Canadian Hall of Fame moves ahead without St. Marys funding

By: Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Good on the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

The hall's 15-member board of directors has moved forward after being rejected in December by the town council in St. Marys, Ont. for significant funding for a new facility.

Little or nothing has been said or revealed about the board's March 24 decision to approve the allocation of close to $850,000 to renovate and expand the current museum but visitors won't see any improvement on the work anytime soon because construction will not commence until near the end of this year.

"We're going to expand the existing museum to increase 2,500 square feet of storage space,'' said Adam Stephens, the point man and chief spokesman for the board of directors. "There is no new, separate building.

"Construction work will be tendered once all plans are finalized and construction will commence in the fall or early winter. It's a project that the board has been considering for quite some time and it's been discussed at a number of meetings. An architect and a creative production company have been retained.''

The construction will result in the improvement of the museum's interior, the wall of inductee plaques and public exhibitions but more than anything, it will create space for storage of the numerous artifacts, newspaper articles and books accumulated over the years by the hall.

"There is a real treasure trove of baseball books and articles which are of intense interest to baseball historians and academics,'' Stephens said in an interview. "This expansion will properly house the collection within the museum building. We want to have the collection organized and cataloged.  How you properly index the collection is rather time- consuming.

"We're very excited. These are initiatives that we have long recognized. There is a need for our collection to undergo a great improvement. The overall condition of the collection needs to be improved. It is our intention to hire a qualified curator to lead a team of volunteers to assess and catalog our collection.'' 

Stephens said a number of historians have their own collections and that they have some desire to bring all of their works together with the hall collection. In the end, it is hoped that a library and archives centre will be set up and open to the public sometime in 2018.

"We hope that the improvements will improve visitor experience,'' Stephens said. "The good news is that hall of fame is in a good financial situation.''

That's right. The hall brings in a lot of revenue from memberships and donations but its two main money-makers are the celebrity golf tournament and banquet to be held this year on Friday, June 23 and a new fund-raiser, a cocktailer called The Opening Pitch to be held Thursday, June 22 at the Toronto law offices of Miller Thomson LLP where Stephens is a partner.

With The Opening Pitch on deck, I'll have to keep my 1990s white Nike baseball cleats in a basement bin. I was looking forward to taking them out to play for the first time in the celebrity softball game that usually took place on the Thursday night of induction week.

Alas, the game and the accompanying home-run derby in St. Marys that had been taking place for about 10 years has been cancelled and replaced by The Opening Pitch. What the new event does is give more exposure for the hall, moreso than a softball game and home-run derby might do. What the schmoozer does most of all is bring in additional revenue for the hall for future use.

The Opening Pitch will allow guests to mingle with some past inductees and the 2017 class that includes Roy Halladay, Vladimir Guerrero, past Baseball Canada president Ray Carter and members of Team Canada's Pan-Am Games winning team from 2015. A representative of late inductee Doug Hudlin, a legendary B.C. umpire, is also expected to be on hand.

"The reason for doing The Opening Pitch is to create awareness for the hall and generate another fund-raiser to assist with our future plans,'' said Scott Crawford, the hall's director of operations. "It allows us to spread our wings. We thought about doing this event in 2016 but decided to wait until 2017.''

Tickets are $225 each and guests will see Sportsnet baseball personality Mike Wilner interview the inductees on stage in a scenario labelled Conversations with Excellence. The reception between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. will feature an open bar and hors d'oeuvres.

"This is an idea that we have been considering for some time because the Thursday event has not been a significant fund-raiser for us,'' Stephens said. "One objective is try to increase fund-raising potential for Thursday night and the other objective is to expand our influence and get a different location in Toronto. We're very excited about expecting a wonderful event.''

The place to purchase tickets is theopeningpitch.eventbrite.ca and only 140 tickets are available. And don't forget the hall's marquee annual event which is induction day June 24, open free to the public. In conjunction with the induction ceremony, a baseball festival will be held. Details on the festival will be released later.

The hall has moved on after town council rejected the hall's request for an immediate $550,000 capital donation and an annual stipend of $150,000 to support an elaborate $6.2-million expansion plan to include a new museum and offices. 

Town council voted 6-1 against granting any money to the hall. Council is preaching fiscal responsibility in a small town that says it can't afford to be subsidizing the hall when other more important issues such as infrastructure are at play.

St. Marys mayor Al Strathdee said in an interview that he has had a few conversations with Stephens since the December meeting but he said the hall has not submitted any new proposals for financial support.

"The town has a proud partnership with the hall dating back over 20 years,'' Strathdee said. "The town has invested more than $1-million in in-kind help and cash into the operations and site of the hall. We continue to offer annual cash and in-kind support of the hall.

"Generally, the citizens of the town remain supportive of the hall and the relationship that we have. There are some people who are disappointed with council’s decision and some who are supportive. The general feeling is that there are many other projects that require attention and that we could not support spending of this magnitude, as recommended by our consultants and our legal advisors.''

With spring and summer approaching, the hall is expanding its visitor hours. Check the website for more information and at the same time, find out how you can become a member or make a donation.

Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com