Saskatchewan ball hall showcases hundreds of fascinating artifacts

 This autographed photo of a young, chiseled Gordie Howe in his Saskatoon baseball uniform is one of the many great artifacts at the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

This autographed photo of a young, chiseled Gordie Howe in his Saskatoon baseball uniform is one of the many great artifacts at the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame. Photo Credit: Danny Gallagher

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

BATTLEFORD, Sask. -- There's an autographed photo of Pete Rose in a bin under glass.

Just inches away under wraps is a Wayne Gretzky signed baseball when he was a 12-year-old playing for Ontario a few years before he became a household name.

There's an autographed photo of greatly sculptured, Floral, Sask. native Gordie Howe, who is shown in a Saskatoon uniform. Later, he had a tryout with the Detroit Tigers sandwiched around his time with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

You see these cherished items at the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in this town located north of Saskatoon across the North Saskatchewan River.

"There's a story behind that Gordie Howe photo,'' Hall of Fame executive director Jane Shury was saying. "After Gordie started playing in the NHL and his agent found out that he was playing baseball so he told Gordie he had to stop playing baseball, that he couldn't play anything else.''

A foot away from Howe is a headshot photo NHL stalwart Bert Olmstead sent to the Hall of Fame to commemorate his induction into the hall in 1993. Olmstead, like Howe, was a solid baseball player. He was born in Sceptre but moved later to Moose Jaw and lit up ball diamonds with his play.

Close to 100 uniform tops donated mostly by inductees adorn the museum along with artifacts, photos, hats, baseballs, bats, books, spikes, papers and trophies. And don't forget the hall boasts what is believed to be Canada's biggest bat.

A few years ago, Ron Laplante of Windsor, Ont. donated a pair of spikes Expos legend Gary Carter left in his locker after he cleaned it out at the end of the 1984 season. Little did Carter know that he would be traded to the New York Mets a few months later.

The hall is a rare baseball commodity in Canada. Provinces such as Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec boast their own provincial baseball halls of fame. Ontario has no provincial hall of fame per se, although the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. is an excellent substitute.

"We get most of our donations for the museum from inductees,'' Mrs. Shury said.

Those inductees include seven who have played in the major leagues: Ralph Buxton, Joe Erautt, Edson Bahr, Aldon Wilkie, Dave Pagan, Reggie Cleveland and Terry Puhl. Dustin Molleken and Andrew Albers, who hails from nearby North Battleford, are the two other Saskatchewan natives, who have played in the majors and plans are to have both inducted soon.

Shury says the Hall of Fame likes to pride itself on the fact that it doesn't rely on any funding from the federal or Saskatchewan governments. Funding from various sponsors and businesses make it possible for the hall to thrive and be an institution across the province, just like a grain elevator.

Without Mrs. Shury, one wonders where the hall would be. She's the heart and soul of the operation after her husband and hall founder David died in 2008. One display case in the hall aptly extols this about Mrs. Shury: Our Rock.

Baseball Saskatchewan, Preston Hogg, Jim Golightly, Superior Forklift Ltd., Smiley's Buffet & Catering, Saskatchewan Lotteries, Sobeys, Kondro Electric, Cando Country Catering, Innovation Credit Union, Keranda Industrial Supply, Gold Eagle Lodge and Tropical Inn are among the gold sponsors generously donating money each year along with two couples: Earl and Ione Bedard and Laurence and Marg Woodard.

Smaller donations, membership sales at $25 per year and the proceeds from the sale of induction-night tickets priced at $75 a pop also make a huge difference. Membership has jumped from 125 in the first year of operation in the 1980s to over 700.

For the last 33 years, the Hall of Fame has staged an induction banquet. The latest ceremony on Aug. 19 attracted a crowd of over 400. Among the inductees was the Hohenlohe school district team from near Langenburg. An amazing 105 people, including some from England, showed up to see the Hohenlohe team inducted. Some players hadn't seen each other in years. Shury said it was the largest turnout to support an individual or one induction group, surpassing the previous mark of 80 for the Swift Current Indians.

What was one of the most special ceremonies ever held was the honourary induction of American great Satchel Paige, who played a number of games in Saskatchewan on barnstorming tours. Paige is acclaimed by some as the greatest pitcher in baseball history.

'It was such a very special day when Satchel was inducted,'' Mrs. Shury said.

The Hall of Fame doesn't boast a website, but Shury said the hall is about to enter a phase of "digital preservation'' of its vast accumulation of various artifacts and memorabilia.

"We feel it's very important that we digitially preserve what we have here in our museum because we have a lot of wonderful stuff,'' the executive director said.  

Located in a community where the local economy is fuelled by agriculture, Battleford was the site of the first recorded baseball game played May 31, 1879 in what was then called the North-West Territories. Two pickup teams played the nine-inning game. The pitcher, then called a bowler, delivered the ball underhand to a location requested by the batter. Strange but true.

As for that Pete Rose photo, the story goes back to April 4, 1974 when David and Jane met Rose in Cincinnati the day Hank Aaron hit his 714th home run to tie Babe Ruth's record. The Shurys then travelled to Atlanta and saw Aaron hit his 715th and 716th home runs.

"Dave was really intrigued with Pete. He thought he was a fantastic player,'' Mrs. Shury said.

The Hall of Fame is open year round on 22nd St from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., except weekends and holidays.

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