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Sports This Week: Minor baseball has Canadian story

Book looks at history across the country
Jon Stott CDN Minor baseball
Canadian author Jon Stott writes about the rich history of minor baseball in this country.

YORKTON - When I saw a book entitled Canadian Minor League Baseball: A History Since World War II, I was immediately interested.

While my interest in baseball has tumbled in recent years, the game slipping from my top two, or three favourite sports of my youth to barely hanging in the top-10 today, the history of the Canadian game is of interest.

I should digress and explain briefly why the sport has declined so much in my eyes.

The game is a shadow of its former shelf, with batters knowing only how to swing for the fences, the beauty of the hit and run, the bunt, the stolen base lost to be replaced by announcers marveling over launch angles, and exit speed.

Then we add in the ridiculous pitching changes which drag the game, and baseball is becoming less and less interesting.

And, the players and owners seem oblivious. The seven inning doubleheader was great, as was a player starting on second to quicken extra innings, and both of those were lost in the recent agreement between the two sides, which are regressive moves in my mind.

But back to the book by Jon C. Stott, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, who has previously published works on independent baseball and the beer industry.

The book covers a huge swatch of baseball history in this country, probably too long a period of time, requiring the author to cram too much history into too few pages.

As the publisher’s page notes, “during 75 seasons of baseball (1946–2020), 71 teams in 21 minor leagues represented 35 Canadian cities, playing either under the aegis of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (called Minor League Baseball since 1999) or independently. Sixteen teams operated for less than a year, including the eight teams of the Canadian Baseball League of 2003. Another 14 lasted three seasons or less. Seven have played continuously for 20 years or more, among them the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League and American Association, with 27 consecutive seasons since 1994.”

In the end it is too much.

The book is a sort of condensed collection of quick views of teams and seasons, and while there are some nuggets of interest, too often the book feels a tad too ‘scholarly’ for a casual fan.

The book has value from a historical perspective but is not the sort of book for a casual weekend read.

It was a view shared with the author in a recent interview and Stott agreed.

“This was meant to be a scholarly account. I wanted to set down the basics . . . to give a general sense of things,” he said.

The focus meant tones of research, but for Stott that meant deep diving into a subject, the game of baseball he has loved and followed since he was teenager.

Asked if he has considered adding more of key stories, such as teams struggling to pay bills utilizing what was likely covered in the press of the day, Stott said he was confined in the telling of the story.

The publisher had set out the timeframe to cover, and initially Stott said he had a 160,000-word manuscript.

“The publisher (McFarland) said ‘it’s too big.’ I had to cut it down,” said Stott, adding in the end it is 100,000 words.

The lost words were quite likely the heart of the story. What remains was a sort of skeletal history, the barest of bones in most cases.

That said, the nuggets are interesting.

The obvious one being how Jackie Robinson played his first game in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1945 as a Montreal Royal.

Or, the mention that in 1964 a 19-year-old Steve Carlton played 12 games for the Winnipeg Goldeyes which were then a Class A franchise. The future hall of fame pitcher struck out 79 in 75 innings.

Or, how in 1982 Ron Kittle playing for the now long gone Edmonton Trappers was the last minor leaguer to hit 50 home runs in a season. The day after the 50th Kittle made his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox.

Then there was another eventual hall of fame player; Edgar Martinez who spent parts of four seasons with the Calgary Cannons including being named an all star at third base in 1987/88.

And, the mention of the Saskatoon Riot and Regina Cyclones of the North Central League.

In 1994 the Riot drew 47,544 fans, while Cyclones’ player/manager Jason Felice won the triple crown hitting .343 with 17 homes runs and 73 RBIs.

One more is Brooks Robinson, yet another future hall of fame player spending 1959 with the Vancouver Canadiens.

Want to wade into the deep end of minor league baseball in Canada, this is the book, a bit of a chronical, without quite enough colour added, yet many will find it an education on the game in this country.

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