By Bob Elliott
Such was the light-hearted clubhouse banter as some of the best Blue Jays from the past gathered at a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame fundraising luncheon Monday afternoon at the Albany Club before a sold out crowd of 150.
Paul Beeston and Stephen Brooks, both members of the St. Marys Hall of Fame board of directors, put together the panel discussion of Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar, his Hall of Fame father Sandy Alomar, former manager Cito Gaston, Duane Ward, Lloyd Moseby, Bell and White.
Bell, who left as a free agent for the Chicago Cubs in 1991, and Moseby, who signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1990, formed the foundation for the Jays’ then-record 11-consecutive winning seasons, which was capped by the success of Alomar, White, Ward and Gaston winning the 1992 and 1993 World Series.
Sportsnet MC Jamie Campbell told of how as an Oakville youngster he once asked Bell for an autograph and Bell, the only Jay to ever win an American League most valuable player award, taught him his first word of Spanish: “manyana.”
Each guest told of their major influences:
For Gaston it was Hank Aaron, his Atlanta Braves roommate, who later served as Braves farm director and talked Gaston into becoming a hitting instructor — on the third time he asked.
“Hank would give me rides in his car during spring training, we split the phone bill in half — even though he had more calls than I did, I didn’t want to lose my ride,” Gaston said. “I just wish I had been smart enough to ask Hank more questions about hitting.”
For Robbie Alomar it was his father Sandy, and for Sandy it was his brother Tony.
Bell, obtained from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule V draft, chose Cesar Cedeno.
White, born in Kingston, Jamica, said there were too many players to mention, although in the past we’ve heard him speak highly of Gary Pettis.
Ward picked his parents and Hall of Fame flame thrower Nolan Ryan, which led to a number of Ryan stories.
Said Robbie: “I played catch with Nolan Ryan, he taught me how to pitch, when my father and he were both with the Anaheim Angels, so my first at-bat in the majors (with the 1988 San Diego Padres) was against Nolan Ryan and I had a base hit. The next two times up he knocks me down. He waited for me after the game and said ‘welcome to the big leagues.’”
Added pappa Sandy: “Nolan Ryan knocked me down Robbie, he knocked down your brother Sandy, I think he knocked down our whole family.”
One guest from London said he attended the 2013 World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park in Miami between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and said of all the World Series games he’d been to he’d never seen such an electric atmosphere. How, he wondered, can Canadian baseball catch that kind of enthusiasm?
“Get them to quit playing hockey,” Hall of Famer Alomar, a native of Puerto Rico who lives in Toronto, said to laughter.
Bell said he agreed with Alomar, but the Dominican dandy added “but Robbie, we whupped your butt in the WBC.”
The Dominican Republic won the final, 3-0, over Puerto Rico before 35,703 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Fact is, with 756 Canadians getting some of their university or college education paid for playing ball last spring south of the border or at NAIA schools like the University of British Columbia or Winnipeg, that number is more than the total of Canadians on hockey scholarships.
It was a good day for stories of the golden days as the Jays head towards their 21st straight October without post-season play.
It was a good day for area fans as more people saw Alomar’s bronze plaque, brought to Toronto on Saturday from Cooperstown by Bradford Horn.
It was a good day for the Canadian Hall of Fame, as roughly $20,000 was raised.
And it was a great day for fellow Kingstonians like White and myself to visit the Albany Club, whose first member was our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.