggio (in his sixth season and 26 years old) set a record that is unlikely to be broken with his 56-game hitting streak.

On this day, July 13, 1941, (a Sunday) DiMaggio got hits in both halves of a double header, collecting three hits in the opener and one in the night cap, as the New York Yankees swept the White Sox in Chicago. A crowd of 50,387  – the largest at Comisky Park in six years – saw The Yankee Clipper run his streak to 53 games. He was batting .369 for the season.

DiMag 53

The Red Sox also played a double header that day, but Ted Williams wasn’t in the lineup. He’d injured his ankle in Detroit the day before, and missed the twinbill in Cleveland. Williams was actually slumping at the time.

Having gone above .400 on May 25, and reaching a high of .436 on June 6, The Splendid Splinter needed four hits in eight a bats in a doubleheader on July 6 to reach the All-Star break still above .400 at .405. Two days later, he hit a dramatic three-run home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth to give the American League a 7-5 victory over the National League in the All-Star Game at Detroit.


Coming off of that high, Williams went 0-for-4 in a 10-2 Red Sox victory over the Tigers when the season resumed on July 11. That dropped his average to .398. He fell to .397 after going 0-for-1 on July 12 … although he did draw three walks in that one.

The ankle injury he suffered that day kept Williams sidelined until July 16, when he went 0-for-1 as a pinch hitter. Then he sat again until July 19, when he pinch hit in both halves of a doubleheader, going 0-for-1 with a walk and watching his average fall to .393. That was as low as he would go. After singling as a pinch hitter on July 20, Williams returned to the Red Sox outfield on July 22. He had seven hits in 15 at-bats over the next four games to get back to .400 on July 25.


Williams never fell below .400 again, famously entering the final day of the season on September 28, 1941, with a .39955 average but refusing to sit out to protect a mark that would have rounded up to .400. He had six hits in eight at-bats in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s that day and ended the season at .406.

Ted Williams also led the AL with 37 home runs in 1941, while his 120 RBIs ranked him fourth. DiMaggio finished the season third in batting at .357, fourth in homers with 30, and first in RBIs with 125. The Yankees finished the season in first place with a record of 101-53, which had them 17 games ahead of the Red Sox, who were second at 84-70. DiMaggio edged out Williams in MVP voting (the second of three times he’d win the award in his career), and the Yankees went on to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series.

90 Years Ago This Week…

For a building I never set foot in (the team played its last game there shortly before I turned four) and can’t even remember seeing (it was torn down just a few months later), Maple Leaf Stadium has had a big impact on my life. It’s the place that helped create the love of sports in my mother and father (and my aunts, uncles, and older cousins) that’s been passed down to me and my brothers and on to a new generation.

Certainly my parents saw a lot more baseball games at Maple Leaf Stadium than they ever saw hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens. I know my father’s childhood heroes were Teeder Kennedy and Max Bentley, but he was a big baseball fan too. And my mother LOVED the baseball Maple Leafs (in particular Ed Stevens during the mid 1950s). She still loves baseball and she’s the reason we still have the season’s tickets to the Blue Jays we’ve had since the moment they went on sale before the first season in 1977.

My father, grandfather, and aunt in the mid 1940s. I’ve been told this
is Maple Leaf Stadium (but I think it might be Varsity Stadium)

The Blue Jays are celebrating their 40th season this year, but it was 90 years ago this week that Maple Leaf Stadium opened. Previously (since 1897), the baseball Maple Leafs had played at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands. Babe Ruth hit his first pro home run there, but it wasn’t the easiest place to get to.

“After years of hope deferred,” wrote Toronto Globe Sports Editor Frederick Wilson on September 5, 1925, “the baseball fans of Toronto are to see their dreams come true, and next season the Leafs will play their games in a magnificent $300,000 stadium on the mainland at the foot of Bathurst Street.” The geographic center of the city at the time, explained Wilson, was “at a point on Harbord Street, about one hundred feet west of Bathurst,” so – forgive me if you don’t know Toronto geography! – the new site was certainly more accessible than the Island.

This was the front page of an 18-page supplement The Globe ran on April 28, 1926.

Work on the grounds at Bathurst and Fleet Street (very close to what is now the Tip Top Tailor lofts near the Canadian National Exhibition grounds) began in October of 1925, and construction on the stadium began in earnest on December 2. Though it wouldn’t be completely finished at the time, Opening Day was scheduled for April 28, 1926, after the team had spent the first two weeks of the season on the road.

Sadly, it seems, the weather has not been very cooperative for the opening of Toronto baseball stadiums. The Blue Jays played at Exhibition Stadium on April 7, 1977, despite snow and freezing temperatures, and while the elements weren’t a factor in the first game at SkyDome on June 5, 1989, it was pouring rain during the official opening gala two nights earlier when organizers insisted on opening the roof anyway!

Wikipedia claims this photo is in the public domain!
Credit is to the Bibliotheque et Archives nationals du Quebec, P547,S1,SS1,SSS8,D1.

Many dignitaries were in Toronto for the 1926 opener, including baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was given a pregame tour of the facility. “Absolutely nothing forgotten over overlooked,” Frederick Wilson quoted him as saying. “[It’s] as near perfection as it is possible to have a baseball park.” But unlike the SkyDome/Rogers Centre, it didn’t have a roof! Cold temperatures and heavy rains postponed the opener.

Torontonians of a certain age will recall Joe Crysdale on the radio, broadcasting the home games from Maple Leaf Stadium and re-creating them with telegraphed reports and sound effects when the team was on the road. For the opener in 1926, Foster Hewitt was set to call the game on Toronto Star radio station CFCA. It’s unclear whether he was there or not a day later, on April 29, 1926, when they got the game in despite a constant drizzle. Only 12,781 fans were on hand as the Maple Leafs fell behind Reading 5-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Those who stuck around where rewarded when Toronto rallied for five runs to tie the score, and then won the game 6-5 on a squeeze play in the bottom of the tenth. (The game, by the way, was complete in 2 hours and 15 minutes!)

From The Globe , Toronto, April 30, 1926.

The come-from-behind victory was a good omen. Baltimore had won the International League pennant every year from 1919 to 1925, but in 1926, Toronto had a record of 109-57 to take the league title. They then swept five straight games from Louisville of the American Association to win the best-of-nine Junior World Series. (Oh, and the weather was much nicer for the opener in 1927, and a large crowd was on hand to honor the champions, as this newsreel film shows.)

When it was built in 1925-26, state-of-the-art Maple Leaf Stadium was constructed with an eye towards housing a future Major League team. By the 1960s, Jack Kent Cooke – who then owned the baseball Maple Leafs – felt a brand new park was needed to attract the Majors, but he couldn’t convince City Council to cover the costs. The end was near. Attendance was awful despite championship seasons in 1965 and 1966, and the team was sold and transferred to Louisville after the 1967 season. The Stadium was torn down in the spring of 1968. Only the memories remain – even for those of us who inherited them.

A Tale of Tom Phillips

I don’t really have a good explanation for why I like the early history of hockey as much as I do. I still watch plenty of the current game, but as I often say to people when they ask me, I can tell you with a lot more authority why the Kenora Thistles won the Stanley Cup in 1907  than I can tell you why I think a team might win it this year.

Thistles captain Tom Phillips (who I’ve written about extensively for the Society for International Hockey Research and mentioned a couple of times on this site) is one of a handful of early era Hall of Famers (along with Art Ross, Frank & Lester Patrick, Cyclone Taylor, Newsy Lalonde, Joe Hall and Fred Whitcroft) that I find fascinating.

Phillips 3
Tommy Phillips reclines to the right of the huge trophy symbolizing the senior championship of the Manitoba Hockey League, which the Kenora Thistles won for the
second of three straight seasons in 1905-06.

Tommy Phillips was the Sidney Crosby of his day. In his era, he was considered one of the top two players in hockey. If you were from the West, you’d likely pick him; while Easterners were more partial to Frank McGee. McGee was a goal-scoring machine with the Ottawa “Silver Seven” who was famously blind (or at least had his vision impaired) in one eye. Turns out, Tommy Phillips was playing under a pretty severe handicap too.

 Phillips 1
Articles from the Toronto Star on August 4, 1904 and the Ottawa Journal one week later.

Several years ago, I came across the Toronto Star newspaper clipping above claiming that Phillips had injured his hand while working in a lumber mill near his hometown during the summer of 1904. Recently, I went searching for more stories about this, and discovered a couple of clips that make the injury sound a lot more serious than just a bad cut. It seems Phillips had actually lost parts of three fingers on his right hand.

 Phillips 2
Articles from the Winnipeg Morning Telegram and Winnipeg Tribune on November 29, 1904.

Look again at the team picture above, and then have a look at the (slightly blurry) blow up below. Clearly, there’s something up with Phillips’ right hand.

Phillips 4

There appears to be a strap leading to what is either a protective cover or some sort of artificial right index finger. His pinky as well as the finger next to it (which certainly seems to be abnormally short) both look to be similarly protected or replaced.

Unlike Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown of the same era – who had his right hand mangled in farm machine as a youth but learned to grip a baseball in such a way that it gave him an exceptional curve ball – it’s hard to believe that Tom Phillips’ accident gave him any sort of physical advantage.

Phillips Brown

Yet given that Phillips had the best years of his career from 1904-05 through 1907-08, he was clearly able to perform at an extremely high level despite his injury. He may not have been Bobby Orr on wounded knees, or Mario Lemieux beating cancer, or Sidney Crosby coming back from a concussion, but it’s still pretty remarkable.

Nobody’s Perfect…

I was at the Blue Jays’ home opener on Friday. As I no longer live in Toronto, I don’t get to many games anymore, but Opening Day is something special. Forget about Christmas, early April, when spring is supposed to be springing, baseball is getting started, and the hockey playoffs are here… THAT’S the most wonderful time of the year!

The Zweig boys, with their mother/grandmother on Opening Day. For Joyce, Jonathan
and me, this one made us 40 for 40 … but I’m the only one who was also at the
makeup game for the rained out opener in 1980.

Baseball, of course, is a game bound by tradition. And I am a big fan of sports history. But while I admit that I’ve been known to complain that “the game [ANY game] was better when I was younger,” I wouldn’t say I’m truly a traditionalist. I don’t mind modern innovations … but I have to admit that instant replay irks me.

It’s long been called “a game of inches” but now, it seems, that baseball is “a game of painful exactitude which we can measure in fractions of seconds … if we get a good shot in super slo-mo that we can blow up large enough.”

Yes, it’s pretty hard to argue against “getting the call right,” but as others have argued before me, there are rules, and then there is the spirit of the rule. Of course a runner can’t wander off the base with impunity, but is he really supposed to be out if his foot pops off the bag for a fraction of a second? And I really hate the way, in baseball, they linger and waste time while the clubhouse pre-checks the replays first. If you want to challenge a play, I think you should have to challenge it based on what you think you actually saw! After all, that’s how the umpire has to call it.

As I said, it’s hard to argue against getting the call right — and, of course, Armando Galarraga SHOULD have had that perfect game in 2010, and Derek Jeter probably should have been out for fan interference on that Jeffrey Maier home run in 1996. Still, what can I say? The delays (and the fact that they still don’t seem to get the call right every time!) just bother me.

I’m not really trying to argue that we should do away with instant replay … but then again, no one else in a game gets a second chance if they screw up! And once upon a time, it was clear that people believed it was ridiculous to allow TV cameras to make the final call. Of course, this was a long time ago…

Ten years before the first Blue Jays opener, in the last game of the NHL regular season in 1967, Chicago’s Stan Mikita picked up two assists to finish the season as the scoring leader with 97 points. That happened to tie teammate Bobby Hull’s single-season scoring record … but Mikita thought he’d earned a third assist in the Black Hawks’ finale against the New York Rangers.


Stan Fischler, writing in a special to the Toronto Star on April 3, 1967, reported that: “[Black Hawks coach] Billy Reay was bubbling with anger in the Chicago dressing room… Reay was furious over the confusion surrounding Stan Mikita’s point allotment in the game at Madison Square Garden. Officially, Mikita got two assists … [b]ut unofficially, the belief was that Mikita deserved another assist on Doug Mohns’ goal at 2:14 of the third period.

Official scorer Lamie Crovat promised, “I’m going to study a video-tape of the goal in the Madison Square Garden office on Monday and make a final determination.” Reay snapped back, wondering, “Why doesn’t he (Crovat) keep his eyes on the ice instead of the tape?” And it soon became clear that the NHL had no interest in what a video review might show.

Writing in The Star on Tuesday, April 4, the dean of Canadian sportswriters Milt Dunnell pointed out: “Conn Smythe used to say the customers had a right to know the result when they left the rink. That’s why he never would permit a protest of a Leaf hockey game. Contests were for the ice – not the committee room.


Clarence Campbell, the NHL president,” Dunnell said, “applied the same principle to Stan Mikita’s claim of a third assist in Sunday afternoon’s game at New York. What Campbell said, in effect, is that he doesn’t care what video tapes of the game prove.

So, Mikita didn’t get his extra point, nor a new scoring record … and Dunnell clearly believed this was the right decision. “If [Lamie Crovat] even hinted he might change his decision in the event the film showed Mikita’s claim was justified, he exceeded his authority.

And Dunnell wasn’t finished yet. “The video tape has no official status in the NHL, nor in football, baseball – any team sport you can mention.” He adds that when Stafford Smythe had a TV monitor installed near the penalty box at Maple Leaf Gardens “for the possible guidance of officials,” the referees got rid of it “by refusing to look at it.

The day referees, umpires, linesmen, and judges of play consent to be influenced by the eye in the sky, they will be as dead as the dodo bird,” Dunnell argued. “Hockey coaches being the mourners which, as a group, they are, would challenge every decision of the officials. Any contest that was completed in less than five hours would be a rarity.

But, of course, times change…

Baseball’s Maple Leafs (The Sequel)

Around these parts, winter has been nothing like the long, tough slog it’s been the past two years. Then again, the forecast is for a big blizzard tomorrow! So, it’s always a good feeling to know that pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training. It means summer can’t be too far away. Last January, I posted a story called Hockey Stars Join Baseball’s Maple Leafs. Today’s post continues the story of Babe Dye and Lionel Conacher.

Seasons started later in 1926 (the Maple Leafs opened on April 14 that year), but spring training was already in the news by this week in February. Even so, Toronto’s baseball team wouldn’t actually get down to business until about March 10. At that point, there was still a week to go in the NHL season. When it wrapped up on March 17, Babe Dye’s Toronto St. Pats had missed the playoffs, but Lionel Conacher’s Pittsburgh Pirates qualified for a semifinal series against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Maroons.

Manager [Dan] Howley is none too well pleased that post-season hockey may further delay the reporting of Babe Dye and Lionel Conacher,” reported the Toronto Star on March 22, 1926. “Howley feels that since St. Pats have finished the NHL season that Dye should lose little time joining the Leafs, and Conacher should also come on at once if Pittsburgh is eliminated by Montreal.

Conny Dye team
From the Toronto Star on April 28, 1926. Babe Dye is in the red oval near the centre; Lionel Conacher at the right. (Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell is to Conacher’s left.)

Conacher’s Pirates were eliminated the following day, and the Star noted: “The failure of Babe Dye to report is causing Manager Howley some anxiety. He is expected to join the club the latter part of this week. It is likely that Conacher will accompany his fellow-hockeyist.The Globe reported that “Babe Dye today wired Manager Howley asking permission to delay his reporting until March 28, as he is not feeling very well. His wish has been granted.

Dye finally showed up at the Maple Leafs’ Augusta, Georgia, training camp on March 29. Conacher didn’t report until April 6. Dye had only had one hit in 18 at-bats before that day, but suddenly went 5-for-6 with a pair of doubles. Conacher was in uniform the next day, taking batting and fielding practice with the team.

As noted in my story last year, Conacher was a great all-around athlete. He was best known as a lacrosse and football player but had made himself into a fine hockey player too. He’d been a good amateur ballplayer in Toronto, but hadn’t really played the game in three years! Still, “Manager Howley feels confident that the Toronto boy will develop into a good outfielder,” reported the Globe on April 7. Conacher was put into his first game the next day, and recorded his first hit, first run (the game-winner, in fact) and first putout as a professional baseball player in a 9-8 Toronto win over a team from Richmond, Virginia.

Conny Dye
This photo appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune on June 14, 1926.

Both Dye and Conacher broke camp with the team, though neither played in the season-opening 8-2 win over Reading on April 14. Dye was a proven minor-league star, and was played up in the publicity to promote Toronto’s home opener at the brand new Maple Leaf Stadium on April 28 … but as also noted in my story last year, neither hockey star contributed much to what would be a championship season for the baseball Maple Leafs in 1926.

With the Blue Jays set to mark their 40th season this year, I for one think it would be cool to seem them wear the 1926 Maple Leafs uniform as a throwback nod to the 90th anniversary of the old ballpark at the foot of Bathurst Street. For some even better photographs of the uniforms, check out this web site.

Price Check

I wish the Blue Jays had signed David Price. I’d love to have him back. Still, $217 million over seven years seems like too much money for too long a time. So, I’d like to take Mark Shapiro at his word that the $31 million per season will be better spent filling the various spots that still need addressing. It’s not that I doubt Shapiro’s integrity … but I don’t trust Rogers. My guess is they learned nothing from last season – “If you build it, they will come”, not “If everything goes perfectly, we might win” – and will put most of that money into their pockets while jacking up ticket prices (which they’ve already done!) and cable rates.

I admit I’m conflicted by the huge salaries in sports. On the one hand, if there really is that kind of money to be made, I like to see the players getting their share. On the other hand, the older I get the harder it is for me to cheer for people making five times as much money for every single game they play (and starting pitchers like Price watch four out of every five of those games!) as I’m earning in an entire year. But the truth is, no matter how much money is involved, fans and/or the media have always been angered by player salaries since the days they started getting paid.

Professional baseball in the United States dates all the way back to the mid 1860s. Pro hockey in Canada didn’t get started until the winter of 1906-07 when two of the country’s top leagues decided they would allow professional athletes play alongside of amateurs. This was quite the controversy in its day, and by the 1907-08 season people were already expressing amazement, if not quite outrage, at what the top stars were earning.

Price Phillips

On December 15, 1908, a story in the Vancouver World discussed the lucrative offer Tom Phillips had recently turned down to return to the Ottawa Senators for the 1908-09 season. “Two hundred dollars a game for ten games of hockey!” the story started. “How would you like to be offered that amount? Would you refuse $2000 for practically two months work? There are few men who would; yet that is just what was declined with thanks the other day by Tom Phillips, the celebrated Ottawa hockey player, who is now in Vancouver.”

The story then went on to explain how Phillips, longtime captain of the Kenora Thistles who’d led them to the Stanley Cup in January of 1907, had received a salary of $1,600 to play in Ottawa during the 1907-08 season, but that wasn’t all. “Ottawa paid Tom Phillips $1600 cash,” the story said, “with a $60 a month job [which is a pretty fair indication that a yearly salary of $720 was not a bad bit of money for a working man in 1908] and all living expenses last winter, for approximately two months’ hockey, which figured out at ten league games.”

In all, Phillips earned about $1,800 for a little more than two months, and the paper compared his take to the $7,500 Napoleon Lajoie had been paid to play for the Cleveland Indians for a season of five months numbering approximately 154 games. “Getting down to real figures, Lajoie received about $49 every time he went on the diamond. Phillips practically cost his club … $180 ever time he went out to play a league game.” The hockey star, it was said, “would have received the stupendous sum of $17,720” if his season had as many games as a baseball season.

But the numbers were about to become even more outrageous!


On the same day the Vancouver paper reported that Phillips had turned down the $2,000 offer from Ottawa came news that he had agreed to join Edmonton for its two-game, preseason Stanley Cup series against the Montreal Wanderers at the end of December, 1908. It was soon learned that Phillips was promised $300 per game plus a bonus of $200 if the challengers beat the defending champions.

If Edmonton wins the Stanley Cup,” the Vancouver World trumpeted on December 29, “Tom Phillips will receive: $800 for two games, or $400 an hour, or $6.66 a minute, or $0.11 a second. A man is supposed to involuntarily wink about a dozen times a minute. Therefore every time Phillips bats an eyelash it costs the Edmonton club about 50 cents.”

The paper went on to explain that the highest-paid person in Canada was the Governor-General (by coincidence, Lord Grey, whom I wrote about two weeks ago) with an annual stipend of $50,000. That was broken down as $5.80 per hour for every hour of every day for an entire year … which meant Tom Phillips was to be paid more per minute by Edmonton to play hockey than Lord Grey made in an hour. Sixty-nine times more to be exact. At that rate, the World reported that he would make just over $3.4 million in a year. “Pierpont Morgan, John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie had better look out,” the paper mocked.

As it happened, Edmonton lost the Stanley Cup series. Phillips played the entire 60 minutes of the first game despite breaking his ankle partway through it. He had to sit out game two. It’s unclear if he actually received the full $600 or just $300 for his one game.

Burns Johnson

Whatever Phillips got, it paled in comparison to what another Canadian athlete earned at virtually the same time. On December 26, 1908, world heavyweight boxing champion Tommy Burns of Hanover, Ontario, was paid $30,000 to fight Jack Johnson in Sydney, Australia. The fight lasted 40 minutes, meaning Burns earned almost as much as per minute ($750) as Phillips could have potentially made in both games for Edmonton. Johnson – the controversial African-American whom many other white boxers refused to face – was paid $5,000 and won the fight.

We’ve Got a Series Now…

The Blue Jays gave me an early birthday present with a big victory last night! Hoping for a similar present on my actual birthday today.

Me & Jorey
My nephew Jorey and me before the game last night.

I was more than a little worried that they’d be facing the same challenge as the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who were the first team in history to rebound from a three-games-to-nothing deficit in a best-of-seven series when they rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Stanley Cup.

Toronto media seemed pleased by that victory, but few seemed to note its historic significance. Perhaps that was because the Stanley Cup Final had only expanded to a best-of-seven in 1939. Then again, the World Series had been a best-of-seven (and sometimes a best of nine!) since the beginning in 1903, and nobody had pulled of this type of comeback there … and wouldn’t until the Boston Red Sox rallied to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship series.





Matty and Me

My first professional writing job came 30 years ago this month when, with the Blue Jays in the playoffs for the first time, I wrote a month-long “World Series Flashback” feature for the Toronto Sun and CHEX Radio in Peterborough.

Friday of this week (October 9) until Wednesday of next week (October 14) marks the 110th anniversary of probably the greatest pitching performance in baseball history. In games one, three, and five of the 1905 World Series, Christy Mathewson pitched three straight complete game shutouts in the space of six days. He tossed a total of 27 innings, while allowing just 13 hits and striking out 18 against only a single walk. Mathewson’s New York Giants defeated the Philadelphia Athletics four games to one.


In an era when baseball players were mostly roughnecks and hooligans, Christy Mathewson was a true gentleman. College-bred, tall, handsome, honest and articulate – not to mention one of the greatest pitchers in history – Mathewson helped make baseball respectable. Had there been a World Series MVP award in 1905, there’s no doubt who would have won it. Had I been alive at the time, I don’t think there’s any doubt who my favorite baseball player would have been. (I’ve always been a fan of great pitching.)

If you’ve read any of the articles I’ve posted on this web site over the past year – or anything I’ve written over the past 30 years – you’ve got a pretty good idea that I love sports history. As a boy, I played hockey and football and loved the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Argonauts. I was a horrible baseball player, but I’d watch the Expos on TV and began following the World Series in 1972 when I was still only eight years old. I saw my first live game in 1973 and was watching on TV in 1974 when Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth with his 715th home run. Still, I didn’t really understand baseball and didn’t care much about it. It wasn’t until the Blue Jays came along in 1977 that everything changed.

I knew that both my parents had gone to minor league Maple Leafs baseball games when they were young. My mother, especially, loved baseball, and was the reason why my family got (and still has) our Blue Jays season tickets. I was first hooked late in the summer of 1976. There was a tent that year at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto hyping the city’s entry into the American League. In it, they were showing the official film of the 1975 World Series. Like so many people, I’d been captivated by that series the previous fall, and this was the first time I’d ever seen one of those “all access”-style films. By the time the Blue Jays took the field on April 7, 1977, I was more than ready to fall in love with baseball. Soon, every radio in the house was tuned to the Blue Jays broadcast. (Not a lot of television in those days!)


With friends who were just as crazy for the fledgling team – and the most inexpensive tickets easy to come by at just two and thee dollars (sometimes less) – it was fun to follow the Jays even if they lost 100 games every season. We also picked pennant contenders to root for and tease each other about, but what really took my interest “to the next level” was my discovery of baseball’s rich history. That began with two things in 1978.

One thing was that my mother bought us Big-Time Baseball by Maury Allen. “A potpourri of major league happenings between 1900 and 1978,” says Google Books. “Includes records, anecdotes, photographs, and biographical information.” My brothers and I devoured it! (And, really, many of the books on hockey I’ve written for children haven’t been all that different from it.)

Big-Time Baseball is where I first learned of Christy Mathewson, but where I came to really know him was as the star pitcher on my own team in Superstar Baseball … the Sports Illustrated/Avalon Hill board game my brothers and I ordered by mail and received at the Christmas holidays in December of 1978. As the box says, Superstar Baseball lets you manage the greatest players of all time (though it’s an admittedly strange mix of all-time megastars and quirky oldtimers). In addition to the number and letter codes on the front of the player cards that let you play the game, the backs of the cards contained career numbers and interesting write-ups about the players’ careers. I read them all, and then started reading all I could about baseball history.

Christy cards

Perhaps Superstar Baseball isn’t the greatest of the dice-rolling/simulation games (I played ABPA Baseball and Football with my friends). Still, my brothers and I played it till we wore it out, ordered another, bought the second player set, and wore them out too. Almost 40 years later, we still play it when we have the time together, and are often joined now by my brother Jonathan’s son.

Over the years, we’ve traded players so many times it’s impossible to keep track of who’s had who, but David has always had Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson on his team, and Jonathan has always had Honus Wagner and Bob Gibson. My all-time all-timers are Rogers Hornsby and …Christy Mathewson.

Me and Matty

If you’ve got a story about what hooked you on sports, or sports history, I’d love to hear it. Please feel free to comment. And GO JAYS GO!