Letters of Intent
John Upham’s Legacy
By Matt Bets
There are many successful, influential players and coaches who call Canada home.
Some are eventually inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, while many others are not.
Coach John Upham of Windsor, Ontario was on the ballot but fell short in his last year of eligibility according to friend Philip Haddad. Beyond dispute is that the longevity and dedication of Upham has helped shape the face of Canadian baseball in so many ways.
Upham has many career highlights to be proud of but there are a few that stand out in his mind.
“Being able to play as long as I did,” Upham said. “As well as signing my first professional contract, even though I turned down a scholarship to the University of Detroit.”
Upham is one of Canada’s great baseball coaches and has “coached, tutored and developed many of Canada’s best baseball players,” according to Haddad. He began a very successful coaching career in 1969 after playing professionally for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs between 1960-68 as both a pitcher and an outfielder.
After coaching Johnny’s Sunoco Team until 1972, Upham was instrumental in the development and management of a baseball school for Riverside Baseball. The Riverside Midgets won a national championship. He followed this up with two gold medals in 1981 and 1985 at the Canada Games in Thunder Bay and St. John N.B.
As well, in 1982, the Senior Men’s Windsor Chiefs were guided to a national championship under Upham.
Upham brought his baseball knowledge and coaching experience to the Canadian National Youth Team from 1986 to 1990. He was head coach in 1989 and 1990. The youth team attended World Championships in Australia, Quebec and Cuba during his reign as coach.
The 1988 Canadian Olympic team in Seoul South Korea was also coached by Upham, along with 2014 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jim Ridley. There is no doubt Upham played and coached with some of the best baseball people around.
“I played with four Hall of Famers,” said Upham. “Ferguson Jenkins, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.”
There are many notable players that had the honour of playing for Coach Upham. Among them are Denis Boucher (Blue Jays, Indians, Rockies), Derek Aucoin (Expos), Matt Stairs (Jays, Phillies, A’s and other), Rob and Rick Butler (National Team, Jays, Phillies and Rays), Paul Spoljaric (Jays, National Youth Team), Marc Griffin (Dodgers, National team), Andy Lawrence (Mets), Stubby Clapp (Cardinals), Ricky Johnson (National Men’s Team), Bill Byckowski (National Team), Joel Pierce (Brewers), Ryan Lepansee (Diamondbacks), Chris Denis (Brewers), Kevin Mailloux (Mariners), Chris Cullen (Michigan State, Pirates), David Cooper (Windsor Chiefs, Team Canada/PanAm Games), Tom Nelson (National Team) and John Ivan (National Men’s Team).
Beginning in 1992, Upham turned his focus to consulting and coaching Windsor area teams. He has dedicated over two decades of his life to the youth of Windsor. He has been the coach for both the Windsor Select Team and the Riverside bantams. During his time as coach, he led the Riverside team to two silver and one bronze medal at the nationals.
Between 2002 and 2007, he both coached and consulted with several local teams including the Riverside Bantams, Windsor Selects, Tecumseh Rangers and Tecumseh Thunder. The Thunder were twice Ontario champs during this time.
Since 2008, Upham continues to be involved with both Tecumseh teams as well as remaining involved with the Player Development School and is an Ontario Baseball Clinician. Most recently, since 2013, he is using his vast experience to consult with the St. Clair College program (pitching and hitting). He also finds time to assist with summer schools and camps in Belle River, Ont.
The Tecumseh Thunder Midgets were lucky to call him their coach for the 2014 season.
There is no doubt that Upham is worthy of respect as a man who has dedicated much of his life to the game. There are countless players whose lives and careers he has influenced over many decades.
While he hasn’t done it for fame or recognition, it is certainly fitting that the people of Windsor and all Canadian baseball fans applaud his commitment and love for the game.
“Coaching kids is memorable,” said Upham. “I get to share what I have learned.”