Stephens leaves behind spellbinding memorabilia collection

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

The newspaper notice announcing Annabelle Stephens' death was short and sweet.

A life-long spinster with no children, she wanted no formal funeral service and she wanted a private burial at Bowmanville cemetery. 

There was no mention of her love for playing softball or her penchance for collecting sports memorabilia, especially related to her favourite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and her favourite hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks.

After reading a notice in a Toronto suburban newspaper called Clarington This Week which is delivered to my door in Bowmanville, I showed up at her estate auction May 7 at the Stapleton Auction Centre on Highway 2 in Newtonville to see her spellbinding, vast collection of baseball treasure troves and hockey wares.

“That’s the first estate sale of sports items that we’ve had that large in terms of volume and quantity,’’ admitted auctioneer Frank Stapleton of the Stapleton Auction Centre. “There was a great variety of stuff from different eras, different years. Most people probably didn’t know this collection existed.

“People like Ms. Stephens probably liked to keep their collectibles private for security and identity reasons.’’

Stapleton wouldn’t reveal the amount of money collected by the estate from the auction but it would have been close to $10,000 based on this reporter’s observations and notes. The lawyers representing Stephens’ estate were left a message but they didn’t respond.

Stephens played softball in Oshawa’s recreation-department league before graduating to the Durham Ladies Softball League, suiting up for a number of teams including Bowmanville’s McQueen’s Motors squad. She also found time to be the league’s recording secretary-treasurer for over 10 years.

According to online reports in Bowmanville’s Canadian Statesman newspaper, Stephens retired as a player at 30 in 1973 and became the business manager of the Oshawa Tony’s men’s team sponsored by food guru Tony Esposito in the Oshawa Fastball League.

“Annabelle went with us to the 1974 Canadian championship tournament in Victoria and she came with us to New Zealand in 1975 when we went on a 16-day tour as the Canadian champions from 1974,’’ remembered Tony’s third baseman Jim Rowden.

“She wasn’t too bad a player in the ladies’ league. She was a big girl so she could really sock the ball. She was a nice lady. She was always single and never married. The last time I saw her, she was in a wheelchair.’’

Stephens, a former General Motors employee, was 72 when she died at the Lakeridge Health facility in Oshawa. She was the only child of Theodore and Dunwreath Stephens and was predeceased by brother Stanley, her only sibling. Some people I talked to didn’t know she had died last December.

“I worked with Annabelle at GM,’’ Rowden said. “She was a data processor in the parts building in the Whitby south office for 10 years and then at another facility for a number of years.’’

Stephens adored former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and had a Dodgers’ button-down uniform top signed by him. It was auctioned off as part of a package with a Dodgers’ hat full of about 20 Dodgers’ pins. There were three sets of Dodgers’ Monopoly games and there were 1962-63 mementoes of Dodgers outfielder Tommy Davis.

There was a furry baseball cap commemorating the Dodgers’ winning of the World Series in 1988. There was a Dodgers’ doll and a licence plate. Dodgers’ items were too numerous to list here.

A limited edition bat with the names of four Cooperstown Hall of Fame players chiselled into the wood and placed inside a wooden box sold at auction for $105. I entered the bidding for that unique bat but stopped at $50.

A number of Blue Jays’ uniform tops including one signed by Vernon Wells were auctioned off along with many other goodies from other major-league teams. Going, going, gone for a few bucks was a ball signed by former Blue Jay “Eric Hinske, ROY 2002’’, meaning he was voted American League rookie of the year by the BBWAA.  

I took home a Jays’ uniform top, an Expos T-shirt with an embroidered, silk-screened logo, an autographed Fergie Jenkins Louisville Slugger bat, about 25 never-worn baseball caps from various MLB teams and a never-stomped on Blackhawks’ floor mat. There were a number of Expos’ sweatshirts but I dislike them, if they have ugly plastic lettering that can come off in the wash eventually.

Three autographed Blackhawks’ sweaters signed by Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall and Jonathan Toews, were gobbled up by the same man for a total of $450. Other sweaters signed by Chicago stars Bobby Hull and Pierre Pilote drew similar attention. A 1972 Team Canada sweater signed by Paul Henderson went for $150.

As was Stephens’ request, donations, including the sales of her estate goods, were made to the Ontario Veterinary College Pet Trust fund at the University of Guelph.

“Annabelle loved playing, and she loved sports,’’ recalled Dolores Davey, a teammate of hers in 1973.

“She was always quite the fan,’’ Rowden said.

She sure was, judging by her hobby.

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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