The Québec Provincial LeagueA Memoir
In mid-June, 1967, as a third-year minor leaguer, I was released by the Detroit Tigers. I was devastated. Just the season before I had been a "prospect," putting up good numbers and awarded with bat, and glove and shoe contracts. Now what? In the faint hope that I could get my baseball career back on track, I accepted an offer to play for a top independent league: The Quebec Provincial League (QPL). Soon I was on a train headed for Montreal. Going to Canada, I figured, would also enable me to avoid the shame of going home to California as just another pro ball reject. Plus there was the attraction of getting to know an entirely new place—French-speaking Quebec. This essay describes baseball life in the QPL in the late 1960s.
Upon arriving in Montréal, I boarded a bus for the sixty-five-mile journey to the town of Drummondville on the St. Francis River (Saint-François River). There I signed a contract of $125 per week ($750 in today's dollars) to play for the Royaux de Drummondville (Royals), and the next day joined the team on a road game to Québec City. My new skipper had me penciled in at first base and batting sixth. The club must have wondered about the scouting report they had received and the wisdom of signing me since I proceeded to strike out in my first three at-bats. In the darkened bus, on the long ride back to Drummondville, I wondered if I'd made a mistake coming to Canada.
Drummondville, a town of 35,000, was almost entirely Francophone. The ballpark, near the town center, boasted a large wooden, covered grandstand. A big sign at the entrance read Bienvenue a tous les sportifs (Welcome to all sports fans). The infield was all "skin" (dirt) and the stadium lights dim. It was the worst ballpark in the league, so bad that several umpires had filed complaints with the league about its poor lighting, a hazard to hitters and pitchers.
Playing my first home game in Drummondville, against the Thetford Mines Miners, I banged out two solid hits, and began to feel better about my decision, and even better the following night after two extra-base hits, this [End Page 158] time against the Lachine Mets. They were off pitcher Ray "Frenchy" Daviault who had pitched for Casey Stengel's New York Mets in their inaugural season.
After hitting a home run against the Granby Cardinals, which the Drummondville newspaper La Parole Journal described as one of the longest home runs ever hit in Granby, the paper mentioned that I was of German heritage, as if to say Germans come naturally big and strong. It was a curious comment because I had never thought of myself as having any ethnicity, and my family had left Germany for the U.S. more than a century ago.
Besides Drummondville, six other teams filled out the Provincial League: the Québec City Indians, Plessisville Braves, Granby Cardinals, Sherbrooke Alouettes, Thetford Miners, Coaticook Canadians and the Lachine (Montréal) Mets. When we commuted to away games, we returned the same night because no town was more than ninety miles away. On bus rides home, we always had two cases of free beer—provided by one of the team's sponsors. Having beer on the bus was a common practice throughout the league, and quite unlike anything I'd seen in the US minor leagues.
Most of the QPL teams were in the region known as the Eastern Townships in southeastern Québec, south of the St. Lawrence River and tight against the U.S. border, marked by gently rolling hills, picturesque back roads, and pretty villages. The region was originally settled by Québecois as part of Nouvelle France (New France); then by some Americans wishing to stay loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolution (1765–83). The loyalists mostly got displaced by more Québecois in the twentieth century. Although the region is predominantly French-speaking, the influence of the loyalist settlers from New England can still be seen in the architecture of older buildings and in the names of a few towns, such as Sherbrooke and Thetford Mines. The Eastern townships today are a popular tourist destination, especially for vacationing Montrealers.
Unlike the U.S. minor leagues, there was an enormous range in the size of the league's towns, from metropolitan Montréal with 2.5 million people to tiny Plessisville with just five thousand. Their populations, however, didn't have much influence on the size of the crowds the teams drew, as most teams averaged about 1,500 spectators per game. The exception was Québec City, which had the nicest stadium and the largest crowds, about 5,000 per game. Québec City was everyone's favorite place to play, and a great place to visit with its European flavor and old city partially encircled by centuries-old walls.
Thetford Mines, hub of one of the world's largest asbestos producing regions, proved the most striking town. Monstrous piles of slag—stony waste left over from asbestos refining—swallowed up parts of the town. Reputedly, Thetford had a baseball team because the mine owners considered sport a [End Page 159] good way to pacify workers unhappy over labor conditions and making demands that the company do more to combat "the white death," as asbestosis was called.
What Thetford Mines had in minerals, Plessisville had in trees. It claimed to be the "World's Maple Capital" and was known for its maple syrup. The Institut Quebecois de l'érable (Quebec Maple Institute) is still headquartered there. In fact, the entire region is known as érable, French for maple.
Half of the Plessisville team was Hispanic, mostly from the Dominican Republic, but they also had many French-Canadians. On all the teams I've played on, I noted in my journal, there were three distinct groups—white, blacks, and Latins. But here in Québec there's a fourth group, Francophone Canadians, and that means a third language spoken on the bus and clubhouse. Pretty neat (excerpts from my journal are italicized).
After a few weeks, I decided that I'd try to learn French. Not speaking the language was proving to be a big handicap. I'm not really able to understand anything. Most locals speak only French, and the radio, TV, newspaper and even the announcements at the ballpark and the national anthem are all in French. The first words I learned were le terrain (field), le jouer (player), l'arbitre (umpire), le gérant (manager), and then names for the positions on a ball field: le lanceur (pitcher), le receveur (catcher), le premier-but (first baseman), l'arrêt-court (shortstop), and so on. Soon I picked up other French baseball terms, especially ones whose translations I thought were quaint, such as le mauvais lancer (wild pitch; the direct English translation is "bad pitcher"), la balle rapide (fastball), and my favorite le coup de circuit (home run). My tutors were our French-Canadian trainer, teammate Claude Coté, and later a young woman named Monique Plouffe, who also taught me to say voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir (would you like to sleep with me tonight?).
I was pleased to learn that the Québec Provincial League, which had been in existence since 1934, was well-known to serious baseball fans and historians for having attracted prominent major leaguers in the 1940s. The big leaguers came to the QPL after being blacklisted by MLB commissioner Happy Chandler, who wanted to punish them for jumping to the Mexican League in 1946. They had been lured to Mexico by large signing bonuses and generous salaries, but when things didn't work out in Mexico as expected, and their salaries were cut, they returned to the States. Happy Chandler wouldn't let them back into the major leagues. Some accepted offers to play in Québec. Drummond-ville, for example, acquired former New York Giants Sal Maglie, Max Lanier, and Danny Gardella, and St. Louis Brown Tex Shirley. Drummondville also signed the Negro Leagues stars catcher Quincy "Big Train" Trouppe and future major league All-Star Vic Pellott, who changed his name to Vic Power while in [End Page 160] Quebec. He did so after noticing that the Drummondville laughed when his name was announced. Initially he suspected the laughter was because he was black, but he soon learned that Pellott sounded similar to the Quebecois slang word plotte for vagina. So he switched to Power, which was close to his mother's maiden name Pove.
Power's flamboyant fielding and hitting style, which apparently was welcomed in the QPL, is said to have contributed to the showboat image of the early Latino ballplayers in the big leagues. After MLB's ban against the Mexican League jumpers was lifted in 1949, most of the big leaguers returned to the U.S. When I asked the local sportswriter, Pierre Roux, who as a teenager had gone to every Drummondville game, what he remembered of the famous major leaguers, he told a well-honed story of Sal Maglie, on the eve of the final playoff game in 1949 in which Drummondville was deadlocked with the Farnham Black Sox at four games apiece; Maglie went to his general manager and demanded an extra one thousand dollars or he would not pitch in the championship game. The GM gave in and the next day Maglie beat the Black Sox 1–0.
The large salaries QPL teams paid the big leaguers led to several clubs going broke and the league folding in 1956.When the league was reconstituted the following year, only Canadians were signed to save on salaries and travel expenses. A few years later, foreign players were allowed back into the league, but with a limit of three "imports" per team. After 1965, all restrictions on foreign players were dropped, and with that the caliber of play went up as many American and Caribbean players were signed. By the time I arrived in 1967, the QPL compared favorably to a mid-Class A minor league, with the major difference being that its players were older guys finishing up their careers, rather than younger ballplayers starting out. QPL pitchers, many being seasoned veterans, did not throw as hard as the youngsters in A-ball, but they had more pitches and were craftier.
After a few days staying at the Motel Cardin, teammates Norm Timmins and Bob Wolfarth invited me to share their apartment. A washed-out snapshot shows us wearing the off-the-field uniform of white American players in the 60s: Ban Lon polo shirts, alpaca cardigans, chinos with pegged cuffs, and desert boots or loafers. Timmins was a freckled, redheaded second baseman from Western New York, released by the Tigers organization with the all too common tag "good glove, no hit." In Drummondville even the glove failed him. Wolfarth, from Cleveland, Ohio, was our catcher. He had several permanently bent fingers from the trauma of years of foul tips slamming into his hands. He liked to call me Meat. "Hey Meat, what's up?" was a favorite greeting. My roommates are quite likable but they are silent-majority types who support the [Vietnam] war and believe that it's necessary to stop the spread of communism. [End Page 161] So we don't talk much about it. Timmins later enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as an infantry officer and platoon leader in Vietnam.
Our apartment was conveniently across the street from the Motel Cardin, where we and many of our teammates ate two meals a day on the "American plan." The owner was a big supporter of the ball club and gave us the plan—all the food you could eat for $25 a week. We ate our fill of steaks, shakes, and chocolate cake, and gained a few pounds. But equally I became interested in trying French Canadian foods, such as crepes, meat pies (tourtières)¸ blood sausage, French fries (patates frites) with vinegar, and maple desserts.
By the end of my second week in Quebec, I was fairly settled, hitting well, and liking my teammates. All things were good until I received a "Dear John" letter from my girlfriend, Audrey, who was studying in Europe. She wrote that she had met and fallen in love with a Czech linguist who, she said, spoke "nine languages and was a fantastic dancer." I could neither dance nor speak foreign languages, evident in my fumbling French. Until then I had ignored the groupies that hung around after ball games at Drummondville's Hotel Rocdor nightclub. Now I let it be known that I was unattached and eager to meet girls. Within days I became friendly with Monique Plouffe. Tall and slender, she spoke little English, which forced me to work more diligently at learning French. Although Monique was also eager to improve her English, her real interest after ballgames was mostly carnal. She loved having sex and was very open about it. The first night we went out after a ballgame, it wasn't long before Monique had removed all her clothes.
Similarly, my teammates reported that the groupies they met at the Rocdor were much less sexually inhibited than the girls back home in the States. Pitcher Steve Cushman's groupie-girlfriend liked having sex in public places where there was a risk of getting caught. She was, he claimed, always looking for a new erotic adventure. My American teammates were delighted with these opportunities for hooking up, well before the sexual revolution kicked into high gear in the US. But most Drummondville groupies were more interested in bedding black or Hispanic players than white guys. Very few blacks lived in the Eastern Townships at the time, so "colored" ballplayers were exotic and were believed to be better endowed. Also most could dance which few white players were any good at. With too few blacks and Hispanics to go around, however, some girls like Monique settled for white guys like me. The groupie scene in Drummondville was markedly different from what I had known in the Carolina League and the South generally. There my black teammates wouldn't have dared approach a white girl or be seen hanging out with one. It wasn't safe. Interracial mixing was illegal under "anti-miscegenation laws" that prevailed in most Southern states until 1967. In some places it was a felony. In [End Page 162] Quebec, however, no one seemed to think anything of white girls hanging out, much less sleeping with, black or Hispanic ballplayers.1
Recreational sex and casual relationships were common among my Drummondville teammates, even among married players. Lachine Mets pitcher, Jack Fitzpatrick, who became a psychoanalyst, would later explain it this way, "Remember, we ballplayers lived with a high level of financial and professional insecurity. You could see its effect in the prevalence of rituals, alcohol, and sex. Sex and booze for us was more than just about orgasms and good feelings; it was how we dealt with all the uncertainties inherent in being a ballplayer." Or, maybe Fitz was off and it really was just about sex. Whatever the underlying motivation for sleeping around, this wasn't something that you'd tell anyone about for fear of it getting back to one of the wives. Much like the unwritten rule that what you saw and heard in the clubhouse stayed in the clubhouse, so it was for nights out.
A few of the local girls married Hispanic and African American players. When I returned to Québec in 2012, they were still living there and still with their French-Canadian wives. Among them were Granby Cardinals outfielder John Mentis, who worked as a prison guard; Maddy Alston, a bank manager; and first baseman John Self, a golf course groundskeeper.
During the 1967 season, we drew 1,700 people per game, more than double the attendance of any of the three Class A minor-league teams I had played for in the states. And during the play-offs, we averaged 3,500 per game. The scarcity of other forms of entertainment probably helped fill the ballpark. The fans, primarily from Drummondville's working-class, were enthusiastic supporters of the team, some even travelling to road games—something I had not seen in US minor-league towns. Only later did I learn that many of those who followed the team on the road were there to gamble on our games. Wagers were typically from $20 to $100, and, according to a French Canadian teammate, they almost always bet on the home team and that gave them both a financial stake in the outcome and a stronger identification with our team. After a win, gambler-fans at the Rocdor nightclub would sometimes buy us beers. Once, after shortstop Chuck Hughes hit a walk off homerun to beat visiting Thetford Miners, a smartly dressed, middle-aged fan, wearing dark glasses in the Rocdor told Chuck to order whatever meal and drinks he'd like for the evening. The tab was on him, reputedly a professional gambler.
QPL teams played a seventy game schedule from late May to late August, followed by nearly a month of playoffs leading to a championship series. Rather than playing every day as in the minor leagues, our schedule called for five games a week including a Sunday doubleheader. That gave us three days off, which we relished coming from the grind of playing daily in the States. [End Page 163] Many players used off days for sleep after later-than-usual nights out. But there were others who liked to get out and explore. Some days we drove to Expo—the highly successful world's fair on the St. Lawrence River that celebrated Canada's centennial. Other days we drove into downtown Montréal where we would walk along the main drag, Rue Sainte-Catherine, with its people, bars, restaurants, department stores, and other entertainments. It's like living in Europe. This city is really alive. I could easily live here, I noted in my journal. (Five years later I would get my first teaching job in Montreal, at McGill University). On most trips to Montreal we tried to squeeze in a movie, since all those shown in Drummondville were in French and without subtitles.
Less often we'd drive around the surrounding countryside, stopping in some of the villages of the Eastern townships. As you approach the small towns, you can always see a tall church steeple from a distance … the Catholic Church is everything here. There is usually one main street, sometimes it's not even paved and some villages have lots of rickety, rundown houses. It doesn't seem like there's much to do. I wonder how these people amuse themselves. Maybe that's why the girls are horny.
July 22 … I was playing left field in a game against the Lachine Mets when late in the game I dove for a sinking line drive and missed it. The ball rolled to the fence and by the time I got there I could see the runner heading for third and knew he would score the go ahead run. Rather than pick up the ball and throw it to the cutoff man, I raised my hand and motioned that the ball had gone under the fence. It hadn't. While the umpire was making his way to the outfield, I turned my back to the infield and stuffed the ball beneath the fence. The umpire arrived and unconvinced asked me directly if I had pushed the ball under. I said no. The hometown Mets and their manager, former Dodger Tim Harkness, knew that it was impossible for the ball to simply roll under, and protested vehemently. But with the ball sitting on the other side, the umpire had no choice but to rule it a ground-rule double. I had cheated to save a run (the run eventually scored anyway), and then lied about it to make it stand.
Most baseball people would say there is nothing wrong with trying to find a competitive edge. As former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen put it, "If you don't get caught, you're a smart player. If you get caught, you're cheating." Cheating like this happens at all levels of pro ball—pitchers sometimes scuffed or loaded up the ball with Vaseline; batters leaned into a pitch or pretended to have been nicked when they weren't; outfielders acted as if they caught balls they had trapped. Trying to gain an advantage by cheating was, and still is, rationalized as "strategy," just part of the game. But when I came back into the dugout at the end of the inning, I could see that a few of my own teammates [End Page 164] were not enthusiastic over what I had done. My coach looked the other way. The next time I came to the plate, Lachine's pitcher drilled me in the back.
On the bus ride home, with a painful bruise as a reminder, I reflected on what I had done and began to realize that, like other forms of cheating that I engaged in, such as occasionally peeking back at the catcher to see where he was setting up for the pitch, it was not in the spirit of fairness. And wasn't fairness supposed to be a fundamental value of sport? Before the ball-under-the-fence incident, I had never questioned cheating to get an edge.2 Nor had any of my coaches discouraged us as long as we could hide it from the umpires. In fact, some coaches did their best to cheat as well, such as trying to steal the signs of the opposing team.3
Throwing BP one night, teammate Claude Cote took a line drive in the gut that broke two of his ribs. In the sixties few teams, and certainly not Drummondville, had screens to protect the BP pitcher from smashes through the box. A few days later, our thirty-eight year old Dominican catcher, Walter James, was laid out after being struck in the throat by a foul tip. Catcher masks in 1967 didn't offer any throat protection. It wouldn't be until 1976 that a flap was added below the mask and became an everyday accessory for catchers and home plate umpires. Nor did batting helmets back then have flaps to protect one's ear.
Our leftfielder, Mike Sawyer, a gifted two-sport athlete—baseball and hockey—was actually from Drummondville and a local hero. He had once been invited to the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida, where it was said he had impressed the brass, but not speaking English and having a difficult time adjusting, he had walked away and returned home. The story painted Sawyer as the French-Canadian equivalent of homesick Hispanic rookies, who could only order ham and eggs for breakfast because they didn't know the English words for any other dishes.
August 15 … We finished the season tied for third, good enough to make the playoffs and meet Granby in a best-of-five quarterfinal. The stadium in Granby was packed last night with loud, enthusiastic fans from both Granby and Drummondville. The sixties was a time when small town fans could still worship and identify with local entities—like minor league baseball players—that were neither famous nor undisputedly the best in the land. For Provincial League fans, we were their big leaguers.
Granby rallied in the eighth inning of the first game to beat us 5–3. I had three hits including my 10th and team-leading home run of the season. Our manager, Fred Bourbeau, who believed in an old superstition that seeing white horses would give the team luck, had driven around the countryside that day looking for white horses. He reported to us before the game that he had seen [End Page 165] several and that we were bound to win. In the second game of the series, I hit another home run but we lost again, 7–5, blowing a late inning lead. The next night we lost the third and final game, 8–6; I had two more homers, giving me five for the playoffs, which some teammates figured might be a QPL record, but there were no reliable league stats to prove it.
About to leave Drummondville for home, I was invited to play on a QPL All-Star team that was to barnstorm in Cuba for several weeks (there were a number of Cubans playing in the QPL since they were not allowed to play in the US). I was thrilled to be invited, but then dejected when told I couldn't go because of the US ban on travel to Cuba. It's so stupid. What would be the harm of letting a few American ballplayers travel to Cuba? What would be the harm of letting a few Cubans play in the U.S.? I had to settle for watching a Cuban Winter League game on television at home.
Reflecting on the season as I flew home to California, I was very glad that I had gone to Québec. I had regained my confidence, finished second in the league in home runs with fourteen, nearly equal to the combined total of sixteen for the rest of the Drummondville team. I had also learned some French and something of French-Canadian culture, and I had recovered from being dumped by my girlfriend Audrey. Yet, it was clear there was little chance of my being re-signed by a major-league organization, or even being invited to spring training. I wrote in my final journal entry of the season, While I am still enjoying playing and like the status of being a "professional ballplayer" it's not leading anywhere. This is it. This is all there is ever going to be. Nonetheless, I had enjoyed playing enough to return to Drummondville for one final season.
That winter I learned of the death of a former Bay Area teammate, Charles Chase, who had been drafted by the Minnesota Twins and hit .269 as a rookie before being conscripted into the Army. The Twins tried to help Chuck avoid the draft by getting him into a reserve unit, but it hadn't worked out in time. A thoughtful, quiet kid with a peculiar habit of always putting his baseball cap on backwards and then turning the bill to the front, Chuck died soon after arriving in Vietnam—killed by friendly fire, or what the military called "mis-adventure," during action in Kontum. Twenty-five years later, I sobbed when finding his name on the Vietnam Memorial wall.
On my return to Drummondville for the 1968 season, I rented a cabin on the banks of the St. Francis River five miles out of town with several California ballplayers—Norm Angelini, Frank Pignataro, and Mike Young. Angelini, aka "Stormin' Norman," was a fiercely competitive pitcher with an attitude. Norm became a favorite with Drummondville's fans who nicknamed him "Papillon" (butterfly) after the cocky way he walked, rocking from side to side. He threw hard, but his best pitch was a curveball that dropped off the table and would [End Page 166] lead him to a league-leading 1.25 ERA, and eventually to the big leagues with Kansas City. For 20-year-old second baseman Frank "Pig" Pignataro coming to Québec was like going to Europe for the first time. He'd never been out of California. Pig relished living in a foreign environment, hearing French spoken everywhere and trying new foods, especially the crepes and patates frites with vinegar. Whenever he saw his name in the Drummondville paper La Parole, he clipped the article and sent it home even though his parents couldn't read French. Superstitious, Pig never washed his sanitary socks after a good game (for fear of washing away the luck), jumped over all chalk foul lines, and always touched third base on his way to the dugout. And no matter how cool the evening, he wore short sleeves on the field, believing that he couldn't hit well in long sleeves. Our third roommate, Mike Young, was tall, lanky, and so quiet that I never really got to know him. We called him "Coyote" because of a resemblance to the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote. Coyote liked the smell of leather and would often perch his baseball glove in front of his nose, but no more unusual than our centerfielder, Rafael González, who kissed his bat after each base hit.
June 5 … Entering the Motel Cardin restaurant for lunch, I caught a French headline through the scratched window of the newspaper box: Robert F. Kennedy Assassin. Duke, the owner of the place, translated for me, which is how I learned that the candidate I hoped would win the Democratic primaries—the candidate whom many believed would get us out of Vietnam—had been shot. Just two months earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered, sparking race riots in many cities. And casualties of Americans in Vietnam, like Chuck Chase, were mounting. For me, it seemed America was becoming unglued. And there was the haunting prospect of nuclear destruction. For young Americans particularly, the world seemed dangerously fragile and without good prospects for righting itself. I am so glad to be living in Canada, I wrote. Everything here seems so much safer and saner. I almost don't care if I ever go back to the US.
June 18 … During the off-season, the Drummondville City Council had made a few improvements to the ballpark, including laying sod on the formerly all-skin infield. But it wasn't nearly enough. It was still the worst ballpark in the league. Several umpires filed new complaints with the league over the poor stadium lights. I wrote a letter to the newspaper La Parole Journal on behalf of the team, which everyone signed. It was translated into French and published. Here's an excerpt from the English version,
We [Drummondville Royals] have played baseball throughout the U.S., Canada, and Latin America and have never seen or played in a worse baseball facility. … The Stadium lights are only 25 candlepower, half the minimum required for Class A baseball. [End Page 167] They are so poor that they pose a danger to hitters … it's a miracle that no one has been seriously hurt …(June 28, 1968)
The city council did not respond and two weeks later, in a game against the Granby Cardinals, batter Reggie Grenald, was beaned. He had lost sight of the pitch in the bright streetlights behind center field. The thud of the ball striking his head was sickening; blood flowed from Grenald's right ear as he lay inert in the batter's box. Grenald was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a severe concussion. The chance of another serious injury was not unlikely since pitchers in the 1960s often worked the inside corners of the plate.
Our general manager had twice complained to city authorities about the streetlights, suggesting they be turned off during games or a screen erected, but nothing had been done. Not long after the beaning, and upset over the city's inaction, I suggested to roommates Stormin Norman, Pig, and Coyote that we take care of the lights ourselves with a .22 caliber rifle that I had brought to Québec for target practice. Pig bowed out, but Norm and Coyote agreed even though as pitchers they had little to gain personally by knocking out the lights. We fetched the rifle and drove into town. It was around 2a.m. when we parked directly under the streetlights and with four or five shots knocked them out. It was easy. Too easy.
On the way back to our cabin, we began to wonder if we had taken out the correct lights since there was another one close by. Foolishly, we turned around and headed back to town. Just as we pulled up under the remaining light, two police cars closed in; three officers jumped out, hands on their pistols. We tried to hide the rifle, which wasn't easy in the backseat of a Vauxhall. We were taken to the station and booked. I asked to see the officer in charge to explain why we had done it, that it wasn't mindless vandalism. They brought me upstairs, where, while drawing a diagram of the ballpark, the lights, and connecting dots, I tried to explain in my limited French and perhaps with some exaggeration that we had shot out the lights "to protect the lives of innocent ballplayers." I could hear Norm yelling downstairs. He had talked back, claiming that he had certain rights being an "American citizen." That didn't go down well and one cop spit on him. After a few hours of detention, we were issued a court summons and released.
Until the streetlights were replaced a few weeks later, left-handed batters no longer had to fear losing track of a pitch. We could see the ball so much better that. The first game after the lights were gone was a slugfest in which we beat Québec City 13–12. Word about shooting out the lights spread around the league. As I was getting into the batter's box, Sherbrooke's catcher needled, [End Page 168] "Hey Sharpshooter, Lights Out." Another player, mimicking a thick French accent, said, "Hey Sharpshooter, how goes it with les gendarmes?"4
June 27 … We lost to the Granby Cardinals, 5–4, on a bases-loaded double by their 37-year-old player-manager, Nick Testa. I remembered the name from the roster of my hometown Giants when they first moved to San Francisco in 1958. Nick may have had the shortest major league career in history, catching one inning and being the on deck batter when the game ended, thus never having an official at bat. He spent most of that season in the Giants' bullpen. After that he bounced around the baseball world, playing in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Italy, Mexico, and Japan before landing in the Québec Provincial League in 1965. In the off-season, Nick taught physical education at Lehman College in New York. In the mid-1990s, I saw Nick again at Yankee Stadium. Then in his 60s, he was the Yankees regular batting practice pitcher.
At midseason I was hitting a respectable .273 but was no longer the team's big home run hitter like the year before. I have been unseated by Hector Soto, the player I had recommended to Pierre [general manager]. Hector, who was from the Dominican Republic, had been my teammate in the Florida State League, where he had led the team in home runs. Hector was tall and handsome with a bright gold cap on one of his front teeth that glittered when he smiled. A dead-red fastball hitter, I can still see him in my mind's eye, standing erect in the batter's box, hands low and close to his body, then curling back as the pitcher winds up. Hector had all five tools but never lived up to his potential. He had been released by several organizations, each time after putting up decent numbers, including hitting .310 in the Appalachian Rookie League. For reasons no one understood, Hector didn't always hustle, or as we would say, he "jaked it." It was hard to understand because coming from a poor family in the DR and without much education, Hector didn't have anything to fall back on. He couldn't go home and hope daddy would find him a job. Some said Hector was just a malingerer, as though it was in his genes.
On the team bus driving toward Montréal to play the Lachine Mets, third baseman Rich Jefferies and I were sitting together with a good view out the front window when a blue sedan pulled onto the highway from a side road and collided full-on with a fast-moving car. Québec drivers were known for speeding (the province's first speed limit of 70 mph had only been introduced three years before). Our bus slowed as we passed the crash; the bussie shouted not to look, but most of us did. Mangled and contorted bodies lay on the pavement. It was the second crash I had seen through a bus window on a baseball road trip. Both involved young people and both resulted in fatalities. In this crash three died. Rich was shaken. He called his wife Joan as soon as we reached Lachine and told her not to come to the game. He didn't want her driving on [End Page 169] Quebec's bloody highways ever again, especially with their two young boys, one of whom was Gregg Jefferies who would someday be a major-league star.
August 10 … We were playing at Granby when the umpires blew two calls, each costing us a run. After our manager protested the second call, he was ejected. In a letter home, I described what ensued after a third bad call:
In the seventh inning I hit a hanging curveball a mile down the right field line. It was clearly fair as it left the park and only then did it hook foul. But the umpire, maybe out of spite over the rough time we had given him over the previous bad calls, called my home run foul. It caused a ruckus … I was thrown out of the game. Our trainer turned off the hot water in the umpires' locker room and took their soap and towels. Some Drummondville fans went to the parking lot and let the air out of the tires of the umpires' car. When the umps came out of the stadium, some fans were still there. They cursed the umps and beat on the hood of their car.5
Even though I had lost a home run and been ejected, it was strange seeing fans get that upset over a fairly unimportant ball game. We had witnessed similar behavior in Plessisville where angry fans not only deflated the umps' tires but had been so threatening that the police were called to provide them safe escort from the stadium. Not yet realizing that some fans gambled on the games, I wondered why they were so upset, perhaps caring more about the outcome of the game than the ballplayers did. The angry fans were probably those who blamed their losses on the umpires' bad calls. In a 1937 incident, described in Merritt Clifton's history of the QPL, enraged fans at Trois Rivieres swarmed the field and attacked not just the umpires but beat up the team. When our fans were upset, they would sometimes swear in English, and since it was not their native tongue they could say some pretty amazing things. One petite young woman screamed at Norm Angelini, "Fuck you … You do be Cocksucker," probably with little clue as to its crudity.
The ball club made money selling 50–50 raffle tickets in the grandstand (it was rumored that the club actually kept 70% instead of 50%). The shapely wife of our trainer, Jacques Desautels, sold far more than anyone else by showing lots of cleavage and letting her customers get a long look as they paid for their tickets.
August 15 … We closed out the season with a 4–1 win over Thetford Mines, finishing in second place. We then lost in the first round of the play-offs to the powerhouse Granby Cardinals. I finished the season hitting .252, 9, 40, all numbers down from the previous year. After the season, Coyote signed with the Chicago Cubs and Stormin Norman with the Kansas City Royals, three years later making it to the big club as their left-handed closer. When I spoke to Norm in 2012, the first time since our Drummondville days, the first thing [End Page 170] he said upon answering the phone, having seen my name on his caller ID, was, "Sharpshooter, I didn't pull the trigger."
Pig turned down an offer to return to Drummondville the following season so as not to be separated from his fiancée, whose job would not let her join him in Quebec. He coached college and high school baseball for a while, became a high school principal, and then left education to work in insurance. He rose through the ranks to become a Vice President of State Farm Insurance. Today, he regrets not having played one more season in Drummondville, claiming that if he could do his brief pro career over, he would drink less beer and get more sleep. I too retired, choosing instead to participate in a summer anthropology field school in Mexico.6 But there, living in a highland Tlaxcalan village, I began to have vivid dreams about playing baseball again, and vowed that I would play one final season the following year. In Ball Four Jim Bouton had a good line about this: "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
The next spring, now a graduate student in anthropology at UCSB, I returned to Drummondville the day after taking my comprehensive exams. Although eager to play again, I struggled at the plate and lost the joy I'd always had for the game. It was probably a mistake coming back, I wrote in my journal, I have hung on too long. A few weeks into the season I left Drummondville and baseball for good to join my new partner, Sharon Bohn, who was doing anthropological fieldwork in an Irish fishing village. But for the rest of that summer, I often felt depressed around four o'clock each day, unable to understand why. Then one day I realized that for the past four years that had been the time each day I was at the ballpark getting ready to play. Like my teammates who had been released, I was having to adjust to retirement from my chosen vocation and childhood passion decades before workers in most professions ever begin to think about stepping down.
It was also the end of the line for the Québec Provincial League. It disbanded at the conclusion of the 1970 season, unable to compete for fans with the new major-league team that had arrived in Montréal—the Expos. Expo games were televised and could be seen live by commuting on the newly built expressways that gave Quebecers easy access to Montréal's Jarry Park. When the QPL folded, most of its players never played professional baseball again. The best baseball towns in the league—Québec City, Sherbrooke, Trois Rivieres, and Thetford Mines—became new franchises in the AA Eastern League. The Eastern League's Quebec experiment only lasted a few years and by 1977 all the Quebec-based teams had relocated to U.S. cities. Today, with the Expos having moved to Washington D.C., only Quebec City has professional baseball—a team called Les Capitales in the independent Can Am League. [End Page 171]
george gmelch is professor of anthropology at the University of San Francisco and Union College, and the author of a dozen books, including a recent baseball memoir, Playing with Tigers: A Minor-League Chronicle of the Sixties. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minor League Baseball Association for his writings on baseball.
1. Thirty years later, while doing research on tourism on the Caribbean island of Barbados, I had one of those "aha" moments that explained what I had seen in Drummondville. I was living in a coastal village a few miles from the tourist belt where occasionally I'd see the local "beach bums" (gigolos) bring home white tourist girls. I soon learned that the first foreign women to journey to Barbados in search of sex with local boys, or what is now called "romance tourism," were French Canadians. They came down on the first charter flights from Montréal in the 1960s.
2. Sports sociologists refer to these actions as "normative cheating."
3. A fair amount of research has shown that athletes score significantly lower in "moral reasoning" than do non-athletes. And that team-sport athletes, as in baseball, are less likely to act morally than those in individual sports, like swimming and tennis. This, researchers suggest, is due to team pressures to conform and win. Worse still, the longer one remains in athletics, the more negatively affected is one's moral reasoning.
4. After the season ended, I received a bill for $600 for two mercury vapor lamps and their installation. We didn't pay the bill, and five years later when my wife, Sharon, and I drove from San Francisco to Montréal to take up my first teaching job at McGill University, I feared my name would be on a list and that the Canadians would not let me cross the border.
5. One night when a drunken fan came onto to the field to protest a bad call, the plate umpire retaliated by hitting the trespasser over the head with his mask, knocking him flat.
6. I was one of a dozen students on a National Science Foundation funded field training program. Each of us lived in a different village while doing full-time field research. [End Page 172]