By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
St. MARYS, Ont. -- ‘’Friendship is not mandatory.’’
Those powerful, inspiring words came yesterday from the philosopher himself, Felipe Alou, the former major-league player best known in Canada as the long-time Expos’ manager.
Alou, 80, was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame here along with former major-leaguers Corey Koskie, Carlos Delgado and Matt Stairs and Toronto Sun baseball columnist Bob Elliott.
Alou was alluding to the friendship he had with the late Jim Fanning, a man of many duties through the years with the Expos, a respected man, who died in late April of heart failure. Alou was saying that friendship evolves and when it does, it usually lasts forever. He also talked about the air-tight bond he has to this day with former Expos minority shareholder Mark Routtenberg.
Before his induction, a tribute to Alou and the 1994 Expos was fashioned in an utterly fantastic way by Montreal rapper Annakin Slayd and sidekick Leesa Mackey.
Fanning’s son Frank said his father had been tabbed to introduce Alou at his induction before he died. Frank proceeded to reveal a few nuggets. One was that the New York Yankees offered Jim the job as manager for the 1982 season after he guided the Expos to the post-season for the first time in 1981. Fanning turned down the offer to continue managing the Expos in 1982.
Fanning was also offered the job as Minnesota Twins’ GM in the mid-1980s but he turned it down because he wanted to remain loyal to the Expos.
Koskie talked about growing up in rural Manitoba playing baseball, hockey and volleyball before deciding on baseball as his main sport.
Delgado thanked the Jays and Toronto for a wonderful career in Hogtown.
Stairs was a hoot like everyone else at the podium. He talked about that moment in 2008 when he was summoned to a room in Tampa and told he was traded at a time when he was scuffling badly at the plate.
“Traded to who?’’ Stairs asked.
“We can’t tell you until we open up a roster spot,’’ a Blue Jays official replied.
“If I guess, will I be right?” Stairs asked.
“OK, guess,’’ the official said.
“The Philadelphia Phillies,’’ Stairs guessed.
“How did you know?’’ the official asked.
“Pat Gillick has been trying to get me for four years,’’ Stairs said.
Yes, Gillick, the former Jays’ GM and at the time, the Phillies’ GM. Stairs went on to win the 2008 World Series with the Phillies, helping out with a stunning, pinch-hit homer to win Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.
“Thank you, Toronto, for trading me,’’ Stairs said in his speech.
Elliott talked about his career as a baseball journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Sun and his baby, the Canadian Baseball Network, which he founded years ago. Elliott recalled the time former major-leaguer-turned scout Whitey Lockman asked Elliott why he had such a love for baseball when it came to hockey-mad Canada. Elliott explained his love for the game came from his father who cheered for the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants.
How when Bobby Richardson caught Willie McCovey’s liner for the final out of the 1962 World Series Elliott’s father cried. He was sad and angry that the third base coach had not sent Matty Alou home on Willie Mays’ ball in the corner.
Whitey asked if he knew who was coaching third. “It was me,” said Whitey. After a dozen appologies Whitey finally said “Bobby don’t feel bad ... You’re not the first ever to mention it.”
So we are left with an anecdote from Alou, talking about the time he faced Canadian pitching legend Fergie Jenkins way back when.
“I went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts,’’ Alou said, as Jenkins looked on from the audience. “Thank you, Fergie.’’
And with that, Alou walked off the stage to a standing ovation. It was indeed a wonderful day for baseball in Canada.