By: Scott Langdon
Canadian Baseball Network
Quick, name the only Canadian to participate in the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball All-Star Games.
You would be correct if you said Barrie, Ont. native Ken Carson. He represented the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL All-Star game and the Toronto Blue Jays in the Major League Baseball showcase as a trainer to the stars. Not bad for someone who began his 62-year sports career as a stick boy for the Barrie Flyers of the Ontario Hockey League in the early 1950s.
Today, Carson, 74, is the President of the Florida State League, a Class A, full-season league in the minors of professional baseball. The transition from hockey stick boy to baseball president has made him “the luckiest person alive”, he says.
“I have been very fortunate to spend my career in sports. I have never completed a resume. It just seems I have always been at the right place at the right time,” he explained modestly.
Carson was a self-described “rink rat” as a youngster growing up in Barrie, north of Toronto. He became known to Barrie Flyers’ owner Hap Emms and trainer Buddy LeRoux who gave him the job as stick boy, then trainer at the age of 18 when LeRoux left the team for another position.
“Anybody could have been a trainer back in those days,” he said. “You didn’t require a license or training. Eventually, I took courses by correspondence and did become licensed. Today, of course, it is very different, much more sophisticated.”
Carson moved with the Barrie franchise when it re-located to Niagara Falls, Ont. His next step was to Rochester in the American Hockey League and eventually the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL where he was the team’s trainer for a decade.
“When I got to Pittsburgh, it was ‘Wow! I made it’. I was one of only twelve trainers in the expanded NHL. Truthfully, it was more fun than it was a job. It was an exciting time, flying across North American, staying at top flight hotels and using new equipment, learning new methods and modalities,” he said.
The Toronto Blue Jays came calling in the mid-1970s after Labatt Breweries secured a franchise in the American League of Major League Baseball. Carson turned down the Jays’ offer to become head trainer several times before finally agreeing to take the job before the Jays’ inaugural 1977 season.
“There were only two reasons I finally decided to take the position with the Blue Jays. First, there were rumors that Pittsburgh’s NHL franchise might re-locate. That was a concern for me. Second, there was a pension in baseball that didn’t exist for trainers in the NHL. The pension was a good one, same as the players receive,” he said.
Carson’s career began to grow and expand as a result of the decision to switch from hockey to baseball. He became the Jays’ Travel Director as well as trainer in 1978, was named Director, Florida Operations in 1987 and Director, Business Operations one year later, overseeing the Blue Jays’ minor league teams in Dunedin, Fla.. Knoxville Tenn. and St. Catharines, Ont.
Ironically, the business and management skills needed for these positions were acquired in the golf business, not hockey or baseball.
“I used to manage a public golf course in Niagara Falls in the off season from hockey. This is where I started to learn about budgets and managing people,” he said.
Carson took over as President, Chairman and Treasurer of the Florida State League in 2015 following the death of long-time President Chuck Murphy. Carson had been named Executive Vice-President of the league in 2011. He had been appointed an inaugural member of the board of trustees of minor league baseball in 1991.
“Now I deal with issues such as attendance, rising costs, discipline and other matters. It’s fun. My wife, Lillian, and I are in a ballpark somewhere in the State of Florida pretty well every night during the season. What can be better than that?” he asked.
The graduate of Barrie Central Collegiate has sage advice for young people wanting to begin a career in the management ranks of professional baseball.
“Start by securing an internship, probably in minor league baseball. There is a Job Fair every year in conjunction with the baseball winter meetings. Be willing to try new things from cleaning the stadium to ticket sales, promotions and stadium operations. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty because it can pay off in later years,” he said.
Carson has recently added “Author” to his lengthy career summary. A new book co-written with Larry Millson former long-time baseball writer for The Globe and Mail is expected to appear in Canadian book stories in the next few weeks. It is aptly titled “From hockey to baseball: I kept them in stitches”.
The book is just the latest development in a 62-year sports career that has taken Carson from hockey stick boy to baseball executive. “I have been so lucky. I pinch myself every day.”
There will no doubt be many more pinches in the years ahead.