Feb. 23, 2018
By Matt Betts
Canadian Baseball Network
For the past century, the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) has attracted players with various baseball backgrounds, including many from the highest level.
Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, Jesse Orosco and Paul Spoljaric are just a few of the ex-major leaguers to play in the IBL.
The storied IBL is set to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2018 -- a celebration that includes a banquet held at the Crowne Plaza in Kitchener, Ont., on Saturday.
The initial IBL featured four teams hailing from Berlin (which is modern day Kitchener), Guelph, Stratford and Galt (Cambridge). Since 1919, the league has seen many major leaguers pass through at one point or another during their playing days. It isn't just big leaguers who have made the league a longstanding success but the history behind many of the players who entertained local fans.
Ex-Negro League players made their way north of the border, college players came and currently come home to play in the summers along with many professional players who never made it to the ultimate goal.
Former Toronto Blue Jays scout Ed Heather recalls some of the greats that people could see without attending a big league game. It was and still is hometown entertainment.
“The best player in my opinion was Wilmer Fields of the Brantford Red Sox and Oshawa Merchants during the early 1950’s,” Heather said. “Fields came to the Intercounty from the Negro League Homestead Grays. He was an outstanding Negro League player as well. His offensive and pitching stats were most outstanding for his time in the league.”
Guelph outfielder Dan “Thumper” Jackson, London outfielder Stan “Gabby” Anderson and Kitchener shortstop Tom MacKenzie were all big time IBL stars throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s and ’70s.
With great players come great teams, dynasties as some would say. Heather remembers one of the greatest teams in IBL history, the 1959-1963 Brantford Red Sox. The Red Sox won five straight league championships.
“The most successful team during those years would have been the Brantford Red Sox that were league winners five consecutive years from 1959 to 1963,” Heather said. “The Red Sox had an outstanding catcher in Ted Baker behind the plate, and the two best pitchers in the league, Ron Stead and Spud Bush. Second baseman Bob Frazier and shortstop Jim Reeves gave solid infield strength and the speedy Jim Wilkes in centre field would catch anything in the air with his outstanding defensive skills.”
Walk through the gates of Arnold Anderson Stadium today and whisper the names of those teams and it's sure to ignite a passionate conversation.
The domination of those Red Sox teams seemed like it would never be matched, that is until 2008 when the Brantford Red Sox again started a dynasty winning the Jack and Lynne Dominico Trophy (named after longtime Toronto Maple Leafs owner Jack Dominico and his late wife Lynne) that year. The Red Sox reeled off five more championship seasons from 2009-2013.
The Barrie Baycats, who only became a franchise in 2001, have a current run going of their own. They have won four straight titles and are going for a fifth in 2018.
Like any league in existence for this length of time, it goes through changes, some for the better, some not.
“There were two significant changes that took place in the mid 1970’s,” Heather said. “Aluminum bats were made legal, and this was a contributing factor of the offensive numbers taking off throughout the league. Also, most teams were allowed three imports to strengthen their teams and had the pleasure of bringing in some terrific D1 college pitchers such as future Major League Baseball pitchers Dennis Aust and Jesse Orosco of Galt/Cambridge Terriers, Geoff Zahn (Stratford), Pete Craig (Listowel), Dave Lemanczyk (Guelph) and Al Koch (Kitchener).”
Aluminum bats in the hands of men now would never be considered but import players are still an integral part of the on-field product.
College players flocked home in the summer time to continue their development in one of the most prestigious leagues in Canada, with even more coming back home when college summer leagues were limited.
“During that time the Cape Cod League and Alaska Summer league were the only leagues available for college coaches to send players to during the summer months,” Heather said. “Consequently, that was a boost for the Intercounty. Teams could bring in a couple of pro prospect pitchers from top college teams such as Arizona State, Southern Cal, Pepperdine, University of Michigan.”
The current IBL features eight teams located in Barrie, Brantford, Burlington, Guelph, Hamilton, Kitchener, London and Toronto.
It’s impossible to name all of the players who have and continue to make the IBL a unique and exciting league but the IBL did release a compilation of the Top 100 players in league history. Taking a glance at the list will certainly will be a trip down memory lane for many.
The Top 100 list features a number of players who are still playing in the league or were on rosters during the 2017 season. Left-handed pitcher Brad Bissell, infielder Jordan Castaldo, catcher Kyle DeGrace, outfielder Glenn Jackson and outfielder Ryan Spataro have all contributed to the Baycats recent success, along with current manager and former pitcher Angus Roy.
Right-handed pitcher Stefan Strecker was a key cog for the most recent Brantford dynasty and is still toeing the rubber for the Red Sox.
Fan favourite Cleveland Brownlee is still entertaining the fans at Labatt Park in London with his infectious personality and his offensive capabilities.
Jeff Pietraszko has played his entire career, from 1995-2017 as a member of the Kitchener Panthers.
Damon Topolie doubles as manager and part-time player for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Slugger Sean Reilly is the league's all-time hits, home run and RBI leader, while still going strong into his forties for the Guelph Royals.
To summarize, the league is a staple in Canadian baseball history and is still going strong today.
“The Intercounty is a definite part of our baseball heritage, and it’s one of the longest operating leagues in North America,” Heather said. “100 years old and still going strong.”
Make sure to check out the Canadian Baseball Network website as articles will be done on all eight current IBL teams and one on now defunct teams. These stories will be released leading up to first pitch of the 2018 season.
The complete list of players, their positions and the years, who have been voted among the Top 100:
KEVIN AITCHESON (OF - STRATFORD, 78-91)
STAN “GABBY” ANDERSON (OF - LONDON, 58-66)
TED BAKER (C - BRANTFORD, 60-65)
BARRY BOUGHNER (IF/OF - LONDON, 66-84)
JOE BECHARD (OF - LONDON, 48-54)
BILL BILLINGS (P - ST. THOMAS, 24-31)
BRAD BISSELL (P – BARRIE, 02-17)
RAUL BORJAS (OF – HAM/BRA/TOR, 99-15)
GORD BRADSHAW (C – GALT/BRA, 27-36)
RUSS BRAHMS (P – CAM,/TOR 79-88)
CLEVELAND BROWNLEE (1B/OF – LONDON, 10-17)
WALLACE “SPUD” BUSH (P – BRA/GAL, 60-65)
ROB BUTLER (OF – TORONTO, 90-05)
BILL BYCKOWSKI (C/IB – KIT/TOR, 80-91)
DAVE BYERS (SS – LON/GAL/WAT, 70-87)
JORDAN CASTALDO (1B/3B – OSH, TOR, BAR, 08-17)
LUTHER “SHANTY” CLIFFORD (C – BRANTFORD, 51-59)
DAN COLLISON (IF/OF – STR/WAT/KIT/ST.T, 78-89)
CASEY COOPER (P – GUELPH, 94-03)
JAMIE CORKE (CF – BRANTFORD, 74-84)
LARRY CUNNINGHAM (OF – HAM/GAL, 57-69)
KEVIN CURRAN (P – KITCHENER, 84-99)
RANDY CURRAN (1B/OF/DH – KITCHENER, 84-03)
KYLE DEGRACE (C/SS/OF – TOR/BAR, 05-17)
LEE DELFINO (SS – BRANTFORD, 05-16)
INF-OF Dean Dicenzo was known as the John MacDonald of the IBL hitting .283 as three-time all-star who ranks seventh all-time in hits (594) and stolen bases (144) and is sixth in games played (53). The man who wanted to grow up in Glanbrook had 86 doubles, 17 triples, 18 homers and knocked in 229 runs. Photo: Kaz Novak.
ROGER DEWAELE (C/OF – GALT, 62-71)
DEAN DICENZO (1B/2B/OF – HAM/BRA, 80-99)
DAVE DIX (OF/1B – BRA/WAT, 70-86)
GARY EBEL (1B/DH – KITCHENER, 64-79)
ARDEN EDDIE (OF – LONDON, 67-01)
RUSS EVON (OF/IF – LON/ST.T, 46-66)
JOHN FARAGHER (P/OF – STR/LON, 82-98)
WAYNE FENLON (C – LONDON, 66-88)
WILMER FIELDS (P/OF – BRT, OSH, 51-55)
HARRY FISHER (P – BRANTFORD, 45-50)
DENIS FLANAGAN (C – STRATFORD, 72-91)
ROB FROESE (3B – KIT/STR, 82-90)
SCOTT GARDINER (1B/3B – HAM/NFS/TOR, 82-92)
JOHN GILL (1B – NIAGARA FALLS, 85-89)
MATT GOODING (OF/IF – ST.T/LON, 76-91)
FRENDY GRAHAM (P – GALT, 21-30)
BRAD HAGEDORN (P/OF – KITCHENER, 89-04)
LARRY HAGGITT (1B/3B – LON/STR, 74-84)
FRANKIE HARE (IF/OF – GUE/BAR, 01-12)
COURT HEINBUCH (P – KITCHENER, 61-72)
KEVIN HINTON (1B/DH – GUE/BAR/BFD/TOR, 85-13)
RICHARD JACK (P – HAM/KIT, 59-68)
DAN JACKSON (1B/OF – GAL/GUE/KIT, 51-61)
GLENN JACKSON (OF – GUE/BAR/TOR, 05-17)
RICK JOHNSTON (OF – TORONTO, 89-95)
OF Branson Joseph played for Mississauga and Burlington. He played four seasons and hit .318 earning all-star honours once. He had 29 doubles, four triples, 14 homers and 77 RBIs.
BRANSON JOSEPH (OF – BURLINGTON, 09-12)
VERN “TEX” KAISER (OF – GAL/KIT, 49-55)
WALTER “JO JO” KALMUSKY (2B – STRATFORD, 35-47)
DARRELL KEMP (2B/3B/DH – NIAGARA FALLS, 85-89)
BRUCE KLAEHN (P – KITCHENER, 72-84)
PAUL KNIGHT (P – KIT/GUE, 67-83)
ROMAN KNIGINYZKY (OF – TORONTO, 75-84)
WILBUR KRESS (P/OF – GALT, 20-30)
DICK KROL (2B/P – GALT, 64-67)
DOUG LANDRETH (P – STRATFORD, 67-83)
ERIK LASEKE (SS/P – GUELPH, 91-96)
JOSH MCCURDY (OF – BRANTFORD, 99-16)
TOM MCKENZIE (SS – LON,KIT, 60-80)
BOB MCKILLOP (C/P – KITCHENER, 66-77)
SCOTT MEDVIN (P – KITCHENER, 94-00)
MEL MELEHES (P – GUELPH, 94-10)
GEORGE “IRISH” MISKIMMONS (C – STRATFORD, 24-54)
BRIAN MURPHY (P – LONDON, 67-72)
RON MUSSELMAN (OF – STRATFORD, 78-94)
JIM O’CONNOR (IF-OF, GUELPH, 19-30)
MURRAY OLIVER (SS – HAM/GAL, 58-64)
JOHN OSBORNE (2B/P – TOR/STR, 69-75)
JON OWEN (P – LONDON, 77-99)
ALF PAYNE (SS – TOR/BFD, 70-82)
BARRY PETRACHENKO (2B – STRATFORD, 85-95)
JEFF PIETRASZKO (OF – KITCHENER, 95-17)
SHELDON PLENER (OF – TORONTO, 73-78)
JOHN POHOLSKY (P – LIS/GUE, 58-63)
BRUNO POLLOCK (OF-STM/GUE, 32-36)
HARRY PSUTKA (C – KITCHENER, 48-61)
JASON RAUSCH (1B – KITCHENER, 88-98)
SEAN REILLY (1B/DH – HAM/GUE/BAR/TOR/KIT, 97-17)
JIM RIDLEY (OF – TOR/STR/GUE, 72-75)
ANGUS ROY (P – BARRIE, 02-09)
ROLF SCHEEL (P – LON/SFD, 64-69)
PHIL SCHMIDT (P – LONDON, 74-82)
LOUIS SMITH (OF – BRANTFORD, 35-46)
RYAN SPATARO (OF – BARRIE, 05-17)
PAUL SPOLJARIC (P -TOR/BAR, 02-10)
RON STEAD (LON/BFD/GUE, 55-72)
STEFAN STRECKER (P – BRANTFORD, 01-17)
FRED THOMAS (OF – WAT/KIT/GUE/LON, 50-55)
RICHARD THOMPSON (OF – LONDON, 88-98)
DAMON TOPOLIE (C – SFD/TOR, 95-17)
PHIL TURNER (1B – ST.THOMAS, 81-88)
WRAY UPPER (3B – GAL/BFD, 54-74)
ALEX WATTS (OF – STM/GAL, 22-34)
TOMMY WHITE (STM/LON)
JIMMY WILKES (OF – BRANTFORD, 53-63)
JIM WOJCIK (OF/3B – CAM/TOR, 82-96)
While panel members were able to select any player who played in the 100-year history of the IBL, each was provided with biographies and career statistics for players who met any of the following criteria:
i) any player who participated as a player in games between 1919 and 2017
ii) Only individual statistics and awards that have been earned as a player will be taken into account when naming individuals to this list. Player-managers are eligible but their accomplishments as managers (victories, championships, awards, etc.) will not be factored into the decision to name them to the Top 100.
iii) Longevity and league dominance will be given the greatest weight in determining which players were named to the list. As such, players should have participated in the league for a minimum of five (5) seasons. Additionally, career records and honours such as MVP awards, All-Star teams, ERA/ batting titles will carry more weight than single-game records or one outstanding season.
Jim Ridley spent three years in the IBL and his whole life in baseball coaching and scouting after his playing days. Ridley was a two-time batting champ (1972, 1972), a three-time all-sat and an MVP (1974) and Playoff MVP (1974). He hit .369 with 26 doubles, five triples, 15 homers, 81 RBIs and 22 steals.
iv) Players who played 1-4 seasons (who had an outstanding IBL career) can also be submitted. Such players may be considered by the Committee depending on the number of openings and how such player(s) fit into the overall list.
About the IBL 100th Season Banquet: The Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) announced the details for the 100th Season Celebration Banquet hosted by the Kitchener Panthers, set for Saturday, February 24th in Kitchener.
This once in a lifetime event will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel located at 105 King St E in Kitchener, Ontario from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
The festivities begin at 5 PM with social hour, dinner and program slated to start at 6 PM. Advance tickets are $100 per seat or $700 per table of eight.
Tickets can be purchased now at theibl.ca.
About the Intercounty Baseball League (IBL): The Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) is the top level baseball league in Ontario, boasting ex-major league professional and elite NCAA college baseball players. The 2018 season will mark the IBL’s 100th season. The IBL is the fifth longest continually operated baseball league in the world and serves as a valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff. More than 40 IBL players have advanced to Major League Baseball or returned to the IBL following the their MLB careers. The league is comprised of teams from Barrie, Brantford, Kitchener, London, Toronto, Guelph, Burlington and Hamilton. For more information, visit www.theibl.ca.