SABR

Ron Taylor

This article was written by Maxwell Kates.

A biography may be defined as a “remarkable odyssey through life and the lessons learned.”1 This description could have suited virtually anyone, but Bart Mindszenthy adapted it to introduce Ron Taylor before the Empire Club of Canada. Taylor’s odyssey ranged from the University of Toronto (the only alumnus to play major-league baseball), to the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the Ontario Medical Association. His dry, self-deprecating sense of humor pervaded his multifaceted, half-century-plus career. When approached to deliver a 20-minute autobiographical speech before the Empire Club in October 2004, Taylor replied, “Well, we’ve got the first five minutes covered.”2

Ronald Wesley Taylor was not the first member of his family to lend numerous talents to a career that crossed geographical and interdisciplinary borders. His paternal grandfather worked in a variety of professions in urban and rural environments on both sides of the Atlantic. Walter Taylor and his wife, Elizabeth, immigrated to Canada from Ireland, settling in Flesherton, Ontario, as pioneer farmers. The Taylors eventually moved to Toronto, where Walter established a confectionery in the east end of the city. He took a second job as a streetcar driver for the Toronto Transit Commission in order to feed a family that grew to include five children. Tragedy struck the Taylor household in 1919 when Walter became one of millions to fall victim to the global influenza epidemic. Their son Wesley, at the age of 13, left school to support his family, accepting a job at Dunlop Tire and Rubber. Although his employer endured financial difficulties during the Great Depression, Wesley never lost his employment. Consequently, he remained at Dunlop out of loyalty for better than 50 years. Wesley married Maude Evans, a Welsh immigrant with a noteworthy family legacy of her own. Her father, William, was a cavalry soldier during the Boer War who fought the Battle of Mafeking under Colonel Robert Baden-Powell. After he died, his widow, Emily, led the family to immigrate to Canada — “their intended destination was Australia but they missed the ship.”3

Ron Taylor was born on December 13, 1937, a brother to older sister Carole.4 He was raised in the north end of Toronto, joining the Leaside Baseball Association at the age of eight.5 Although he was a natural left-hander, his mother feared that young Ron would suffer cardiovascular ailments from extensive use of his left arm, and insisted that he learn to pitch right-handed — “Insist? She tied my left hand behind my back!”6 He played at Talbot Park, a facility of unusual configurations. As only 275 feet separated home plate from the left-field fence, commuter traffic on Eglinton Avenue often saw windows fall prey to home run balls. Meanwhile, a baseball could travel 400 feet to right field and remain in fair territory. Worse yet, there were two light standards in play. As Howie Birnie, longtime president of the Leaside Baseball Association, once remarked, “You have to be part mountain goat to play here.”7 To play there, candidates were required to either live in Leaside or be enrolled at St. Anselm Catholic School. Under ordinary circumstances, Taylor would have been disqualified. Had the school’s recreational director, Phil Stein, not made an exception for Taylor, he might never have developed into a professional baseball player.

By 1954, Taylor had graduated to the Metropolitan Motors Club, where at 16 he managed to baffle 21-year-old hitters.8 Often attending Taylor’s games was Chester Dies, a sheet-metal worker and part-time scout for the Cleveland Indians. Despite Dies’s rave reviews over Taylor’s performances, his telephone calls to the Indians’ area scout remained unanswered. Consequently, Dies took Taylor to Cleveland for an uninvited tryout at Municipal Stadium, even paying for the young pitcher’s train ticket.9 Although initially admonished for bringing a prospect without an invitation, Dies ultimately received permission for Taylor to throw in the bullpen.10 Pitching coach Mel Harder, impressed by what he saw, invited Taylor to return the following day.11 This time, he pitched to Al Lopez, the Indians manager, who had begun his career catching Walter Johnson some three decades earlier. Impressed, Lopez and minor league director Laddie Placek offered Taylor a contract on the spot, signing the pitcher for $4,000, the maximum bonus allowed at that time without roster restrictions.12 An airman with the Royal Canadian Air Force (Auxiliary 411) fighter squadron, Taylor had considered training to become a pilot until receiving his offer from the Indians.

Now 18, Taylor attended his first training camp with the Indians in 1956. Out of 250 players, he was assigned uniform number 247.13 Bewildered, he later remarked that “I knew that ‘T’ was low in the alphabet, but not that low.”14 Taylor was befriended by a Cleveland farmhand who wore number 9, outfielder Roger Maris. Reporting to Daytona Beach of the Florida State League for the 1956 season, he went 17 11 with a 3.13 ERA in 227 innings. After the season, Taylor decided he wanted to return to school to pursue his education. Although Placek offered to register him at the Case Institute in Cleveland, Taylor decided that he would rather return to Canada to finish Grade 13 before enrolling as an engineering student at the University of Toronto. According to his plan, Taylor would pitch only during the summer, missing spring training for the duration of his education. Placek, though reluctant to accept, agreed to Taylor’s conditions.15

By 1961, Taylor had risen through Cleveland’s farm system, pitching for Fargo-Moorhead, Minot, Reading, and Salt Lake City. Pitching for Minot, he was one of the Northern League’s three premier pitchers, along with Gaylord Perry and Bo Belinsky. Perhaps more importantly, he graduated from the University of Toronto in 1961 at the top in his class of engineers.16 After the season, Taylor asked Walter “Hoot” Evers, Cleveland’s farm director, to guarantee him a spot on the rotation at Salt Lake City along with an invitation to the major league training camp. Evers agreed and at spring training in Tucson, Taylor pitched 23 scoreless innings to earn a spot in the major-league rotation.17

Starting the second game of the 1962 season, Taylor faced Boston’s Bill Monbouquette at Fenway Park on April 11. Through 11 innings, spectators saw nothing but zeroes on the Green Monster scoreboard as both pitchers were hurling extra-inning shutouts. However, Taylor surrendered a leadoff triple to Carl Yastrzemski in the bottom of the 12th. After two intentional walks, he surrendered a grand slam to Carroll Hardy. Despite the loss, the Cleveland Plain Dealer called Taylor’s performance “one of the most remarkable pitching performances in all baseball history.”18 He beat Dean Chance of the Los Angeles Angels, 3 2, on April 24 but was demoted to Jacksonville a month later. Tim McCarver, who caught for the Atlanta Crackers that season, described Taylor as “lights out that year.” Pitching every three days, he won 12 and lost 4 with an ERA of 2.62 as Jacksonville won the International League pennant. Little did either Taylor or McCarver realize that both would return to the major leagues in 1963 — as teammates.

After the 1962 season, Taylor pitched for the San Juan Senadores of the Puerto Rican Winter League. When St. Louis Cardinals manager Johnny Keane saw him pitch, he immediately telephoned general manager Bing Devine. On the grounds that the Canadian hurler was “not afraid of the bat,” Keane insisted on arranging a deal for him.19 On December 15, 1962, Taylor was traded with infielder Jack Kubiszyn to the Cardinals for first baseman Fred Whitfield. 19 Developing a sinker-slider to complement his fastball, Taylor won nine games and saved 11 with a 2.84 ERA in Stan Musial’s farewell tour of the major leagues. His first save of the 1963 season was at the expense of the eventual world champion Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28. He struck out Frank Howard and got Ron Fairly to fly out to right before giving up a single to John Roseboro and fanning Moose Skowron to end the game. Meanwhile, Taylor returned to Toronto in the winter to pursue work as an electrical engineer.

Taylor remained productive in 1964, winning eight games in 63 appearances as the Cardinals won their first National League pennant in 18 years. His quiet and reserved personality made him a contrast from a clubhouse full of future broadcasters. However, he was a fierce competitor on the mound as the situation warranted — as he demonstrated in Game Four of the 1964 World Series. Already trailing the New York Yankees two games to one, the Cardinals appeared headed for another defeat when starter Ray Sadecki surrendered three runs in one-third of an inning. After Roger Craig pitched solidly in relief, the Cardinals claimed the lead in the sixth inning on a grand slam by Ken Boyer. Now leading by one run, manager Keane summoned Taylor from the bullpen. Taylor held the lead by pitching four no-hit innings against the Yankees, whose lineup included former minor-league teammate Roger Maris. The walk Taylor surrendered to Mickey Mantle in the eighth inning represented the only baserunner he allowed. A loss would have given the Yankees a 3 1 Series lead, but instead the Cardinals forced a tie. Mike Shannon, one of the future broadcasters on the Cardinals, later said, “We shut down that powerful Yankee club. If we don’t win that game, I don’t even know if we’re going back to St. Louis.”20 Back to St. Louis the Series went, where Bob Gibson pitched his legendary complete-game win in Game Seven to secure the championship.

The defending world champions disappointed in 1965, languishing in seventh place at the June 15 trading deadline. Satisfying the need for a left-handed reliever, general manager Bob Howsam acquired Hal Woodeshick from the Houston Astros at a cost of Taylor and pitcher Mike Cuellar. Immediately, Taylor knew it was “a bad deal for both clubs.”21 Unhappy in Houston, he saw his ERA soar to an astronomical 5.71 in 1966. After the season, his contract was sent outright to Oklahoma City. As he told Maury Allen of the New York Post years later, he became frustrated by the direction of his baseball career.

“I felt I wasn’t used properly. I never had a chance to pitch, and in order to be effective, I needed to pitch a lot,” Taylor said.22 Meanwhile, Bing Devine had left the Cardinals to become general manager of the New York Mets. “Bing…asked me if I could pitch. I told him I was sound—‘Get me out of here!’ He said that he thought he could make a deal.”23 The following day, February 10, 1967, Taylor’s contract was purchased by the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate at Jacksonville. A change of scenery may have been just what the doctor ordered for Taylor. He earned a spot on the Opening Day roster for the Mets in 1967, leading the team with eight saves in 50 games while setting a personal mark with a 2.34 earned run average. He allowed only one home run all season, to Pittsburgh’s Manny Jimenez on April 17. (Taylor’s homerless streak lasted 92 innings, well into the 1968 season, when he allowed a ninth inning blast by the Dodgers’ Ted Savage on June 23.)

“In New York, I really found a home. I worked hard and I pitched well,” Taylor said.24 The Mets, meanwhile, were ensconced as the doormat of the National League. The team lost 101 games in 1967 to finish in last place for the fifth time in its six-year history, “When there was a rainout, half the team held a victory party,” Taylor said.25 The Mets bade the cellar farewell in 1968 when they signed Gil Hodges as their manager. Although a record of 73 89 typically goes unnoticed, for the Mets in 1968, it was one small step in the right direction. Taylor contributed by tying Jack Hamilton’s club saves record with 13 and finished fourth among senior circuit hurlers with 58 appearances.

After the 1968 season, Taylor joined several major leaguers on a tour of military hospitals in Guam, the Philippines, and Okinawa. The following year, he traveled to Saigon to visit soldiers in war-ravaged South Vietnam after the Tet Offensive. This second tour offered him “the chance to meet doctors and talk to them about what they were doing.”26

As the Mets prepared to entertain the expansion Montreal Expos on Opening Day of 1969, the franchise had never finished higher than ninth place or won more than 73 games. Moreover, Taylor’s two appearances in the 1964 World Series with the Cardinals marked the extent of postseason play among his teammates. Bookmakers in Las Vegas gave the Mets 100-to-1 odds to win the pennant, while in the Shea Stadium clubhouse, only Jerry Grote foresaw his team as contenders.27 Ignoring the disbelievers, Gil Hodges assigned specific roles to his entire roster. Through a combination of natural talent and proper communication, Hodges foresaw his players contending in 1969.

“Everybody knew what their role was,” Taylor remembered. “Everybody was quite happy with their role—even more so when we started to win.”28 Taylor was consistent once again, pitching in 59 games out of the bullpen. In a dozen appearances from May 30 to June 24, he worked 15 scoreless innings. By this point, the Mets were surprising even baseball experts as they stood in second place with a 38 28 record, five games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs. While his 2.72 earned run average was virtually identical to his 1968 record, Taylor went 9 4 for a team that won 100 games to earn a National League East division title.

Taylor pitched two scoreless innings in Game One of the NLCS, preserving Tom Seaver’s 9 5 victory over the Braves and earning the first save in League Championship Series history. He came on the next day to get the last out in the fifth inning and also threw a scoreless sixth to earn the win. Taylor was familiar with the Atlanta lineup, and offered the following anecdote from the regular season which featured two of their Hall of Fame sluggers.

“Orlando Cepeda’s in the on-deck circle and Henry’s up. So Hodges comes up to me and says, ‘I want you to put Henry on and face Cepeda.’”

Taylor, who had a history of trouble facing Cepeda, insisted, “No, I want Aaron.”

“Hodges said ‘You what?’ I knew he was angry. When he got angry, that jugular vein popped out of his neck. He said, ‘You want to pitch to Aaron. You better get him out.’”29

Aaron grounded out to the infield.

After sweeping the Braves in the Championship Series, the Mets faced the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Taylor pitched in relief of Tom Seaver once again in Game One, limiting Baltimore to one baserunner—a walk to Paul Blair—in two innings. Although the Mets were defeated by Mike Cuellar, Taylor’s former St. Louis and Houston teammate, in the opener, they took a 2 1 lead in the second game. After retiring the first two Orioles in the bottom of the ninth, Jerry Koosman walked Frank Robinson and Boog Powell. With the tying run on second and Brooks Robinson at the plate, Hodges called Taylor from the bullpen to save the game and tie the Series at a game apiece.

“I got to 3-and-2 on him and they were off and running on the pitch; it was the worst possible situation for me,” Taylor said.30 In a classic case of role reversal, Robinson hit a grounder to third baseman Ed Charles, who threw the ball to Donn Clendenon at first for the final out of the game.

Taylor was sitting in the dugout at Shea Stadium four days later, on October 16, when Davey Johnson flied out to Cleon Jones in left field for the last out of the deciding Game Five. The Mets were world champions. For Taylor, the experience was both exhilarating and humbling:

“After we won…we were riding down Broadway in that ticker-tape parade and the crowds were cheering and the paper was floating down from high above from those office buildings. I couldn’t stop thinking that this was the path that MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Kennedy had ridden. I never felt so euphoric,” Taylor said.31

Taylor remained a mainstay in Hodges’s bullpen for two more seasons, becoming the Mets’ first-ever Opening Day winner, over the Pirates at Forbes Field in 1970. 49 The Canadian’s contract was sold to Montreal on October 20, 1971, but rather than wearing the Expos’ tricolor cap, Taylor found himself dressed in the all-yellow double-knits of the San Diego Padres.

The Expos released him on April 20, 1972, five days into the season, without having appeared in a game, he signed with San Diego on the same day. Taylor surrendered five home runs in four relief appearances, pitching for the last time on May 14 in relief of Clay Kirby at Montreal’s Jarry Park. The final batter he faced was a Mets teammate only one season earlier—Ken Singleton. At 34, Taylor knew it was time to call it a career.

If there were a chance of Taylor spending any more time in a major league clubhouse, it would be more likely as a doctor than as a baseball player. During that road trip to Montreal, Taylor took a sojourn to his hometown for an interview with the dean of student affairs at the University of Toronto medical school. Hank Aaron and Orlando Cepeda now paled by comparison as Taylor faced the dean in an interview.

“You graduated in engineering in 1961. What have you been doing for the past 11 years?”

“Playing major league baseball.”

“What’s that?

Taylor knew he was in trouble. After providing a response, the associate dean explained what the odds were against the former world champion.

“We very rarely accept people over 30. We don’t want people changing careers.”

“My career died a natural death,” Taylor pleaded. “My arm went dead.”

The dean then asked to see his transcript. Scanning the grades, he turned to Taylor and asked “Are these yours? With these grades, if you were 25, you’d be in. What I suggest to you is to go back and enroll in an honors course in all the pre-med courses—organic chemistry, microbiology. If you get the same grades, we’ll consider you.”

Taylor asked, “What are the odds?”

“Depends on the personality of the registrar. About 50-50.”

“Those sound like good odds to me.”

“I moved back into my old bedroom. I was single at the time and didn’t have any responsibilities,” Taylor said.32 His daily routine would appear draconian even to a Rhodes scholar. He attended classes daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, would sleep for four hours, and study until 7 the next morning.

Asked to produce references, Taylor offered a glowing letter of recommendation from Mets president and Montreal native M. Donald Grant. Excelling academically as expected, Taylor overcame all probabilities as his candidacy was accepted. He spent the summer of 1973 managing the Lethbridge Lakers of the semiprofessional Alberta Major League. Under Taylor’s tutelage, the Lakers advanced to represent Alberta at the national finals held in New Brunswick. Taylor also returned to Shea Stadium that summer to make an appearance at Old Timers Day.

He remembered the astonishment of his classmates that a middle-aged student was in their midst. As he told members of a baseball class at Seneca College in Toronto, “They just assumed I was the maintenance man. They were looking for my tool kit.”33

Hardly a janitor or a volunteer patient, Taylor persisted for four years and graduated from medical school in 1977. He was appointed team physician to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1979, and also pitched batting practice for several years at Exhibition Stadium. Taylor began a general practice in midtown Toronto, working six days a week, often exceeding 12 hours a day at the office. Two evenings a week, he operated the S.C. Cooper Sports Medicine Clinic at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

Mount Sinai was significant for Taylor on several counts. Not only did he practice there during his residency, but it was also where he met the mother of his children. Rona Douglas was a nurse when she met Taylor, and they married on September 26, 1981. Their oldest son, Drew, was born in August 1982, while younger son Matthew was born in April 1984. Matthew pursued studies in history and film while Drew decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. Which footsteps? Baseball or medicine? After graduating from the University of Michigan, Drew was signed by the Blue Jays in 2006. He pitched at the Rookie League level for two seasons. He pitched in the independent Frontier League in 2008.

Although Ron Taylor’s schedule left no room for hobbies, he amassed an impressive collection of rings over the years. They include his wedding ring, two for his world championships as a player, two earned as team doctor for the world champion Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, and another to commemorate the All-Star Game held at SkyDome in 1991. However, pointing to the engineering ring on his left hand, Taylor said, “It’s the only one you see.” He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, and into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame eight years later. In 2006 he was inducted into the Order of Ontario by Lieutenant Governor James K. Bartleman for his work in medicine.

Into his 70s, he showed little inclination toward retirement. John Koopman of the Empire Club of Canada described Taylor’s life as “a power of will.” Before the era of free agency, Taylor served as his own agent. Without the deal with Laddie Placek, he would never have attended spring training. In the absence of a subsequent deal with Hoot Evers, his major-league career may have ended before it began. Finally, if his negotiations to enter the University of Toronto medical school had not succeeded, he would not have practiced medicine. His baseball career remained an important component of his career, which he explained as follows:

“I might be able to name ten doctors in my graduating class and perhaps fifteen engineers. But I can name all my World Series teammates, both with the Mets and the Cardinals. The pressures we went through…when you win championships like those, you’re like brothers for life. That how we are, we’re all brothers.”34

 

This biography is included in the book "Drama and Pride in the Gateway City: The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by John Harry Stahl and Bill Nowlin. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

 

Sources

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

“Ron Taylor” Brooklyn: Topps Chewing Gum Inc., 1964: 183.

Allen, Maury. After the Miracle: The Amazin’ Mets—Two Decades Later. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989).

Bock, Duncan, and John Jordan. The Complete Year-By-Year N. Y. Mets Fan’s Almanac. (New York: Crown Publishing Inc., 1992).

Daley, Arthur. “The Two Managers,” New York Times, September 26, 1954.

Elliott, Bob. The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way (Toronto: Sport Classic Books, 2005).

Markusen, Bruce. Tales from the Mets Dugout (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2005).

Turner, Dan. Heroes, Bums, and Ordinary Men (Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1988).

Weissman, Harold. The Mets Official 1967 Year Book. Flushing, New York: The Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc., 1967. The yearbooks through 1974 were also referenced.

 

Acknowledgments

Wanda Chirnside, Eric Cousineau, Scott Crawford, Alan Gans, Bill Humber, Anthony Kalamut, Ben Kates, Nanda Lwin, Kelly McNamee, T. Kent Morgan, Ron Taylor, Rona Taylor, Dan Turner, Tom Valcke, Max Weder, Eric Zweig

 

Notes

1 Bart Mindszenthy, Introduction to Ron Taylor Keynote Speech at the Empire Club of Canada, October 1993. Accessed November 22, 2007.

2 Ibid.

3 Interview with Ron Taylor, November 8, 2007

4 “Ron Taylor” Brooklyn: Topps Chewing Gum Inc., 1964: 183.

5 Dan Turner, Heroes, Bums, and Ordinary Men (Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1988), 104.

6 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

7 Bob Elliott, The Northern Game: Baseball The Canadian Way (Toronto: SportClassic Books, 2005), 137.

8 Ibid., 136.

9 Turner, op. cit., 104.

10 Elliott, op. cit., 138

11 Ibid.

12 Elliott, op. cit., 138

13 Ibid.

14 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

15 Ibid., 138

16 Turner, 105.

17 Elliott, 139.

18 Turner, 106.

19 Ibid.

20 Elliott, 141.

21 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

22 Ibid.

23 Maury Allen, After the Miracle: The Amazin’ Mets—Two Decades Later (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 42.

24 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

25 Ibid.

26 Elliott, 144.

27 Duncan Bock and John Jordan, The Complete Year-by-Year N.Y. Mets Fan’s Almanac (New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 1992), 65

28 Bruce Markusen, Tales from the Mets Dugout, (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2005), 44.

29 Ibid., 44-45.

30 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

31 Allen, op. cit., 45.

32 Ibid., 44.

33 Interview with Ron Taylor, op. cit.

34 Ibid.

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