Acceptance speech by Spink winner
* The prepared text of the 2012 J.G. Taylor Spink award winner's speech ....
Madame Jane Forbes Clark, présidente du conseil, Monsieur le Commissionaire, Hall of Famers, invités honoré, mesdames et messieurs et fans de baseball ... merci.
For the paramedics, don’t worry about my friends who fainted. They know I went to summer school for Grade 9 French ... and Grade 10 French.
They didn’t know I could speak French.
Some are unsure what I say in English.
Let’s give it a try.
To translate from my awful French ...
Chairman of the board, Jane Forbes Clark, Mr. Commissioner, Hall of Famers, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, and baseball fans...
Thank you so much.
My family and I would like to extend a personal thank you to Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Peladeau for giving us the use of his private plane this weekend.
And, I think, for the rest of the season.
And to follow George Strait’s next tour.
My guests and I appreciate Jeff Idelson, Bradford Horn, cousin Whitney Selover, Becky Ashe and Claudette Burke (who is Canadian) for looking after us so well this weekend.
Thank you all.
I am truly privileged to be here this weekend.
Tim McCarver, always a pleasure to talk to and talk with ... congratulations.
Congratulations, also, to Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa.
And Barry Larkin couldn’t be a more deserving choice for tomorrow.
When I was 10, I would carefully cut out full-page pictures of players from Sport magazine, mail them with a return envelope and ask for autographs.
Among those I mailed to were Milt Pappas, Rocky Colavito and Harvey Kuenn.
I’d use a form letter. It read:
“You are my favourite player.
"You play for my favourite team.
"Could you please sign your picture and send it back to me?”
One day, I opened one from Ron Santo. While everyone else simply signed their name, Santo wrote:
"To my pal, Bobby.
Thanks for being a Cubs fan.
All the best
Your good buddy,
How nice was that?
That covers everyone.
Oh, yeah, me.
Right now, my heart is coming out of my chest ... so stay loose.
I’m from Kingston, Ontario — Canada’s first capital. Some say it still should be. And I am Canadian, like our national treasure here, Fergie Jenkins.
I grew up a Milwaukee Braves fan with pictures of Del Crandall and Del Rice over my bed.
With 8x10s of infielders Joe Adcock, Red Schoendienst, Eddie Mathews and Johnny Logan to the right.
At the foot of the bed were pictures of Wes Covington, Billy Bruton and Henry Aaron.
And to my left were Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl and Gene Conley.
My job has been like winning a lottery. I couldn’t play baseball. I led my high school in “does not apply himself” comments. I didn’t go to university.
But I was fortunate to grow up in a sporting family. (Which was like winning the powerball).
My grandfather can be found on Baseball-Reference.com and in the Hockey Hall of Fame. My father is in the Kingston and Queen’s University Halls of Fame.
When I was in Grade 11, the Kingston senior league needed a new scorekeeper on opening night. Somebody said: “Give the book to the kid.” That was me.
That led to a $100 summer job phoning radio and TV stations with results, doing boxscores for the paper and keeping stats.
By the third year, I was writing for the Kingston Whig-Standard, Canada’s oldest newspaper. And in March of my final year of high school, the boss offered me a full-time position.
Mother was aghast, but father convinced her. But I had to meet two conditions: Graduate, and never become like that writer who kept Ted Williams off his MVP ballot.
Work and graduate? I can’t do that.
Don’t hold a grudge on an MVP ballot? I CAN do that.
The Montreal Expos had not been born and the Blue Jays were not yet a gleam in Paul Beeston’s eye.
No problem. That was the ‘60s. NOW ...
Kids, go to school, get your education, apply yourself.
I was so lucky that the first person I met in baseball was scout Elmer Gray of the Cincinnati Reds, who signed Papa Griffey. For four years, he ran tryout camps each summer in Kingston and Ottawa.
I was his associate scout.
Yes, I was a spot on the mud flap of the Big Red Machine.
I was fortunate also to know scouts like Huey Alexander, Moose Johnson and Bobby Mattick.
And the wonderful Whitey Lockman.
One December at the winter meetings, Lockman asked me a question: “How did someone from a hockey-mad Canada fall in love with baseball?”
I explained that my father cheered for the Red Sox and the Giants. How when Bobby Richardson caught Willie McCovey’s liner for the final out of the 1962 World Series, my father cried. He was angry that the third-base coach had not sent Matty Alou on Willie Mays’ ball into the corner.
Whitey asked if I knew who was coaching third.
“It was me,” he said.
After a dozen apologies, Whitey finally said: “Don’t feel bad. You’re not the first to mention it.”
I learned from scouts Howie Haak, Bill Lajoie and Jim Ridley.
Future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams broke me in covering the Expos.
I’d like to express the sadness Expos fans feel over the losses of Charlie Lea, Woodrow Fryman and Gary Carter.
When I moved to Toronto, there was a left-hander named Pat Gillick, who turned out to be a Hall of Famer, too.
I enjoyed GMs like John McHale, Jim Fanning and Gord Ash. Managers like Bobby Cox, Jim Fregosi and Cito Gaston, who won two World Series in Toronto.
And manager Buck Rodgers.
Back then, it was a different time. Relationships were different.
You’d say: ‘Hi, Buck” at 2 p.m., and “Goodnight, Buck” at 2 a.m.
Coaches Russ Nixon, Galen Cisco, Larry Hisle and Larry Bearnarth taught me the game.
Umpires like John Kibler, Rick Reed, Lee Weyer and John McSherry explained the game.
I have friends here from Kingston, Ottawa, Kitchener and Toronto. Hopefully, by now, all have been revived.
Thanks to my job, I have dear, dear friends in Texas, Anaheim, Kansas City and Philadelphia.
And Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston and Wyoming ... although no one is really certain if Wyoming is a state, or a state of mind.
Baseball has also given me the opportunity to visit 52 big league parks and to cover the game in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Italy and the Olympics in Athens.
It occurs to me that, while I’m being honoured, there are players who have not been, including Jack Morris, Tim Raines and Larry Walker.
A Baltimore friend always asks me: “Who was the best everyday player you covered?”
Covering the Expos, my answer was always Andre Dawson.
When I was traded to Toronto in ’87, my answer eventually became Robbie Alomar.
Andre always respected the rules, Andre always threw to the right base and Andre always hit the cutoff man.
Robbie? You never knew. Infield back? Man on third? Robbie would field a hard grounder and throw out the guy at the plate. He’d take the relay and throw behind the runner for an out at third.
Did I mention that I was Canadian?
I saw Robbie hit a home run in the 1992 ALCS. I saw Joe Carter hit a three-run homer to win the 1993 World Series.
Yet, the most exciting game I’ve ever seen was when Adam Stern homered as Canada beat Team USA 8-6 in the World Baseball Classic at Phoenix in 2006. That was the proudest I’ve ever felt as a Canadian.
I’ve had a string of good bosses, including Eddie McCabe, who hired me twice, Wayne Parrish, Jim O’Leary, Scotty Morrison and old pal, what’s-his-name, our current boss, Bill Pierce.
Many P.R. people have had to put up with me and you all know who you are. Thank you.
I’d like to thank the Spink committee for nominating me, the voting writers, the deskers and the readers.
I have thanked many people by name, but there are many more who have supported me along the way and I’d like to thank them all, too.
I work in a vibrant market with four newspapers covering the team along with TV, radio and a dozen or so passionate blogs.
A lot was said about how I helped young Canadian ball players get to the next level. Yes, I wrote about Canadians. But they put in the work to be drafted or earn scholarships. They did it on their own.
I have given a lot less to baseball that it has given to me.
A friend in Detroit tells me how symmetrical the game is.
In January, I opened an e-mail of congrats from Johnny Bench. I found a phone message from Tommy Lasorda. It was nine minutes long.
I’d found hand-written notes from Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Bert Blyleven and others in the mail.
Suddenly I was 50 years in the past, looking for the mailman — 10 years old again.
My biggest win? My family.
I was lucky to have a sister with me for support when we lost our father in 1970 and, six months later, our mother. I was 19. Elizabeth was 15. I know they are watching.
I was fortunate to have my daughter Alicia, who caused me zero hours of worry, even though her favourite sport was shopping, until she was 25.
Now, it’s hot yoga.
I am unbelievably lucky to have a son, Robert Hewitt Mathews, named after my father, Hewitt Smith and Eddie Mathews.
My son was a better athlete than I ever was and hit one of his best bolts right here when he one-hopped the left-centre field fence against the Bayside Yankees in 1996.
When the kids were babes, I was away 180 nights a year. Our two children turned out so well because of Claire, the rock of the family, my wife of 40 years.
Thank you, Claire.
And thank you all ... now let’s get on with the important part of the program.