Remembering Jim Fanning

Marie and Jim Fanning talk to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Van Horne after recent induction ceremonies in St. Marys.

Marie and Jim Fanning talk to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Van Horne after recent induction ceremonies in St. Marys.

If you paid me $100 I could not tell you the first time I ever met Jim Fanning.

It could have been in 1978 or 1979.

Yet, I will never forget the day I met Jim Fanning, manager.

On Monday, Sept. 7 the Montreal Expos edged the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4. After the game at Veteran’s Stadium we took the elevator downstairs, went toDick Williams office and then the writers spilled into the clubhouse.

Tim Raines had singled home Larry Parrish with the game winner in the seventh, Elias Sosa gave up two runs in the sixth to tie the score, Woodie Fryman worked a scoreless sixth for the win and Jeff Reardon pitched three innings for the save.

A 51-day work stoppage saw the season broken into two halves. The Phillies won the first half and now the Expos were 14-8 … 1/2 game up on the St. Louis Cardinals (15-10).

After filing my story I called the office — there was news.

Milton Richman of UPI — the Ken Rosenthal of the 1981 — wrote that Williams would manage the New York Yankees next season. I called Expos president John McHale at the team hotel to tell ask him about the report. He said “oh really.” He refused to talk about the rumor.

So, as the legendary Gordon Verell used to say after he had filed his Los Angeles Dodgers game story “the Boulevard was beckoning” and out I headed to a country bar.

The next morning at around 9 AM that no-good Expo P.R. man Richard Griffin phoned and woke me up.

“What?” I mumbled or something like that.

“Mr. McHale’s suite ,,, half an hour,” said Griffin.

In I went and there was John McHale and Fanning, who was introduced as the next manager of the Expos.

Williams being fired was not a surprise considering the Richman story. And when McHale, when asked how Williams took the news answered “like he had a contract in his back pocket.”

Fanning as the new manager was a quelle surprise.

I recall Michael Farber, a ball scribe back in those days before he became a Hall of Fame puck writer asking Fanning what this all meant.

“I guess,” said Fanning, who had not managed since 1963 at class-A Greenville, “I get to sit at the front of the bus.”

* * *
Game 1 of the remaining 27 of the 1981 season was not a good start for Fanning who walked Rodney Scott to home plate in a bunting situation with his arm around the shoulder of the second baseman.

Someone named Dan Larson pitched a complete-game win for the Phillies, asBake McBride, Gary Matthews and Gary Maddox homered in a 10-5 win, with Scott Sanderson taking the loss.

The Expos lost the final game of the series 11-8 as the Phillies scored five in the bottom of the eighth as Fryman took the loss.

Then, it was on to Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs beat Ray Burris 7-6. Now the Expos were 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.

Steve Rogers pitched a three hit 2-0 shutout for Fanning’s first win and then Sanderson beat the Cubs as Tim Wallach homered.

The Expos won 10 times in a 15-game homestand and headed onto the road to close out the season. They dropped a two-game series in St. Louis, then swept a two-game series in Pittsburgh and clinched a post-season berth Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium. Down 3-0 to Ed Lynch, Brad Millsknocked in a run fifth, Gary Carter homered in the sixth and Wallace Johnsontripled home Jerry Manuel and Scott in the seventh. Manuel doubled in a eighth for a two-run lead.

Mike Cubbage homered off Reardon in the eighth, but Reardon pitched a 1-2-3.

Fanning who had not managed since 1963 at class-A Greenville when he shared duties with Braves legendary scout Paul Synder, had his team in post-season play.

* * *
Wheras Williams took questions which began “why did you …?” as a blatant second guess — even when McHale asked, Fanning was patient and understanding to each and every questions no matter how dopey.

He stood front and centre as Rogers blanked the Phillies in the deciding game, as Burris beat rookie of the year Fernando Valenzuela at Dodger Stadium, and Jerry White hit a three-run homer to win Game 3 against the Dodgers … and when Rick Monday homered off starter-turned reliever Rogers with two out in the ninth.

Why not use Reardon?

“I went with my best pitcher,” Fanning said time and again.

Were you able to pitch we asked Reardon?

“Better ask the manager,” Reardon said time and again.

It wasn’t known until the spring of 1982 at West Palm Beach that Reardon said he had a bad back and could not pitch.

Fanning took the bullets.

* * *
Larry Walker was a goalie. Not a good one according to his coaches.

In 1984, he played shortstop for Team Canada at the heavily scouted world youth championships at Kindersley, Sask. There were scouts from 15 teams, including a pair of Jays scouts. “His swing had a lot of holes, but he had the kind of mental makeup where he said: ‘I’m going to keep swinging until I get it right,’” said Ottawa’s Bill MacKenzie, a Rockies scout who ran Baseball Canada in the mid-’80s.

“He would take some ugly looking swings in batting practice. Every so often he’d get into a groove and his swing would light people’s eyes up.”

Walker was so unimpressive he fell through the cracks. A month after the world championships, Larry Seminoff – who ran a senior cash tournament in Grand Forks, B.C. (pop. 3,000) – phoned Wayne Norton, executive director of Baseball BC.

Seminoff was in trouble. A team had dropped out of his annual Labor Day tournament three days before it started. Teams were coming from the U.S. university ranks, from New York, Washington state, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Since Vancouver-area senior teams had packed it in for the season, Norton phoned the coach of the BC Selects, for whom Walker had played that summer, with the suggestion that they attend.

Since it was older players, the only guy there watching was an Expos scoutBob Rogers.

It was a stroke of luck. Rogers and Montreal scouting director Fanning liked what they saw and signed Walker for a mere $1,500 signing bonus.

It is perhaps the greatest amateur free-agent bargain of the past decade.

* * *
The end for Fanning in Montreal came in in 1993 … on the eve of the Expos opener.

Fanning should not have been the focus for the Montreal’s 25th home opener. Nor should Fanning’s departure have been a subject GM Dan Duquette felt necessary to bring up on his own. Yet Fanning was the story on Opening Day. And he was the story again Day II. When Rockies GM Bob Gebhard, who was given his first job by Fanning, comes in on the weekend to hire his old boss, he’ll be news again.

Why did Fanning overshadow one of the most exciting teams in baseball? The Expos made him news. It wasn’t his choice. He didn’t want his $150,000 salary cut in half. Would you?

This started with a Dec. 16 meeting between Fanning and Duquette, at which the Expos elder statesman was told of his new job description.

This is not to imply for a second that a corporation shouldn’t reduce costs or make changes. Only Duquette knows whether Fanning was doing a good job. But everyone would agree the timing couldn’t have been worse. Why on the eve of the home opener?

“We thought, out of respect to Jim, it was the proper time to give his side,’’ said Duquette. “It didn’t seem like that great an announcement.”

That’s where president Claude Brochu and Duquette have missed the point. He was the GM, a broadcaster, a scout, the farm director and anything else McHale ever asked. More people in the seats would know Fanning than Brochu and Duquette combined. If Jim Fanning stood at one of the four corners of Peel and Ste-Catherine with three Expo players standing under each Walk/Don’t Walk sign, more fans would recognize Fanning.

After the lawyers worked out a settlement, Fanning spent half of the opener in the press box, talking non-stop from the time he arrived with the ticket he had purchased. He said he respected Duquette, but leveled blasts at Brochu.

“Dan was the messenger,’’ Fanning said a dozen times. By his old-fashioned standards, he was attempting to relieve Duquette of blame.

All that did was fan the flames.

“I want to address some of Jim’s comments,’’ Duquette said. “I don’t appreciate being characterized as an errand boy – I thought that was unfair `We treat people fairly. We couldn’t get close on the terms of his contract. But it was a baseball decision, not a business decision.’’

How silly is this getting? Fanning said he bought tickets in the 500 level. Duquette said he offered Fanning complimentary tickets.

So when radio talk-show host Joe Cannon suggested Fanning had been given free ducats, Fanning said he would buy $1,000 worth of tickets for Montreal children if Cannon could find anyone in the Expos front office who had presented him with free passes.

“Jim is a proud man – he had already bought his tickets,’’ said Duquette, who added that Fanning won’t be replaced.

It’s disturbing to see Fanning, the company man who never took holidays, a man who bled red, white and blue for 24 1/2 years, firing shots at the Expos. Divorce proceedings can get messy. Upstairs, a scout from another club shook his head.

* * *
In 1994, the Expos sat in first place.

Who was their best player?

One game their best was Moises Alou. Next was Marquis Grissom. Then it Walker. Of seven players polled as to who is the best everyday player, Alou, Grissom and Walker each received two votes while Wil Cordero had one.

We gave the deciding vote goes to Fanning, last Day One employee.

“Walker is the most important person in the lineup,’’ Fanning said. “I’m not saying he’s the best or most valuable. He’s a professional. What they have now is a complete team. I can’t imagine them without Walker.’’

* * *
The most famous number in baseball is 42.

It’s the only uniform number retired by Major League Baseball and a No. 42 banner hangs in each stadium.

No disrespect to Jackie Robinson, who wore the number for the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, but Larry Doby doesn’t get the same respect.

Robinson dealt with constant racism in breaking baseball’s colour barrier. Doby arrived 11 weeks after opening day to play for the Cleveland Indians.

Doby, a long-time Montreal Expo employee, died in 2003 after a long illness in Montclair, N.J. at age 79.

When Doby was introduced to his teammates 56 years ago, half of the team wouldn’t shake his hand. Doby later called it “one of the most embarrassing moments” in his life.

A natural second baseman, the Indians used Doby at first since they had dealt the popular Allie Reynolds. Indians first baseman Eddie Robinson wouldn’t let Doby use his glove. He had to borrow one from the visiting Chicago White Sox.

“The only difference was that Jackie got all of the publicity,” Doby once said. “You didn’t hear much about what I was going through because the media didn’t want to repeat the same story.”

When his playing career ended with the Indians — seven all-star seasons in 13 years — Doby resurfaced with the Expos in 1969.

“John McHale came back from New York to say he had hired Larry,” former Expos executive Fanning said. “He went through the same things as Jackie Robinson. We travelled by car together scouting and in the minors. He was a good man and a good friend.”

Doby worked for Fanning as a scout and a minor-league hitting instructor. He made public appearances as Canada’s first team got off the ground.

In 1971, the Expos drafted Condredge Holloway, a high schooler from Huntsville, Ala., in the first round. Some long-serving Expo scouts still say Holloway was the best shortstop the club ever drafted.

“We weren’t making any headway trying to sign him. Larry went in, met with the mother and Condredge,” Fanning said. “Larry gave it a good try, but Condredge decided to attend the University of Tennessee.”

In 1975, Holloway was a first-round choice of the New England Patriots and played quarterback for the Ottawa Rough Riders and Toronto Argos.

Doby was a first base coach with the Expos in 1971-73, a minor-league instructor in 1974-75 and was back with the Expos in 1976.

“At Jarry Park we had what we called a ‘cheese room,’” Fanning said, “Larry would be in there after games telling stories with (manager) Gene Mauch and the other coaches. Larry and Gene were very close.”

Doby managed the White Sox for most of the 1978 season (a 37-50 record) and one of his catchers was his namesake, Cleveland native Larry DobyJohnson.

Doby was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the veterans’ committee and his uniform No. 14 was retired by the Indians on July 3, 1994, 47 years to the day he broke the American League’s colour barrier.

* * *
Not one franchise had moved since the Washington Senators left for Texas following the 1971 season. That all changed at the end of the 2004. The Montreal Expos played their final game at Olympic Stadium before heading to Washington.

“It was a sad day for baseball and a sad day for Canada,” Fanning said.

“I got home about the seventh inning and I had 17 phone calls on my message machine from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island. I thought The Score did a great job with the post-game ceremonies. To see Claude Raymondaddressing the fans and players hugging him, it was a great memory.”

With the Expos moving, owners are looking over their shoulders in other cities.

While the Expos drew 31,395 in their Montreal finale, the Brooklyn Dodgers attracted 7,000 to their last game at Ebbet’s Field on Sept. 24, 1957. Five days later, the New York Giants had 6,000 at the Polo Grounds.

Fanning was the on-site general manager in Milwaukee in 1965, the final year before the Braves bolted for Atlanta. Those lame-duck Braves drew 555,584 to see the likes of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Torre and Rico Carty.

“Bud Selig’s father ran a car lot and gave the players cars to use for the season,” Fanning remembered. “Bud formed a group. They began going to owners’ meetings lobbying to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. That’s what Montreal needs.”

That and an investor.

“If it wasn’t for John McHale’s great relationship with Warren Giles (National League president), they may have pulled the plug on the Expos in 1968,” Fanning said. “Investors kept backing out. John said ‘be patient, someone will step forward.’”

In August of 1968, Charles Bronfman stepped forward. The Expos were financially sound.

* * *

At Mahoney Park in Hamilton in August of 2006 I was at a minor midget game and noticed the wine uniforms of the London Badgers.

“Is Frank Fanning on your team?” I asked an outfielder taking fly balls pre game.

“Yep,” came the reply.

“Is his pops here?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“When you go into the bench, tell Mr. Fanning that some guy is out here who saw his first game managing.”

Within moments Fanning was there watching a lefty warm up. After the introductions (the lefty had no idea who he’d just met) and the bullpen session was over the Mississauga North Tigers catcher Chris Okrainetz came over to say “I just met Jim Fanning WHO USED TO MANAGE THE MONTREAL EXPOS.”

Am sure Okrainetz, like 1,000s of other Canadians from coast to coast recall the first time they met the late Jim Fanning.