Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Fanning passed away of heart failure early Saturday at his home in London, Ont., at the age of 87.
Tributes for the Montreal Expos legend known as “Gentleman Jim”, who spent 25 years in various executive positions with the club, including two tenures as field manager, have been pouring from the Canadian baseball community.
“Jim Fanning was a baseball pioneer in this country. Without his tireless efforts, there may not be Major League Baseball in Canada. He was a tremendous talent evaluator, an astute general manager and a smart field manager who led the Montreal Expos to their only playoff appearance in 1981. We were proud to induct him into our museum in 2000,” said Scott Crawford,the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s director of operations. “But most importantly, Jim was a passionate teacher, a loving husband and father, and a wonderfully generous man. He was baseball royalty in Canada who visited our museum regularly. I speak for myself and the staff at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame when I say that we loved him. We will miss him deeply, but we will never forget him.”
Tom Valcke,the former executive director of the Canadian ball hall and now the general manager of iCase Baseball in Stratford, Ont., also paid tribute to Fanning.
“Jim Fanning was a proud loved and loving family fan, a treasured friend, a baseball man in the truest sense, a five-star, first-class gentleman in every respect and an extremely proud Canadian (he became a citizen on Feb. 18, 2012),” said Valcke.
Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston took time to remember Fanning, who most recently served as an ambassador of amateur baseball with the Blue Jays.
“It is with my deepest condolences to the Fanning family upon hearing of the passing of Jim today,” said Beeston in a statement. “He was a longtime friend and not enough can be said of his contributions to the game of baseball, particularly in Canada. Jim impacted many lives and he will be remembered fondly by many inside and outside the game of baseball.”
Serving as a player, manager, executive and community ambassador, Fanning spent over 60 years in professional baseball. The Chicago Cubs signed him as a catcher in 1949 and he played 64 games over four seasons with them, before pursuing a managing career. After managerial stops in Tulsa, Dallas, Eau Claire and Greenville, fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer, John McHale, hired him as a special assignment scout for the Milwaukee Braves in 1963. The following year Fanning was promoted to assistant general manager, a post he would hold until 1967.
By this time, Fanning’s scouting skills had impressed many, including those in Major League Baseball’s head office, and in 1968, he was hired to be the first scouting director of Major League Baseball’s Scouting Bureau. But Fanning’s tenure at that position would be a short one. In August 1968, he was named the first general manager of the Montreal Expos.
In his quarter-century tenure with the Expos, Fanning helped build the franchise from scratch and served in several different capacities, including vice-president, scout and even two stints as the field manager (1981-82, 1984). When Fanning took over as the field boss in 1981, he had drafted or helped develop the skills of 21 players on the roster. Fanning would guide the Expos to their first and only playoff berth in 1981, leading the team to within one win of advancing to the World Series.
During his time with the Expos, Fanning established himself as one of baseball’s best talent evaluators, counting Larry Walker, Andres Galarragaand Randy Johnson among the players he signed. After leaving the Expos in 1993, he was hired as a special assignment scout by the Colorado Rockies, before taking on his most recent role with the Blue Jays.
Fanning is survived by his wife, Marie, son Frank and daughter, Cynthia. Funeral arrangements are pending.