Quebec Chapter meeting recap – 5/5/2012

Here is a recap of the SABR Quebec Chapter meeting on May 5, 2012 at the Irish Embassy Pub in Montreal:

  • Present: Jack Anderson; Jack Beausoleil; Jacques Doucet; Alain Dumas; Robert Duval; Norm King; Daniel Papillon; Bill Young (presiding) Guests: Johnny Elias (Guest speaker); Marlene Elias; Charles “Chuck” Poxon – a friend of Johnny’s and a former catcher with six years experience in the Provincial League. He played with St- Jean Pirates, 1961-1962; Granby Cardinals, 1963; Lachine Mets, 1964- 1966.
  • Regrets: Ghislain Henri; Marc Robitaille; Alain Usereau

The main item on the agenda was a talk by Johnny Elias, a Quebec baseball man with experience in just about every aspect of the game in this province. However, we began with a general information session.

A) Warren Cromartie Initiative (June 15-16)

Jacques Doucet spoke to this item. He pointed out that what had begun in an effort to bring baseball back to Montreal has shifted more toward a celebration of the 1981 Expos – the team that was only a Rick Monday home run away from the World Series. In part, the event will also be a fund raiser to benefit the Gary Carter Foundation. In line with these efforts les Capitales de Quebec plan to honour Carter in a game at which the players will wear replicas of the uniform Gary Carter wore when he played with the Eastern League Quebec Carnavals in 1973.

One of the broad goals of these events is to heighten awareness of baseball in Quebec, something that is already happening. Jacques mentioned that Baseball Quebec notes enrolment in its programmes is way up. Also plans to bring a Can-Am League team to the Montreal region seem more advanced than ever, with many of the earlier stumbling blocks now out of the way.

Jacques also spoke about his new broadcasting gig, describing Blue Jays’ games in French for the TVA sports network. His partner is the well known Rodger Brulotte. A complete schedule of games to be presented on television is available. Jacques says the experience is quite wonderful: it included a spring jaunt to Dunedin Florida when the Jays were in training, the first time he had made such a trip since the Expos left Montreal.

He mentioned as well that both he and Rodger each now write a weekly column for Journal de Montréal, and further that he has been asked to write a blog for the Blue Jays site, in French. And as a final note, Jacques is not the only SABR-Quebec member broadcasting baseball games this year. Alain Usereau is doing play-by-play descriptions of major league baseball games for the RDS2 network. He works from a studio in Montreal, with Marc Griffin as his colour commentator.

B) Norm King on Bill Stoneman

Norm has authored a story on Bill Stoneman published in the most recent Baseball Research Journal. He spoke briefly to it, thanking members who had assisted him along the way. Although Stoneman was far from being an All-Star (he would become one in 1972, though) he was a charter member of the 1969 Expos, and as such pitched not one, but two no-hitters for Montreal. The first occurred in Philadelphia in only the ninth game ever played by the fledging club: the second came in Montreal in 1972 and was just icing on the cake.

When the Expos returned to Montreal following the Phillies no-no, the team held a special celebration to honour Stoneman and the event. As a surprise to the diminutive pitcher the club presented him with a new car, a Renault (!) Once the car was on the field, a bigger surprise awaited, for out stepped Stoneman’s mother and brother just back from Vietnam.

Quoting from Volume I of Doucet and Robitaille’s Il était une fois les Expos, Norm wrote: “Little Jarry Park, filled to bursting despite the wind and cold. All the spectators, standing, many wearing toques and coats, acclaiming another of their new heroes…the meeting between Montreal and its baseball team was more than a success: it was love at first site” (Doucet, Jacques et Marc Robitaille: Il était une fois les Expos; Tome 1: les années 1969-1984, Montréal: Les Éditions Hurtubise, 2009).

C) Alain Dumas Meets Jean-Pierre Roy

Alain met JP Roy this past winter in Florida for a solid two-hour conversation. The man is now 92 years old, but still in great shape, and of sound mind. They spoke about his career, about the Royals and the 1946 year when Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel made baseball and sociological history in Montreal, about his winters in Cuba and his practices with Fidel Castro, and many other topics. JP Roy gave Alain a copy of his autobiography (signed) written in French and with only a few copies still in print, and a signed baseball. Alain is a collector of baseballs signed by Quebec ball players with major league experience. He is already up to nine! Alain says the meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: he was very grateful for the opportunity. (Alain subsequently wrote a brief account of this visit which has been distributed separately.)

D) Results of Recent Organizational Survey and Follow-up

(This item was discussed following John Elias’ talk but is reported here.) Bill Young mentioned that the survey results, which included suggestions about leadership, were encouraging. A separate analysis of these will be sent around soon. As for leadership, the membership clearly indicated that for the immediate future they preferred to see Daniel Papillon and Bill Young at the helm. Bill declared he was prepared to stay on as president and that he had invited Daniel to return as vice-president. At the time of the meeting Daniel was undecided, although he has subsequently agreed to take on the position.

Related to this discussion Daniel mentioned that he had been involved in discussions with Baseball-Quebec around the Hall of Fame and other matters. He then suggested it might be to the benefit of both SABR-Quebec and Baseball-Quebec if we were to work more closely together. He senses that Baseball-Quebec might also welcome such an initiative – especially in areas like their annual fall convention and more formal development of the history of baseball in Quebec. To be pursued.

Guest Speaker: John Elias

John was a very engaging speaker, spotting his story of life in baseball with humorous observations and anecdotes. Because his résumé was distributed to members before the meeting they had some sense of how his baseball life had unfolded.

John began by identifying career minor-league catcher Nick Testa as the person who as much as anyone else helped him become a good pitcher. Testa found his way to Granby of the Provincial League in the late 1960s after bouncing around for years and it was there that John came to know him. A couple of years later they both ended up in Trois-Rivières in the league’s final season.

John also spoke briefly about his friendship with Expos’ all-star catcher Gary Carter. He came to know Carter when John was pitching batting practice for the Expos, and later when Carter participated in John’s summer baseball camp in Montreal. Their friendship continued long after baseball; John was among the last Montrealers to speak with him before he passed away in the fall of 2011.

John was a first-rate local pitcher throughout his teens, playing on teams that made it to city and provincial championships. He then spent two years with Pasadena City College where he was selected outstanding pitcher on their Southern California Junior College winning team.

During the summers he played three years with Villeray in the Montreal Junior League Provincial League. He then accepted a baseball scholarship to Michigan State University, pitching for the Spartans for two years and earning a Bachelor of Science Degree. Following graduation he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and for the next four years played for several rookie league and minor league teams, including Daytona Beach; Lewiston, Idaho; and Burlington, West Virginia. Teammates included Tony LaRussa, and Dave Duncan. He was one of the few in those years to outpitch Ferguson Jenkins, which he managed to do in the Florida State League in 1962! When the schedule allowed, upon his return to Montreal he played for the Provincial League’s Granby entry.

John also returned to school during the off-season, earning a Masters Degree fin Physical Education from Springfield College in Massachusetts. His thesis focused on, naturally enough, pitching.

Working with a test group and an experimental group, he studied the possible advantages/disadvantages of incorporating what he called ‘overload’ into the training cycle – making use of weighted baseballs as part of a pitcher’s preparation. Although his results were ultimately inconclusive, the study was deemed a success, meriting an article in a research journal – and earning John his degree.

John continued playing with Granby until 1968 when he was traded to Trois- Rivieres. He was still with the club when the league folded following the 1970 season; he played on championship teams for both cities. The Provincial League disbanded when it was overwhelmed by the Eastern League’s entry into Quebec in 1971 with the Quebec Carnavals and Trois-Rivieres Aigles. The Sherbrooke Pirates were added in 1972 (they moved to Thetford Mines in 1974). The Quebec experiment eventually ended in 1977 when the Quebec-based teams left the province. From then on, the Quebec Senior League represented the highest level of local baseball (not counting the Expos).

Once John was re-established in the Montreal area, he spent a year as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals before catching the eye of the newly-arrived Expos’ Jim Fanning. Fanning hired him to pitch batting practice, help run the scoreboard and be a link to the community through try-out camps and clinics. He continued in that capacity for a number of years.

In 1967, John was invited to join Team Canada in the Winnipeg Pan-Am Games, the first time baseball was included in these games. He pitched, and won, the first game – only to discover that, contrary to what Team Canada directors had told him when they selected him, he had been declared ineligible for having played elsewhere as a professional. John was disappointed, and more than that, embarrassed, for through no fault of his own, he found himself effectively booted out of the Games’ Village. He also had to worry about Granby and whether they would suspend him for having opted for the Pan-Am Games.

In 1970 John drew on his background in education to open the Grand Slam Baseball School in Montreal. It ran for 27 consecutive years before he closed it down in 1997. The school catered to youngsters from 7 to 20 years, teaching them baseball techniques and skills under the watchful eyes of veteran college coaches and a number of Expos players who delighted in stopping by to talk baseball with the kids. Steve Rogers, Tim Raines and others willingly took part – and all brought their own children along. Even visiting players like Lou Brock were happy to participate. Perhaps keenest of all visiting Expos was Gary Carter. He never tired of chatting, displaying techniques, offering tips and generally carrying on with the students. John said that more than once he had to shoo Gary off the playing field, reminding him that he had a major league game that night – and needed to get ready. In all, over 100 young people enrolled in the Grand Slam Baseball School. Several were able to parlay the experience into American college scholarships or pro contracts. A few made it to the big leagues, including Derek Aucoin, Tim Raines, Jr. and Russell Martin, who spent two summers at the school.

When Canadian universities introduced baseball as a fall sport John was named McGill University’s first coach. That team won the championship in the league’s first year.

He was also selected to coach a Canadian team at the 2000 and 2005 Maccabiah Pan American Games, first in Mexico and then Israel. This team won silver medals on both occasions. In 2008, John was invited to put together a Team Canada to take part in the World Series of Vintage Baseball. Conceived by the controversial Yankee pitcher/author Jim Bouton to highlight the way baseball used to be played, the series was limited to amateur players over thirty-five. John drew on veterans from the Quebec Senior Elite Baseball League and, much to Bouton’s disappointment, the Quebec contingent overwhelmed the opposition. John doesn’t know if the event was ever held again: he does know Canada was never invited back!

These days John is involved in the Major League Legends baseball game/fund-raiser held annually at Fort Lauderdale Stadium in support of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Florida. For the past 12 years he has pitched, recruited players and generally supported this worthy cause. Among former Expos players taking part were Bill Lee, Anthony Telford, Warren Cromartie, Stan Bahnsen and Andre Dawson.

And what didn’t get mentioned here is that John’s day job all these years was as a teacher in Montreal, or that his winter sport’s activity was to serve as a high- ranking basketball referee across Quebec, or that throughout it all John was lovingly supported by his wife Marlene.

John completed his presentation with a question/answer period which included several very funny anecdotes best left unreported.

Next Meeting

SABR-Quebec’s summer meeting will take place on August 4, 2012, at the Stade Municipal in Quebec City. The programme will resemble that of other years, with a SABR activity in the afternoon and a ball game that night. Facing les Capitales will be the Worchester Tornadoes. Details will follow shortly.

Thanks to all for your participation.

— Bill Young

To view a French-languague recap of the May 5 Quebec Chapter meeting, click here