Sports Community Mourns Death Of Local Legend Norm Aldridge

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com
Photos copyright Jeffrey Reed

The London sports community today is mourning the death of its most beloved member, Norm Aldridge. He died today at Parkwood Hospital in his 91st year.

Perhaps best known for his long association with the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL), Aldridge was a multi-sport athlete, as well as a trainer, coach, administrator, referee and umpire involved with numerous teams and leagues throughout the city. He was a founding member of Eager Beaver Baseball Association in 1955, and a lifetime friend of EBBA’s founding president, former big-leaguer and Majors owner/manager/player Frank Colman.

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Aldridge’s wife, Joyce, died after battling cancer in 1991. Their only child, son Scott, 58, said he wants those who remember Norm to do it with laughter while recounting the many stories which have helped Norm become a local sports legend.

“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry or sad, but want them to have tears of joy from laughter remembering my dad. I want everyone to tell stories about him, and remember him for what he brought to our lives: laughter,” said Scott.

Visitation and funeral details are listed here.

Said Scott, “Dad couldn’t always remember a name or a face, but he remembered emblems and logos. He remembered the London Majors logo, and the London Knights logo. So we want people to recognize dad by wearing their favourite baseball jersey or hockey sweater.”

Norm Aldridge was born in Souris, Manitoba on Robert Burns Day, January 25, 1925 – fittingly, the first year for the Majors ballclub. As his love of sports evolved, he would see himself as part of four teams inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame. He was a trainer with the 1948 London Majors, World Sandlot Champions; a coach with the 1951-52 Lou Ball Juniors ballclub; trainer with the 1970 London TV Cable fastball; and a coach with the 1975 Majors, Intercounty Baseball League champions.

Aldridge’s father, Len, moved his family to London where Norm quickly developed a love of all sports. During his youth, he was a YMCA lifeguard. Bill Farquarson, London’s director of recreation for 37 years, hired Aldridge as playground supervisor of Chelsea Green Park.

Aldridge joined the Royal Canadian Navy at HMCS Prevost in London at age 17. A neighbour actually signed the papers for him to enlist, as his parents wouldn’t do it for him. He served on the Corvette HMCS Brandon (K149) during the Battle of the Atlantic from late 1941 through the end of the war in 1945.

Aldridge was given the task of replacing the battle-worn HMCS Brandon battle ensign. He stuffed it into his jacket while replacing it with a new one. When the ship was decommissioned in June 1945, he lowered that newer ensign, too. Sixty-five years later, In October 2010, Aldridge presented those two WWII ensigns to HMCS Prevost.

“There are a lot of officers in this room,” said Aldridge during the ceremony. “I want you to know that I didn’t steal these flags, I’m returning them now.”

Former London Majors all-star third baseman, Dan Mendham, whose father, Dave, was batboy with the Lou Ball team, and played and coached with the London Majors, said that is how Aldridge will always be remembered: for “his endless stories, and his funny lines.

Norman6“My dad would bring me and my brother (Pete, who pitched for the Majors) to Labatt Park in the 1970s. That’s my first memory of Norm. Both my dad and my uncle (Dan “Buck” Mendham, also a former Majors player and coach) went back as far as the 1940s with Norm.

“Everyone had a Norm story, and what we remember most are his funny lines – he had a million of them. I visited him when he first entered Parkwood Hospital and he still had all of the lines. He always seemed to be around the ballpark. We’ll miss him. It’s the end of an era for local sports,” Mendham said.

Mendham remembered an impromptu gathering of “about 100 friends at the Roy McKay clubhouse as Labatt Park to celebrate Norm’s birthday. It was like a large family gathering, and you could feel the love for the man – on a cold, wintery January day. He was one-of-a-kind, always with a cigar in his mouth, but had a really kind heart.”

When Aldridge finished his tour of duty with the navy, he was ready to resume his love of everything sports. The late Don Greason, a former IBL umpire, told the story of how Aldridge – whom he called “Donkey” – would playfully spit chewing tobacco on his neatly-pressed white umpire’s shirt. Greason participated in local track and field events which Aldridge supervised. Said Greason, “He was one of the best trainers the city of London has ever had, and he had a heart of gold.”

Aldridge was the first trainer with the fledgling Junior A London Nationals (predecessor to the London Knights) during the 1965-66 season.  In fact, Aldridge loved hockey, and for many years would clean the ice and maintain the baseball diamonds at Stronach Park in London. He was most often accompanied by his beloved dog, Major.

Today, Norm Aldridge Field rests at Stronach Park. Designed to resemble Labatt Park, right down to the dimensions, the baseball field was built as a secondary ball venue for the 2001 Canada Summer Games.

In addition to working for London’s Parks and Recreation department, Aldridge worked for Kernohan Lumber, the Canadian National Railway, and General Steel Wares. He retired in 1989 at age 64. During 1985-86, he was governor of Moose Lodge No. 1300.

In 1948, “Crazy Legs” Aldridge kicked a record 48-yard field goal for the armed forces’ London Falcons Football Club. Throughout his life, Aldridge would tell the story of his game-winning kick, and would say that “the distance is longer, the wind is stronger.

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“It was against Sarnia,” recalled Aldridge a decade ago, “and it was a calm, nice night. After a few drinks, though, it becomes a 50-yarder in the rain and wind coming across the field.”

Aldridge played many sports, including basketball, hockey, baseball, fastball, football and lacrosse. His No. 3 jersey was retired by the London Majors, although Aldridge told me in the late-1980s, “I don’t ever remember wearing No. 3, but I guess they had to give me a number to retire. I thought only Babe Ruth wore No. 3.”

Former Majors manager, infielder and batboy, Alex McKay, whose father, Roy, was a Majors legend and a close friend of Aldridge, stated that Aldridge’s “knowledge of baseball stems from everyone he has been associated with over the years, especially Frank Colman. Norm has touched so many lives.”

Aldridge once told me a funny story he heard from Colman: “A fellow goes down to a major-league training camp and he was hitting the crap out of the ball. He wrote a letter home – “Dear mother, great success. Please send me $10.’ Two weeks later he wrote, ‘Dear mother, coming home. They’re starting to throw curveballs!’”

Former Majors owner and long-time star Arden Eddie stated during Aldridge’s last stint as a Majors coach in the late-1990s, “Norm makes the team feel like they’re the most important thing in his life. Yet, he has been involved with so many organizations and people over the years, you wonder if we’re just a small part of his life.”

Despite his failing health (he was first slowed by a stroke in the late-1990s), Aldridge always brought a smile to the face of anyone within earshot. His most famous line, “Ballplayer my ass!” became a catch phrase echoed for years within the friendly confines of Labatt Park.

Scott Aldridge, who affectionately called his father, “Grumpy,” stated that “there were always neighbourhood kids and ballplayers around the house. I shared Dad with all of them.

“The times that dad retired were the most difficult times he has had in life,” Scott stated. That’s why, numerous times, Norm would retire from the Majors, only to return to the team the next year. The Majors were family.

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The soft side of Aldridge was revealed in his enjoyment of wood carving, ceramics, knitting and rug hooking. Many Majors and their girlfriends or wives often received the art pieces as gifts.

In 2000, during a post-season function with my London Majors teammates, I was presented with the Norm Aldridge Award for coaching third base, which today sits atop my desk.

Norm Aldridge was one-of-a-kind, and a local legend. He will sadly be missed.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

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