What's next for Canadian ball Hall?

Rob Ducey (left to right) Tim Raines and George Bell during the 2013 induction ceremonies at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.

Rob Ducey (left to right) Tim Raines and George Bell during the 2013 induction ceremonies at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys.

By Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network

It’s a time to reflect, to pause, to take stock of what happened, to wipe sweat off flushed-red faces, to shed disappointment, to erase the downer feeling of not getting that badly needed Christmas gift from Santa.

It’s a time to take a big step back, to dissect the after shock and sadness, to come back down to earth after all of the pent-up excitement. As Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame board of directors vice chair Adam Stephens told me, “We will dust ourselves off.’’

After municipal council in the town of St. Marys, Ont. rejected the hall of fame’s request for substantial funding Dec. 21, the hall is at quasi-crossroads. It’s going to be days and weeks to recover from the impact of the council rejection.

What does the hall of fame do now? There is no near-future prospect of having a new facility built to replace its current one in an old farmhouse that is dated and miniscule. After hoping to have new digs in place by 2019, the hall is back to first base. It could be 5-10 years before construction begins, if at all.

Sure, the hall will continue to plod along with a small museum with puny attendance of roughly 5,500 per year and it will stage its popular induction ceremony each June. But a new facility would have been the cat’s meow to spur visitation growth not only in Ontario but to gain a more substantial fan base across Canada through an outreach program.

What does the future hold for the hall in quaint, beautiful St. Marys? Does the board of directors, some of them from the Toronto area and some from southwestern Ontario, look at other Ontario venues to relocate the hall? Maybe they would find a municipality willing to put up the money they requested from St. Marys.

Council in St. Marys rejected the hall’s request for an annual, permanent, up-front donation of $150,000 per year and a commitment of $550,000 toward the construction of a $6.36-million facility. The hall wanted the $150,000 immediately and that might have been a rash order.

The hall told council it wanted to use much of the $150,000 to hire a fund-raiser and eventually some of the money would cover losses. St. Marys currently helps out the hall by handing out cash grants on induction weekend and providing in-kind services such as labour for repairs, supplying picnic tables, snow removal, top soil and gravel and other miscellaneous items.

The town and the hall have a cost-sharing agreement where the hall of fame runs the town’s minor baseball program. The hall also rents out the ball fields for tournaments to generate revenue.

A crucial component of council’s soul-searching decision was that it could not afford to burden town taxpayers with the proposal while addressing all of the town’s capital needs.

As a baseball fanatic and baseball writer who has a great passion for the hall, I think the board of directors should have asked for far less than money than the $150,000 it requested. It’s a lot of money for a small municipality to cough up when it has bigger financial concerns such as intrastructure.

With the decision by council, Scott Crawford, the 30-ish, bright, talented director of operations at the hall, must be wondering what to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to move on to seek other endeavours. I’m sure he sees that a new facility is eons away.

With his expertise and knowledge and how he has handled the hall so superbly since executive director Tom Valcke left a few years ago, Crawford could find a job with the Blue Jays or some other organization. He even has potential as a sports journalist. I’m sure he’s dusting off his résumé.

Crawford is a talent the hall’s board of directors wouldn’t want to see leave but it could happen because a new facility is a pipe dream.

Crawford and the board of directors would have sought funding from the provincial and federal governments for the new facility if town council had ponied up. That support from the province and feds, in turn, would have prompted the hall to pursue national companies for capital support. The hall was also prepared to approach some of its inductees such as Larry Walker, Ferguson Jenkins, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson Pat Gillick and many others for small pockets of support.

The hall is Canadian in name only. In order to make it more Canadian and to attract more people from across Canada, a new facility is required. All of those numerous artifacts and memorabilia items stored in the attic and basement of the current museum would be brought out of mothballs and displayed in a new building. There are thousands of books that needs to be exposed and displayed.

The hall could become much more Canadian if the media cared a little more. There was next to no coverage of the Dec. 21 meeting. To me, the result of that meeting -- yes or no -- was one of the biggest Canadian baseball stories of the year.

So now all of that hope about expansion is resting on the backburner. The frustration, exasperation and vexation of what happened Dec. 21 will linger. 

Lifetime hall donor Barry Naymark of Toronto is still trying to grasp the town’s decision.

“It is a shame that the town council for St. Marys would miss on a golden opportunity to showcase and highlight their town to Canadians coast to coast,’’ Naymark said in an email to me. “I feel they do not realize they are the envy of other towns across Ontario that would welcome and embrace a Canadian historical and inspiration gem such as the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.’’

Maybe out there is a knight in shining armour, a rich benefactor. Instead of sending a $6.36-million gift to sponsor a wing of a hospital in Ontario, this benefactor could donate the money to sponsor the hall’s expansion. Wishful thinking, yes, but it sure sounds nice.

After thinking for several days of the phrase I have used before, it came at 12:45 one morning a few days ago while I was lying in bed in between stints of sleep. Withdrawal symptoms. That’s it, the description of the hall’s feeling of getting lowered to reality after a wonderful feeling of euphoria headed into the Dec. 21 meeting.

It’s like going on a vacation to a sun splashed destination and then coming home to a snowstorm. There are withdrawal symptoms.

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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