MacCarl will be missed

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 PM ET

TORONTO - Neil MacCarl and I were friends long before we sat beside each other in the Exhibition Stadium press box.

MacCarl, or Sam as he was known by all, covered the triple-A Maple Leafs of the International League and the new kids on the block, the Blue Jays, for the Toronto Star.

He covered both, as the saying goes, like a tarp.

Sam loved sitting in a dugout, a cigar in one corner of his mouth, a story coming out the other.

It was great sadness to read MacCarl, 83, passed away of pneumonia on Friday.

When Sam wasn’t covering baseball, he covered curling and that’s where Sam and my father became friends.

My father made the British Consols, the provincial championships, maybe 10 times, without winning.

In 1960, playing vice for Jake Edwards’ Kingston rink they beat Bayne Secord’s Tam O’Shanter quartet to represent Ontario in the Macdonald Brier, even beat the mighty Richardsons and going into the final day tied for the lead ... but that’s another story (they got beat), this is about Sam.

A couple of years later, I found photos from that Saturday night in Welland.

As Edwards drew the button for the win, there was a shot of my father’s broom in the rafters of the Welland Curling Club. “Star photo” was stamped on the back.

After meeting Sam, I asked him about the unique photo.

“Bobby, I went on to the ice and told our photographer if Jake makes it, the money shot would be your father, I figured he’d try to throw the broom through the roof,” Sam explained. “Later, I mailed it to him.”

In 1968, my father was coaching ball in the third base box at Talbot Park in the second inning when he had a stroke as Kingston played Joe Irvine’s Leaside team with Alfie Payne, Buck Reed and Bob Johnstone.

That night at Sunnybrook Hospital I bought two post cards, mailed one to Ted Reeve of the Telegram, who coached father at Queen’s University, and another to Sam. I was 17 and headed to Kingston. I asked if they had time, could they drop by.

I never knew if The Moaner visited.

Sam was a regular visitor, including one scary visit.

He arrived at father’s room to find the bed made, closet empty.

Sam feared the worst.

Stopping at the nurse’s station, he was told father had been moved. He went to the new room, also empty but the clothes were there.

“Then, it hit me Bobby it was a Saturday afternoon,” Sam said. “I headed to the sun room. There was your father slumped in the chair watching Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean on a TV with rabbit ears, reception it looked like a snow storm.”

In 1976, Jays boss Peter Bavasi didn’t know who to hire, John Clairborne, a man of experience with the Boston Red Sox, or a young buck with the New York Yankees.

Bavasi phoned Sam.

Sam said Pat Gillick was the better hire.

Bavasi hired Gillick, inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown last month.

How is that for influence?

Sam was chapter chairman of the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America its first 15 years.

I tried to fill his shoes for the next 15, but refused to pass him and stepped down.

Sam won the Jack Graney Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.

In 1997 and 1998, I nominated Sam for the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, but he was short on votes.

Compiling his bio was fascinating: Arrested during the Cuban revolution when the Leafs were playing the Havana Sugar Kings. He covered the 1960 Leafs, who won 100 games, had a staff led by Al Cicotte, Steve Ridzik and Rip Coleman, which had 32 shutouts, and a fiery second baseman named George (Sparky) Anderson.

Sam took journalism at the University of Western Ontario, began at the Star in 1949 and wrote about the games people played until 1992 when the Jays beat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

Deepest sympathies are extended to his son Scott and the extended MacCarl family.

Visitation is Friday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at Humphrey Funeral Home on 1403 Bayview Ave. A service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. in the chapel.


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