Memories of Jim Fanning a year after his death

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

On April 25 of last year, I just happened to be on Twitter scrolling through tweets to find anything interesting.

Then I hit on a tweet that gave me awful news: Mr. Expo Jim Fanning had died. I was floored.

I had just talked to him about 10 days earlier about a story I was doing on Randy Johnson and although he wasn’t feeling that great, never did I think that the end was nigh. For some time, he had cardiac problems, but he told me to keep quiet about it. We were fairly close so I kept this revelation close to the chest.

“The doctors are trying to figure out what to do with it and what kind of surgery they should do,’’ Fanning told me earlier that month. “Don’t say anything about it.’’

Needless to say, I was very saddened by the Twitter news. Later that afternoon, I was driving on the 401 outside Toronto when a Montreal Gazette reporter called me, looking for comments about Fanning. I told the reporter I would need to get off the road and talk.

Minutes later, I was talking to the reporter and his death all of a sudden hit me. I was overcome with great emotion and tears as I spoke.

One of my favourite stories involving the Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer was the time he called me Dec. 15, 1989, the day the Montreal Daily News folded and went out of business. I covered the Expos for that paper and I was lying in bed, bleary-eyed and tired following a night of drinking after we put the final paper to bed.

“Sorry to hear about the paper and you losing your job,’’ Fanning told me. I was taken aback with his sympathy. We had a good baseball relationship in the late 1980s and it carried through until his final days.

About 10 years ago, there was another phone call that I remember. He was actually returning a call of mine because I wanted to talk to him about a former Expo, whose name escapes me. So he called me at the hotel in Lantana, Fla. about 7 one morning, and I answered the phone.

“Hey, Danny, this is Jim Fanning. This is your wake-up call.’’

I don’t know how many interviews I did with Fanning since 1988 but he was always accommodating, anecdotal, very eloquent. And he had stories coming out of his ears. He told me stories for different books of mine and for media-outlets, stories he never told anyone else.

Fanning’s legacy is this: he was the only manager to guide the Expos into post-season play in the franchise’s 36 seasons of operation. It was an exciting time in 1981 when they beat the Phillies in the first playoff series before bowing to the Dodgers in the fifth and deciding game of the NLCS.

‘’When we didn’t win, man, it was such a loss,’’ Fanning told me back in the 1990s. “That’s my biggest disappointment in baseball. That was bitter. It wasn’t just a loss for Jim Fanning, the players and the ownership group. It wasn’t just a loss for Montreal and the province of Quebec, it was a loss for the whole country. 

The country was tuned into us. The country was hung on to us. Canadians were watching our every move. We were the club in Canada.’’

Fanning had been a bachelor most of his life until he ran into this lovely lady Maria back in 1976. They were in a relationship for 10 years before they got married in 1986. It was a love affair like no other.

Our thoughts are with Maria and grown-up children Cynthia and Frank on the first anniversary of his death.

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Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com