R.I.P. Donnie Shean - Upper Ottawa Valley pitcher from baseball royalty

 Bonnie and Donnie Shean were married for 50 years.

Bonnie and Donnie Shean were married for 50 years.

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Baseball royalty. That's where Donnie Shean came from.

The Shean name was synonymous with baseball in the Upper Ottawa Valley for decades. Donnie came from a large family that included four boys, who excelled -- either as players or umpires.

"Frank, Bun and Len were all older than Donnie,'' said their surviving sister Reta Behm. "They all played hockey, softball and baseball. Also, they were very well known as umpires for ball and referees for hockey -- up and down the Valley.

"Bunny and Donnie were the ones who continued to play both baseball and softball for many years while Len and Frank mainly umped the games. Donnie and Len got into golfing in later years and enjoyed trips to Carolina and other places to golf. Len was also a councillor and mayor of Arnprior for many years.''

Almost two years to the day he received a kidney transplant, Donnie died Jan. 23 at Victoria Hospital in Renfrew, Ont. I shed tears when mutual friend and former Douglas Expos teammate Mike Moriarty emailed me the news.

Bun was the star player of the family but Donnie wasn't far behind. Bun was so talented that he played minor-league ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers at their spring-training headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla. Pretty heady stuff for a young stud from small-town Ontario near Ottawa.

"Bun was playing for Foresters Falls and the Renfrew Red Sox when a scout from the Dodgers saw him,'' his sister Reta said. "He did go to Vero Beach to the baseball camp for a year and he played on the farm team I think it was called.  He was 18 so the year would have been 1955. 

 "I carry a cut out in my wallet and the following is what it says:

“Bun Shean of Cobden, a sturdy right-handed hurler with Foresters Falls in the Upper Ottawa Valley Baseball League is reported to have signed a contract with Los Angeles Dodgers. Shean, who stands six-feet-four, goes 198 pounds and is only 18 years old is scheduled to leave for the Dodgers training camp in February. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Shean.''

Catcher Mike Moriarty, a teammate of Bun in Douglas, recalled an extremely gifted player, a fireballer pitcher who was also dangerous with a bat in his hands.

"Bun was a helluva softball player,'' Moriarty said. "Bun and my uncle Joe Moriarty used to work at Haley Industries near Renfrew and they had a team in the local league. I used to go the games and Joe and Bun used to hit a ton of home runs. Bun also pitched. Was he good! He had a helluva arm.''

When Joe Moriarty saw Bun excelling at softball, he slowly coaxed Bun into displaying his talents in baseball. Bun, with his strong arm, was afraid he would hit batters.

"But Bun gave baseball a try and it took a while to get his control but eventually he became good enough to get a tryout with the Dodgers,'' Mike Moriarty said. "He got homesick and came home. It was too bad that he did not stick with it.''

Years ago, Mike Moriarty's father Larry told my brother Jim Gallagher: "Bun was a born ball player. He could hit, field and throw. He was very shy. This maybe explains why he left the Dodgers' camp and came home.''

Like many young Canadian players years ago, Donnie played as a teenager and later as an adult on senior teams in the Valley. He played for Cobden several years and then joined Douglas for a number of years, helping them to South Renfrew Senior Baseball League championships in 1965 and 1969. In 1969-70 at one time or another, my brothers Jim, Lawrence, Bernard and Pat and myself played with Donnie on the Douglas Expos of the South Renfrew league. One year, Donnie played a higher calibre of ball with the Pembroke Pirates of the North Renfrew Senior Baseball League.

Donnie could throw a pretty good fastball, a better than average curveball and he employed an occasional trick pitch: a knuckleball.

"Donnie had a good fastball and curveball,'' Mike Moriarty said. "He located the fastball inside and low away. We did this because we had a good infield. We tried to keep the ball on the ground. Besides pitching, Donnie could fill in anywhere on the infield.''

So then Moriarty told the story about a knuckleball that Donnie threw one time in the 1960s, a pitch that completely baffled Jack Briscoe of Killaloe.

"Jack Briscoe was always complaining and I will never forget one Sunday when we were at home,'' Moriarty said. "Wardie Anderson was the umpire. Jack was at bat and we had two strikes on him. I called for a knuckleball. Donnie gave me this strange look. I kept giving him the three fingers. He started to smile. He shook his head. The ball came floating in the air. You could see the Rawlings writing on it. Jack's eyes light up. He swung and he was a way out in front. Wardie called strike three. Jack turned back and said something like, 'What the hell was that?' I'll never forget it.''

Donnie was 74 when he died. He was a fun guy, very pleasant and just so great to be around when we swapped tales and quaffed beers. Mike Moriarty considered Donnie his best friend.

"I have lost my best buddy and friend. We go way back with sports, baseball, hockey, life. So many memories. You are gone but will not be forgotten,'' Moriarty said in one of many condolences left on the Goulet Funeral Home website.

"Prior to playing for Douglas, we had a team in Cobden. I believe it was 1961 that Cobden won the South Renfrew league,'' Donnie told me in 2016. "Of course, we had Bun, Peter MacKercher and the Price boys from Beachburg playing for us. Another name was Billy Jack and Raymond Bell from Foresters Falls.

"I remember one Sunday playing a doubleheader against Douglas and Killaloe with Cobden winning both games. Bun pitched both games for Cobden with Kevin Donohue pitching for Douglas and Dominic Bielaskie for Killaloe.  I guess I played six or seven years in the league but nowhere after Douglas folded in 1970. There was a lot of good ball with big crowds played back in those days.''

An accountant for many years, Donnie was predeceased by his parents and siblings Frank, Bun, Len, Margaret, Agnes and Mary. He leaves sister Reta, his wife Bonnie, a daughter of the late Harold and Margaret Breen of Douglas, their children Bill and Julie and numerous other relatives.

Late last year, Donnie and Bonnie celebrated their 50th anniversary. They were a Centennial year couple from 1967. Donnie was very close with the Breen family, especially brother-in-law Barry Breen, another integral part of Douglas baseball teams in the 1950s and 1960s.

"I just can't get my mind around the fact that Donnie isn't going to walk through the door,'' Bonnie said in a Facebook post the other day. "I loved him so very much and I know he loved me.''


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