Do you smell that? It’s pine tar, replacing the freshly flooded arenas in Leaside. A signal that the end of winter is nigh.
In other words, baseball has usurped hockey.
Speaking of hardball, did you know someone who earned four World Series rings lives in the land east of Bayview?
Canadian Sports Hall of Famer Ron Taylor, 77, who won Major League Baseball’s top title as a player with St. Louis Cardinals (1964) and New York Mets (1969), and two more as the team physician with Toronto Blue Jays, lives in Bennington Heights.
He grew up on Banff Road, in North Toronto.
Baseball is a pretty huge part of North American culture. With the Jays winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and ’93, it soared in Canada.
When Taylor played, his colleagues were guys like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock, with the Cardinals, and Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, with the Mets.
“I saved a lot of [Seaver’s] games,” the former closer tells me. “I pitched a lot of games that we were both in.”
Taylor even had a big game, back in 1964, where he pitched the last four innings of Game 4 of the World Series. He allowed only one hit. The Cardinals won 4-3, with Taylor saving Roger Craig’s win. Taylor is modest about winning both Series.
Back then, the Yankees still had the M&M Boys — a.k.a. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Those were the guys who attempted to break Babe Ruth’s 60-homerun season record. Mantle didn’t make it, but we all know Maris did, knocking 61 out of the park in ’61.
Taylor retired in 1972 as a San Diego Padre. Once his career (491 games, 800 innings and 464 strikeouts), was over, he returned home to enter medical school at the University of Toronto.
Admittedly, the ’60s were a little before my time. Taylor joined the Blue Jays as a physician in 1979, the year I was born.
I grew up watching players like Jesse Barfield, Paul Molitor, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis. The last two were Cincinnati Reds.
Candidly, Taylor balks at my being a Reds fan.
“I never liked the Reds,” he admits.
“That’s because you played for the Cardinals,” I rebut, playfully pointing out the storied rivalry.
Anyone who’s a baseball nut knows names like Mantle and Maris, as well as Molitor, Larkin and Davis.
As for baseball and Leaside, Taylor definitely sees it as a part of the cultural fabric.
“All of my amateur baseball was in Leaside,” he shares. “I still go down and watch games, and I think [Leaside Baseball] is a wonderful program.
“Through that Leaside Baseball Association, at the age of 17, I started playing professionally with Cleveland.”
It’s in Leaside where he watched his two sons, Drew and Matt, grow up playing ball.
Drew would go on to win a Big Ten championship at the University of Michigan, and enjoyed some time as a pitcher with minor league affiliates of Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies.
The senior Taylor never regrets his choice to return.
“It’s my home,” he says.