Nov. 12-13 baseball history conference aims to show off Hall of Fame as research destination

By Dan Rankin

Andrew North of St. Marys, co-organizer of the upcoming Canadian baseball history conference taking place at the St. Marys Golf and Country Club Nov. 12-13, believes the gathering represents a possible use for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame that has been underused, if not completely ignored, until now: a centre for academic research.

North, who organized the conference with fellow Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) member Brian Marshall of Barrie, said he hopes the event will become an annual gathering that grows as the Hall of Fame grows.

North and Marshall first met attending an annual SABR conference held at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. “When Brian and I went to these conferences, we were struck by a couple of things,” North said. “One, they’re really popular. This one in Cooperstown has become oversubscribed and they’re looking for a bigger venue. Also, there always seemed to be a lot of Canadian people going. So, we started to wonder if it would work here.”

North moved to St. Marys about a year ago, but has been actively involved with the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for more like 10 years as a volunteer. His own extensive collection of baseball books dating back to the 19th Century has been bequeathed to the Hall, he said, but only under the condition that the Hall expands to include a proper library he feels the collection deserves. However, as officials at the Hall of Fame know him to be experienced in handling old books, North has had the chance to catalogue other collections that have been donated over the years, including that of the late baseball executive and historian Harry Simmons.

“Over the course of his career, he amassed quite a collection,” said North, who plans to present about several unique items from the Simmons collection during the conference. “One of my jobs was to go through and catalogue book donations. I was doing that with the Simmons collection and I stumbled across these items. One is an old score sheet from 1858, from a very important game in baseball history, and another is a handwritten book of box scores from the 1870s that aren’t available anywhere else on the internet. Because I know something about 19th century baseball, I recognized what they were. They’re eminently noteworthy.”

These rare historical finds may not be of interest to the casual sports fan but, according to North, there is a passionate demographic of academic researchers and historians in Canada and the United States that have so far largely been ignored by the Hall and the Town. “It could be a destination for people, honestly,” he said.

As a test to gauge interest in a Canadian baseball-themed conference in St. Marys, North and Marshall sent out emails to those on the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame mailing list, and to other Canadian SABR members.

“We got quite a good response, about 56 people saying they’d be interested,” he said. “So, we decided to go for it. It looks like it was the right call. It feels like there was pent-up demand for something like this.”

They also received notice from a surprising number of people that were interested in presenting at the conference, he said. “We had to turn a couple of people down. Everybody seemed to have this secret project they were working on, but no one to listen to it,” said North.

Presenters include London Free Press journalist Chip Martin, who will discuss the 1877 London Tecumsehs (represented at the Hall of Fame by their championship trophy), and historian Bill Humber, whose subject will be “So Close! Why Baseball Didn’t Become Canada’s National Game.” Hall of Fame Induction ceremony attendees will remember Humber as the man called on to give acceptance speeches on behalf of posthumous inductees from the 1800s, including William Shuttleworth this year.

Included as part of the conference are 13 planned presentations, plus a panel discussion on the facts and fiction behind the “first recorded game of baseball” in Beachville, Ontario in 1838, as well as a tour of the Hall of Fame and its grounds, a presentation on the future plans for the Hall of Fame, two breakfasts and a lunch. Activities are planned from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm on Saturday, Nov. 12 and 8:00 am to noon on Sunday, Nov. 13.

“The Hall is not directly involved with organizing or the sponsorship, however they have been very, very supportive,” said North, noting that the whole rationale behind holding the conference was to raise the profile of the museum.

“We want people to get more interested in the museum as a possible research site,” he said.

“The response from the public has been great too,” he said. “We’re still over two weeks away and we’ve already got 43 paid attendees, so it looks like we’re on our way to about 60. Which is really good for a first year.”

Attendees include people from London, Woodstock, Toronto and Brantford, he said, some of whom have made overnight accommodations in St. Marys for the event. North thanked the Westover and Stone Willow Inns for coming up with discounted rates for conference attendees.

Registration for the conference is still open, and will remain so until sometime next week, he said. To register or for more information, email North at mavrix@rogers.com.

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