Sunday, 16 March 2008

The John Ducey Story

Ex-Bat Boy Who Made Good Helps Bring
Organized Baseball to Edmonton Field

Edmonton Journal Sports Editor

[April 30, 1953]
Edmonton — The return of the Alberta capital to organized baseball after 31 years actually is the tale of the "local bat boy who made good."
John Ducey, Edmonton's "Mr. Baseball," is the man responsible for getting this city, into the Western International League with a new team carrying a name almost as old as sport in Edmonton — the Eskimos.
John was visiting team bat boy when Edmonton Eskimos were in the old Western Canada pro circuit of 1921 and 1922. Two years later he started as a player with a senior city team, at first base, and in 1931 began umpiring as the next step in learning his baseball trade. In 1936 he dedicated himself to the task of bringing organized ball back to Edmonton.
Entries Accepted
He made the grade at lest fall's meeting of the WIL, when Edmonton Eskimos' and Calgary Stampeders' entries were accepted.
And since that time John's enthusiasm has rubbed off on large numbers of citizens in this booming city of 190,000.
Fresh back from the spring training camp at Compton, Calif., Ducey — who never mentions his favorite sport without reverently calling it "the great American game of baseball," — is not promising his fans the moon.
On his return he told his directors — 24 men who chipped in with him to finance the new club, with their investment being almost in the nature of a community effort as they don't expect to break more than even — and his fans:
"We've got a fine first-year team in the Eskimos. We need a couple of more pitchers, I think. But it's a first year team, and we'll be happy if we can get as high as the first division. We hope you will be, too, for we know the club we've put together in record time will give you and the rest of the WIL cities good baseball."
Coach Selected
Ducey relied on an old friend, Beans Reardon, who began his umpiring career in Edmonton, when it came to choosing a coach.
"Beans recommended only one man — Bob Sturgeon," recalls Ducey. "That was his only choice and we signed Sturgeon as manager at the annual major-minor loop convention in Phoenix last December."
In Sturgeon, the Eskimos got a manager who at 32 has had 16 years of baseball, eight of these the majors, mainly with Chicago Cubs but with the Boston (now Milwaukee) Braves in their pennant year of 1948. Sturgeon managed Victoria of the WIL for the last two months of the 1951 season.
The first step taken Ducey then talked his way — through Lee McPhail, New York farm club director and Babe Herman, who launched his pro baseball career in Edmonton in 1921, into "a gentleman's association" with the Yankees.
"Don't say agreement with the Yankees," warns Ducey. "It's not that yet, but if we do anyways good we'll end up with a working agreement with the Yankees and our players' worries will be over. For that reason, we're not trying for agreements with any of the PCL clubs."
Council 'Injected'
Meanwhile, Ducey's enthusiasm had infected the city council in Edmonton, and it began fixing up Renfrew Park — the covered grandstand of which burned down one night in 1951. A new fence is going up, and the park boasts seating for 5,200. It has room to grow, as plans when completed could accommodate seats for 12,000. Ducey has been operating the park on agreement with the city since 1946, and most of the revenue will go into improvements.
The next step was Compton and spring training. The Eskimos were the first WIL team to go into
training. March 22. They broke camp April 15. and began to play their way north with 18 players set to go.
The day they broke camp, their big problem — first base — was solved. The Yanks sent them Clint Weaver, a veteran training with Syracuse. 'He's a left handed pull hitter who should have a field day with the short right field line — the foul line is 305 feet but deepens sharply so it needs a pull hitter to take advantage of it," says Ducey.
John Paul Jones, powerhitting Negro, who was insurance for first base won't be out of the University of Kentucky until June 1. He's available then if needed, but the Esks think there's a strong possibility that young Don Herman, Babe's son, will join the club as Weaver's understudy. Don is training with Binghamton, against $60,000 bonus first baseman.
Veteran Catcher
Behind the plate the Eskimos have the veteran Dick Morgan, brother of Yankee pitcher Tom Morgan and a hard hitting catcher formerly with Victoria. Understudying him is rookie Vince Pisani. Sturgeon will play second base, with Whitie Thompson, a fine shorstop with eight years experience, completing the double-play combination. Sam Kanelos, who played with both Spokane and Tri-Cities is at third and powering the ball this spring.
In the outfield are Andy Skurski, Duri "Lucky" Vital, Verne Campbell and lanky (he's 6-5) Lou Vitous. In training, all have been hitting hard and long.
The pitching staff is being built around John Conant, formerly with Spokane, and Larry Manier. Jack Widner, Jim Eskenberry, just back from Korea, Paul Spurlock and Don Tisnerat, the last two being limited service players along with utility players Don Prentice and Fred Downing. Also signed is George Caster, a veteran of 14 years in the majors who seems to have a tireless arm. He's hired as a reliefer and pitching coach.

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