R.I.P. Alfie Payne

*Alfie Payne, who passed away Wednesday was one of Ontario's best amateur players, a national team player, as well as most devoted coaches. He was a baseball lifer./Photo: Alicia Payne Lane ....   2012 Canadians in College 2012 Canadians draft list Letters of Intent 2011 Canadians in the Minors

By Bob Elliott

It’s impossible to put a number on the people I’ve met over the years on various sandlots.

From picking up bats and chasing foul balls in Kingston as an 11-year-old bat boy to Ottawa to last summer in and around Mississauga.

Some people you meet you never see again.

Some are so impressive with strong personalities, you never forget them.

And friendships are developed.

Men like Charlie Pester, Cliffy Earl, Jack Giffin and Jim Ridley all had a presence and enough passion to fill the Rogers Centre.

Alfie Payne fit into that group.

Payne, one of the more talented shortstops Toronto diamonds ever produced, lost his long battle with cancer Wednesday afternoon at 4:45 at Princess Margaret Hospital. Payne would have turned 66 July 20.


Brian Smiley: Payne's twins loves were baseball, family


We first met early in 1968 when Alf was playing for Leaside before a game at Talbot Park. He tripled to right in the bottom of the first. Never saw what he did the rest of the game as my father had a stroke in the third base coach’s box in the top of the second and was rushed to Sunnybrook.

When I saw Cal Ripken running on an extra-base hit in the 1980s, I recall thinking his long stride was similar to Alfie’s.

We’d bump into each other over the years and about 18 years ago we began seeing each other on a regular basis. We even checked out the 1968 scorebooks.

Bob Smyth emailed "Alfie, was the ultimate competitor. A fierce rival, loyal team-mate and an understanding confidant. I had the opportunity of being all of the afore mentioned having being his contemporary since the early 60's."

If they lined up Alf’s pals, friends, players he’d coached at home plate, Buck Reed and Brian McRobie, two loyal members of entourage, would be at the head of the line, which would reach down the first-base line, circle the warning track, come back down the third-base line and start all over again. And again. And again and again.

The three of us went to see Alf at Princess Margaret near the end of his previous stay ... a 77-day stretch.

Carol calls Reed, McRobie and John Hopper her "guardian angels." Dave Dix, Howie Bernie and Greg Cranker were fast friends of Alf's in the 1970s and there were 1,000s of others. Amateur fans in their 50s or older may remember how tough Alf was facing a 3-2 pitch. Well, with wife Carol by his side he battled and battled cancer, which first surfaced in 2000.

"I am so proud and honoured to be part of Alfie's life," said Carol. "I knew where baseball ranked. Alf was the first to the park and the last to leave. Even if the nurses on the fourth-floor day care centre. He had nicknames for all the nurses, even the orderlies ... 'Princess Margaret, Crash and Bash, and his favourite, My Little Friend. We went to a nurse's wedding in 2005, Alf teased her that we would crash it."

Nicknames are as much a staple of the game as a dispute with umpires and broken bats. Alfie Reverso went to see some games in Mexico and when he returned he told the story that there was a guy there that looked exactly like Alf, so he nicknamed Alf Spino and it stuck.

Carol and Alf were wed 37 years, dated for 10 years before that, but knew each other "since age two," Carold said. "His uncle lived beside my parents for 20 years. Then, my family bought a cottage in Orillia and his family bought the one next door."

Knowing how focused her future husband was on baseball Carol picked Sept. 27 as their wedding day. The season was over by then and "I knew he'd never forget the 27th -- Frank Mahovlich was his favourite player, he's never forget that date."

The last time we chatted was in Brantford at Arnold Anderson Stadium the night the Red Sox beat the Ottawa Fat Cats to win another championship. Alf may have been Toronto born, his statue should be in Brantford, where next year's Red Sox will wear 'AP' on their caps. It will not stand for Associated Press.

That’s where he played, coached, was the general manager as Red Sox returned to championship form of the 1960s and  where Alf could be found holding court in Coco’s corner, named for Doug (Coco) Lane. 

Alf could be answering a question about a hitter’s swing, telling a youngster the best fit for him next season or re-calling a bench-clearing brawl against Belleville with Larry Mavety, Gary Goyer, Moe Hunter and Ralphie Plane at the eliminations in Peterborough.

Or listening to the father of former player say “remember the year after you coached the juniors and came to watch the next year. The kids thought so much of you, they’d look into the grandstand for you to give signs on the bunt defence?”

Alf went south with the New York Mets who sent him to Lachine of the Quebec Provincial League were he played in 1964. Reed was on the same team.

He then played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was involved in the Intercounty League’s first player’s strike, played and coached the 1979-80 Waterloo Tigers and with Brantford from 1973-77 and 1981-82.

Payne hit .316 during his career with 34 homers and 173 RBIs. He was the Intercounty home run champ in 1971 and ‘72 and in 1972 led the league in RBIs. The Red Sox won in 1981 for the first time since 1965.

Alf ran East York from 1983-93 in the Labatt senior loop and in 1998 became the Brantford GM. And when he left he suggested to owner Paul Aucoin he hire Rick Johnston as manager, which began the Red Sox recent dynasty.

He played for Canada at the 1975 Pan-Am Games and coached at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for manager Bill McKenzie. 

A baseball lifer, Alf did what baseball lifers do: he touched lives, helped others and passed on his wisdom in a gentle way.

The last time we saw him he smiling after Terrell Alliman scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th for Brantford’s 14th title in September.

Said Reed: "this round sphere we inhabit isn't as good without him."

Deepest sympathies are extended to wife Carol, their children Brad and Alicia and and their families. Alf brought Carol a baseball as a gift in the hospital when both Brad and Alicia were born. Bradley James, named after Leafs manager Jim Liness was born June 21, 1977, the first year of the Jays and was nicknamed B.J. after Toronto's new ball team. A pregnant Carol went to Toronto's first opener when Doug Ault homered twice. Both have their father's traits according to Carol.

The memorial service was held  Thursday morning at the Paul O’Connor Funeral Home, opening day for the Blue Jays.

It was as if Alf was in charge and wanted to see more as the Cleveland Indians the Alf's Blue Jays played 16 innings, the longest opening-day game in major-league history.