By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
A strong argument could be made that without Bill Humber there would be no Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
It’s thanks in large part to his tireless and trailblazing research efforts that many of the stories shared in the St. Marys, Ont.-based shrine have been brought to light. So it’s fitting that Humber will now be honoured permanently in the museum.
The Canuck ball hall announced on Thursday that the 68-year-old historian will be part of its 2018 induction class, along with former Montreal Expos superstar Pedro Martinez and long-time Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby. The trio will be celebrated in a ceremony on June 16.
“Researching the roots of Canadian baseball, sharing those stories, and celebrating long lost heroes, has been a lifelong passion for me, so to join them in this special place is both an honour and a humbling experience,” said Humber after being informed of his induction.
Born in Toronto, Ont., in 1949, Humber formed a love for baseball at an early age.
“My dad came to Canada after the war. He was in the British army. He’d never seen a baseball game in his life when he got here, but one of the first things he did with my brother and I was take us to a game at the old Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto,” reflected Humber on Thursday’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame conference call. “I can remember from my earliest days, when I was seven or eight going to those games in Toronto and just falling in love with the game and the whole atmosphere when I was walking into the stadium.”
Fortunately for Canadians, Humber’s love of baseball has never waned. For more than four decades, the long-time Seneca College professor has conducted unprecedented research on Canadian baseball history and is now widely recognized as Canada’s premier baseball historian.
“It’s just that wonder of engaging in a history that had not been told,” said the Bowmanville, Ont., resident, when asked what inspired his passion for Canadian baseball history. “Others – like Louis Cauz – had done a wonderful job on Toronto baseball history, but the Canadian story itself was one that was truly lacking. And to delve into it, it was like an open field, there were very few others who were examining the history.”
To illustrate the esteem that Humber is held in in baseball history circles, he’s the only Canadian to have served on the board of directors for the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and he never misses an opportunity to wave the flag when he’s in the company of his American colleagues.
It would be difficult to summarize all of Humber’s groundbreaking research. The depth of his work on the roots of baseball in Canada is unparalleled and he has introduced us to fascinating Canadian baseball pioneers like William Shuttleworth and Robert Addy. But Humber is particularly proud of the research he did on the first international baseball game that took place in August 1860 between a team from Hamilton, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y.
“The game was played in a place called Clifton,” said Humber. “And my American colleagues in the baseball history community for the life of themselves could never figure out where this place was. They looked on the maps, desperately looking to find out where the first ever international baseball game was played and concluded it must be somewhere near Erie, Pennsylvania., which made absolutely no sense, given how far those two teams would’ve had to travel. In fact, Clifton was the predecessor name of Niagara Falls, Canada. So the first game was played just across the Niagara River, but they [American researchers] were unable to cross the river to Canada, simply because they couldn’t fathom that anything associated with baseball history generally could occur in Canada. So I like to tell that story as one of my favourites.”
On top of the countless presentations about Canadian baseball history that Humber has done across North America, he has also authored several groundbreaking books on the topic, including Cheering for the Home Team (1983), Let’s Play Ball: Inside the Perfect Game (1989), The Baseball Book and Trophy (1993) and Diamonds of the North: A Concise History of Baseball in Canada (1995).
He was also instrumental in the formation of the Toronto Hanlan’s Point chapter of SABR and he played a central role in the organization of Toronto’s first SABR Convention in 1981.
In 1979, he founded a course called “Baseball Spring Training for Fans” at Seneca College which continues to this day. He has taught the course since its inception.
“The idea [for the course] was pretty simple. The players get to go to Florida – or today Arizona as well – to get ready for the season and I thought well, what do the poor fans get to do? They have to sit around until April rolls around for the start of the season. So 40 years ago, I just had an idea that why don’t we just do a course, a class (non-credit) just for fun in a college classroom?” recalled Humber.
“I’m at Seneca College in Toronto and we’ll call it Baseball Spring Training for Fans. And I recall that the phone exploded and people just thought it was the most wonderful idea . . . People were just ecstatic about the idea and I thought it might last a year or two and here we’re just in the process now of our 40th year doing it.”
For his contributions, Humber was made an honorary inductee into the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 and is a recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, which is awarded to Canadians who have made outstanding and exemplary contributions to their communities or to Canada as a whole. He continues to be a regular contributor on baseball matters to radio and TV shows throughout Canada and the U.S.
“I like to think I’ve helped popularize the study of baseball and helped people look back on the history of the game in Canada,” said Humber.
There’s no question that he has, and his plaque at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will ensure that he’s permanently acknowledged as an important part of that "history."