Canadian Baseball Hall a quaint place

Steve Buffery, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

ST. MARYS, Ont. -- Only at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame would a hockey equipment bag be one of items up for bid in the silent auction.

A Bryan McCabe equipment bag, no less.

And only a Hall located in a very small town would feature a wooden duck decoy and a three-month membership at the local YMCA in the silent auction.

But that's the beauty of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in lovely St. Mary's. It's incredibly quaint. How quaint? Well, Tom Henke's induction speech was interrupted -- twice -- by a barking dog.

"I think I've got everybody excited," said Henke, after the barking intruder made himself known to the assembled crowd.

As 1997 inductee Pat Gillick, the man who led the Toronto Blue Jays to two World Series in the early 1990s, pointed out, it's the small-town charm that draws so many past inductees back to the Hall every year.

"Yeah, there has to be some commercial aspects to keep it viable, but the Canadian Hall is very less commercial than a lot of different museums/educational facilities around," said Gillick. "It's a very natural, comfortable place to come and enjoy yourself. I think the people who are in the Hall enjoy coming back here because they feel very relaxed. There's nothing uptight about this day or the days proceeding the induction."

Saturday's induction was very special for us Toronto Sun schlubs, because one of our own, Bob (Big Boy) Elliott, was honoured with the prestigious Jack Graney Award, for his many years covering baseball.

Big Boy is all things to Canadian baseball -- advocate, historian, encyclopedia ... and, as Master of Ceremonies Mark Hebscher pointed out, a very nice guy to boot, though I don't think anyone would ever find cause to boot Big Boy, who is equally known for his quirky nature.

"You know, Bob's a little weird," said Gillick, with a laugh. "I think we'll all agree, he' a little bit eccentric. And you can write that. He's a little bit weird, but weird good. And I'm a little bit weird myself, so we get along pretty good."

Big Boy wasn't the only Canadian baseball great honoured on Saturday. This year's inductees included Henke -- the former Blue Jays reliever, who brought many in the crowd to their feet, and to tears, with his heartfelt speech; old-time major league outfielder George (Dandy) Wood, and Baseball America founder Allan Simpson, who, I believe, is still giving his induction speech.

The afternoon's festivities began with the inductees being piped into the official Hall of Fame tent, followed by speeches by local politicians, followed by the acknowledgement of pretty well every member of the local chamber of commerce, including the guy who donated a tractor to the Hall ... and that last part is not a joke.

"If you get a chance, check out the tractor," said one of the emcees.

One inductee who likely did check out the tractor was Henke, who hails from the small town of Taos, Missouri. In fact, Henke joked that Taos is so small, that the bus that brought a small army of his friends and family up for the ceremonies, is one of only two buses in Taos.

"We had to leave the other one there to guard the town," he said.

Henke joined the Blue Jays as a raw fireballer in 1985 and developed into one of the best closers in baseball. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1980 but didn't come into his own as a pitcher until he joined the Jays, helping Toronto win the 1992 World Series, earning the nickname The Terminator in the process.

"I was floundering in Texas, and Pat (Gillick) found me," said Henke. "I don't know how he did it, but he found me and had faith in me. I was pretty much a raw country boy who was really an unpolished piece of coal and they took that thing and they worked on it and they made it into, at least, a polished piece of coal."

Henke's speech was funny and sincere, and very emotional, particularly when he thanked his old teammates, the fans and his family.

"I'll always be a Toronto Blue Jay," he said, to a standing ovation.


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