R.I.P. Tom Lawson
* Tom and Pat Lawson …. Andrew Bradley wrote this wonderful tribute of the two people with the baseball shaped hearts in 2006 after they were Carmen Bush signature club inductees …. Thomas Bernard Lawson passed Oct, 31, 2012, predeceased in April by Pat, his wife of 62 years. Deepest sympathies are extended to children Kerry (Ken Yeo), Tracey, Michael (Penny James), grandchildren Petra, Dallas and Alexandra and his sister Mia. Friends may visit at the Visitation Centre in Mount Pleasant Cemetery (east gate entrance) on Friday, Nov. 2, 6-9 p.m. Celebration of Life on Saturday, Nov. 3, 4 p.m. complete in the Chapel of the Visitation Centre. Cremation to follow. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Sunnybrook Hospital Veterans Comfort Fund or the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Originally printed Nov. 16, 2006
By Andrew Bradley
For over 35 years Pat and Tom Lawson have volunteered their time to the organization of amateur baseball. They have been described by their peers as thorough organizers, a respectful and fair-minded couple who have made the game of baseball part of their life-long love affair.
Like so many other volunteers, Pat and Tom became involved when their children Michael and Tracey began playing ball. ‘It was 1969’, recalls Tom, ‘and one of our neighbours said “Why don’t you take [Michael] up to Bond Park to play?” I had never even heard of a league up in [North York’s] Bond Park.’
In Michael’s rookie t-ball season, says Pat, ‘we were down at Riverdale Park [and] the kids just swung and swung. They never touched the ball.’ However, in time the boys caught on. Michael played through the ranks at North York from t-ball to senior and, with his parents, was part of three city championship teams (1978, ’80, ’84) and two provincial winners (1980 and 1984). For her part, Tracey competed on boys’ fastball teams before women’s leagues were in operation. She now umpires and coaches girls’ baseball at North York. And so, for the Lawsons, baseball has truly been, and continues to be, a family affair.
‘I never really played any baseball’, says Tom, who grew up playing fastball at school and in local church leagues operating out of Greenwood Park. ‘My father (who was a soccer coach and trainer) always encouraged me to take sports, my brother too. Back in the 1930’s we always seemed to have injured soccer players around the house!’ As far as fastball was concerned at that time, the Beaches League was the top ticket in the city. ‘[Baseball] teams seemed to be organized by word of mouth. Somebody would say, “Why don’t you come out and try out?” …There used to be pick-up games going on all the time.’ Beyond Tom’s childhood backyard near Coxwell and Gerrard was a vacant lot where ball games would be played every night. ‘You’d have a batter, a pitcher and two infielders. As the rest of the kids finished their suppers, you’d work your way up [to full teams]. It used to be like this all over the place.’
When young Pat was known as Pat Bradley, her mother would let her out to watch fastball games down at Davisville Park. As a 17-year-old, Pat’s uncle would bring her to Pears Park (now Eglinton Park) where he was the official scorekeeper. ‘I used to go to every midget game with my uncle and learned to keep score from him’, recalls Pat. When her children began playing up at Bond Park in the 1970’s she continued this family tradition as an able and dedicated scorer. She could regularly be seen reading her copy of the Official Rules of Baseball on the bus ride to and from work.
The Lawsons joined the North York Baseball Association (NYBA) in 1969, helping-out with their son’s t-ball team. Then, in the middle of January, 1971, NYBA President Jerry Leob came calling. ‘Good old Jerry got us involved’, recalls Tom. ‘If you were willing, [Jerry] was willing to find work for you to do. He did a good job.’ Tom began coaching in 1971 with Pat by his side keeping score and working behind the scenes. ‘To show you how disorganized it was back then’, says Tom, ‘kids could go from t-ball right into peewee. [And] so we would have 11-year-olds still playing t-ball. The coaches were determined to win their championship and so kids were held back. I remember kids hitting the ball onto the railroad tracks at Riverdale Park.’
Perhaps due to their early experiences in t-ball, as administrators the Lawsons became known for upholding the rules. ‘I think our values would get us into trouble when people wanted to bend the rules’, recalls Tom. ‘[But] most of the time you found out that eventually, when you dug into it, the coach wasn’t interested in helping the kid …this need to win is a bad thing, and it’s still prevalent.’ In 1974, Pat was asked to convene the tyke division. ‘Somebody said that they’ve never had a woman convener before’, recalls Pat, ‘but Tom said, “She can do it. Let her do it.” So there we were.’ Pat convened at the peewee and bantam levels before becoming Secretary and Treasurer at North York. She took these responsibilities seriously, and as long as she held the purse, frivolous expenditures were limited.
‘There have been some real good people who have associated with Bond Park, and Norm Bryan is one’, says Tom. While coaching at the tyke (mosquito) level Tom helped found the short-lived Metro East League. ‘It was a five-team league with Greenwood, East York, North York, Cecil Morris (now East Toronto) and another team …and Norm used to win it every year. He had some very good players.’ Most of Norm’s kids were recruited from neighbourhood haunts where he would cruise around and talk to kids to see if they wanted to play ball. Tom still teases Norm about keeping all the Metro East trophies for his league at Greenwood.
North York Midgets – Leaside, Metro & Ontario Champions 1980 Front Row (L to R): Cam Vandewater (Coach), Lorne Albaum, George Lambrakos, Wes Whitaker, Dean Sherman, Mike Lawson. Back Row: Tom Lawson (Manager), Ron Woods (Coach), Mike Pagniello, Frank Simone, Charles Kutner, Dan Fabian, Dave Brown, Don Moore, Mike Robertson, Mark Badali. Absent: Rob Dorsay, Rick Boustead.
Tom coached at North York from 1971 to 1985. He succeeded Bill Down as NYBA President in 1985 and served until 1986 when he was asked by then Baseball Ontario (OBA) Vice-President Howie Birnie and Carmen Bush to represent the Toronto Baseball Association (TBA) on the provincial board. ‘I guess Howie and I are the only two left that really got involved with Carmen’, says Tom. ‘Carmen was a tough taskmaster. He used to call himself the Dictator. Even though we had the TBA Board of Directors, Carmen still ran things and made a lot of decisions. He was a good man to learn from.’
Pat remembers meeting Carmen for the first time down at the CNE peewee tournament and how he could ‘talk for three hours straight about baseball’ and keep things interesting. After TBA President Tom Carter’s impromptu resignation in 1987, Tom was elected to take his place, and served from that office for 10 years (1987 – 1997).
Around 1990, upon Carmen’s retirement, Pat took over the duties of Secretary-Registrar and Playoff Convener for the TBA. As Registrar, Pat was responsible for collecting and filing registration cards for every carded player in the TBA (a ‘carded’ player is any player signed to a rep team). As Tom attests, ‘she’d be up to near one o’clock in the morning [during registration] checking cards.’ By ‘checking cards’ Tom refers to the Registrar’s task of authenticating player addresses. Those who know Pat remember her verifying player postal codes with her latest edition of the Perley’s map of Toronto. ‘I made sure that [each player’s] address was in their playing district’, says Pat, ‘…and you knew which teams and organizations would report accurately. Other associations had a history of being wrong. When you called them on it they’d say something like, “He’s living with his father now.” ’
When Tom’s junior-age players, who used their University of Toronto addresses in order to be eligible to compete in the TBA, would call from places like Peterborough to see if it was raining in Toronto, Pat would answer the phone: ‘I’m the registrar and you’re supposed to be living here!’
Through his contacts at the OBA, in the winter of 1988–89, Tom was appointed General Manager of the newly-minted Ontario Youth Team. With field managers Marc Picard and Remo Cardinale, try-outs for the under-18 squad were held each year throughout southern Ontario. ‘Marc chose the team’, relates Tom, ‘but I put in my two cents worth. My coaches wouldn’t necessarily agree, but they went along with me. Our goal was to put together as good a team as we could and to keep the expenses under control.’ That first year Ontario lost to Quebec in the finals 2-1. ‘We had a runner on second base with nobody out in the last inning and couldn’t score him. But we got even the next year’, recalls Tom.
In Trois-Rivières in 1990, Ontario captured its first title. Team Ontario Manager Marc Picard recalls how organized and dedicated Tom and Pat were to the team’s success. ‘I never had to worry about parks, uniforms, paperwork or anything else’, says Marc. ‘Tom kept meticulous notes on all the try-outs and I could always depend on him for information on any player. At the conclusion of every game, which Pat kept score with incredible efficiency, Tom was quick to compile up-to-date stats on all sorts of areas and was quick to let me know if he felt the line-up might need some “tinkering”.’
Under the Lawsons, Ontario won back-to-back Canada Cup titles (1990 and 1991). During his tenure with the Youth Team, Tom was also responsible for fielding the 1993 and 1997 Ontario squads at the Canadian Summer Games. After his 1993 second place finish (which was, in his words, ‘an upsetting experience because it was the first year Ontario hadn’t won’), Tom made up for it by bringing home the gold for Ontario in 1997.
Howard Moscoe presents Tom with a plaque on behalf of the City of North York for his remarkable contributions to amateur baseball (Nov 13, 1987).
The annual CNE Peewee Tournament turned 50 years old in 2006. For the last 18 of those seasons Tom has been involved with the competition in his typical back-stage capacity. After his pre-tournament campaign (which begins in the spring) to recruit peewee squads from around the city and beyond, he, along with the seven other CNE Board Members gear-up for the 11-day run of peewee baseball. ‘It’s a real grind’, says Tom, ‘because you’ve got to be down there at eight o’clock in the morning—and you’ve got four games a day if there’s no rain—and you’re down there until near seven in the evening.’
But for Lawson, all the time and work is worthwhile when he sees the kids really enjoying themselves. ‘It’s also nice to see guys who played down there when they were 12 now bringing their kids to the Ex. Another thing about it is that I don’t think there’s the same kind of pressure. If you lose, you come back next year. We try to emphasize the fun part. And the umpires aren’t tough on the kids either.’
In the winter of 2001, largely due to his successful efforts with the Ontario Youth Team and Canada Cup tournaments, Baseball Canada flew Pat and Tom out to their annual awards banquet at Winnipeg’s Delta Hotel where Tom was presented with the Baseball Canada and Major League Baseball Volunteer of the Year Award.
‘It was sort of my swan song’, recalls Tom. And although his name is etched in the impressive glass obelisk of a trophy, those who know the duo understand that Pat’s unseen mark is there too. The Lawsons, now in their golden years, look back fondly on the summer days when they would rush home from work and wolf down their dinner to make it to Bond Park in time for an evening game.
Largely due to Tom’s health and the couple’s age, this year they’ve only been up to Bond two or three times. ‘You could say that, apart from the CNE, we’re out of baseball’, says Tom. ‘But I’m certainly still interested in what goes on with the TBA and OBA and everybody else.’ Perhaps Mort Greenberg, one of the eight Directors at the CNE’s Peewee Tournament said it best: ‘What resonates currently among those who know and love Tom, is the way he survived and copes with a life-threatening misfortune in 2005, one from which he has emerged purposefully, undaunted, radiating, good humoured and with his perennial positive attitude—a paradigm for us all.’