Intercounty Baseball League: A Personal And Historical Account

JeffreyReedHead1-150x150Intercounty Baseball League: A Personal And Historical Account
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com
Photos: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioSports.com

One of my proudest moments after founding the Intercounty Baseball League media relations office in 1994 was seeing the reintroduction of wooden bats to the league in 1995 – a move championed by former London Majors owner Arden Eddie. During my three-year stint as the league’s PR official, I wrote about the league’s history up until that time. Here’s an excerpt.

The Intercounty Major Baseball League (est. 1919) is one of the oldest organized athletic leagues in North America. The baseball hotbeds of Galt, Guelph, Kitchener and Stratford were the Intercounty’s charter clubs, with the former two clubs dominating until 1935, winning 13 league titles (including Galt’s championship run from 1927-31) between them.

Intercounty_Baseball_League_LogoThe London Majors won the Intercounty title during their charter season in 1925. During the Great Depression, the Intercounty steamrolled to success and it continued to survive during the Second World War. The post-war Intercounty flourished, with league calibre the envy of many professional leagues scattered across the U.S. The introduction of night baseball helped record crowds pour through turnstiles across Southern Ontario.

In 1948, the Majors (formerly London Army team who won Canadian Sandlot Congress titles in 1943-44) captured the North American Sandlot Championship. But in 1957, London and Brantford jumped ship, joining the Great Lakes-Niagara District League. London won the pennant that year, but lost to Niagara Falls in the league final. The next year, London, Brantford and Hamilton rejoined the Intercounty; the rival league folded like a cheap suitcase.

From 1959-63, the Brantford Red Sox won five straight titles. Tough times existed in 1962-63, as only five clubs competed, but a rebuilding period began in 1964 when Stratford rejoined the league.

ardieThe 1960s and ‘70s saw the Majors change their nickname to the Diamonds (1960-61), back to the Majors (1962-63), the Pontiacs (1964-69), the Avcos (1970-73) and finally back to the Majors, a handle Eddie grabbed for good when he purchased the team in fall 1976. Eddie was an Intercounty rookie in 1967, Canada’s Centennial year.

In 1969, Jack Dominico’s Toronto Maple Leafs entered the league, and in 1976, after a 14-year absence, the history-rich St. Thomas Elgins returned – and in 1984 won their final league championship. The powerhouse Windsor Chiefs brought a western flavour to the league from 1979-81, and in 1982 the new East and West divisions were respectively named the Halpern and Hamel divisions, after commissioner Reub Halpern and secretary Lorne Hamel. In 1984-85, the Intercounty returned to one division, then split again from 1986-90.

Return To Wooden Bats

richardIn 1977, league officials made a monumental decision that would change the Intercounty record books forever. Although there are no asterisks, the league ushered in livelier aluminum bats in 1977. During the 1994 season, Eddie and Stratford Hillers manager Dennis Schooley summoned yours truly to establish a media relations office – concurrent with and closely associated with the fact wooden bats were returning. The league truly wanted to identify itself as a league run in a professional manner. It is, after all, a semi-professional league with few – if any – rivals in the history books.

What resulted upon the return of wooden bats was one of the most exciting Intercounty seasons ever played. The year began with Majors outfielder Ted Salhani hitting the first Intercounty home run with a wooden bat since 1976 – it barely cleared the centre field fence as I called the play as Majors play-by-play announcer on local television. But it counted just the same.

In 1994, the Hillers – who had enjoyed their dynasty years since 1986 – accomplished the impossible. Schooley had guided them to six championships between 1986 and ’94, and had made it a habit of appearing the championship final. Perhaps his finest moment came in Game 7 in 1994. Down three games to one to the Guelph Royals, the Hillers scored an incredible 10 runs in the top of the 9th to steal the crown in Guelph’s backyard.

In 1995, wooden bats returned, and Stratford, Toronto, Kitchener and Guelph all tied for first place, forcing a thrilling tiebreaker series. In the final the Maple Leafs were the comeback kids this time, riding the arm of right-handed hurler John Douris to win their first title since 1988.

London’s Richard Thompson won the batting title in 1995 with a .410 average – he was the only Intercounty player to break the .400 mark. Incredibly, Thompson hit better with a wooden bat than he did with aluminum. He had entered that season with a .318 career average.

Records And Milestones

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During my three years as media relations director 1995-97, there were many other highlights on the field. The 1996 season was the year of the one-run ballgame – 33 in total. Toronto catcher Dominic Campeau became the first player to capture both Rookie of the Year and MVP honours. The Panthers, led by the Curran brothers – slugging outfielder/first baseman Randy and left-handed pitcher Kevin – won their first league title since 1990.

On July 30 that year, Randy became the all-time home run king with round trips No. 83 and 84 at Emslie Field in St. Thomas. Of course, current Kitchener first baseman and hitting coach Sean Reilly (whom I faced while on the mound in 2001 when he was with Hamilton) is the new home run king. But that year, Curran was named playoff MVP and awarded the Tim Turow Trophy for outstanding achievement by commissioner John Coppes. Kevin won a league-high nine games, which had put him second all-time. Sadly, the Elgins folded after finishing 4-31.

In 1997, Toronto lefty Rob Patterson won both the regular-season MVP and the Tim Turow Trophy. He finished 6-1 with a 2.51 ERA, and batted .334. Patterson was named a first-team all-star pitcher and first baseman. Guelph beat Toronto 7-3 in a sudden-death game to capture the pennant, and went on to win the league title in dramatic fashion. That ’97 series saw three games decided by one run – two in extra innings. In the fourth and deciding game, former big-league right-hander Scott Medvin was on the mound for the Panthers and went the distance in the 11-inning contest. Guelph’s shortstop Sean Travers scored on a passed ball to give the Royals a 1-0 win.

Coppes and I worked closely during my three years with the league head office. He died suddenly at age 55 in December 1997. I left my post to assume the same position with the Majors, before leaving the press box to coach third base and pitch with the club before my 2001 retirement from the game.

This year, I’m back at Labatt Park – my second home for 33 years – and I look forward to continuing to cover the team and the league which have been a part of my life for many, many years.

Next time, I’ll recount my story of living my dream of pitching for the London Majors.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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