R.I.P. Gentlemen Jim Fanning

Gary Carter hugs manager Jim Fanning after the Montreal Expos advanced into post-season play.

Gary Carter hugs manager Jim Fanning after the Montreal Expos advanced into post-season play.

Dick Williams managed the Montreal Expos for four plus seasons on his way to Cooperstown.

Gene Mauch was in charge for seven seasons on his way to winning 1,902 games in his career.

Felipe Alou was the skipper for more than eight seasons.

Yet, the most successful manager of all in franchise history was Jim Fanning.

Fanning managed the Expos into post-season play, bested the Philadelphia Phillies and came within a run of the 1981 World Series when Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday won the decisive game of the National League Championship Series with a ninth-inning homer.

William James Fanning, 87, passed away at 2 Saturday morn of a fatal heart attack at his home in London, Ont.

“It still feels like he is still here our place is filled with so much warmth,” said his son Frank Saturday afternoon.

What an apt description for Gentleman Jim: warmth.

Jim show at the SkyDome/Rogers Centre and Terry Francona, two gimpy knees and all, would sprint to the seats to see the man who drafted him in the first round … to bask in his warmth and hear stories about when both men were younger.

Jim’s name was mentioned often at the annual Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductions in St. Marys whether it was Andre Dawson, Steve Rogers orTim Wallach speaking of what an impact Fanning had on their lives. Wallach, now a Los Angeles Dodgers coach expressed sadness when told of the news.

Fanning grew up in Moneta, Iowa, played with the Chicago Cubs for four seasons, then worked in player evaluation. He moved from the Atlanta Braves to Montreal in the spring of 1968 and until Oct. 14 when Manny Mota was selected in the expansion draft, owner Charles Bronfman’s team consisted of front-office staff like John McHale, Gene Mauch, Harry Renaud, Gene Kirby and Fanning.

It’s why Bronfman had his private plane fly him from New York to Fanning’s citizenship party at Eastside Bar three years ago this weekend.

How could Bronfman say no? Marie Fanning, Jim’s devoted wife, had asked him to attend. Marie, the glue of the family, and Jim would have been together 30 years this November.

The love birds headed to the Dominican Republic on their honeymoon in 1985. Expos scout Jay Alou picked them up at the airport and as he unloaded the bags said “OK, we’ll pick you up at 8:30 to go look at those kids you wanted to see.”

Fanning — since it was his honeymoon you understand — cancelled the 8:30 departaure.

He moved it back to 9:30.

And on that trip he signed reliever Mel Rojas.

Yes, Marie has some saintly qualities.

“Bob McKillop, Scott Crawford, Jim and I would drive in for a Jays game and while the game would be fine, the highlights were the drive into Toronto and the drive back,” said former St. Marys Hall boss Tom Valcke. “Jim would catapult back in time and tell these wonderful stories.

“Some nights you wished you were driving all the way to Florida.”

Frank, who used to play for Mike Lumley’s London Badgers, won first year broadcaster of the year and most promising on-air personality at Fanshawe College last weekend.

Jim was there. Jim was always there. He even sat through concerts Frank’s loud rock band gave. We always thoughts his favorite was when the Expos theme music was played.

After winning his first award, Frank honored his family from the stage, Jim stood, waved and the crowd cheered.
Frank is a chip off the old block, as pop also had broadcaster listed in his Expos resume.

Jim was a passionate statesman of the game and one of the wisest baseball men we ever encountered whether it was scouting as he was the first-ever director of the MLB Scouting Bureau, evaluating as the Expos GM when he built the “Team of the 1980s” or working in scouting or development.

On induction day this summer at St. Marys, a day Fanning always was at the podium, Carlos Delgado, Matt Stairs, Corey Koskie and Alou will be inducted.

The date is June 13 … Tom Cheek’s birthday.

Chances are when Fanning and Cheek, two icons of Canadian baseball look down from above — from the real good seats in the front row — they’ll hear their names.

Deepest sympathies are extended to Marie her daughter Cynthia, 25, a University of Waterloo grad working in social services in the city of London; and Frank, 25.