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 CHAMPIONS/RANGS

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
 Royaux (saison) 2e 1er 1er 2e 2e 1er 4e 8e 1er 6e
 Royaux (séries) Ronde 1 Champions Finalistes Champions Finalistes Ronde 1 Ronde 1   Champions  
 Provinciale St-Jean Sherbrooke Québec Québec Québec Québec     Trois-Rivières Trois-Rivières
 Saguenay       Jonq-Kéno. Jonq-Kéno Kénogami Kénogami Kénogami Jonquière Chicoutimi
 Can-Am Québec                  
 

Les Royaux poursuivent sur leur lancée et remportent trois autres championnats des séries. Les Montréalais ont la chance de voir jouer des futurs joueurs-étoiles comme Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres. Tommy Lasorda deviendra vite l'un des préférés des partisans. En province, le retour des joueurs bannis dans le baseball majeur donne un coup dur à la Ligue Provinciale. Le calibre de jeu s'en ressent. La ligue parvient néanmoins à assurer une stabilité jusqu'en 1955.

 1954 ROYAUX DE MONTRÉAL / Article: Stew Thornle
Roberto Clemente avec les Royaux de Montréal en 1954. Collection Canadian Baseball HOF.
Was Roberto Clemente hidden in Montréal?

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”  Although this quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, at least one Twain researcher claims a different source. Beyond the content of the quote, its disputed derivation highlights the need to resist the urge to assume something to be true just because it is repeated often enough or is viewed as “common knowledge.”

So it is with Roberto Clemente’s sole season in the minor leagues, with the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1954.  This saga provides a striking example of a story retold so many times that it takes on a life of its own, eventually becoming so accepted as factual that even a careful researcher may fall into the trap of assuming the claims to be true and not feeling the need to verify them.

A complete day-by-day analysis of Clemente's 1954 season compiled by Neil Raymond is available in The National Pastime, available from the University of Nebraska Press, where this article was first published.

      Although Clemente spent his entire major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was originally part of the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.  He signed with the Dodgers in February 1954 for a reported salary of $5,000 as well as a bonus of $10,000.  Rules of the time required a team signing a player for a bonus, including salary, of more than $4,000 to keep him on the major league roster for two years or risk losing him in an off-season draft.  Thus, the Dodgers choice to have Clemente spend 1954 in the minors meant that they might lose him to another team at the end of the season.

      What has been written about Clemente in Montreal contains an assertion that the Dodgers and Royals tried to hide him—that is, play him very little so that other teams wouldn’t notice him. The claim was expressed by Clemente at least as early as 1962 in an article by Howard Cohn in Sport magazine.  “Clemente, on the other hand, felt—and still does—that the Royals kept him out of the regular lineup so big-league teams would think him a weak prospect and ignore him in the post-season draft for which he’d be available as a bonus player if he weren’t elevated to the Brooklyn roster,” wrote Cohn.

      Since then, this claim has been trumpeted in much that has been written about Clemente’s entry into organized baseball, including several biographies; one of them, by Arnold Hano, was written during Clemente’s career, in 1968, and revised following Clemente’s death in 1972; two biographies, by Kal Wagenheim and Phil Musick, were written shortly after Clemente’s death while another, by Bruce Markusen, came out a quarter-century later.  In early 2006, noted biographer David Maraniss, whose works include Vince Lombardi and Bill Clinton, had a biography of Clemente published.

      The biographers and others who maintain that Clemente was hidden—and beyond that, that the organization may have tried to frustrate Clemente to the point that he would jump the team, making him ineligible to be drafted by another team—offer numerous supporting examples.  The examples, with few exceptions, turn out to be false.

Decision on Clemente’s Destination

      The first question, however, concerns not what happened in Montreal but why the Dodgers did not keep Clemente in Brooklyn in 1954.  Many bonus players of this period were kept at the major league level, even though it meant pining on the bench for two years rather than developing in the minors. 

      As vice president of the Dodgers, Emil “Buzzie” Bavasi had the power to determine Clemente’s fate.  In 1955, Bavasi told Pittsburgh writer Les Biederman that the team’s only purpose in signing Clemente had been to keep him away from the New York Giants, even though they knew they would eventually lose him to another team.

      Other explanations offered center around an often-cited but never documented informal quota system said to be in effect in the years following the breaking of the color barrier in organized baseball.  The Dodgers already had five blacks who would play at least semi-regularly on their parent roster in 1954, presumably leaving no room for another player of color.  (The claim of an informal quota is another possible myth that has become widely accepted over time.  A check of a specific claim made in Wagenheim’s biography—that the Dodgers would never start all five blacks at the same time—is false, and there are other reasons to question the general claim of a quota system, but it is beyond the realm of this article to fully explore the issue.)

      Although Bavasi had claimed at the time that they signed Clemente only to keep him from the Giants, in 2005 he offered a different reason.  “I know your sources are not idiots,” he wrote in e-mail correspondence with the author, “but not one of those things you mentioned are [sic] accurate. Let’s start from the beginning.”  Bavasi then wrote that while there was not a quota in effect, race was the factor in their decision to have Clemente play in Montreal rather than Brooklyn:

            “[Dodgers owner] Walter O’Malley had two partners who were concerned about the number of minorities we would be bringing to the Dodgers. . . . The concern had nothing to do with quotas, but the thought was too many minorities might be a problem with the white players.  Not so, I said.  Winning was the important thing.  I agreed with the board that we should get a player’s opinion and I would be guided by the player’s opinion.  The board called in Jackie Robinson.  Hell, now I felt great.  Jackie was told the problem, and, after thinking about it awhile, he asked me who would be sent out if Clemente took one of the spots.  I said George Shuba.  Jackie agreed that Shuba would be the one to go.  Then he said Shuba was not among the best players on the club, but he was the most popular.  With that he shocked me by saying, and I quote: ‘If I were the GM [general manager], I would not bring Clemente to the club and send Shuba or any other white player down.  If I did this, I would be setting our program back five years.’”

Clemente in Montreal

      So Clemente was headed for Montreal to play for manager Max Macon.  According to statements attributed to Clemente in a 1966 Sports Illustrated article by Myron Cope, and later picked up by the biographers, the treatment he faced went beyond an attempt to hide him: “The idea was to make me look bad.  If I struck out, I stayed in there; if I played well, I was benched.”

      Musick, in Who Was Roberto?, added, “A free swinger, Clemente suffered through stretches when he was not making contact with the ball.  Fighting those slumps, he was showcased to disadvantage and stayed in the lineup days at a time.”

      However, box scores from The Sporting News reveal that Macon started Clemente in five straight games early in the season, a strange strategy if a team were trying to hide a player.  Clemente had one hit in the first of those games, started again, had three hits, and started the next three games, coming out of the starting lineup only after going hitless in those final three games.  This would seem to belie the claims that the organization was trying to make him look bad by rewarding a good performance with a benching and vice versa.

      After those five starts, Clemente played sparingly over the next few months.  Clemente may have, in part, been a victim of a crowded outfield situation in Montreal, which included Jack Cassini, Dick Whitman, and Don Thompson as well as Sandy Amoros, who was sent down from Brooklyn in mid-May and recalled by the Dodgers in mid-July, and Gino Cimoli, who was transferred to Montreal from the Dodgers’ other Triple-A farm team, the St. Paul Saints, in early May.  (Clemente’s opportunities to play may not have been any greater had he been assigned to St. Paul rather than Montreal.  With Bud Hutson, John Golich, Bert Hamric, Ed Moore, and Walt Moryn, the Saints, like the Royals, were also heavy on outfielders.)

      When he did play, Clemente struggled with his hitting.  In early July, his batting average was barely above .200.  Part of that may be attributed to his infrequent playing time; it’s hard for a batter to get in a groove and hit well when he doesn’t play regularly.  On the other hand, it’s hard for a player to get regular playing time if he’s not hitting well.

      Macon said the reason he didn’t use him much at that time was that he “swung wildly,” especially at pitches that were outside of the strike zone.  “If you had been in Montreal that year, you wouldn’t have believed how ridiculous some pitchers made him look,” Macon said of Clemente.

      Macon was known around the league for platooning his hitters, and that is what happened with Clemente over the latter part of the season.  In the first game of a doubleheader against Havana on July 25, Clemente entered the game in the ninth inning, came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th, and hit a game-ending home run.

      He started the second game of the doubleheader, against lefthander Clarence “Hooks” Iott; for the rest of the regular season and through the playoffs, the righthanded-hitting Clemente started every game in which the opposing starter was lefthanded and did not start any games against righthanded starters.  After July 25, Clemente’s usage was determined by the status of the opposing starting pitcher.

      Other claims made to support the notion of Clemente being hidden:

·        Clemente hit a long home run in the first week of the season and was benched in the next game. (Clemente did not homer until July 25, and he started the next game.  His only other home run came on September 5, and, like his earlier homer, was a game-ending shot.  Clemente did not start the next game as a righthander, Bob Trice, was the starting pitcher for Ottawa.)

·        Clemente was benched after a game in which he had three triples. (Clemente did not have three triples in any game in 1954.)

·        Clemente was often used only in the second game of a doubleheader, after the scouts had left.  (No such pattern of usage is indicated.)

      The errors noted above were made by Wagenheim, Musick, and Markusen in their biographies.  Maraniss, who went through Montreal newspapers for the 1954 season, avoided many of the inaccurate supporting examples made by the others.  However, Maraniss parroted the claim that Clemente was being set up to fail, writing, “It seemed that whenever he got a chance to play and played well, Macon benched him.”  Maraniss also wrote, “After the first four games, Clemente was leading the team in batting, going four for eight.  Then he disappeared again.”  However, Clemente’s disappearance after getting three hits in the team’s fifth (not fourth) game was not that abrupt; he started and went hitless in the next three games before going back to the bench.

      Overall, Maraniss stuck to the standard story of Clemente being hidden and did not perform any real analysis of the claim.  He also did not pick up on the pattern of usage that eventually developed, in which Clemente started regularly against lefthanded pitching.  As a result, Maraniss cites instances of Clemente not playing over the final seven weeks as being indicative of attempts to hide him, rather than the fact that a righthanded pitcher was starting for the opposing team.

      One claim made by biographers that is true regards Clemente being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the top of the first inning of a game.  It occurred June 7 at Havana.  The Royals had two runs in and the bases loaded with two out when Havana changed pitchers—righthander Raul Sanchez coming in for lefthander Hooks Iott.  Lefthanded Dick Whitman then hit for Clemente.  Although the story is presented as more evidence of how poorly Clemente was treated by Max Macon, it appears clear from the circumstances that it had more to do with Macon’s affinity for platooning and a desire to try and break the game open.

      An essentially opposite situation occurred two months later as Toronto manager Luke Sewell, trying to counteract Macon’s platooning, employed a decoy starter.  In the first game of an August 3 doubleheader, Sewell started righthander Arnie Landeck against the Royals and then relieved him with lefthander Vic Lombardi in the second inning.  As a result, Dick Whitman started for Montreal and was pinch-hit for by Clemente before Whitman could bat even once.  Conveniently, this counterpoint to the June 7 story is never mentioned.

      Also, the details of Clemente getting pulled in the first inning get botched by the biographers.  Markusen says it happened against Richmond in the second week of the season. Musick also says the incident occurred in a game against Richmond.  However, a few pages later, Musick contradicts himself and says the game was in Rochester (wrong in either case), that it was the final game of the season (not true), and that it was against Rochester’s Jackie Collum (strike three).

      The name of Jackie Collum comes up again in a unrelated story by Wagenheim, who wrote that Clemente had two doubles and a triple off Collum and then was pulled for a pinch-hitter his next time up. Nothing like this happened—regardless of the pitcher.

      And one has to wonder about references to Collum by two different biographers.  Collum did not even pitch for Rochester nor in the International League at all in 1954.

      SABR member and Montreal Royals historian Neil Raymond cross-checked the summary compiled by the author from The Sporting News box scores with game accounts and box scores from Montreal newspapers.  (See Clemente’s game-by-game compilation at the end of the article.)  “What becomes apparent going through the Montreal papers daily (La Presse, The Gazette, The Star) is that this team was not perceived as a player development exercise,” maintained Raymond.  “They were expected to win. Translation: Sandy Amoros’s at bats were deemed a lot more valuable than learning what Clemente could do, building his confidence, or training him by exposing him to opportunities to fail by being overmatched.

      “I feel safe in saying that Clemente made very little impression on those who wrote about him during the 1954 campaign.  These were iconoclastic writers.  Their copy was eagerly sought-after breakfast or dinner fodder.  If Clemente was being ‘hidden’ to the detriment of the team’s ability to perform, they would have peeped up.  Not once in my newspaper research is there an allusion to this possibility, or a subtle wink at the canniness of the ‘braintrust.’  As difficult as it may be to accept to those who, like me, marveled at Clemente’s multifarious skills and dynamism throughout the 1960s (the bad-ball hitting, the cannon-like arm, the heady baserunning, etc.), it’s abundantly clear that he was almost an invisible man in Montreal in 1954.” 

A More Plausible Argument?

      It’s possible that the strongest argument for a theory of hiding could revolve around the timing of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ discovery of Clemente and when Clemente began starting regularly against lefthanded pitching.

      The accounts surrounding the discovery are consistent in some ways, albeit consistently inaccurate on some details: Clyde Sukeforth, then a Pirates coach, was dispatched on a scouting mission by Branch Rickey, then the Pirates’ executive vice president-general manager, to check out Montreal pitcher Joe Black.  All accounts say this occurred during a Royals series against Richmond in July.  Almost every story says this series was in Richmond, with some of the accounts specifically mentioning Richmond’s Parker Field, although the only series between the two teams that month was in Montreal.

      Sukeforth said Black did not pitch that series (not true, he did) and that Clemente’s only appearance was as a pinch-hitter (also not true; his only appearance in the series was as a pinch-runner).  Even though Clemente barely appeared in the series, Sukeforth said he noticed, and was impressed by, Clemente while watching him bat and throw in pre-game practice.  On the basis of Sukeforth’s report, Rickey sent scout Howie Haak for a follow-up visit.

      The accounts vary to a much greater degree as to when the Pirates informed the Dodgers and/or Royals that they had discovered Clemente and planned on drafting him.  Some reports contend that Sukeforth immediately told Macon of the Pirates’ interest in Clemente.

      The key is when the Dodgers organization found out that the Pirates were planning to draft Clemente.  If Clemente was first discovered in the Richmond series in July (meaning that the essence of the story of Sukeforth’s scouting trip is correct even if the specific details are not), and if Sukeforth immediately informed Macon, it raises an interesting possibility.  The Richmond series was immediately before the Havana series in which Clemente began starting regularly against lefthanders.

      If the Royals began playing Clemente more after being informed of the Pirates’ interest, then perhaps it could be argued that the Royals had been hiding Clemente up to that point; however, informed that their gambit had failed, they then decided to play Clemente more.

      Even if all these ifs line up, the argument is still a stretch and nothing more than conjecture; however, it is still the most plausible one.

      Interestingly, however, this is not the argument advanced by the biographers nor anyone else claiming that Clemente was being hidden.  In fact, most go in the other direction, saying that the Royals used Clemente even less after being informed of Pittsburgh’s interest.   Wagenheim and Markusen even make the outrageous and totally incorrect claim that Clemente did not play in any of the Royals’ final 25 games.  Although Musick does not make the claim of Clemente not playing in the last 25 games, he writes that Macon restricted Clemente’s playing time even more after Sukeforth’s scouting trip and alleged revelation to Macon.

Treatment of Max Macon

      Markusen at least provided some balance with quotes from Macon in which the manager denied being under orders to hide Clemente.  Musick also provided some of Macon’s denials as well as Macon’s contention that pitchers were making Clemente look ridiculous.  However, Musick offered these explanations on Macon’s part in a patronizing manner as he wrote, “Macon pleads innocence for his former employer twenty years after the fact, but his pleas bring bemused grins to the faces of his contemporaries. And he is part of a baseball establishment that is superprotective of its leaders.  There are no skeletons in baseball’s closet: They are quickly ground to dust and scattered to the four winds, lest men of stature be embarrassed.”  Musick also refers to Macon’s “southern drawl” becoming “increasingly less reassuring to the player’s Puerto Rican ears.”

Drafted by Pittsburgh

      By the end of the 1954 season, it had become clear to Bavasi and the rest of the Brooklyn brass that other teams were interested in Clemente.  However, Bavasi said he still wasn’t ready to give up.  The Pirates, by having the worst record in the majors in 1954, had the first pick in the November draft.

      If Bavasi could get the Pirates to draft a different player off the Montreal Royals’ roster, Clemente would remain with the Dodgers organization.  (Each team could lose only one player, so if a different Montreal player were taken, then no other team could draft Clemente or any other Royals player.)

      Bavasi said he went to Branch Rickey, Sr., who had run the Brooklyn Dodgers before going to Pittsburgh.  Bavasi had declined Rickey’s offer at that time to follow him to the Pirates, but, according to Bavasi, Rickey then told him that, “Should I [Bavasi] need help at anytime, all I had to do was pick up the phone.”

      Bavasi said he used this offer of help in 1954 to get Rickey to agree draft a different player, pitcher John Rutherford, off the Royals roster. However, Bavasi was dismayed to learn two days later that the deal was off and that the Pirates were going to draft Clemente.  “It seemed that Walter O’Malley and Mr. Rickey got in another argument, and it seems Walter called Mr. Rickey every name in the book,” Bavasi explained.  “Thus, we lost Roberto.”

Summary

      Some stories and claims may be difficult to fully verify or refute, and it’s possible that the contention that Clemente was being hidden and/or mistreated in Montreal is one of them.  While this analysis may not provide a definitive answer one way or another, it is telling that the examples used to support the hiding claim are so consistently incorrect.

      In a rather supercilious manner, Phil Musick wrote, “Whether or not the Dodgers consciously tried to hide Clemente from the prying eyes of scouts from other major league clubs is questionable—barely.  The evidence insists that the Dodgers ordered him into virtual seclusion in Montreal; Macon insists otherwise.  The evidence does not support his claim.”32

      In reality, the claims not supported by the evidence are those made by Musick and the other biographers.

A member since 1979, Stew Thornley received the SABR-Macmillan Baseball Research Award in 1988 and the USA Today Baseball Weekly Award for the best research presentation at the 1998 SABR convention in San Mateo, California.

 

 1952-63 LIGUES MINEURES / Article: Michel Nadeau
Raymond Daviault avec Almira en 1955. Collection Alexandre Pratt
Trois heures avec Raymond Daviault

Raymond Daviault, l’un des rares Québécois à avoir joué dans le baseball majeur, nous a présenté avec verve et humour les grandes étapes de sa carrière. La rencontre a duré deux heures, où M. Daviault a raconté son histoire truffée d’anecdotes et où nous l’avons interrompu avec nos questions.

 Né à Montréal en 1934, M. Daviault a grandi à Pointe-aux-Trembles et ce n’est qu’à 14 ans qu’il a commencé à joueur au baseball, grâce aux Frères de la charité qui organisaient un match les samedis contre l’équipe de l’école de réforme. En raison de son talent et de la qualité de son bras, il pouvait joueur jusqu’à 3 parties le samedi, puisqu’il participait aux rencontres de catégories supérieures. Le baseball amateur, à cette époque, était très peu organisé; leur équipe n’avait même pas de chandails. C’est à la suite d’une partie contre Montréal-Est, équipe la plus organisée du coin, qu’il se retrouve dans un contexte plus structuré. Il parvient à faire l’équipe de Montréal-Est, bien qu’il soit plus jeune que les autres joueurs. Au début, il ne lance pas, mais il aura sa chance. En 1951, il joue pour le Junior à Ville-Marie, d’où il participe à un camp d’essai organisé par les Dodgers de Brooklyn. Le camp regroupe l’ensemble des joueurs du Québec qui veulent obtenir une chance. Le camp dure trois jours et Brooklyn est à la recherche de lanceurs au bras puissant. C’est donc la vélocité des tirs qui importe et non la précision. Avec cette façon de faire, aucun joueur de position ne parvient à se démarquer. M. Daviault impressionne les dépisteurs de Brooklyn, qui veulent lui faire signer un contrat. Mais il a 17 ans et n’a pas finit son école secondaire. En attendant d’avoir l’âge requis, il joue dans le senior à Montréal-Est pour 30$ par semaine avec des anciens de la Ligue Provinciale. M. Daviault mentionne, à ce propos, les noms de Ralph Lapointe et d’Earl Jones.

En décembre 1952, M. Daviault reçoit, puis signe, son premier contrat professionnel avec les Dodgers. Le contrat n’est qu’en anglais, langue qu’il ne maîtrise pas. Les Royaux lui avaient envoyé un télégramme. Avec le boni de signature de 250$ (il recevra 150$ par mois des Dodgers), il s’achète un gant Rawling neuf. Deux mois plus tard, il se retrouve au camp des Dodgers à Vero Beach, seul francophone parmi 400 joueurs. Les Blancs et les Noirs sont séparés, et ce, même dans l’équipe la plus avant-gardiste de l’époque en ce qui concerne la fin de la discrimination faite aux Noirs. Il n’y a que des journalistes québécois qui parlent français, ce qui occasionne quelques situations loufoques, comme celle où M. Daviault s’est assis à la table réservée aux joueurs des Dodgers. Il a donc dîné avec le grand club, alors qu’il était une verte recrue. Le camp était intense avec du baseball de 8h30 à 11h30, puis de 13h à 16h, six jours par semaine. Au début, M. Daviault se retrouve au champ droit.

En 1953, il joue quatre parties dans la classe D dans l’État de New York, avant de se retrouver dans la Florida State League où il compile une fiche de 10 victoires et 9 défaites en plus d’obtenir un match complet. Il gagne alors 66$ par deux semaines.

De 1953 à 1961, il joue dans les ligues mineures, à plusieurs niveaux, où il côtoie plusieurs des noms qui ont marqué le baseball, dont Gaylord Perry, Tommy Lasorda, Satchel Paige, Felipe Alou et les grands joueurs des Giants de San Francisco. En 1958, il va joueur à Cuba, où il ne parle pas espagnol et, dans un bar, il fait la connaissance de Rocky Marciano. En 1960, M. Daviault passe des Dodgers aux Giants et il se retrouve dans la Texas League où il conserve une fiche de 13-5 dans le AA. Il joue ensuite à Tacoma dans le AAA. En 1961, au camp des Giants, où s’entraînent les grands noms de l’équipe, il fait bien, au point où il se déniche un poste de set-up man dans l’enclos des releveurs, mais il se blesse au dos à la fin du camp, si bien qu’il ne fait pas l’équipe et est retourné dans le AAA. Il n’est pas rappelé de l’année, puisque les Giants savent qu’il y aura un repêchage d’expansion pour la saison suivante et qu’ils pourront obtenir 75 000$ de compensation pour Daviault.

De fait, en 1962, il est réclamé par les Mets, alors dirigé par Casey Stengel. Ce dernier, reconnu pour son langage bizarre, est un être drôle capable de prononcer le nom de Daviault correctement. Lors du camp d’entraînement, et alors que tous les joueurs sont dans le champ extérieur, Stengel fait venir Daviault dans l’abri pour discuter hockey avec lui. Il lui fait promettre de rien dire aux journalistes, qui pensent alors que Frenchy sera le lanceur partant du match inaugural. M. Daviault conserve de vifs souvenirs de sa seule saison dans le baseball majeur, année où les Mets ont battu un record de médiocrité. Il se souvient de sa fiche, des frappeurs à qui il a accordé des circuits, des joueurs qui lui avaient son numéro, de son seul coup sûr en carrière.

Il a terminé le rencontre en déplorant le fait que la Ligue Provinciale lui avait mis dans bâtons dans les roues après son séjour avec les Mets en lui interdisant, pendant deux ans, de jouer à Sherbrooke, se qui lui aurait permis de toucher 300 ou 400$ par semaine.

At this meeting, Raymond Daviault, one of only a handful of Quebecers to have played in the major leagues (the original Amazin’ Mets in 1962), described, with much verve and humour, the highlights of his career. For two hours or more, Mr. Daviault detailed his baseball history -  underscored with any number of anecdote - and answered questions.

Born in Montreal in 1934, and raised in Pointe-aux-Trembles, Mr. Daviault did not begin playing baseball until age 14 when he was introduced to the game by the Brothers of Charity (Frères de la charité), who had organized a games against a team from a local reform school. He immediately showed a talent for the game and a strong arm, and soon he was playing as many as three games on a Saturday, and in higher categories. This was a time when amateur baseball was loosely organized; in fact his team(s) didn’t even have proper uniforms.

Mr Daviault’s first experience in a properly organized game was against Montréal-East, the best organized team in the neighbourhood. He tried out for, and made, that team even though he was younger than the other players. Although at first, he was given little opportunity to pitch, he eventually he was able to show his mettle.

By 1951, he was playing for the Ville-Marie junior team and that led to a three day try-out camp organized by the Brooklyn Dodgers, which brought together the best players in Quebec. Brooklyn was especially keen on finding pitchers wth strong arms, looking for velocity, not precision, and, consequently, position players were out of luck.

Mr. Daviault made enough of an impression that the Dodgers offered him a contract. However, he was only seventeen and still in high school, and so had to wait. In the interval he played for the Montréal-East senior squad, at $30 a week, against former players from the Provincial League, including, he noted, Ralph Lapointe and Earl Jones.

In December 1952, Mr. Daviault signed his first professional contract, with the Dodgers. It was written in English, a language he did not understand well. With his signing bonus of $250 (he was to receive $150 a month from the Dodgers), he went out and bought a new Rawlings glove.

Two months later he found himself in Vero Beach, the only francophone among 400 attending spring training with the Dodgers. He was struck by the fact that in Florida black players were kept separate from white players, and this on the most forward-looking of teams at a time when racial discrimination was coming to an end. Apart from the odd writer from Quebec, there was no one around who could speak French, and this led to some odd situations - such as the time Mr. Daviault found himself in the cafeteria sitting at the table reserved for the Dodgers’ players. Here he was, a raw rookie, dining with the great Dodgers’ team! Spring trainng was very intense, with baseball taking up most of the day – runnning from 8:30 to 11:30 in the morning and again from 1-4 in the afternoon, six days at week.. At first, they did not know what to do with him – so  Mr. Daviault, to be safe, parked him out to right field!

In 1953, Mr Daviault played four games at the Class D level in New York State before finding himself in the Florida State League where he compiled a record of 10 wins against 9 defeats, with one complete game. He was earning $66 every two weeks.

From 1953 to 1961 he played in the minor leagues at several different levels, and crossed paths with a number of individuals who were to leave their mark on the game – including  Gaylord Perry, Tommy Lasorda, Satchel Paige, Felipe Alou, and the greats of the early San Francisco Giants. In 1958, he spent the winter playing in Cuba, even though he knew no Spanish, and there struck up a friendship with Rocky Marciano whom he had met in a bar. In 1960, Mr. Daviault moved from the Dodgers to the Giants and the AA Texas League where he put together a 13-5 record. This led directly to AAA and Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League.

In 1961 at spring training with the Giants, surrounded by the mighty names that define that team, he performed well enough to be pencilled in as a set-up man. However, toward the end of camp he hurt his back and was shipped out to AAA where he spent the year. He was not recalled because the Giants knew that with the expansion draft coming up at the end of the year Daviault was a prime candidate and that they would probably be able to get $75 000 for him in compensation.

In fact, he was claimed by Casey Stengle and the Mets in 1962. Stengle was a character, known among other things for the way he mangled the language – but strangely enough he never had problems with the correct pronunciation of Daviault. One time during the pre-season, and while all the players were in the outfield, Stengle called for Mr. Daviault to join him in the dugout – not to criticize him for anything, but to discuss hockey!! Stengle made him promise not to say anything to the media lunking nearby. They interpreted the silence to mean that Stengle had named ‘Frenchy’ to be the team’s Opening Day pitcher.

Mr. Daviault has only the fondest memories of his one season in the major leagues, the year when the Mets set the standard for mediocrity. He remembers his record (1-6; 6.22 ERA), the batters who had his number and his one hit in the big leagues.

He wrapped up his talk – it was more like a conversation – by saying that his one disappointment came at the end of his professional career when he sought to hook up with Sherbrooke of the restructured Provincial League, and was prevented by league rules from doing so. He would have to wait out two years – which meant, among other things, that he lost out on an opportunity to earn as much as $300 to $400 per week.

We were delighted with Mr. Daviault’s visit, and thank him profusely for his generous and most welcomed participation.

(English version by Bill Young)

 

 1949-1955 QUEBEC CITY / Article: Daniel Papillon

George Maranda avec les Braves de Québec en 1952. Collection Alexandre Pratt

L'histoire des Braves de Québec

De 1949 à 1955, la ville de Québec fut représentée dans le baseball professionnel pas les Braves de Québec.  D’abord dans la ligue Canado-Américaine (1949-50), puis dans la ligue Provinciale (1951-55).  Durant cette période, l’équipe connut un succès fulgurant.  La formation québécoise sortait d’une série de trois saisons où elle avait croupi au dernier rang de la ligue Canado-Américaine.

M. Ulysse Ste-Marie, propriétaire de l’équipe, décida, au terme de la saison 1948, que son équipe avait connu assez d’insuccès.  Il commence par changer le nom de l’équipe; dorénavant les Alouettes s’appelleront les Braves.  Il met fin également à son association avec les Giants de New York. Il faut dire que l’organisation new-yorkaise ne s’était pas montrée très généreuse dans l’envoi de joueurs de talent à Québec.  Redevenus indépendants, les Braves changent de philosophie, Ste-Marie veut du succès et ce, rapidement.

Plusieurs vétérans des ligues mineures et quelques uns des ligues majeures sont embauchés.  D’abord un nouvel entraîneur, Frank McCormick, ancien premier but vedette des Reds de Cincinnati.  Il s’était également illustré avec les Phillies de Philadelphie et les Braves de Boston avec qui d’ailleurs, il venait tout juste de participer à la Série mondiale de 1948.

Sa carrière dans la ligue Nationale fut des plus intéressantes.  Il a joué plus de 1500 parties et a maintenu une moyenne au bâton de .299.  Il a participé à 3 séries mondiales (1939, 1940 et 1948), remportant celle de 1940.  Il a également pris part à 6 parties d’étoiles et fut élu le joueur le plus utile à son équipe dans la ligue Nationale en 1940.

Sous la tutelle de McCormick, les Braves remportent 90 victoires en 1949, soit 34 de plus que la saison précédente.  Ils sont couronnés champions de la ligue Canado-Américaine, remportant leurs 8 parties d’après saison sans subir de défaites.

McCormick n’aura fait que passer.  En 1950 il quitte et cède sa place à George McQuinn, un autre vétéran premier but des ligues majeures (principalement avec les Browns de St-Louis et les Yankees de New York).  Sous la gouverne de McQuinn (1950 à 1954) les succès s’accumulent.

L’édition de 1950 des Braves de Québec fut honorée en 2002 à l’occasion du 100e anniversaire de « Minor League Baseball » (précédemment National Association).  Un classement des 100 meilleures équipes des ligues mineures de tous les temps fut établi par les historiens Bill Weiss et Marshall Wright,  les Braves de Québec de 1950 ont décroché le 96e rang.

L’équipe termina la saison avec un dossier de 97 victoires et 40 défaites (moyenne .708) et mena la ligue également pour la moyenne au bâton et celle des points mérités.  Fait à noter, l’équipe reçu un total de 1 009 buts sur balle, soit à peu près un but sur balle à toutes les 5 présences au bâton.  Garland « Butch » Lawing qui avait joué quelques parties en 1946 avec les Reds de Cincinnati et les Giants de New York fut l’étoile de l’équipe au bâton (.346 ,19 ,141), au monticule 2 lanceurs remportèrent 20 victoires, soient; Fred Belinski 22-6 et Hal Erickson 20-7.  Ce dernier réussit à se tailler une place avec les Tigers de Détroit en 1953 à l’âge de 34 ans.

Pendant la saison morte, une entente intervient entre la ligue Provinciale et la ligue Canado-Américaine, ainsi, les équipes de Trois-Rivières et Québec passent à la ligue Provinciale.  Des raisons économiques, principalement les coûts de transport, motivent ce transfert.

La saison 1951 est un peu plus difficile pour les Braves.  Ils terminent au 4e rang du classement de la ligue Provinciale avec une fiche de 65 victoires et 58 défaites.  Néanmoins, ils participent aux séries éliminatoires et battent Granby 4-0 dans la première ronde.  Ils s’inclinent cependant en finale 4-1 contre les Athlétiques de Sherbrooke.

Carlton Willey des Braves de Québec, et plus tard des Braves de Milwaukee, domine la ligue avec une moyenne de points mérités de 1.95.  Un événement important survient cette année-là dans la ligue Provinciale.  Sam Bankhead (frère de Dan Bankhead des Dodgers de Brooklyn) est embauché comme joueur-gérant par les Pirates de Farnham.  Il devient ainsi le premier gérant noir dans le baseball organisé.

En 1952, les Braves connaissent une bien meilleure saison.  Ils terminent la campagne au 2e rang avec un dossier de 78 victoires et 51 défaites.  À la suite des séries éliminatoires, les Braves réussissent à redevenir champions et ce, pour une troisième fois en 4 ans.  Ce ne fut pas sans difficultés cependant.  En effet, Québec arrache la victoire au Yankees de Trois-Rivières lors de la 7e partie de la demie-finale et fait la même chose en finale contre les Athlétiques de St-Hyacinthe.

La saison suivante, l’équipe glisse au 3e rang de la ligue Provinciale avec une fiche de 71 victoires et 52 défaites.  Les Braves conservent néanmoins leur championnat en battant d’abord Sherbrooke (4-1) et ensuite Granby (4-3).  Deux joueurs des Braves se retrouvent parmi les meneurs de la ligue, soient; John Werner avec 118 points produits et le lanceur Al Dumouchelle avec une moyenne de points mérités de 2.29.

Le 15 juillet 1953, les Braves de Québec accueillent leurs grands frères de la ligue Nationale, les Braves de Milwaukee.  En effet, une partie d’exhibition est organisée entre les deux clubs à l’occasion de la pause du match des étoiles de la ligue Nationale.  Les Braves de Milwaukee l’emportent facilement au compte de 8 à 0 devant 7 368 spectateurs. Les six lanceurs qui défilèrent au monticule pour Milwaukee (Spahn, Bickford, Burdette, Surkont, Wilson et Jay) n’accordèrent aucun point et aucun coup sûr.

Le dernier lanceur utilisé par Milwaukee était un jeune espoir du nom de Joe Jay.  Il n’avait que 17 ans et en était à son 1er match dans le baseball organisé.  Il n’accorda qu’un seul but sur balle à Québec lors des 4 dernières  manches.

En 1954, les Braves de Québec connaissent une excellente saison et terminent au 1er rang de la ligue Provinciale avec 80 victoires contre 48 revers.  Pour une troisième saison d’affilée, les Braves sont champions de la ligue.  Pour ce faire, ils ont du défaire d’abord Trois-Rivières (4-3) et ensuite Drummondville (4-2).

Le diminutif Mike Fandozzi qui joue à Québec depuis 1949, connaît une saison du tonnerre.  Il termine au premier rang de la ligue pour la moyenne au bâton, .338, les points marqués 110 et le nombre de coups sûrs 123.  Chez les lanceurs, le jeune Matt Peoplis domine au chapitre de la moyenne de points mérités (2.34) et des retraits au bâton (220).

Après 5 saisons passées à Québec, le gérant George McQuinn obtient une promotion avec les Crackers d’Atlanta.  Pour lui succéder, on choisit le vétéran joueur d’utilité des Braves de Boston et de Milwaukee, Sibby Sisti.  Les Braves connaissent une autre excellente saison avec 81 victoires et 48 défaites, mais terminent, malgré tout, au 2e rang derrière les Canadiens de St-Jean.  Lors des séries d’après saison, Québec affronte d’abord Trois-Rivières et l‘emporte 4 à 2.  En finale, les Braves défont les surprenants Athlétiques de Burlington ( 4-1 ) qui en étaient à leur première saison dans la ligue Provinciale.

Sur le plan individuel, le voltigeur des Braves, Bill Robertson connaît une saison remarquable.  Il est champion frappeur avec une moyenne de .342 et termine premier pour les coups sûrs (173) et les points produits (108).

À la fin du mois de mai 1955, les Braves de Milwaukee vinrent jouer une autre partie d’exhibition contre ceux de Québec.  Le match nécessite 10 manches et les Braves de Milwaukee gagnèrent (5-3)  sur un coup sûr de Bobby Thomson.  Les spectateurs eurent droit qu’à un seul coup de circuit pendant la rencontre et il fut frappé par le futur roi des quatre buts, Henry Aaron.

Un incident qui aurait pu être tragique est survenu au-dessus de Montréal quand l’avion qui amenait les Braves de Milwaukee à Québec a failli entrer en collision avec un chasseur de l’aviation canadienne.  L’histoire du baseball aurait été sans contredit bouleversée.  Quelques futurs membres du Temple de la Renommée se trouvaient à bord de l’avion.  Eddie Mathews et Hank Aaron commençaient à peine leur carrière.

Après la saison 1955, la ligue Provinciale cessa ses activités.  Les Braves de Québec auront existé pendant 7 ans.  Ils furent champions de leur ligue à 6 reprises accumulant 562 victoires contre seulement 346 défaites jouant ainsi pour une moyenne de .619.

L’équipe connut également beaucoup de succès au guichet du stade Municipal, attirant durant cette période 838 550 spectateurs, pour une moyenne de près de 120 000 par année.  À chaque saison, Québec a dominé sa ligue au chapitre des assistances.

Ce fut sans aucun doute, la période de gloire du baseball professionnel à Québec.  

 1950-1971 QUEBEC / Article: Daniel Papillon
George McQuinn et Sibby Sisti, des Braves de Québec, en compagnie du Bonhomme Carnaval, la mascotte du Carnaval de Québec, en 1955. Collection Daniel Papillon
Le baseball à Québec dans les années 1950

Le gérant Frank McCormick ne revient pas en 1950.  Il est remplacé par George McQuinn, un autre vétéran 1er but du baseball majeur, qui s’est illustré principalement avec les Browns de St-Louis et les Yankees de New York.  Le noyau de joueurs de l’équipe n’a pas été touché et l’équipe atteint de nouveaux sommets.  La fiche des Braves est de 97 victoires et 40 défaites, pour une moyenne de .708.  Ils sont à nouveau couronnés champions.

Pour des raisons strictement économiques, Trois-Rivières et Québec reviennent dans la ligue Provinciale en 1951.  Les Braves connaissent une moins bonne saison et l’équipe de George McQuinn s’incline en finale contre Sherbrooke.  Fait à souligner, cette saison représente la première où Québec est membre du réseau de la filiale des Braves de Boston.

Avant la saison, Georges Maranda un espoir de Lévis, avait signé un contrat avec les Braves de Boston.  Il fut assigné à l’équipe de Québec où il joua pendant 3 saisons. (1951-53).

Au cours des quatre saisons suivantes, les Braves ne gagnent pas moins que quatre championnats.  En plus des succès sur le terrain, Québec domine la ligue au chapitre des assistances à chaque saison.

Plusieurs joueurs marqueront cette époque des Braves.  Les Roger McCardell, Raymond Lagüe, Ed Charles, John Werner, Al Dumouchelle, Bill Robertson, Humberto Robinson, etc...  donnèrent des allures de dynastie aux Braves de Québec.  Un seul joueur cependant fut associé aux Braves pendant toute leur existence, il s’agit de Mike Fandozzi.  Il demeura avec les Braves pendant 7 saisons, refusant même d’être assigné à d’autres équipes.

Cette période fut marquée par quelques évènements importants pour la ville de Québec.  D’abord le 7 juillet 1953 le match des étoiles de la ligue Provinciale.  Les équipes affiliées aux équipes de la ligue Nationale affrontaient celles de l’Américaine.  Québec était représentée par 7 joueurs en plus du gérant George McQuinn.  L’équipe représentant la ligue Nationale l’emporta 6 à 5 en 11e manche.  La victoire va au lanceur des Braves de Québec, Raymond Lagüe.

Quelques jours plus tard, soit le 15 juillet 1953, les Braves de Milwaukee viennent jouer une partie d’exhibition à Québec.  Une foule enthousiaste de 7 368 spectateurs se présente au stade pour assister à la partie.  Ils auront droit à une partie sans point ni coup sûr.  En effet, les six lanceurs des Braves de Milwaukee réussissent cet exploit dans une victoire de 8-0.

Les Braves de Milwaukee forment une très bonne équipe et plusieurs vedettes composent leur alignement.  Ainsi, les gens de Québec ont pu voir évoluer les; Joe Adcock, Johnny Logan, Andy Pafko, Eddie Mathews et Warren Spahn.  Ces deux derniers sont maintenant membres du Temple de la Renommée du Baseball.

En juillet 1954, Québec reçoit la visite des Harlem Globe Trotters dans un match hors concours contre la Maison de David.  Aujourd’hui, les Harlem Globe Trotters sont connus pour leur équipe de basketball, mais pendant plusieurs années, ils ont eu également une équipe de baseball.  En 1954, la vedette de l’équipe était Satchel Paige.  Pour ce qui est de l’équipe de la Maison de David, elle fait des tournées depuis 1919 et elle était venue à Québec à quelques occasions auparavant.

L’été 1955 est marqué par une autre visite des Braves de Milwaukee.  Pour cette occasion des estrades supplémentaires sont ajoutées, on attend une foule de près de 10 000 personnes.  La partie a eu lieu le 31 mai et un froid quasi sibérien ramène le nombre de spectateurs à 5 400.

La partie se termine en 11e manche et c’est Bobby Thompson qui donne la victoire aux Braves de Milwaukee.  Le même Thompson qui avait donné une victoire mémorable quelques années auparavant aux Giants de New York. 

Un seul circuit frappé lors de cette rencontre et ce fut par Hank Aaron qui allait devenir le roi des coups de circuit.

Après la saison 1955, malgré des succès très intéressants pour Québec, la ligue Provinciale cesse ses opérations. L’avènement de la télévision aura des répercussions importantes sur le nombre d’équipes et de ligues mineures partout aux États-Unis et au Canada.

De 1955 à 1970

Cette période est caractérisée par deux choses, d’abord l’absence de baseball dit « professionnel » à Québec et l’acharnement d’un homme pour la survie de ce sport ici.  En effet, Hughes Beaudoin déploiera beaucoup d’efforts pour que durant ces années, la ville de Québec ait une équipe de baseball.

Il fit revivre, sans beaucoup de succès, le nom des Alouettes avec une équipe dans la ligue Québec District, puis les Indiens renaissent.  Ils joueront dans une nouvelle ligue, soit la ligue de Mauricie.

Son existence sera très courte et les Indiens reviennent dans la ligue Provinciale.  Le calibre de cette ligue n’est pas le même qu’il y a quelques années.  Les joueurs ne sont pas des professionnels et la très grande majorité sont québécois francophone                          

La ligue s’appelle Provinciale, mais la province est divisée en deux.  Aucune équipe de la région de Montréal n’est représentée dans cette ligue.  Il faudra attendre encore quelques années pour voir la fusion des deux grands circuits provinciaux.

En 1960, les Indiens battent les Royaux de Drummondville en finale et sont couronnés champions de la ligue.  Par la suite, la ligue connaît certaines difficultés et Québec doit se doter d’une deuxième équipe, les Athlétiques, pour assurer la survie de la ligue.              

En 1965, la ligue Provinciale fusionne avec celle des Cantons de l’Est.  Au milieu de cette saison, le gérant Ed Lyons et quelques joueurs américains débarquent à Québec.  Le calibre de jeu s’améliore et les assistances aussi.  Pour la saison 1966, on accorde le droit aux 9 organisations de la ligue de mettre sous contrat 6 joueurs américains chacune.  Par la suite, ce plafond augmentera et à la dernière saison de la ligue, soit en 1970, presque tous les joueurs francophones auront disparu.  Trois-Rivières et Québec qui étaient les deux villes qui attiraient le plus de spectateurs, font un retour dans le baseball organisé en 1971.  En effet, ces deux villes qui ont une histoire de baseball très similaire obtiennent chacune une franchise dans la ligue Eastern (calibre AA).

 
La suite dans la section Années 70

 

 1951 LIGUE PROVINCIALE / Article: Bill Young
Le stade de Sherbrooke en feu, en septembre 1951. Collection Bill Young
Baseball Stadium Destroyed by Fire

The timing could not have been worse.  

On September 19, 1951, fifty-five years ago, just hours after the Sherbrooke Athletics baseball club had defeated the Quebec Braves before an ecstatic overflow crowd at Sherbrooke’s Park Avenue stadium to claim the Provincial League championship, the old ballpark burned to the ground.

Victory celebrations had not even properly begun when word filtered out that the weary wooden structure was ablaze. The fire, which seems to have broken out around 4:30 am, raged through the stands unchecked, until by 6 am little remained but smoldering embers – and the charred hopes and dreams of every baseball fan in town.

“It was a pretty depressing sight,” recalls, Normand Dussault, the team’s long-serving centre fielder who visited the ruins the next day. “There was nothing left at all, except a bit of the stands at the far end.”

The Sherbrooke nine was the class of the league in 1951. Led by such outstanding performers as Silvio Garcia and Claro Duany, Ray Brown and Roland Gladu, the Athletics had captured the league pennant by holding off strong challenges from both Granby and Drummondville. They then dominated the playoffs, rolling past first Drummondville and now Quebec, wrapping up the title with a 7-6 victory over the Braves in that last game at home.

And what a beautiful victory it was. In the soft fresh air of an autumn night, 4,200 frenzied fans had cheered as the Athletics scored 5 runs in the last two innings to seal the win.  They had cheered again when League President Albert Molini presented the Brouillette trophy to manager Roland Gladu with team officials beaming in the background, and then once more they – this time for themselves. They were the champions. For the first time since 1948, the laurels had returned to the Queen City.

When the lights were finally dimmed and the multitude filed out through the stadium gates and onto Park Avenue, their joy was palpable. How could they have known that it was all about to go up in smoke? Literally. 

Park Avenue Stadium had been built in 1938, with a seating capacity of 3,600. It was considered more than adequate in its day, but by 1951 it had grown tired. The timbers and planks that made up its main structure were weathered and warped - and very dry. Although no one liked to admit it, the stadium was a fire hazard.

As La Tribune observed, “We got lucky this time; for the disaster we avoided has always been there, lurking. Had the fire broken out while the final game was still underway, the consequences could have been tragic.”

“The building was all in wood,” says Dussault. “The seats were bleacher type – you sat on large boards – except in the reserved boxes in front for the rich people. They had folding chairs, like picnic chairs. When it went up, it went fast.”

Small fires under the stands, usually started by a cigarette butt dropped through the floorboards, were not that unusual. Ivan Dugré, team president, speaking in the aftermath of the conflagration, recalled that on May 27, three different fires had broken out, all within a few hours of each other.

“The next day,” he said, “I asked M. Delauriers [town representative] to send the fire department after every game to check for fires, and what was the answer? Three days later the council wrote to say that we could no longer sell peanuts at the ball park! This story appeared in every newspaper on the continent and made Sherbrooke the laughing stock of baseball.” Indeed, peanuts had been outlawed. It seems the discarded husks were thought to be a fire risk.

How unfortunate both for the dignity of Sherbrooke and the fate of the ball park that the city had not taken M. Dugré’s suggestion more seriously. Compared to the economic calamity now facing them, the cost would have been – well, peanuts.

No one could be certain how the fire started – indeed a discarded cigarette was the prime suspect - but its source appeared to lie in the centre section of stands. From there the blaze spread quickly in two directions, so that by the time help arrived the whole structure was an inferno, impossible to control.

 It was reported that flames climbed hundreds of feet into the air, even reaching the tops of the light standards; while the intense heat completely bent the metal posts supporting the protective netting behind home plate. There was little firefighters could do except hose down neighboring trees to keep the blaze from spreading.

Apart from the stadium lights and a few blackened seats along the third base line, the fire consumed everything in its path - right down to the players’ gear, restaurant fixtures and supplies, and even boards for a nearby hockey rink that were stored inside. Damage was estimated at $100, 000; the stadium had been insured for $30,000.

Planning for the Future

As soon as it learned of the fire, the municipality responded. “Reacting with unaccustomed speed,” (La Tribune), city council convened that same night to discuss rebuilding the stadium and adopting the mandatory loan by-law that this would require. Preliminary estimates set the cost of a modern re-enforced concrete facility at about $325,000.  

To borrow such an amount required the approval of ratepayers by referendum, and it was first thought that this could be accomplished within the month. There seemed little doubt that the vote would carry.  As the local press observed, “It is evident that a large portion of the population of Sherbrooke and environs has a keen interest in baseball.”

In fact, a somewhat envious president of local hockey operations wondered aloud if “it would be nasty of me to suggest that a similar disaster would bring to Sherbrooke a new, spacious and modern arena?”

Two weeks later, on October 3, council formally ratified its course of action and engaged architect Jean-Paul Audet to prepare plans for a 4000-seat baseball stadium.

It looked as though all was falling in place – but rough spots were beginning to appear. Indeed, following the reading of the resolution, one councilor called out, “I though we had decided on 3000 seats,” to which Chairman Armand Fisette replied, “In principle, it is for 4000 seats.” The flummoxed councilor could only retort. “In principle! You are adding 1000 seats in principle!”

And then, as the enormity of the task set in, everything came to a standstill.

It became evident that management of the loan by-law and referendum would take longer than first thought. Essential building materials were in short supply and increasingly difficult to acquire. And the contract to clean up the site of the stadium fire had not even been issued.

Although council continued to declare that “a baseball stadium, either temporary or permanent, will be available to the Sherbrooke Athletics for the 1952 baseball season,” these words offered cold comfort to local sporting types.  They were, it was reported, “waiting with barely contained impatience for news about the baseball stadium,” and already betting that it might not be ready on time.

Columnist Jean-Paul Lainé began warning that “unless firm actions come from the council now, in favor of the reconstruction project, local baseball will end.” But he was already too late.

The death blow came on November 15.

On that day club directors announced to an uncomprehending and shocked community that there would be no baseball in 1952. It mattered not that Sherbrooke had drawn more that 100,000 souls to its games last year, or that the Athletics were reigning champions of the Provincial League. Too much was still unsettled, they claimed, the risks too untenable. Team president Ivan Dugré made it official.

 “We have asked for a written response from council and we have not received it,”’ he declared. “We cannot take the risk of a financial disaster based on unofficial answers. It will soon be two months since the stadium was destroyed by fire and the council has done nothing. ..There was time to hold the necessary referendum, but now two months later all we get is unofficial promises.”

The team owners were not bluffing. Their decision was final.

Although municipal authorities, reeling from this unexpected turn of events, tried to push things ahead faster, there was little they could do. Council was bound to a set of formal regulations and procedures governing municipal loans and referenda that could not be short-circuited. Their best hope – really their only hope - was to be ready for 1953.

League President Albert Molini, who had remained aloof throughout these discussions, now sought to cover his tracks. “After a season like the one you had last year it make no sense for Sherbrooke to abandon baseball,” he pronounced. “There absolutely has to be a solution to this problem, and from what I read in the papers, the city is willing to do even more than its share.”

However, ever the pragmatist, Molini did leave the door open for the following year, assuring that “there will always be a place for the Sherbrooke club when they are ready to return in 1953.”

And with that Organized Baseball vanished from the playing fields of Sherbrooke in 1952.

The city did come through in the end, successfully conducting the promised referendum in February, and in late March issuing tenders for a modern concrete stadium. It would be built on the site of the old one, a fact that Dussault found wryly amusing.

“They built in the same place. I know because of left field. There was an up-slope in left field and it made it tough to get up there and catch the ball without falling down.” He laughs about it now. “I was a centre fielder but sometimes I had to chase a ball in left-centre and it was hard. They built a new ball park but they didn’t do anything to left field!”

The team kept to its plan, shutting down operations and liquidating assets. Most players were sold to other clubs at an average price of $500; a few were declared free agents. Share holders received a return of $58 per $100 invested. And then on March 30, 1952, the directors closed the books. And resigned.

Meanwhile people were turning their attention to the fortunes of their local entry in the Quebec Senior Hockey League. The Quebec Aces had unveiled a new star, Jean Beliveau, and he was becoming a sensation right across the circuit. They forgot about baseball.

Until the spring, when neighboring towns began announcing player signings and preparing for another round of the summer game: when all that Sherbrooke could offer to remind of past joys were the twisted ruins of an old ball park and blistered echoes of a  final game. There was nothing then to do but turn away.

Postscript

Baseball and the Provincial League did come back to Sherbrooke in 1953, as Molini had promised. The new team, now called the Indians, did get to play in a modern concrete stadium. It even finished first in the league. However, the team only attracted half the number of spectators that had cheered on the Athletics before the fire. 

Nothing would ever match the glory of 1951: that had been lost forever.

 

 1952 NORTHERN LEAGUE / Article: Christian Trudeau
First season for a young pitcher, last season for a small city

Farnham, summer of 1952. A 17 year-old right-handed pitcher named Bill O’Donnell, who had just graduated from his high school in upstate New York, took his first steps in baseball and in adulthood. At the same time, the city of Farnham lived its final days as a baseball city.

After emerging as a good baseball town during the war, Farnham became a solid part of the Provincial League afterward. Known for its link with the black baseball community, Farnham fielded interesting albeit not always successful teams, culminating in a presence in the finals in 1949, where the Pirates pushed the heavy favorites Drummondville Cubs to the series-limit of 9 games.

However, attendance always lagged behind other teams, and when the league joined organized baseball, and furthermore Quebec City and Trois-Rivières joined the league in 1951, Farnham became too small a city, its stadium too old, its attendance too sparse for the league. Still, Farnham gained a little national recognition when its Pirates became in 1951 the first team in organized baseball to have an African-American manager, Sam Bankhead.

Back to the 1952 season and O’Donnell. Not really aware of the situation in Farnham, O’Donnell was just happy to be paid to play baseball. The league he joined was the Northern League, a longtime league that was historically based in Vermont, but that year had teams in Plattsburgh and Malone, New York, as well as St. Albans and Burlington, Vermont.

The Northern League had for a long time been a natural competitor for the Provincial League, aligning former major leaguers, suspended players, young prospects and college players. However, since the late 1940s, the league had essentially become a summer league for college players.

O’Donnell had been scouted a few months earlier by Lefty Lloyd of the Philadelphia Athletics, which arranged for him a scholarship to Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In the meantime, he assigned O’Donnell to Farnham. While college players were supposed to remain strictly amateurs, they were paid “under the table” in the Northern League. O’Donnell, one of the few players in the league who had not yet started his college career, was paid around 175$ per month.

“In retrospect it seemed like a magical summer for me, not least of which was being in French-speaking Quebec.  I felt far from home and quite independent and free”, remembers O’Donnell, in a discussion by emails.

O’Donnell recalls living at the Hotel Martin in Farnham, traveling with taxi squads, swimming in a nearby body of water and dating a local girl. All this and being paid to play baseball, not bad for a 17 years old!

The Farnham Pirates were managed by Joe Krakowski, a former pitcher who had been Farnham’s player-manager in 1948-49, where he had records of 4-6 and 9-9. His whereabouts in 1950-51 are unknown, but there he was in 1952, managing some young college players.

On the team were also many players who would go on to have long pro careers: pitchers Tom Tewkesbury, Bob Thwaites and Jim Pelcher, first baseman Hugo Guidotti, shortstop Norm Griffin, outfielders Ron Cooper and Jack Vail, infielder Bob Ricciani and catcher Bobby Walsh.

The star of the league was however a young pitcher with St. Albans, Joey Jay, who went on to a long major league career.

Attendance remained poor in Farnham, and soon, the team was unable to pay its players and forced to fold. For a young pitcher like O’Donnell, this was only a small bump on the road. However, for his manager Joe Krakowski, it was a lot more tragic:

“An image I have in memory from 54 years ago in 1952 is of Joe and his wife.  The Farnham team had just folded.  Joe and his wife were seated on a couch in the darkened lobby of the Hotel Martin.  She was comforting Joe and he was resting his head on her shoulder.  And Joe felt really bad and was actually weeping a bit.  I heard her softly refer to him by her apparent pet name for him -- "Krakas."  I'll never forget that scene.  I was only 17, and Joe was at the end or near the end of his career...sort of an adolescent "rite of passage" for me, as I had an introduction to another side of professional baseball...” remembers O’Donnell.

O’Donnell rebounded quickly, replacing Joey Jay with St. Albans, who had left the team.

It was the end of pro baseball for Farnham, and the final season of the Northern League, but only the start for O’Donnell. He left his scholarship at Villanova for a chance to pitch professionally. In 1953, he pitched for Oshkosh in the Wisconsin State League, where he met his future wife. Then, he moved to St. Cloud in the Northern League (the one in the Midwest, not the one in Vermont). In 1955, he was in the Tri-State League, pitching for Rock Hill.

After the 1955 season, O’Donnell was at a crossroad, and he ended up quitting baseball to get married and start a family. He went back to college and graduate school and became a clinical psychologist, specializing in children and family therapy.

If any of you have more details about that 1952 season in Farnham, contact Bill O’Donnell at carmbill@gmail.com.

This fortunate meeting with Bill O’Donnell provides two new key informations: first, to my knowledge, it was unknown that Farnham was ever part of the Northern League. Merritt Clifton’s book mentions Chateauguay as a league member in 1951-52. It seems probable that Farnham replaced Chateauguay for 1952. Also, it was not known that Farnham was ever part of any other pro baseball league after its departure from the Provincial League in 1952. It was even indirectly implied in Clifton’s books that the stadium was demolished soon after they left the Provincial League. While the Northern League didn’t have the impact names that the Provincial league had, the names mentioned by O’Donnell seems to imply a number of prospects similar to the Provincial Leagues of 1954 and 1955.  

Québécois dans MLB
S. Robertson (40-41,43,46-52)
 P  Paul Calvert (42-45, 49-51)
Claude Raymond (1959, 61-71)
 
Du Québec à MLB
John Andre (1950-51 Granby)
Dan Bankhead (1953 Drum.)
Ray Barker (1955 T. Mines)
Bob Barthelson (1950 Drum.)
Julio Becquer (1952 Drum.)
Gary Bell (1955 Sherbrooke)
Carlos Bernier (1950 St-Jean)
Hank Biasatti (1954 Drum.)
Ron Blackburn (1954 St-Jean)
Dick Brown (1954 Sherbrooke)
Walter Brown (1951, 1953 Saint-Hyacinthe)
 P  Paul Calvert (1953 Granby)
Hank Camelli (1951 St-Hya.)
Ed Charles (1952 Québec)
Walt Chipple (1952 Granby)
Herb Crompton (1952 Drum.)
Bill Dailey (1953 Sherbrooke)
Bob Davis (1955 Burlington)
Jim Delvin (1950 St-Jean)
Al Gardella (1951 TR)
 P  Danny Gardella (1951 TR)
Glenn Gardner (1950 Farhnam)
George Genovese (1953 St-Jean)
Al Gionfriddo (1953 Drum)
 P  Roland Gladu (1950-51 Sherbrooke)
Preston Gomez (1951 TR)
Ruben Gomez (1950-51 St-Jean)
Frank Jelincich (1950 Sherbrooke)
Connie Johnson (1951 St-Hya.)
Lou Johnson (1954 St-Jean)
Bill Koski (1954 St-Jean)
Ralph Lapointe (1955 Burlington)
Jesse Levan (1951 St-Hyacinthe)
Angelo LiPetri (1953 Granby)
Bobby Locke (1954 Sherbrooke)
Hector Lopez (1951-52 St-Hya.)
Dick Luebke (1954 Thetford Mines)
Eric MacKenzie (1953 St-Hya, 1954 Drummondville)
Jim Mains (1950 Granby)
Gordon Maltzberger (1952 St-Jean)
 P  Georges Maranda (1951-53 Québec)
Pinky May (1953 Sherbrooke - gérant)
Ralph McCabe (1953 St--Hya)
Roger McCardell (1951-52 Québec)
 P  George McQuinn (1950-52 Québec)
Bill Metzig (1951 Sherbrooke)
Don Nottebart (1954 Québec)
Danny Osinski (1953 Sherbrooke)
Frankie Pack (1952 Granby)
Len Perme (1951 Drum.)
 P  Vic Power (1949-50 Drum.)
Humberto Robinson (1951 Farnham, 1952 TR-Québec)
Armando Roche (1950-51 Sherbrooke)
" Packy " Rogers (1950 Farnham)
 P  Jean-Pierre Roy (1951 TR, Drum)
Joe Rullo (1953 St-Hya)
Hank Ruszkowski (1950 Granby, 1951 St-Hya. et TR)
Rey Semproch (1955 TR)
 P  Sibby Sisti (1955 Québec)
R.C. Stevens (1953 St-Jean)
Joe Taylor (1951 Farnham, 1952 St-Hya.)
Valmy Thomas (1951, 1955 St-Jean)
Bob Trice (1950-51 Farnham, 1952 St-Hya)
Ed Wheeler (1951, Drum.)
Carl Willey (1951 Québec)
Bill Williams (1954 Sherbrooke)
Pete Elko (1949-50 Québec)
Hal Erickson (1949-50 Québec)
John Glenn (1950 TR)
Garland Lawing (1949-50 Québec)
George Witt (1950 TR)
Bob Wiesler (1953 St-Jérôme)
Des Royaux à MLB
Bill Abernathie (1954)
Bob Addis (1949, 1955)
Bob Alexander (1951-53)
 P  Walter Alston (1951-53 gérant)
 P  Sandy Amoros (1953-54, 58-59)
Sparky Anderson (1956, 1958)
 P  Toby Altwell (1947, 49-51)
Dan Bankhead (1949, 51-52)
 P  Jack Banta (1944-48, 50)
Babe Birrer (1958-60)
Joe Black (1951, 1954)
Rocky Bridges (1949-50, 1952)
Mike Brumley (1959)
Clay Bryant (1958 gérant)
John Bucha (1955)
Jack Cassini (1954)
Gino Cimoli (1949-52, 54-55)
Jim Clark (1957)
Roberto Clemente (1954)
Dave Cole (1956)
Jackie Collum (1957-59)
 P  Chuck Connors (1948-50)
Glenn Cox (1951, 54-55) 
Roger Craig (1955)
Leo Cristante (1956-58)
Bob Darnell (1957-58)
 P  Raymond Daviault (1957-58)
Tommy Davis (1958)
Bobby DelGreco (1957)
Chuck Diering (1956)
Solly Drake (1958)
Don Drysdale (1955)
Al Epperly (1950-51, 1953)
Carl Erskine (1950)
 P  Chico Fernandez (1953-56)
Jim Gentile (1957)
Bob Giallombardo (1958)
 P  Jim Gilliam (1951-52)
Al Gionfriddo (1948-51)
Mike Goliat (1959-60)
Dick Gray (1958)
Ross Grimsley Sr (1951)
Connie Grob (1957, 60)
Bert Haas (1939-40, 1951)
 P  Bob Hale (1956)
 P  Bert Hamric (1954)
 P  Tim Harkness (1957, 1959)
Bill Harris (1954-60)
Roy Hartsfield (1953-54)
Don Hoak (1951-53)
Tommy Holmes (1957 gérant)
Wally Hood (1954)
 P  Dixie Howell (1941-43, 46, 54, 56)
Jim Hughes (1950-52)
Fred Kipp (1956-57)
Joe Landrum (1950)
Paul LaPalme (1959)
Norm Larker (1954)
 P  Tommy Lasorda (1950-55, 58-60)
Ken Lehman (1953-55)
Steve Lembo (1949-50)
Bob Lennon (1958-60)
Turk Lown (1948-50)
Joe Lutz (1952)
 P  Max Macon (1940-43, 54)
Mal Mallette (1951-52)
 P  Ralph Mauriello (1959-60)
Carmen Mauro (1952)
Jack Mayo (1955)
Bill McCahan (1950)
Danny McDevitt (1957)
Pat McGlothin (1949-50)
Jim McManus (1959)
Glenn Mickens (1953-56)
Bob Miller (1959)
Bob Milliken (1950, 1956)
Ray Moore (1951)
Bobby Morgan (1948-49, 1951)
 P  Walt Moryn (1952-53)
Earl Mossor (1953)
Charlie Neal (1955)
Ron Negray (1959)
Rocky Nelson (1952-56)
Jim Pendleton (1952)
George Pfister (1951)
Damon Phillips (1950)
Joe Pignatano (1957)
 P  Bud Podbielan (1948-49, 51)
Johnny Podres (1952)
Charlie Rabe (1958)
Ed Rakow (1959)
Bobby Rhawn (1950)
Curt Roberts (1959-60)
Earl Robinson (1958)
Freddy Rodriguez (1959)
Hector Rodriguez (1951)
Ed Roebuck (1952-54)
Jim Romano (1952)
 P  Johnny Roseboro (1956-57)
Jim Russell (1951)
Johnny Rutherford (1954)
Ray Shearer (1955)
George Shuba (1946, 50-51, 56)
John Simmons (1948, 1952)
 P  Dick Teed (1950, 55, 58-60)
Chuck Templeton (1954)
Don Thompson (1950, 52, 54)
Tim Thompson (1949-50, 52-54)
Rene Valdez (1957-60)
Chris van Cuyk (1951)
Roberto Vargas (1957, 1959)
Bill Voiselle (1951)
Johnny Welaj (1950-51)
Dick Whitman (1947-48, 53-54)
Dick Williams (1953, 1956)
 P  Bob Wilson (1954-57, 59)
Pete Wojey (1955)
Ken Wood (1953-54)
Dick Young (1954)
 
Photos / Pictures
1950. Programme complet des Royaux de Montréal
1950. Charles Thompson, Toby Atwell et Dick Teed (Royaux). 
1951. SP Clarence Podbielan, MGR Walter Alston et C Toby Atwell (Royaux)
1951. Ligue Provinciale. Les Athlétiques de Sherbrooke
1951. Ligue Provinciale. Les Athlétiques de Sherbrooke gagnent le championnat (avec Roland Gladu) 
1951. Incendie du stade de Sherbrooke
1951-53. Georges Maranda avec les Braves de Québec
1952. Georges Maranda avec les Braves de Qubec (couleurs)
1952.Tom Hackett avec les Cubs de Drummondville (couleurs)
1952.Georges Carpentier avec les Athlétiques de St-Hyacinthe
1952. Solly Mohn avec les Athlétiques de St-Hyacinthe (couleurs)
1952. Jacques Monette avec les Canadiens de St-Jean (couleurs)
1952. Jim Gilliam des Royaux traverse le troisième but
1952. Jim Gilliam, Tom Lasorda, Walter Alston et Walter Fiala (Royaux)
1953. OF Sandy Amoros et SS Humberto Fernandez (Royaux)
1953. Cartes Canadian Exhibit de LHP Bob Ludwick et OF Walt Moryn. des Royaux de Montréal
1954. Hymne national au Stade Delorimier
1955. Raymond Daviault avec le club-école d'Almira
1955. Photo des Royaux de Montréal prise avant un match au stade Delorimier
1955. George McQuinn et Sibby Sisti, des Braves de Québec, avec le Bonhomme Carnaval
1955?. Photo d'équipe des Canadiens de St-Jean
1956. Avant la demi-finale contre Toronto - Jim Williams, John Roseboro, Clyde Parris, Bob Hale des Royaux de Montréal
1956. Carte Topps de Chuck Harmon, un ex des Braves de Québec 
1957. Bill Lajoie, Bert Hamric, Jim Williams et Bob Wilson (Royaux)
1957-58. Le lanceur québécois Raymond Daviault des Royaux de Montréal 
1958. Augustin Dugas et le président des Royaux de Montréal, Frank Shaughnessy
1958. SP Tommy Lasorda et le DG des Royaux de Montréal, René Lemyre
1959. Tommy Lasorda, des Royaux, pointe le tableau indicateur à deux nouveaux lanceurs, Marty Stabiner et Ralph Mauriello
1959. Les lanceurs québécois Paul Lapalme et Raymond Daviault au camp des Royaux à Vero Beach
1959. Carte Topps de Vic Power, qui a joué avec les Cubs de Drummondville en 1949 et 1950
1959. Le Québécois Georges Maranda avec les Braves de Milwaukee
1959. Photo de Dick Lines avec les Jets de Columbus
1950s. Photo de Tim Harkness avec une équipe inconnue
 
Sources
Disorganized Baseball: The Provincial League from Laroque to the Expos
Merritt Clifton( 1982)
Quebec Baseball outside Montréal (in Dominionball)
Christian Trudeau (2095)
Integration in Quebec: More than Jackie (in Dominionball)
Christian Trudeau (2095)
Pro Baseball in Montreal (1928-1960)
Robert Verner (1995)
Diamonds of the North
William Humber (1995)
Les Royaux de Montréal depuis 1890
Gérard Gosselin (1948)
Les fabuleux Royaux. Les débuts glorieux du baseball à Montréal
William Brown( 1996)
Lexique français-anglais de l'Action sociale (1935)
100 ans de baseball à Trois-Rivières
Jean-Marc Paradis (1989)