Touching tribute to a champion dad

Taylor brothers' documentary on World Series-winning pitcher they call Dr. Baseball

Blast_Radius_columnNEWWe’re in the thick of baseball season. North Toronto’s house league is underway. From Talbot Park, the sounds of Leaside’s clinking aluminum bats salutes travellers along the congested Eglinton Avenue.

So, I think it’s appropriate to dip into that neighbourhood’s past time. Especially since former Toronto Blue Jays doctor, and World Series winning pitcher, Ron Taylor, calls Bennington Heights home.

A few months ago, I took in the premiere of his sons’ documentary, Ron Taylor: Dr. Baseball, down at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Now, I understand Father’s Day is in June, but the DVD release of their doc — a great labour of love for directors Drew and Matt Taylor — was on April 12.

“No question. This was something Matthew and I talked about when we started our little company, Filmhouse,” Drew says. “It’s an interesting fit, because even though he’s had such a life in sports, equally, but slightly less glamourous, he’s had an even longer life in medicine.”

It was a project to find a home to make it, but with help of Bravo Factual they found a home for the 20-minute documentary.

Another task was trying to convince their humble father, who had the heaviest sinker, according to catcher Tim McCarver in the documentary, to talk about his career with the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals of 1964, as well as the 1969 Miracle Mets.

“Dad is a pretty shy guy,” Drew says. “Because he doesn’t really talk about himself a lot, and he is a quiet guy, this was a great way to share a story that means so much to Matthew and I.”

So, away the boys went, heading down to St. Louis to the 50th anniversary World Series championship reunion, where they interviewed Hall of Famers Tim McCarver, Bob Gibson, Mike Shannon and Lou Brock.

Next came interviews with Joe Torre, Art Shamsky, Ferguson Jenkins and a number of Toronto Blue Jays legends like Cito Gaston, Joe Carter, Kelly Gruber and George Bell.

Still, having a former Major League pitcher as a father helped Drew with his own career.

“He was dad to me. He just happened to have this 11-year major league career, and probably had a little more insight than most fathers,” Drew says. “He was engaging. He would ask me questions about setting up hitters, what pitch would I choose next.”

Matthew points out one of the greatest lessons the two discovered during the shooting of the documentary: how much the Vietnam War had on the direction of their father’s life.

After the Mets won the World Series in 1969, they took a few players over to Vietnam as an unofficial part of the USO Tours.

“That really is the big reason why he left baseball, because he met a lot of the wounded soldiers on this tour,” he says.

“Because dad wasn’t a performer, and wasn’t on stage, they were bringing him into the hospitals and he was meeting the wounded soldiers face to face,” Drew adds.

The elder Taylor, Ron, wrote down the parents’ names and phone numbers of the men and women in the hospitals he visited, and contacted them later.

“He’s got that warmth and kindness — empathy. And for him to think of doing that and following through with it, is a real testament to his character,” Matt says, adding their father devoted the rest of his life to medicine.

Of course, he would win two more World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays as the team doctor.

“They don’t really understand the decision he made, or why he made them,” Matt says. “It’s a very inspirational story for people who are making those career changes.

“It teaches them to go for it.”