Canadian national team coach Jim Ridley will be inducted posthumously into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this June. He was in my Hall decades ago. He will be the second Christie Pit Leaguer so honoured, following the Baron of the Pits, Carmen Bush, aka The Dictator or Il Duce.
Can Archie French be far behind?
Jim Ridley senior told Jim junior that there was only one place to play ball— with Columbus Boys. So he drove the Mimico lad to the Pits along with Davey Smyth, one of the smoothest gloves ever seen at the legendary park. Both were midget age.
After three seasons with us and 2 city championships Jimmy turned pro and spent two seasons with the Milwaukee Braves organization in 1964 and 1965, Like many Canucks at that time, Jimmy had trouble with the curve ball and returned to Canada where he would have a significant impact on baseball as a national coach in his home country for the next four decades. He also scouted professionally for the Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins.
“Rids” as he was known to friends brought the Columbus Boys philosophy into a wider ambit. Winning ain’t the thing. It’s the camarderie and fellowship which endures. The post mortems were as important as the game
When Jimmy died in November 2008 at age 63 I was stunned knowing his parents Jim and Verna lived to their 90s. Bob Elliot sports writer at the Sun wrote a nice column about Jim’s great decency and he asked for submissions. There were many and I sent this one:
Jimmy came to me in 1961 as a 16 year old from the Lakeshore. He and fellow Mimicoite Dave Smyth wanted to play junior ball though they were both midget age. I was in my first year managing for Carmen Bush’s Columbus Boys at the Pits. It was obvious from the get-go that Jimmy was a gifted athlete who could play anywhere. He could do it all — hit, run, field (great arm) etc., so I put him in centre field where he played the shortest outfield I have ever seen. Even though we had three midgets in the starting line up we won the city championship and repeated the next year.
At Mimico High where I now taught Latin and English , I saw what a gifted athlete Jim was, excelling in both basketball and football. Sadly he was rushed into Junior B hockey too fast (15) and quit after one year. He gave his goalie pads to his buddy who lived behind him, Al Smith who went on to a 15 year pro career! And as Al acknowledged, he had half Jim’s talent. A cautionary tale about rushing kids.
Soon, Jim signed pro and I visited him in Sarasota and Quebec where he roomed with another great Torontonian, Charley Hughes. We never lost touch.when he was away at university in Waterloo I lived at 2580 Lakeshore Blvd with Jim and Verna. I even did a reading at his wedding,
The last long conversation I had with Jimmy was in may of 2008 was in May when he called me from Montreal where he was scouting for the Twins. He was heartbroken that he could not get back for legendary umpire Archie French’s funeral. Jimmy and his folks loved the irrepressible Arch who would often arrive late at night in his cab and shine a light into the Ridley living room.It killed Jimmy being away when Arch whom he called “Woody” died. Rids never forgot where he came from.
Jimmy was a gifted ball player, a gentle soul and a real gentleman. Never heard him swear in all my years knowing him! He sure was the pride and joy of Jim and Verna’s life.
Scarborough, Ont. it
Coaching, when you get it right, you never have a losing season. You meet beautiful vulnerable people entering life at a formative stage. It is such a sacramental experience being there as a simple conduit for depth in human relationships. Winning and losing, the twin impostors pale in comparison to the cosmic importance of engaging another person, even in a sporting capacity. As the great Jewish mystic Martin Buber put it, “All real living is meeting”. Knowing James Beswick Ridley as I did was an enduring pleasure.