|League||Intercounty Baseball League (1925–present)|
|Ballpark||Labatt Memorial Park|
|Colours||Blue, Black and White|
|Ownership||Scott Dart and Roop Chanderdat|
The London Majors are an independent, minor league baseball team of the semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League. The team was founded in 1925, and is based in London, Ontario. They play their home games at the 5,200 seat Labatt Memorial Park.
Over the years, the team has also been known at various times as the London Seniors (1934–1944) the London Majors (1944–1959) London Chester Pegg Diamonds (1960–61), the London Majors again (1962), the London Pontiacs (1963–1969), the London Avcos (1970–73) and the London El-Morocco Majors (1974), depending on the team sponsorship of the day.
1948 London Majors
In 1948 London Majors, considered one of the best teams in Intercounty history, not only won the Intercounty League championship, but the Ontario Baseball Association championship, the Canadian amateur men's championship, and the Can-Am North American championship of the National Baseball Congress beating the Fort Wayne, Indiana, General Electrics in a best-of-seven-game series played at Labatt Park, with such London stars as pitcher "Tireless" Tommy White, catcher Jack Fairs, short-stop/ fielder Russell (the Muscle) Evon, catcher Gil Robertson, infielder Don Cooper and rookie outfielder Joltin' Joe Bechard (the three remaining members of the '48 Majors still alive are Jack Fairs, Gil Robertson, Joe Bechard and trainer Norm Aldridge—see photo below).
Fort Wayne had gained renown by losing one game in 15 tournaments played during the previous two years.
The Majors won the opener on September 21, 1948, at Labatt Park when Joe Bechard's single in the 11th inning scored Johnny Lockington from second with the winning run in an 8-7 victory. Three times in the game Bechard had knocked in a run tying the game for London. It was "the greatest display of clutch hitting ever seen in the local ball yard", wrote Free Press sports editor Jack Park.
Fort Wayne went up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series but London pitcher Tommy White threw a five-hitter and Bechard hit a grand slam in a 13-1 London win in Game 6. White returned to the mound the next day and allowed five hits but blanked the Electrics 5-0 to give London the championship and post his third win of the series.
The 1948 London Majors team is considered to be one of the best amateur men's baseball teams of all time and have been inducted into the London Sports Hall of Fame at Budweiser Gardens.
According to the Intercounty League's 1998 record book, the Majors won the league (playoff) championship series in 1925, 1936, 1937, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1956, 1969 (as the London Pontiacs) and 1975. In 1945 the London Majors won the Ontario Baseball Association championship (see team photo below on an external link).
According to the same record book, the Majors won the pennant race (atop the regular season standings) in 1946, 1947, 1956, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1975 and 1988.
Additionally, the London Army Team won the Canadian Sandlot title in 1943 and 1944.
Traditionally, one of the high points in the season of the London Majors is the double-header with the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1 (Canada Day), which is usually followed by fireworks over the adjacent forks of the Thames River. Another high point is during the first weekend in August when the London Balloon Festival is held in Harris Park, across the river from Labatt Park. Watching the Majors play while 25-or-so hot-air balloons take flight against the backdrop of the city's skyline, personifies the idyllic dog days of summer.
In 1950, pitcher Ted Alexander joined the Majors. Previously, Alexander had been a star pitcher for a total of 14 seasons with the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. Alexander left the Majors part way through the 1951 season, during which the Majors won the Intercounty title with star pitchers, Stan and Bill Slack. The Majors also won the Intercounty title in 1956 with former New York Yankee/ Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Frank Colman as the owner of the team.
1975 London Majors
Eddie, who has played at first base, second base and the outfield during his 34-year playing career in the Intercounty League, was a key member of the 1975 Majors when they won the Intercounty title, the last year that the team has won the league championship.
Other players on the 1975 Majors ballclub were: former Major League Baseball, left-handed pitcher Mike Kilkenny, a league all-star and 1975 Intercounty MVP; shortstop Dave Byers; all-star third baseman Barry Boughner; 1975 batting champion Larry Haggitt (.412); manager Roy McKay; coach John Ambrose; long-time coach-trainer Norm Aldridge (Aldridge has a City-owned baseball diamond named after him in northeast London called Norm Aldridge Field); Larry Wilson; pitcher Phil Schmidt; pitcher Rick Lindquist; Barry Fuller; Mike Fess; catcher Wayne (Dog) Fenlon; Brian Bell; captain Dave (Whitey) Lapthorne; infielder Mike Mitchell; infielder Rob Watral; John Marks; Alex McKay Jr; Jamie Hodge; John Gourley Jr.; pitcher Neal Ambrose; trainers Ed Loney and Bob Gilan; General Manager George Hall and batboy Jim McKay.
Affectionately known as "Killer", Kilkenny was 9-0, with 129 strikeouts, 46 walks, nine complete games and an earned run average of 1.31. Kilkenny previously played for the Detroit Tigers (1969–1972), Oakland Athletics (1972), San Diego Padres (1972), and Cleveland Indians (1972–1973) during a five-season stint (1969–1973) in the Major Leagues. In 1969, Kilkenny was named "Rookie of the Year" for the Detroit Tigers.
Recent team developments
In 2004, the London Majors made it to the best-of-seven championship IBL series with the Guelph Royals, but were defeated four games to one. After the 2004 season, the Majors moved out of the Roy McKay Clubhouse, pending interior renovations to the historic structure, and into the dressing room under the third-baseline grandstand, a dressing room previously used by the London Tigers (1989–1993), the London Werewolves (1999–2001) and the London Monarchs (2003).
After buying the London Majors prior to the 2004 season, in October, 2005, team owner Scott Dart brought his friend and former veteran London Majors' outfielder, Roop Chanderdat, in as team co-owner, with Chanderdat also assuming the duties of general manager.
On January 14, 2006, The London Free Press reported that the Majors had become an international organization with 11 scouts in Latin America, the U.S., Mexico, Italy and Japan.
For the 2006 season, Majors' Co-Owner/ General Manager Roop Chanderdat was also the team's field manager, with former Majors'/ Baby Jays' pitcher Harry Muir acting as the team's pitching coach.
On June 24, 2006, the National Post featured a lengthy two-page story by John Lott in its sports section titled, Safe at Home, How Love and Medicine Rescued a Life from a Mysterious Illness, about Harry Muir's brush with death in 2005, on the front page of its sports section.
Outstanding London Majors in 2006
London Majors named to the Intercounty Baseball League's first-all-star team in 2006 were second-baseman Kyle Piwowarczyk and outfielder Brad McElroy (who also won the league's regular season batting title with a .403 batting average).
The Majors also led the league in batting during the regular season with an overall team average of .305.
Named to the second-all-star team in 2006 were outfielder Kevin Virtue, left-handed pitcher Erick Perez, designated hitter Chuck Roberts and manager Roop Chanderdat.
Rudy Vallejos, an outfielder with the 2006 London Majors, won the Intercounty Baseball League Rookie of the Year (Brian Kerr Memorial Trophy). Vallejos enjoyed a productive first season in the IBL, hitting .304 with two homers and 41 RBI. The Ottawa, Ontario, native also hit five doubles, scored 28 runs and was fourth in the league with 19 stolen bases in 30 games.
2006 IBL playoffs
The 2006 London Majors fared well in the Intercounty playoffs, dispatching the Kitchener Panthers in four straight games and the defending IBL champions and pennant winners, the Barrie Baycats in five games.
In the final series, however, the Majors were defeated four games to one by the Brantford Red Sox, who won their first Intercounty title since 1981 on August 25, 2006, in Brantford.
Denny McLain, Fergie Jenkins and Dave Rozema
In 1974, after Denny McLain had retired from the major leagues two years earlier, McLain played a season for the London Majors. Due to arm problems, however, McLain only pitched nine innings for the Majors, but did play in 14 games at either shortstop, first base and catcher and batted .380, including hitting two homers in one game in London.
Roy McKay Clubhouse
The circa-1937, tongue-and-groove clapboard Majors' clubhouse at Labatt Park, officially renamed "The Roy McKay Clubhouse" on August 1, 1996 (Roy McKay was born on August 1), by longtime Majors' owner-player Arden Eddie, was designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1996—an initiative spearheaded by The Friends of Labatt Park—by amending the park's original (by-law) reasons for designation. The one-storey, cottage-style building is owned by the City of London and is one of the few remaining clubhouses of its kind remaining in North America still being used for the purpose for which it was built.
On May 31, 1998, a fundraising ballgame ("The Rumble at the Riverforks") between the members of London city council, the media and the London Majors old-timers was held to help defray the costs of a new cedar-shingle roof on the Roy McKay Clubhouse. The game was organized by Arden Eddie, The Friends of Labatt Park, SCENE magazine and the London Majors.
The late Roy McKay (1933–1995) was a longtime London Majors' pitcher, coach and manager who died on Christmas Day, 1995. At age 12, McKay was also the mascot-batboy for the 1945 London Majors — the Intercounty and Ontario champions (see photo of the 1945 London Majors at the external link below).
Tom (Tim) Burgess also played for the 1945 Majors as a pitcher-outfielder and was signed to a pro contract in 1946 by the St. Louis Cardinals' organization. After years in Major League Baseball as either a player or coach, Burgess was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
The London Majors Baseball Club was owned by player-coach Arden Eddie from 1976 until February 2004, when Eddie and his wife Shelley sold the team to London businessperson/ mortgage consultant Scott Dart.
Eddie, who holds four Intercounty League records—most games played (834); most stolen bases (179); most hits (764) and most bases on balls (668) -- first started playing for the London Majors in 1967 after moving to London from his hometown of Wallaceburg, Ontario, where he has been inducted into the Wallaceburg Sports Hall of Fame.
The Majors have retired several numbered uniforms: those of Jon Owen (1), Norm Aldridge (3), Russ Evon (4), Stan (Gabby) Anderson (5), Wayne Fenlon (9), Roy McKay (16), Tommy White (17), Dave Byers (18), Fergie Jenkins (31) and on Sunday, July 6, 2008, Arden Eddie's jersey (24) was officially retired.
Owners of the team over the years have included Public Utilities Commission director Bill Farquharson, Clare Van Horne, ex-Major League Baseball player Frank Colman (1955–1959), jeweller Ted Dilts, sportswriter/ author Bob Ferguson (1963–64), Ted Earley, George Hall, Arden Eddie (1976-February, 2004) and the current co-owners of Scott Dart and Roop Chanderdat.
Frank Colman first played for the Majors in the mid-1930s. In 1936, he was a top Intercounty League pitcher and hitter, winning the league batting title and MVP award, which soon led to a pro contract. In 1941 and 1942, Colman played for the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. In 1942, he signed as an outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He remained with the Pirates as a first baseman-outfielder until late in the 1946 season when he signed with the New York Yankees. In 1949 and 1950, Colman played for Seattle of the Pacific Coast League, before returning to play for the AAA Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951 as player-coach.
In 1954, Colman returned to his hometown of London, Ontario, signing on as player-manager with the London Majors, then owned by team general manager Clare Van Horne. In 1955, Colman purchased the Majors from Van Horne and co-founded the Eager Beaver Baseball Association with London sportsman Gordon Berryhill and Al Marshall. Colman's Majors won the Intercounty title in 1956.
Ontario Baseball Association
- The Northern Game: Baseball the Canadian Way by Bob Elliott (Sport Classic, 2005).
- Heritage Baseball: City of London a souvenir program from July 23, 2005, celebrating the history of Labatt Park and London, Ontario's 150th anniversary as an incorporated city.
- The Majors, then and now by Eric Bender, The London Free Press, August 17, 2004.
- Boys of Summer: Knute, Boot, Milky and Buck by Don Maudsley (SCENE magazine, London, Ontario, June 15, 2000).
- The magic continues at London's Field of Dreams by Barry Wells (SCENE magazine, London, Ontario, June 15, 2000).
- Intercounty Major Baseball League's 1998 Record Book by Editor Herb Morell and Dominico Promotions Inc.
- London Majors Baseball Club, 1998 Souvenir Program.
- Diamonds of the North: A Concise History of Baseball in Canada by William Humber (Oxford University Press, 1995).
- The Beaver, Exploring Canada's History, Baseball's Canadian Roots: Abner Who? by Mark Kearney October–November 1994.
- EBBA: 40 Years of Baseball by Jeffrey Reed (Eager Beaver Baseball Association, Inc., London, Ontario, 1994, ISBN 0-9698289-0-X).
- 'The 1948 London Majors: A Great Canadian Team by Dan Mendham (unpublished academic paper, UWO, December 7, 1992).
- Diamond Rituals: Baseball in Canadian Culture by Robert K. Barney (Meckler Books, 1989).
- A Concise History of Sport in Canada by Don Morrow (Oxford University Press, 1989).
- Journal of Sport History, A Critical Examination of a Source in Early Ontario Baseball: The Reminiscence of Adam E. Ford by UWO Professor Robert K. Barney and Nancy Bouchier (Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1988).
- Who's Who in Canadian Sport by Bob Ferguson (Summerhill Press Ltd., 1985).
- Cheering for the Home Team: The Story of Baseball in Canada by William Humber (The Boston Mills Press, 1983).
- Nobody's Perfect by Denny McLain with Dave Diles (The Dial Press, New York, 1975).
- Old Time Baseball and the London Tecumsehs of the late 1870s by Les Bronson, a recorded (and later transcribed) talk given to the London & Middlesex Historical Society on February 15, 1972. Available in the London Room of the Central Branch of the London Public Library.
- Majors Leading, The London Free Press, Saturday, May 4, 1950, page A-1.
- An Eight-Page Indenture/ Instrument #33043 between The London and Western Trusts Company Limited, The Corporation of The City of London and John Labatt, Limited, dated December 31, 1936, and registered on title in the Land Registry Office for the City of London on January 2, 1937, conveying Tecumseh Park to the City of London along with $10,000 on the provisos that the athletic field be preserved, maintained and operated in perpetuity "for the use of the citizens of the City of London as an athletic field and recreation ground" and that it be renamed "The John Labatt Memorial Athletic Park."