Monday, November 2, 2015

How 'the dumbest manager in baseball' got to the World Series via Vancouver

Ned Yost with Vancouver Canadians in 1979.

Royals manager Ned Yost and two of his coaches
learned baseball while playing in Vancouver

By Tom Hawthorn

On the field in New York, jubilant players in the uniforms of the Kansas City Royals jumped about and mock wrestled like a Little League team that had eaten too much Halloween candy. One of them, a giant and good-natured catcher from Venezuela named Salvador Perez, pulled away from the hijinx in search of his boss, skipper Ned Yost.

The cagey manager knew what Perez was up to and, for several minutes, managed to stay out of sight. At last, though, he decided he would take what was coming. He doffed his ball cap and ran headlong towards Perez, who gleefully baptized him by pouring a large container of ice water on his head.

The Royals knocked off the New York Mets to win the World Series in much the same fashion as they dispatched the Toronto Blue Jays last month. They bided their time, did not panic when trailing, and when the opposing second baseman made a mistake — Toronto's Ryan Goins inexplicably allowing an easy pop up to land on the grass, and New York's Daniel Murphy twice treating a ground ball like a bar of soap bouncing in the shower — they pounced. (Murphy's two devastating errors led to much hilarity on Twitter, where his anti-gay bigotry encouraged schadenfreude. Two of the better jokes went along the lines of “I don't approve of Daniel Murphy's fielding lifestyle” and “It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and E4.”) The wide-eyed Missouri team came to the Big Apple, but it was the rubes who fleeced the sharps.

Mr. Movember
The brains behind the Royals operation was Yost (rhymes with toast), himself widely considered a dim bulb among managers. The baseball writers have ridiculed him. The fans — Royals fans especially — have hated him. His moves have gone against baseball convention without ever seeming to show the genius that in retrospect would be revealed. Seven years ago, Sports Illustrated published a long article about his unpopularity. “He is more than a simple lightning rod for the fans' discontent,” wrote John Donovan. “He is a lightning rod on top of a dartboard on the hottest of hot seats.” Players seemed to like him well enough, but in an age of Sabrmetrics, he came across as an innumerate good ol’ boy. As a tactician, he behaved like an Italian general. Even when one of his seemingly boneheaded moves worked out in the end, he was greeted with blogger headlines such as: “Ned Yost is not the village idiot of managers.”

Yet here he was soaking wet on the grass at Citi Field in Queens, the manager of a World Series champion, an accomplishment that has eluded Buck Showalter, Bobby Valentine, Dusty Baker, Cap Anson, Clark Griffith, Gene Mauch and Joe Cronin.

Yost's long journey to last night's triumph included an important stint in Vancouver with the minor-league Canadians. One of the oddities of the Royals triumph is that three of the team's eight-man coaching staff had played in Vancouver — manager Yost, hitting instructor Dale Sveum and bench coach Don Wakamatsu.

Yost once said he could live with a reputation as “the dumbest manager in baseball” because he hired smart coaches.

Edgar Frederick Yost III first arrived in Vancouver in 1979. He had been drafted in the second round five years earlier by the Montreal Expos, only to become a Mets prospect and then the property of the Milwaukee Brewers. The 24-year-old catcher had already had stops in Batavia, N.Y.; Wausau, Wis.; Jackson, Miss.; Tidewater, Va.; and Spokane, Wash., before crossing the border to join the Canadians in only their second season in the Pacific Coast League, one level below the majors.
The catcher played in 130 games in 1979, hitting a respectable .263. More importantly, he had as his manager John Felske, a retired catcher who had only 54 major-league games to his credit, although he had spent 11 seasons in the minors before becoming a coach.

“John Felske helped me a lot when he was my manager at Vancouver,” Yost told the Milwaukee Journal in 1981. “He's the one who turned it around for me. He got me thinking about the game.
“Before that, I was just putting on my uniform and going out and playing. I didn't know what I was doing.
“Physical ability was never any problem, but I never thought about the mental part. John taught me I had the mental capacity to play the game. It was something I didn't even realize you needed before.”
Don Wakamatsu has A+ penmanship.
The next season, Yost tried to crack a Milwaukee Brewers lineup in which he was No. 4 on the depth chart behind veteran Ray Fosse, Charlie Moore and Buck Martinez. (Buck wound up as a beloved catcher with the Blue Jays, where he is now the play-by-play announcer. Moore also played for the Blue Jays and is perhaps best remembered as the emergency fill-in for an injured Ernie Whitt during the Blue Jays' infamous swoon of 1987. The Jays squandered the American League East pennant by losing the final seven games of the season. Moore was sitting at the venerable Wheat Sheaf Tavern in Toronto to drown his sorrows when the plaster ceiling of the 138-year-old drinking hole landed on his head.) Yost made the parent club's roster after spring training in 1980, but only got in two games before being returned to Vancouver. He hit a solid .309 at Nat Bailey Stadium before being called up again after 80 games.

A great defensive player, he'd have only a middling major-league career as a backup catcher (batting an anemic .212) lasting just 219 games spread over parts of six seasons, ending with five games played for the team that drafted him, the Expos.

In 2003, the lantern-jawed Yost became manager of the Brewers, a position once held by former Vancouver Mounties players George Bamberger and Rene Lachemann, as well as by former Canadians manager Tom Trebelhorn, who had led Vancouver to a Pacific Coast League championship in 1985. Yost built the Brewers into a contender through five seasons before being surprisingly fired after a 3-11 streak with just 12 games left in the 2008 season. It was only the third time baseball historians could recount when a manager was fired from a contending team in the final month of the season.

Yost was replaced by Sveum, his third-base coach, who had never before managed in the majors. Sveum, like Yost originally from California, joined the Vancouver Canadians as a 21-year-old infielder in time to help the club win the 1985 championship. He hit just .236 that season, but spent the 1986 campaign divided between Vancouver and the parent Brewers.

Sveum (pronounced swaim) works under Yost on the Royals as a hitting instructor, an achievement for a player whose career major-league average was .236, the same he hit in his only full season in Vancouver.

The third Vancouver connection in the Royals dugout is bench coach Wakamatsu, who was hired away from doing that job with the Blue Jays in 2013.

Another backup catcher, he was in his sixth year of an apprenticeship in the minor leagues when he got a surprise call up to the majors. In 1991, the Canadians were a farm club of the Chicago White Sox, who had Carlton Fisk, a future Hall of Famer, as first-string catcher and Ron Karkovice as a backup. When Karkovice tore a ligament in his left thumb, the emergency call went to Vancouver, even though Wakamatsu was hitting an anemic .127 at the time.

“You play in the minor leagues for so long you wonder if you're ever going to move up,” he told me at the time. “Everything I touched this year went bad. You can't ever give up. Statistic-wise, when I'm playing my worst, I get called up. It's a strange game.”
The promotion to his dream job turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. His first assignment was to catch the unguided missiles tossed by Charlie Hough, a knuckleballer. Early in his debut, two elusive pitches corkscrewed past Wakamatsu, allowing a run to score. In the end, his Sox defeated the California Angels and he managed a single in four at-bats. The ball was waiting for him in his locker at the end of the game. He also finally had a chance to read his name in a big-league box score, even if it was reduced to “Wkmts.”

Wakamatsu would only play in 18 games for the ChiSox that season, as most of his career was spent in a 12-season whistle-stop tour from Billings, Mont., to Chattanooga, Tenn., to Port City, N.C., to Albuquerque, N.M., to New Orleans. He played 117 of his career 780 pro games in the uniform of the Canadians, which had been deliberately designed to look like the label of a Molson lager with which it shared a name.

Wakamatsu had greater success as a coach, working his way up until he was named manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2009. He guided the team to a mediocre 127-147 record over two forgettable seasons worthy of note only because he became the first person of Asian-American ancestry to manage in the majors.
A fourth-generation Japanese-American from Oregon, Wakamatsu was a college student before he learned the full story of his grandparents internment during the Second World War. His father was born in a detention camp in Tule Lake, Calif. Near the end of the war, his grandfather even enlisted in the U.S. Army. Yet when the family returned to their former home at Hood River, they were ostracized by the townspeople. Barbers and hairdressers refused to touch their hair and even the merchants who deigned to sell to them made them enter through a back door. The grandparents rebuilt a home from lumber purchased from the camp in which they had once been held.
His father made a conscious decision not to raise his own children in such an atmosphere of hatred and bitterness, which explains why Wakamatsu was an adult before he learned the family's full history. Ever since, he has taken it as his duty to share the story as a lesson.

The Royals faced a crisis in the World Series when Edinson Volquez's father died suddenly in the Dominican Republic just hours before his son was to be the starting pitcher in Game 1. The family decided to keep the news from the pitcher. It fell on Wakamatsu to develop a contingency should Volquez find out and be unable to play. (He quietly told Chris Young, himself bereaved a month ago when his father died of cancer, to be prepared to be the starter.)

Among Wakamatsu's many tasks as bench coach is responsibility for filling out the lineup card posted in the Royals dugout, which he does in a beautiful faux-Gothic cursive, a nod to his grandfather's beautiful penmanship. The cards are cherished by Royals players as keepsakes from games in which they reached a personal milestone. It is unknown who will keep Makamatsu's card from Sunday's World Series-winning game, although it probably belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gordon Quan had to fight to get the vote. He doesn't want you to waste yours.

Gordon Quan in uniform in London in 1945.

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard MagazineOctober, 2015

Late on the evening of October 19, a worker will tip over a box to pour out folded paper ballots. These will be carefully opened and stacked. They will be counted and recounted.

A similar scene will unfold across the city, the island, the province, and, indeed, all across this vast land. Election Day is a time when we take a brief pause in our daily activity to offer an opinion on the future direction of the country.

One of those boxes will include a ballot cast by Gordon Quan, who will celebrate his 90th birthday in January. In an age when barely more than half of us cast a ballot once every four years, Quan votes in federal elections and provincial elections and municipal elections. He is among the dedicated few who never miss a chance to do their civic duty.

“I always vote,” he said. “To vote is to get your idea into the system.”

Quan votes because there was once a time when the country of his birth said he could not. He returned from active service in the Burmese jungles at the end of the Second World War to a Canada that would still deny him the franchise solely because of his ethnic heritage. In British Columbia, the restrictions on voters were removed slowly and over time with Chinese Canadians and Hindu Canadians granted the franchise in 1947, Mennonites and Hutterites in 1948, Japanese-Canadians and First Nations in 1949, and Doukhobors in 1952.

Quan had earned the right to vote since he had fought in the war, but he vowed never to skip an opportunity others had once sought to deny him.

He was born Juy Kong Quan in Cumberland, where his father was a Chinatown merchant. His father died when the boy was five, so his mother took the boy to her ancestral village in Canton for four years. He returned to Victoria at age nine, attending North Ward School and, after school, taking lessons at the Chinese school on Fisgard Street.
He remembers a Victoria where people were expected to know their place and boys who looked like him were not permitted to swim at Crystal Pool. It was also a time when their parents were barred from such professions as teaching and the law.

At 18, he enlisted in the war effort. He did basic training in Saskatchewan before being seconded to the British Army where he was to join others of Chinese descent in Force 136 of the Special Operations Executive. A good pupil, he showed promise and received further training in the dark arts of sabotage and demolition. Midway through 1945, he was dispatched to the jungles of Burma where he was to blow up bridges and fuel depots to harass the occupying Japanese forces.

He was under no illusion as to his likely fate. “A suicide squad” is how he describes the assignment today. Despite that, he was willing. Lucky for him, the destruction of two civilian cities by atomic bombs brought a quick end to the war.

He returned to civilian life, got married, and took a job washing dishes at the Mandarin Chop Suey restaurant in Victoria's Chinatown. After taking an 18-month vocational course, the cost covered as a veteran's benefit, he qualified as an automobile mechanic. He joined the militia in 1952, retiring from the Canadian Army after 35 years for which he was awarded the Order of Military Merit for his exceptional service. In his civilian life, he became the first person of Chinese ancestry to work for the City of Victoria's public works department.

To mark a ballot with a checkmark or an X — the sign of the cross, a child's scratch, a mark so simple it is used as a signature by illiterates — is the easiest of tasks.

What would Quan say to the millennials and others who don't bother to vote?

“You have the right to vote,” he said. “You're not going to help the country. When you grow older you're going to regret you didn't vote when you had the opportunity.”

There is one other reason to vote, he added.

“If you don't vote,” he said, “you can't do any squawking.”

So, he will cast a ballot on election day. Three weeks later, on Remembrance Day, he will wear his beret and his uniform as he lays a wreath at the cenotaph in front of Saanich Municipal Hall, as he has done for years.

On election day, I'll be remembering the most basic of rights and the simplest of actions are easy to take for granted. Others were once dropped into unforgiving jungles to ensure we'd have this chance. To go mark a ballot is the least we can do.

Gordon Quan's discharge papers. He later re-enlisted.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Frances Wasserlein (1946-2015), irrepressible feminist activist

By Tom HawthornSpecial to The Globe and Mail
September 30, 2015
In her journey from secretary to front-line activist, Frances Wasserlein battled a premier, helped change a law and confronted discrimination against gays and lesbians.
She also sought to protect, shelter and aid women and their children seeking relief from violence on the street and in the family home.
For four decades, Ms. Wasserlein, who died at 69, was an activist of note on the West Coast and a prominent figure in feminist groups. She was one of 18 women to co-found a group providing assistance to women who had been raped. They also successfully lobbied to add domestic sexual assault to the Criminal Code.
In certain circles, she was one of those people you bumped into wherever you went in Vancouver.
Go to the annual folk music festival at Jericho Beach and she’d be volunteering in some role. (Eventually, she became executive producer.) Buy a ticket for the Vancouver International Writers Festival, and she’d be managing the box office. Attend a play, or a concert, or some other shindig at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, and she’d be in the foyer, because she handled the centre’s bookkeeping, as she did for many other arts organizations.
While both arts and political activist groups can be known for petty grudges and internecine warfare, Ms. Wasserlein navigated rough waters by relying on her warmth and good humour. While she could be intense in debate or while making a speech, she more often could be spotted flashing a gap-toothed smile.
Frances Jane Wasserlein was born in San Francisco on July 31, 1946, to Helen Therese (née Maier) and Robert Lohrs Wasserlein. She moved to Vancouver with her family at age 14. She graduated from Little Flower Academy, a private Roman Catholic girls’ day school.
She was working as a secretary at the University of British Columbia when her work with the union, as well as a summer job with Vancouver Rape Relief, guided her toward an interest in social justice. By then, her second marriage had ended and she declared herself to be a “women’s liberationist.”
She enrolled as a full-time student at the university, completing a history degree with honours in three years. While an undergraduate, she worked with the Women’s Office on campus, learning about the important role women had played in establishing the university and in continuing to fight for equitable treatment.
Ms. Wasserlein worked as co-manager of the YWCA’s Munroe House, a temporary residence for women who were victims of violence. She did research and writing for the Women’s Research Centre, a non-profit society that did advocacy on behalf of women. She topped up her income by bookkeeping for a wide variety of groups, which made her a familiar figure in arts, publishing and feminist circles.
In 1978, Anita Bryant, a pop singer and orange-juice pitchperson who became a crusader against gay rights, was reported to be coming to British Columbia to speak. Opponents quickly formed a group called Coalition Against Discrimination, for which Ms. Wasserlein was an indefatigable mobilizer. “You organized by telephone,” she once told the publication Xtra. “You put leaflets out in bars and places where people went. You told your friends, people you knew. You set a date and hoped that people showed.” Ms. Bryant, citing exhaustion, limited her speaking tour and not did address a Vancouver audience.
Four years later, Ms. Wasserlein was a co-founder of Women Against Violence Against Women, a rape crisis centre. She also continuously worked in supporting women seeking to escape being beaten in their homes by their male partners.
Several years of organizing seemed to culminate in the widespread protests of 1983, when a re-elected Social Credit government proposed a harsh budget targeting many of the groups – unionized workers, community groups, gays and lesbians, as well as feminists – it considered to be enemies. Playing a strong hand gave rise to a mass movement in opposition which, inspired by the insurrection of Polish workers, took the name Solidarity. Ms. Wasserlein led a coalition called Women Against the Budget. In July, 1983, she addressed a march of 20,000 protesters, which had earlier stretched five kilometres along the streets of downtown Vancouver.
“We will not be silenced,” she told the crowd. “We will defeat this legislation and we will defeat this government.”
In the end, she would be right only about the first assertion. Trade union leader Jack Munro negotiated an agreement with Premier Bill Bennett as the province teetered toward a general strike, a move seen as an abject sell out by many of the community groups that had been involved in the protests.
Ms. Wasserlein soon after returned to her studies, completing a master’s degree at Simon Fraser University. Her thesis was an important history of the 1970 Abortion Caravan, a cross-Canada trek from Vancouver to Ottawa to demand the procedure be legalized. After gaining her degree, she taught women’s and lesbian studies at the university and at Langara College.
She ran for a seat on Vancouver city council in three elections, twice for the left-wing Coalition of Progressive Electors and once as an independent, finishing well down the at-large ballot each time. She also served for six years on the board of the advisory group that came to be known as the B.C. Arts Council.
In 2003, just eight days after same-sex marriage became legal in British Columbia, she married Marguerite Kotwitz, an American potter, in a ceremony in a grove on the site of the folk music festival. They had met on the Internet. “It was love at first sight,” Ms. Wasserlein told the Globe’s Rod Mickleburgh, “or maybe love at first site.”
The midlife marriage surprised Ms. Wasserlein. “In 1975, I left my second husband and I said, then and many times thereafter, I will not get married again, not even for the revolution,” she told Xtra.
The couple moved to Halfmoon Bay, on the province’s Sunshine Coast, where they operated a bed and breakfast called Honeysuckle Rose Cottage. Ms. Wasserlein served on the local arts council and as a library trustee.
She suffered a medical incident three years ago, which was eventually diagnosed as posterior cortical atrophy, a form of dementia. Ms. Wasserlein died at home on Aug. 23. She leaves Ms. Kotwitz and two sisters. The announcement of her death led to an outpouring of grief on her Facebook page with many praising her as a teacher and mentor.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yogi Berra on ice

Yogi Berra, a left-handed shot, tries to stick-handle the puck past St. Louis Flyers goalie Don (Mouse) MacDonald in a 1948 scrimmage.

By Tom Hawthorn
September 23, 2015

Good ol’ Yogi Berra. Maybe the greatest catcher of all time. Won 10 World Series as a player, played in 18 All-Star Games, won three Most Valuable Player awards. Underrated manager. One of the funniest guys in baseball, too, his goofy grin and his delight in the game a wonder to behold. After calling Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series, it is the chunky Berra who skips up the foul line to leap into the arms of his pitcher, like a child greeting a father returning home after work.

Portrayed as a stumble-tongued rube, Berra was smarter than just about everyone.

He also was a hockey fan.

As a catcher and outfielder for the New York Yankees, he befriended many hockey stars playing for the New York Rangers, including Boom Boom Geoffrion and Gump Worsley, in whom he likely found a kindred spirit. He attended games at the old Madison Square Garden and continued to do so after the team moved into the newer building. He got up at dawn to take his children to hockey practice.

In retirement at home in Montclair, N.J., he watched whatever local hockey game was being broadcast. He cheered for the Rangers, the New York Islanders, and the New Jersey Devils.

When the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2003, Berra wrote a fun essay for the New York Times. He dismissed concerns the team played in “a so-so arena near a highway” and did not have a venue for a victory parade. “Just have the parade down Bloomfield Avenue,” Berra wrote, “starting in Newark and passing through the towns where lots of Devil fans live. It's not Broadway, but you'd still get a lot of people who'd appreciate it.”

Berra, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up in a blue-collar St. Louis neighbourhood known as The Hill. He and his friends, including fellow future major-league catcher Joe Garagiola, were sports crazy. (Garagiola wrote in his memoir “Baseball is a Funny Game” that others called their ’hood Dago Hill.) Baseball, basketball and football had their season. They also played road hockey and roller hockey.

“We didn't have any place to play ice hockey,” he told Randy Schultz of in 2005. “And if we had, we didn't really have money for skates or some of the other hockey equipment needed.

“We had sticks. We used old rolled up magazines as shin guards. And we used wooden pucks. That's right, wooden pucks. We couldn't afford a real puck. So we made one.”

He got his nickname after a bunch of pals watched a movie in which a turbaned snake charmer sat cross-legged, reminding one of the gang of Berra waiting his turn to bat. Lawrence Peter, better known as Larry, became Yogi forevermore.

Berra made his big-league debut at the end of the 1946 season after having spent the war battling the Nazis, including taking part in the D-Day invasion. In 1947, he hit a pinch-hit home run, the first in World Series history, as the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games in what the first non-segregated baseball championship.

The catcher had an eventful offseason. In February, he crashed his car into a fire hydrant in St. Louis. Several hours later, he turned himself in at a police station, where he was arrested and booked on suspicion of careless driving, destruction of city property and leaving the scene of an accident. He was released on a $500 bond.

Berra also took his time in signing a contract. He rejected the first one sent to him by the Yankees. The second one “was all right—better than the first one they offered me.”

Meanwhile, he tried to get back in shape by skating at practices at the Arena with the St. Louis Flyers, the local American Hockey League team. A commercial photographer named James (Buzz) Taylor attended one of those sessions, capturing the baseball player on skates and wearing sweater No. 3. Berra tried to score by stick-handling against goaltender Donald (Mouse) MacDonald and posed alongside Hec Pozzo and Don (The Count) Grosso, a former NHLer nearing the end of his playing career. Both hockey players were from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The next month, Berra reported to the Yankees' spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla., where he found five other catchers vying for his job — Gus Niarhos, Sherman Lollar, Charley Silvera, Ralph Houk and Henry Foiles, a schoolboy. The newspapers hinted Berra was not up to the job of catcher, but the sophomore got support from Yankees manager Bucky Harris.

“He is not a cocky kid and he is far from a dummy,” the skipper said.

Baseball writer Dan Daniel joined the chorus of critiques from the press. “Berra came here fat,” Daniel wrote in The Sporting News. “With his World Series split in the bank, he took his first winter off. 'No good. Too monotonous, and I will not do it again,' the Yogi squawked. But he will.”

Berra went on to hit .305 with 14 home runs and 98 runs batted-in in a season spent half behind the plate and half in right field. He had launched a career that would take him to the Baseball Hall of Fame and make him an American icon. He died on Tuesday, aged 90.

Hec Pozzo (20) and Don Grosso pose with Yogi Berra (right), the New York Yankees catcher who joined his hometown St. Louis Flyers for a practice session in 1948.

A St. Louis Flyers hockey practice in 1948 included, from left, George Milligan, Don (Mouse) MacDonald, Joe Lund, Yogi Berra, Don Grosso, and Hec Pozzo at the Arena.

Monday, August 10, 2015

'Old Rockpile' will become just that

War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Coley Hall (1906-2002), brought pugnacious presence to West Coast hockey and baseball

CVA 1184-377
Coley Hall managed the St. Regis Hotel team in Vancouver's senior baseball league.

By Tom HawthornThe Globe and MailOctober 4, 2002

Vancouver sports entrepreneur Coleman (Coley) Hall once spotted a visiting hockey coach handing out autographed pictures of the team's players in the Vancouver rink. The stunt enraged him.
"Are you trying to make me look cheap?" he barked.
"Well, aren't you?" replied Murray (Muzz) Patrick.
Four policeman were needed to separate the two men, the newspapers reported the next day.
Mr. Hall, who has died, aged 95, was a man of quick temper and quicker fists, an umpire baiter as an athlete, a shrewd operator as a businessman and a fearless presence at all times. He well knew that Patrick, an old friend, had once been Canada's amateur heavyweight boxing champion.
Stories about Mr. Hall are legion in Vancouver sporting circles. It is sometimes difficult to separate fact from anecdotal licence, but those tales that are known to be true are so fantastic as to make even the most incredible legend about him seem possible.
He is said to have made his start in business by winning a tobacco stand in an all-night poker game, to have converted that small stake into a hotel empire, to have survived an assault on his life (while putting the attacker in hospital), to have claimed a desirable minor league hockey franchise by first snatching the rights to the city's only rink (and then to name them Canucks on the advice of a bootlegger friend), and later to have kept Vancouver's NHL team in operation even after its American owner was convicted of fraud.
He once compensated a sports editor, whose nose he had broken with a single punch, with a new luxury car. Yet, his employees knew him only as a tightwad.
"Coley Hall is so so cheap," hockey player Eddie Dorohoy said, "he wouldn't give you the sleeves off his vest."
Once, one of the bargain pucks he had bought for his hockey club actually broke in two when it struck a goal post during a game. His opponents claimed he bought his pucks at the five-and-dime.
He had never been a hockey player himself. Born in Vancouver in 1906, Mr. Hall's first sporting love was baseball. As a teenager, the strapping, 6-foot, 200-pound right-handed pitcher had a tryout with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. After he injured his arm, Mr. Hall became a slugging first baseman.
He was a long-time presence in Vancouver's senior city league, a semi-professional circuit that played at Athletic Park on the south shore of False Creek. Mr. Hall was a feisty player. It could be said he never met an umpire he liked. Nor was he one to turn the other cheek, instigating several memorable on-field brawls.
In winter, he played basketball, a sport he would eventually abandon for becoming too sissified.
During the Depression, Mr. Hall returned to San Francisco to work on the docks. He nearly died after suffering a grievous injury in a fight, although accounts differ on the circumstances. Some say he was struck in the back with a bailing hook but fought on until he broke his attacker's jaw; others say he was stabbed in the back during a poker game but fought on until he broke his attacker's leg. (That dispute apparently began when a fellow card player objected to the introduction of a Canadian nickel to the pot; Mr. Hall took exception to a slur on his native land.) In any case, he survived.
A marathon poker game led to his becoming the owner of a news-and-tobacco stand in the lobby of a Vancouver hotel in the 1930s. With $8,000 to his name, Mr. Hall, whose first job was as a $6-a-week office boy, eventually bought the $30,000 Martinique Hotel with backing from the local brewer.
His 40-year career as a hôtelier in British Columbia saw him own and manage the St. Regis, the York, the Ritz, the Devonshire and four other hotels, including one in the company town of Kitimat where patrons from Alcan's aluminum smelter queued nightly to enter the crowded beer parlour.
The pub manager at the St. Regis was Hector McDonald, a terrific boxer who had not long before been Canadian lightweight champion. Mr. Hall once asked McDonald to join him as he went to the hotel's top floor to straighten out a pair of troublemaking loggers.
"We handled them pretty good, but Hec was a little longer with his," Mr. Hall said. "I said: 'What the hell kept you so long?' " It seems McDonald's conscience dictated that he follow Marquess of Queensberry Rules. "He had to go through all his boxing methods," Mr. Hall explained, "which took him a little longer."
Mr. Hall was more street fighter than pugilist.
In 1945, Mr. Hall learned that a fledgling hockey league was about to grant a franchise to a Vancouver businessman who had operated a rival team in the senior baseball league. Mr. Hall put the squeeze on a drinking buddy and signed an exclusive lease for the Forum, the only suitable hockey arena in the city. Mr. Hall ended up with the franchise.
He needed a name and visited Art Nevison to canvass for suggestions. "Call them the Canucks," the bootlegger said, his inspiration coming from the wartime comic-book character Johnny Canuck.
The original Vancouver Canucks played in the Pacific Coast Hockey League, which was known as a "shamateur" circuit. (Rights to professional hockey were still owned by hockey legend Lester Patrick, so the league had to pretend to be amateur.) The league limited a player's salary to $2,000, but Mr. Hall was in little danger of violating the salary cap. He paid all 15 players on his inaugural roster just $50 a week.
The league eventually turned pro as the Western Hockey League. In 1959, Mr. Hall sold the Canucks to Pacific National Exhibition, which also owned the Forum. He was given an expansion franchise in San Francisco in the Western league that he named the Seals. It brought him two championships and another small fortune.
Mr. Hall was eager to own an National Hockey League team, but the other owners were wary of a maverick who was known to get his way. Instead, he was an adviser to a Vancouver group that was unsuccessful in landing an expansion franchise for the 1967-68 season.
He eventually worked for Medicor, a U.S.-based company that landed a $6-million NHL expansion franchise for a team in Vancouver that would take the Canucks name.
Mr. Hall quietly managed the business side of the NHL Canucks as majority owner Tom Scallen dealt with fraud charges that eventually would land him in jail. Mr. Hall brokered a deal for the sale of the team to broadcaster Frank Griffiths for $8.5-million. A reluctant Griffiths approved the sale as long as Mr. Hall agreed to serve for 10 years on the board of directors.
Mr. Hall, who spent part of the year in Hawaii, hired as the NHL team's general manager Norman (Bud) Poile, with whom he had had great success in San Francisco. Mr. Hall also made a pledge to his old friend, as recounted in Denny Boyd's The Vancouver Canucks Story (1973).
"You're the boss, Bud," Mr. Hall said. "I promise you, the day you bring us the Stanley Cup, I'll give you and your family an all-expenses vacation in Hawaii."
"Crissakes, Coley," Poile replied, "by the time we do that they'll have built a bridge to Hawaii."
Mr. Hall died in Vancouver Hospital on Aug. 10 of causes associated with old age. He leaves his companion, Helen Pickett, and sons Max and Brent. His wife Janet died in 1978.
Coleman Hall, athlete, hotelier, sports entrepreneur; born in Vancouver on Dec. 6, 1906; died in Vancouver on Aug. 10, 2002.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stoneman's second no-hitter a bright ending to a dismal season

This article was originally written for a Society for American Baseball Research book on significant games in Montreal Expos history. It got bumped.

By Tom Hawthorn

The Montreal Expos faced a gruelling schedule of eight games over five days to bring an end to an unsatisfying 1972 campaign. The club had only recently ended a string of shutout losses, finally scoring a run after putting up 32 innings' worth of goose eggs.

On October 2, the Expos faced the visiting New York Mets for the first of back-to-back doubleheaders. Bill Stoneman (11-14) got the assignment for the first game, his final scheduled start in a campaign of disappointment. He had established himself as one of the National League's premier right-handers the previous season, finishing third in strikeouts (behind only Tom Seaver and Ferguson Jenkins) while winning 17 games, including a one-hitter against the Padres. The Expos star pitcher remained a dependable workhorse, but he was not striking out batters as often, while he showed occasional wildness and a tendency to walk too many batters.

With the Expos long since eliminated from contention, the end of the ’72 baseball season was overshadowed in Canada by the drama of the 1972 Summit Series pitting Canadian hockey professionals against the best of the Soviet Union. The thrilling showdown, recalled later in a book titled, “30 days in September,” gripped the nation, as Team Canada battled back from a deficit to score a series-winning goal with only 34 seconds left in the final game.

The Canadians returned in triumph from Moscow at the airport in Montreal, where they were met by the mayor, the prime minister, and 10,000 delirious fans. The newspapers on the day of the game were filled with page after page of stories about the returning hockey heroes. Baseball was relegated to the sixth page of The Gazette's sports section, behind even reports on football's Montreal Alouettes.

The Expos were 69-82 going into the October 2 twi-night doubleheader, in fifth place in the National League East, 25 games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. To lure fans to the park, the Expos took out a newspaper advertisement promising prizes including watches, cameras, radios, a colour television, autographed Expos' caps, and a trip for two to Acapulco, Mexico, though these would not be awarded until two days later during Fan Appreciation Night. Though the weather was pleasant for the season with the temperature at 53-degrees, only 7,184 fans made the trek to Parc Jarry, a smaller crowd than had been at the airport to greet the hockey team 24 hours earlier. The electric scoreboard beyond the right-field fence was dark, giving the game even more of the feeling of playing out the season.

Mets manager Yogi Berra gave Ken Boswell the first game off, instead starting Lute Barnes at second base. The rookie, batting leadoff, looked at a third strike called by home-plate umpire John McSherry. Barnes was followed by Jim Fregosi, who went down swinging. John Milner walked. Ed Kranepool went down swinging.

The Expos had a happier first inning at the plate. Ron Hunt, the human bull's-eye, led off by doubling to right field. He advanced when catcher Tim McCarver flied out to right, later scoring on a wild pitch by Mets right-hander Jim McAndrew (11-7). After Ken Singleton struck out, Ron Fairly homered to give the Expos a 2-0 lead.

Stoneman retired the side in order in the second, third and fourth innings with Fregosi striking out a second time and pitcher McAndrew looking at a called third strike. The Expo starter now had five strikeouts. Only two balls had been hit to the outfield, one a line-drive and the other a fly ball, both fielded easily by Jim Fairey.

Meanwhile, in the bottom the third, the Expos scored four runs to chase the starter. The inning started with Hunt being hit by a pitch. Singles by McCarver and Ken Singleton scored Hunt, leaving runners at first and second. Fairey was intentionally walked. McAndrew's final pitch of the day was knocked on a low line along the right-field line by Boots Day, who wound up on third with a triple as three runs scored. Reliever Brent Strom induced Tim Foli into hitting a grounder to Fregosi, who threw to catcher Bill Sudakis, who tagged Day out at the plate.

Hunt also got matters started in the fourth by hitting a single and coming around to score on more singles by McCarver and Singleton.

With the score 7-0 Expos, Stoneman walked Sudakis to open the fifth. With one out, Don Hahn, a former Expo, bounced a ball to Stoneman's right. The pitcher failed to spear the ball, which deflected to Foli at short. The pitcher was charged with an error, his third of the year. “Perfect double-play ball,” he said afterward. “I should have made the double play or, if I don't touch it, Foli has a perfect double play.” In the dugout, Expos manager Gene Mauch wondered whether the play had been ruled a hit, or an error, a verdict that would have greater import by game's end.

Ted Martinez then hit a grounder to Fairly, who threw to Foli at second to force Hahn. With two out, Dave Marshall pinch-hit for the pitcher, only to be called out on strikes, stranding Sudakis on third.
Barnes walked to open the sixth, the leadoff batter again getting on base, only to be erased when Fregosi hit a grounder to Foli to start a 6-4-3 double play. Stoneman walked John Milner for his fourth fourth free pass of the game. Kranepool flied out to end the inning.

In the home half of innings, Stoneman was a lonely man. “Ah, the guys don't talk about it in the dugout,” he said after the game. “That's superstition. I knew the whole game what was going on.”
After the sixth, the small crowd became more keenly aware that despite the five Mets baserunners, Stoneman had yet to be touched for a base hit.

The game's final three innings passed with little incident. Stoneman issued a walk in each of those innings (to Hahn in the seventh, Fregosi in the eigth, and to Dave Schneck in the ninth) but all three were left stranded on first base. The game ended when Foli snagged Hahn's high-bouncing, bad hop grounder — “it hit a rock or something,” the shortstop said — before flipping to Hunt at second base to force Schneck, ending the game and preserving Stoneman's no-hitter.

It was the third no-hitter pitched in 1972 (the others by Burt Hooten and Milt Pappas of the Chicago Cubs), the second no-hitter of Stoneman's career (the first coming on April 17, 1969, when he stopped the Philadelphia Phillies by 7-0 just nine days after the Expos' inaugural game), and the first major-league no-hitter to be thrown outside the United States.

As the final out was recorded, teammates mobbed No. 26 on the infield grass midway between the mound and the third-base line. Club president John McHale and general manager Jim Fanning raced onto the field to join in the celebration, McHale raising the pitcher's right hand and Fanning his left hand, like two boxing referees announcing a winner.

Stoneman's wife, the former Diane Falardeau, a stewardess whom he had met on a flight, joined him on the field, as well, kissing him before he was driven around in a bullpen buggy to receive cheers from the fans.

“It was just win number 12 for the season,” Stoneman said. Later, he added, “I'm glad I pitched the no-hitter here (at Parc Jarry) because these are the best people in all of baseball. I heard the people yelling. It felt great. Having pitched one on the road (at Connie Mack Stadium in 1969), I know that I'm happier to have pitched it here.”

McCarver caught a no-hitter thrown by Rick Wise of the Phillies the previous season. John Bateman had been the catcher for Stoneman's 1969 no-hitter. Jose (Coco) Laboy, a September call-up, was the only Expos player to take the field in both of Stoneman's no-hitters.

Oddly, it was the fourth no-hitter in which Kranepool had been on the losing side. The first baseman went 0-for-3 against a perfect Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964; 0-for-3 against Jim Maloney of the Cincinnati Reds the following year; and, 0-for-2 against Bob Moose of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969.

At 6 a.m. the morning after the game, Stoneman drove across the border to report for National Guard duty in Burlington, Vermont. (The last remaining Expos player to live in Montreal in the offseason, Stoneman planned to return home by car each night.) He returned to Parc Jarry midway through the next day's doubleheader, arriving not long before he was honoured in a between-games ceremony. Stoneman received a $2,000 bonus from the club, while his wife was presented with a gold ring. As well, the couple were told Air Canada would fly them free to any destinations served by the airline. McCarver got a $500 gift certificate.

The no-hitter provided a late-season moment of happiness for a pitcher and a club struggling through a mediocre season.

“There was only one way, it seems, that we could knock Team Canada from the front page,” McHale said. “That was for Stoneman to throw a no-hitter — and he did.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ben Meisner (1938-2015): B.C. radio's Voice of the North had a dark secret in his past

By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail
April 20, 2015

Ben Meisner, a gruff radio talk-show host based in Prince George, B.C., was known as the Voice of the North.

Vancouver broadcaster Jack Webster once declared he knew of only three things in Prince George — grizzly bears, black flies and Ben Meisner, each one of which could eat you alive.

Politicians of all stripes acknowledged his popularity by dutifully appearing on his eponymous show even as they grumbled afterwards about his aggressive questioning. Shirley Bond, an MLA from the city, compared a booking on Meisner's show with a trip to the dentist.

Mr. Meisner, who has died of cancer at 76, was one of the last of British Columbia's acerbic, politically astute, love-’em-or-hate-’em radio hosts. In some provinces, politics is a sport. In B.C., it is a blood sport, thanks in part to voices like Mr. Meisner's. Later in his career, the talk jock concluded his over-the-airwaves editorials by declaring, “I'm Meisner, and that's one man's opinion,” which became his catchphrase.

Lauded for his preinterview preparation, Mr. Meisner, a noted recreational fisherman, treated his interview subjects much as he might a feisty catch. Once on the hook, a politician was not allowed to squirm free, no matter how long the struggle.

In 1995, former NDP premier Dave Barrett was touring the province to promote his recently published memoir. Unfortunately for him, the book's release coincided with a forensic audit and news reports about a mysterious party figure known only as “D.B.” who had made a bank deposit of $12,500 in $50 bills. When the former premier appeared on Mr. Meisner's show on CKPG, the radio host asked about the scandal. “Accusations have been made, no charges have been laid,” the former premier jokingly replied. The host persisted and the politician refused to answer, whereupon Mr. Meisner terminated the interview, causing Mr. Barrett to storm from the studio, expletives flying in his wake.

Mr. Meisner claimed to have interviewed every prime minister from Louis St. Laurent to Stephen Harper, and once went pheasant hunting on the prairies with Roland Michener, the governor general.

Never one to shy from controversy, he insisted his prickly on-air approach did not endear him to many. “Doing this job,” he once told the Prince George Free Press, “I have a very lonely life.”

It turns out the outspoken broadcaster also carried a secret for much of his public life. He had been convicted and imprisoned for fraud as a young man.

Benjamin (later spelled Benjimen) Barry Meisner was born on June 3, 1938, on a grain farm near Walpole, a hamlet in southeastern Saskatchewan. He was the youngest of four children born to Anna (née Walowski) and William Meisner. His mother immigrated to Canada from Warsaw, Poland, in 1926, while his father had been born in Lunenburg, N.S.

The boy had a hard-scrabble upbringing in which his father was absent. As an infant, the family moved to Maryfield, a village on the railway line just west of the Manitoba border. In about 1945, his mother began a common-law relationship with Reg Morris, a dairy farmer in Treherne, Man. Young Ben maintained a trapline from which he sold squirrel and mink pelts. At age 14, he moved to Winnipeg, where he found work as an office boy by lying about his age.

Mr. Mesiner was still in his teens when he moved north to Dauphin, becoming a newsreader for radio station CKDM. He appeared in the local newspaper for his charity work, for earning master angler awards for the walleye he caught, and as a member of the station's curling team, known as the “730 Dialers.” He married and started a family.

In 1963, he and two other men, both from Fargo, N.D., were arrested and charged with fraud in a stock-option swindle involving bogus certificates. The other men, both formerly legitimate bonded salesmen, pled guilty. Mr. Meisner was convicted by jury the following year on three charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and sentenced to 18 months in the provincial jail at Headingley, Man. (The judge in his case, Brian Dickson of the Court of Queen's Bench, later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.)

By 1965, Mr. Meisner was again on air, working for radio station CJGX in Yorkton, Sask., resuming a career that would also take him to Winnipeg and Toronto. He managed radio and television stations in Red Deer, Alta., and Kamloops, B.C., before joining CKPG in Prince George in 1973 where he handled a show called “Talkback.”

An hour-long radio program airing at 9 a.m. every workday became a regular stop for campaigning politicians. At one point, Mr. Meisner's understudy was an ambitious young man named James Moore, the current federal industry minister, who was elected to Parliament at age 24 in 2000.

In December, 2000, Mr. Meisner lost a $30,000 libel suit to NDP finance minister Paul Ramsey, who was a local MLA, after repeating and offering commentary on an out-of-context quotation originally published by The Province newspaper of Vancouver. In its defence, the station's lawyer told court a correction was issued within 17 minutes of Mr. Meisner's editorial, making the statement “the shortest libel in history.”

Mr. Meisner abruptly quit his own program in 2004. He said he was chastised by station management for criticizing Premier Gordon Campbell for “taking the easy way out” by granting an interview to a younger, less experienced news reporter for the station instead of appearing on his talk show. Management said it was unacceptable for the host to criticize another station employee.

At the same time, he quit writing a weekly opinion column for the Prince George Citizen newspaper to concentrate on an independent online venture he founded, now known as, which takes its name from the area code that covers most of the province.

In his career, he was active away from the microphone, as well, successfully campaigning for better health services in his region of British Columbia. He criticized the sale of BC Rail by the B.C. Liberal government. He also opposed an expansion of Alcan's Kemano hydroelectric project in the 1990s, as he sought to preserve his beloved Nechako River, a main tributary of the Fraser River and an important spawning route for sockeye salmon.

In 2010, Mr. Meisner was appointed a bencher to the Law Society of British Columbia, serving as one of six non-lawyers on the society's 31-person board of governors.

Mr. Meisner fell ill while on an ice-fishing holiday in Manitoba. He was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and, six days later, on April 2, died in a Winnipeg hospital. The sudden death shocked the city of Prince George, where he had been a fixture for more than 40 years. Several politicians issued statements of tribute, including B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who said the province had lost “a wise and passionate voice.”

He leaves his wife of 20 years, Elaine Macdonald Meisner, a son and two daughters from his first marriage, as well as two grandsons, a sister, and two brothers.

In 2007, he received a lifetime achievement award from the organization now known as RTDNA Canada, an association of radio, television and online news directors, producers, executives and educators. He was hailed for being “fearless and prickly.”

“I'm humbled because I'm not the kind of guy who travels in the right circles to get those kinds of awards,” he said at the time. “I'm a bread-and-butter guy.”

Winnipeg Free Press, April 2, 1964