Categories Archives: Baseball

Leo Woods

Halifax, N.S.

Leo Woods (1918-1974)

Leo Woods, one of Nova Scotia’s premier ballplayers, had a career that spanned 28 years combined in senior baseball/softball stretching from 1935 to 1963. Fellow players, competitors, fans, sportscasters and sports historians alike often commented: ”Leo was one of the finest baseball/softball performers ever to display his talents in these parts”. Throughout his softball career Leo played mostly Senior “A” calibre ball, while his baseball career spanned 12 years, playing in the Halifax Defense League from 1941 to 1945 and in the highly competitive Halifax and District League from 1946 to 1951, all the while playing against many talented imports from the United States collegiate and minor-pro ranks, many of whom went on to play in the major leagues. During his five years in the H&D, Leo played in three All-Star games and batted in the top 10 three times against a select group of pitchers. He was also in third place as of August 1, 1951 for a fourth time, batting .329, but records were incomplete for the full season.

However, Leo’s first and foremost love was softball (called fastball today). At the early age of 17, he began playing senior baseball, alternating between softball and baseball, often playing both games on a single day. Shoestring catches were his trademarks playing baseball, while in softball, at that time, outfielders made catches with their bare hands. In addition to being an excellent fielder, Leo was a superb softball pitcher. At the age of 18, he pitched his first no-hitter against the North End All-Stars; and in 1942, playing against the Navy, he pitched a second-career no hitter. Limited research revealed that Leo also pitched nine more games limiting opponents to 4 hits or less. In 1940, Halifax Shipyards won it’s first Maritime title with Leo pitching a three-hitter in an 11-4 win against Liverpool in Provincial playoffs and a lopsided win against Moncton in the first game for the Maritime title.

Still, Leo was best known for his hitting ability. While playing in the talent-laden Defense League between 1941 and 1945, Leo combined for an impressive .311 batting average in regular league and playoff action. This league consisted of many Maritime legends and professional-level talent that played for the service-based clubs. Playing in the professional class H&D league, Leo compiled a very respectable .283 average based on 315 hits in 1113 plate appearances between 1945 and 1951. As noted previously, he consistently batted in the top ten of that league.

Records indicate that Leo Woods was an even better hitter in fastball. In 1940, the Halifax Shipyards won their first Maritime championship, with Leo batting 5 for 11 with a .455 batting average in that series. In the 1942 playoffs, his batting average was .391. In 1946 and 1947, Leo was a member of the Halifax Zwickers* softball team when they won back-to-back Maritime championships. During these playoffs years, Leo batted an average of .397 and .343 respectively. In 1948, with Keith Stags, he won a third consecutive Maritime senior softball title. Again Leo led the way with a .386 batting average in the playoffs. In 1956, at the age of 38, Leo won the Halifax Senior “A” Batting Championship title with a .477 average.

Throughout his long successful career, Leo played on 18 city championship teams, won 6 Nova Scotia titles, and played on 5 teams that won Maritime softball crowns.

*The Halifax Zwickers’ team was also among the 19 legacy inductions in 2014. 

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    Philip “Skit” Ferguson

    Reserve Mines/Dartmouth, N.S.

    Philip “Skit” Ferguson (1925  – )

     

    At a time when baseball was king in the province of Nova Scotia and American collegiate players dominated the local scene, a lefthander from Reserve Mines, C.B. more than held his own with the very best. Philip “Skit” Ferguson led the Truro Bearcats to the Halifax and District League championship in 1946 winning eighteen games while losing just one (18-1). To add to his achievement on the mound he also won the batting title, hitting .468, while easily winning the league MVP award.

     

    In his career with the Dominion Hawks, Halifax Shipyards, and the Truro Bearcats he accumulated a record of 51 wins and 5 losses. One of the greatest testaments to his ability and endurance is the fact that he never left a game that he started.

     

    Despite offers from three major league baseball teams, he decided to attend St. Francis Xavier University to obtain an engineering degree.

     

    On the ice he led the X-Men to an undefeated season in his graduating year, 1945-46, scoring 22 goals, along with 20 assists.

     

    He was inducted into the St. F. X. University Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

     

     

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      The Vaughan Furriers, baseball, 1962

      Vaughan Furriers, Maritime Junior Baseball Champions, 1962

       

      The Vaughan Furriers Junior Baseball team was the creation of Graham Downey. Initially, he created and coached a Midget team called the Rangers, consisting almost entirely of quality  black baseball players, who for the most part lived near the Halifax commons. By 1962 the team, with additional white players, moved up to the junior division. For Graham this was the ideal time to fully integrate the best white and black players to be found into a junior team capable of winning the Maritime Junior baseball championship. Consequently, Graham scouted and recruited the very best players he could find to create this team. To obtain financial backing for the team, so as to have quality uniforms and all the other necessary equipment, Graham set out to obtain a team sponsor; and persuaded businessman Tommy Vaughan, the owner of Vaughan Furriers in Halifax to sponsor the team.

      As a coach, Graham was a brilliant strategist. He instinctively seemed to know when to employ the correct baseball strategies during games to ensure the team would win. He knew when a player should hit hard, bunt, or steal a base. As an experienced coach he knew when to move players in and out of the game to make sure that the team would have a better chance of winning. However, his greatest strength was that he knew how to motivate each player to improve, give their best and to teach them to function as a successful, unified and motivated team rather a group of isolated individual stars. Graham was responsible for creating a fantastic winning team spirit that was largely responsible for the success of the team.

      The players on the Vaughan Furriers Junior baseball team exhibited extraordinary baseball talent. That is they were recruited,from among the best one could find in the Province. Outfielders Denny Clyke and Burtie Mentis transited all the way from Truro for each game in Halifax; Denny later went on to play professional baseball and star in the NSSBL. Cecil Jackson was a superb infielder capable of fielding any ball hit in his direction and possessed a strong arm as well. Cecil drove powerful line drives through the field producing many runs for the team; he latter starred for the Dairy Queen fastball team, which represented Nova Scotia the Nationals for severalyears, winning a silver and bronze medal. Jimmy MacDonald and Denny Clyke undoubtedly held records for hitting the longest home run balls; sometimes knocking the ball right out of the commons plating fields. Additionally Jim was renowned for his “rifle arm” from right field to third or home. Lefty Ernie Simons was also an extremely versatile player: he was a talented pitcher, first baseman and fielder and could excel at virtually any position where he was needed. Dave Downey (future Canadian Middleweight Boxing Champion for 11 years) was another strong hitter and outfielder, exceptionally fleet of foot. Wayne Maxner ( Junior and NHL player and coach) played shortstop.. The team had an able and experienced catcher in George Croucher, who knew exactly how to help pitchers by selecting the right kind of pitch for each hitter. George was also an excellent hitter at the plate. He was ably supported by diminutive Joey MacNeil, also a very good hitter. Gary Furlotte was very effective left-handed pitcher as he had a series of great curve balls and numerous exotic pitches that frequently confused the batters; Furlotte would later star in the NSSBL for twenty-five years. John Dean  was a hard-throwing, durable right-handed pitcher who threw an awesome curve ball and moving fastball. Another fireballing left-hander was six-foot-four, Gord MacInnis, who lived in the North end of the city along withRight hander Ches Farwell, was a fast ball hurler who kept hitters off balance by mixing in an inside hook and occasional curve ball. Roy Keeler, with a motion that often confused batters, was the 6th pitcher among a unique combination of 3 lefties & 3 right handers. Roy who was also the team’s #1 cheer leader, always motivating his teammates And this was a team that boasted nine (9) right and nine (9) left handed batters along with two switch-hitters, Farwell and Croucher. The remainder of the team is listed below and their accomplishments, positions, batting, years with team, etc. are summarized on page 29 of the publication, The Boys of ‘62.

      Overall, the team had perhaps the most powerful pitching, hitting and fielding rosters ever seen in a junior league baseball team. It is no wonder that they captured the Maritime Junior Baseball Championship in 1962 with an 11-1 record, losing only a single game 3-2 to perennial rivals, Halifax Orphans, then went undefeated against all NS, PEI and New Brunswick junior teams to sweep the Nova Scotia and Maritime titles.

       

      The team was selected for the Nova Scotia Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 and inaugurated into the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

      The team was also recognized in 2008 by the mayor and City of Halifax; became the first senior (Classic) team to represent Nova Scotia at the Roy Hobbs World Series; and were awarded certificates for their contribution to human rights by the Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia in 2009. The team was also the subject of an Atlantic best-selling book, The Boys of ’62; transcending the racial divide in 2008, and a second updated edition in 2009. All of the ream’s records and accomplishments are detailed in this publication.

       

      Team members included:

       

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        The New Waterford Giants, baseball, 1959

        Team Members: Back Row (L-R):

        Harold  MacEachern (Manager), James (Sonny) Lever, Dale Kearney, MIke Roberts, Clare Larade,Gordie MacDougall, Karl Marsh, Joe Burns, Stan Eksal, Michael (Spike) MacKinnon, Ken Timmons (Asst. coach)

        Front Row (L-R):

        Bernie MacKinnon (Coach), Art (Hot Dog) MacLean, Tim Nearing, Bernie Cameron, Raymond (Bozo) Steele, William (Buckle) Walzak, Dan Willie MacKinnon

         

        New Waterford Giants, 1959

        Many long-time baseball enthusiasts proclaim the 1959 New Waterford Giants, among the greatest of senior baseball clubs this region has ever seen. The home-grown Giants dominated play in the competitive Cape Breton Colliery League that year with 20 wins and 4 losses. With the regular season completed, the Giants started their journey towards the Maritime Senior Baseball Championship. And what a run they had!

         

        The team went nearly undefeated in five playoffs series, racking up an incredible record of 17-1-3, with the three ties due to postponements. They defeated the Sydney Steel Kings and the Sydney Mines Ramblers in league playoffs, then defeated the Stellarton Albions, just out of the formidable H & D League, before defeating the powerful Canning Habs in the provincial championship series.

         

        The Woodstock Elks, the 1958 Maritime champs, were next on their journey. The Giants defeated the import-laden Elks 2-0, the deciding game a 15-inning, 4-1 win before 6,000 elated fans in the New Waterford Park.

         

         

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