Elliott: Birnie, Lewis, Lutton, Ryan, Smith, Soulliere OBA HOFers
By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Jim Lutton and I first met at the Cricket Field in Kingston, it was a May afternoon in 1967.
That is 50 years or 51 ball seasons ago.
Lutton was running the Oshawa Legionnaires, a junior team, which lost that day 4-2 to the Kingston Lakeview Indians, a team coached by my father. Art Leeman picked up the win, while Bill Ryan was tagged with the loss.
Lutton and I have not seen each other each season or every year since way back when Lester Pearson was our Prime Minister and not an airport where you go to pick up lost bags. Yet, we have seen each other often enough at games and Ontario Baseball meetings as well as being in contact over the years. We’ve seen him often enough to write when Lutton won an honour that the two of us met ...
“while working on putting up the walls of Oshawa’s Kinsmen Stadium.”
You could not imagine the string or irate e-mails I received from Lutton supporters, Lutton-maniacs and former players. It was as if I had insulted the Queen, Don Cherry or the loyal family pet.
You see readers did not know Lutton and I were pals. They thought an old goat like me was making fun of my long-time friend.
My father’s team won the senior title in 1967 beating the Orillia Majors and again defeating Orillia in 1973 to go to the nationals in Edmunston, N.B. Lutton’s Legionnaires won in 1988, 1997 and 2002 to mention a few other years. He ran a powerhouse.
So, when news came of Lutton’s surprise induction into the Baseball Ontario Hall of Fame at the annual general meeting my only reaction was ... it’s about time ... long overdue.
The OBA HOF began in 2013 and this year OBA founder W.J. Smith (Toronto), Linda Lewis (Chatham), Dennis Ryan (Hamilton), Bernie Soulliere (Windsor), Howie Birnie (Leaside) and Lutton were inducted.
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It took a long time to decide whom should be focus for this story.
Birnie or Lutton?
Lutton or Birnie?
Back in 1968, I saw Birnie play for the Leaside Maple Leafs and he has been at The Shrine known as Talbot Park ever since. I think he was there that night early in the 1968 season when my father suffered a stroke in the top of the second inning while coaching third. Both teams stood around not knowing what to do when my Uncle Sam Sheridan roared up in a car to the rescue.
When everyone ran to third, he had sprinted deep to right field where his car was parked, drove it onto the grass, stopped at third and he took my father and myself to Sunnybrook Hospital.
There was a lot of talent there that night: Alfie Payne, Buck Reed, Robbie Stevens, Bob (Flakey) Johnstone for coach Joe Irvine, plus Guy White, Clyde Harris, Bobby Gilmour, Briann Coffey and Ron Earl.
Lutton and Birnie are fast friends and they agree on one thing:
Birnie used to think that the worst umpiring in the province could be found at Kinsmen Stadium, especially when Lutton was part of the crew.
While Lutton is of the mind that the most missed calls in all of Ontario are at Talbot Park, although they have decreased since Birnie quit umping.
However, both were complimentary of the crews that used to work the annual Pearson Cup game when the Blue Jays hosted the Montreal Expos at Exhibition Stadium. Mainly because both were on the crew.
Birnie was pretty good at stealing signs in 1979 one night in Kinsmen, of all places, as the Leafs rallied against the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians during the eliminations.
Birnie hired Andrew Tinnish as Baseball Ontario Hit, Run and Throw co-ordinator years ago, Now, Tinnish has been hired a vice-president of the Atlanta Braves.
Just one of the lives Bernie and Lutton have touched over the years.
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Linda Lewis was a pioneer first at the provincial level and then the national level.
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And if you saw someone wearing a CANADA jersey somewhere in the world, Bernie Soulliere was not far behind. Soulliere, or Bernie Baseball, went where ever coach Greg Hamilton’s teams went, whether it was the senior team or the Canadian Junior National Team.
He had a lot to do with the success of the Windsor Chiefs.
On the eve of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Canada was finishing up a tournament in Nettuno, Italy. And Canada was beating its rivals from Cuba. A Cuban base runner had cracked Pierre-Luc Laforest (Gatineau, Ont.) and now a Cuban hitter stepped out of the batter’s box for a second time to try to break the pitcher’s concentration.
Standing behind Bernie in the press box behind home plate, I watched Bernie fire his pencil onto his score book.
“Don’t like the way the Cuban team plays Bern?:
Soulliere shook his head,
“I don’t like the way they play either .... they remind me of the Windsor Chiefs.”
And to show what a good guy Soulliere is when I see him he still has a chilled Diet Coke waiting.
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The honour was a complete surprise to Lutton, who serves on the HOF committee.
He looked up once in the hotel lobby and saw his brother Ted Lutton, the former infielder, and Ted’s wife Edna.
Jim: “What are you guys doing here?”
Edna: “We’re here for a wedding.”
Later when the doors to the banquet hall opened Lutton turned around to see Ted and Linda following behind him.
“Honestly I did not know what was happening until David Huctwith began to talk and they show a video,” said Jim, who was nicknamed “Gullible Lutton” by Edna the rest of the night.
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Lutton and Birnie asked David Fuller (East York, Ont.) to find out all he could about W.J. Smith, who founded the current organization:100 years ago on May 4, 1918, at the Hamilton YMCA on James Street. Smith formed the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association which became the OBA and now Baseball Ontario. Zero elite teams were invited to the original meeting.
In 1960, at age 71, Smith was one of four given a Life Member medal at the annual meeting in Sarnia, but he was unable to attend. In 1964, “Mr. Baseball” attended the Metropolitan Toronto Baseball Association awards dinner.
Fuller tracked down the grand daughter, and both she and her brother made the banquet. Lynda Mitic and her husband Sig (Ellicott City, MD) now live in the Baltimore suburbs. Lynda Smith was born in Toronto in 1943, grew up in Burlington, moved south in the mid-60s, wound up staying and became a high school principal.
Brother Greg (Port Severn, Ont.) recently moved from Burlington, while one son Tyler lives in Mississauga and his other son Evan, an actor, lives in New York City. Smith’s other grandson, Larry, also from Burlington, died in 2012.
The other Smith great-grandchildren live in California. Bill Smith’s only son was named Fred and he lived on a ranch in Campbellville, where WJ spent his final years. Fred died in 2000.
And now the OBA bios for the Hall of Famers
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The King of Leaside Baseball.
Howie Birnie is the heart and soul of Leaside Baseball. Having begun his playing career in 1952, Howie has spent 65 years on the diamond and has done just about all there is to do in the game. Player, coach, umpire, director, president, treasurer; you name it, Howie has done it!
Howie grew up playing at the old Pape Playgrounds and in 1958 turned his attention to umpiring and coaching. Howie coached his teams to seven league championships, one Ontario Championship and in 1968, coached the Junior National Team to a gold medal.
As an umpire, Howie enjoyed success on the National and International stage, working in six National Championships, five International Championships. Howie also worked the Pearson Cup three times in the 1980s, working games between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Expos.
Since 1983, Howie has been the President of Leaside Baseball Association and has held several positions on the Toronto Baseball Association board, serving as President of the TBA from 1978-1985.
In 1985, Howie was elected Third Vice President of Baseball Ontario and eventually took the office of President in 1991.
In 2004, Howie was awarded an Honourary Membership with the OBA. He has been inducted in to the Leaside Hall of Fame, was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and last year became a Life Member of Baseball Ontario.
Linda Lewis began her baseball career with Chatham Minor Baseball in 1978. She was the Ways and Means Chair and then served as Treasurer in Chatham until 1986. In 1984, she became the Secretary/Treasurer/Registrar with the Western Counties Baseball Association and still holds those positions to this day.
Linda joined the Baseball Ontario Board of Directors in 1985 as the WCBA affiliate rep and in 1986 was elected to the Board of Management as a director. While sitting as director, Linda served on the competition and technical committees, chairing both of those committees in 1993 and 1994. Linda became the overall series chair in 1994 and served on the Baseball Ontario umpire’s committee from 1991 until 1997
Linda took the office of OBA President in 1995 and served as the vice president of Baseball Canada from 1995 until 2002.
In 1994, Linda received the President’s award from Baseball Ontario and the Volunteer of the Year award the following year.
Over the years, Linda has served on several committees, chaired the National Women’s Baseball Committee and the Baseball Canada Umpire’s Committee for many years.
In 2006, Linda became an Honorary Member of the OBA and was inducted into the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame.
Linda holds the distinction of being the first female Vice President in Baseball Canada history and the second female OBA President. Since 2016, Linda has been the Treasurer for Baseball Ontario.
Jim Lutton, or Mr. Baseball as he is known in Oshawa, has served over 55 years in many capacities in Oshawa and provincially. Jim served his first term on the OBA Board of Directors in 1962 and was elected President of Baseball Ontario in 1975.
Jim was a scout for the Montreal Expos for nine years while holding down his full-time job as an accountant at General Motors in Oshawa.
As the Baseball Ontario supervisor of coaching from 1980-1996, Jim was the co-founder of the Best Ever Baseball Clinic which is today one of the premier coaching clinics of its kind.
He was appointed an Honourary Member of Baseball Ontario in 1994 and a Life Member in 2000.
Jim has been the face of the Oshawa Legionaires organization for over five decades, leading the junior team to numerous Leaside League titles and five provincial championships, including four in a span of six years from 1999 to 2004.
He is a lifetime member of the Oshawa Legion Minor Baseball Association, and the Eastern Ontario Baseball Association, has umpired throughout all his years of involvement and remains a loyal fan of the game.
The Legionaires have honoured Jim by naming a field in his honour, the Jim Lutton Legion Field was dedicated in June 2012 and is home to many games every season.
Jim served on the committee to rewrite the OBA Constitution in the 1970s and today is the architect and keeper of the OBA History book. Jim is also responsible for the determination of the Baseball Ontario Association of the Year.
In 1957, Dennis Ryan (Hamilton, Ont.) began his umpiring career.
As a member of the Baseball Ontario executive, Dennis worked tirelessly to improve officiating in the province. He was elected President of Baseball Ontario in 1989 and following his term was appointed provincial supervisor of umpires in 1992.
During his time as supervisor, Skip (as he is affectionately known) increased the involvement of Ontario umpires in the National Program by facilitating an Open Invitation to recommended umpires in the province.
In 1993, Dennis earned senior course conductor status at the inaugural Baseball Ontario umpire caravan and in 1994, led the first “All Ontario” umpire caravan. He achieved master course conductor status in 1995.
Dennis is an Honourary Member of Baseball Ontario and a Life Member of both the Hamilton District Baseball Association and the Hamilton Baseball Umpire’s Association.
Dennis retired from the Baseball Ontario National Umpire program in 2007 and retired from baseball in 2010. In 2016, Dennis was awarded the Baseball Canada Home Run Sports Lifetime Achievement Award for meritorious service.
William J. Smith
William Alfred James Smith was a sportsman who played baseball and football. In his career, Smith proved himself a fierce defendant of the principal of amateurism and a tireless administrator responsible for the success of many sports organizations in a career spanning more than 50 years.
As an employee of the T. Eaton Company in 1910, Smith became secretary of various sports leagues within the Eaton Athletic Association. At this time, Smith, along with his brother Bert, also organized baseball leagues in the Danforth and Greenwood area of Toronto.
In 1912, Smith was appointed to lead the Ontario Baseball Commission, tasked with reforming the sport along purely amateur lines. Baseball at the time was at risk of being banned due to the overwhelming issues of gambling, prize money and semi-pros brought in to bolster the rosters of senior teams, which drew large crowds to city parks where admission was charged.
In April 1913, the commission succeeded in forming the Toronto Amateur Baseball Association with Smith as its first president. The key innovation he introduced was to assure local leagues autonomy in how they ran their affairs, as long as they subscribed to a provincial system of championships and maintained amateur standing. Once the TBA was formed, Smith turned over the president’s chair to Norm Brydon and set about touring the province, working with other cities and towns to persuade them form a provincial association.
Smith travelled the province, promoting the benefits of amateur baseball and the new organization being formed.
On May 4, 1918, at a meeting in the Hamilton YMCA on James Street, the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association was formed and the future of amateur baseball in Ontario was set upon a course that it follows to this day – promoting the sport at the amateur level as a positive influence on the youth of Ontario. Smith was its first president.
For over 45 years, Bernie Soulliere has helped turn Windsor into one of the strongest baseball hotbeds in the country. A Windsor native, Bernie coached teams to four Ontario Championships and two National titles in the 1970s. Bernie served as President of Baseball Ontario from 1993-1995 and also served as the General Manager for Team Ontario, winning three consecutive gold medals at the Canada Summer Games.
Bernie was the Vice President of Baseball Canada from 1992-1997 and has served as Team Canada’s business manager six times at International events. Bernie was also the chair of several Provincial and National championships as well as the chair for the highly successful World Youth Baseball Championships which were held at Mic Mac Park in 1986, 1987 and 1993.
Since 1975, Bernie has served as the sports chair for the Mic Mac club and has won numerous awards. He is a Baseball Ontario Honorary Member and was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Bernie Soulliere was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and has since been inducted on two other occasions as a member of the Team Canada Pan Am Games teams in 2011 and 2015.