It may be curious to those too young to remember, or some pleasant reminder for others, but there was once a baseball team in Midland called the Indians.
I'm talking about the “old Indians” here. Gord Dyment. Jim Lemieux. Larry Greene. “Deschamps' Dandies,” as legendary sportswriter Charlie Noquet dubbed them.
They were a local sports institution, perennial winners across three decades, whose games seemed more like community events. And of all the great Midland Indian ball clubs that graced the diamond, this is the most memorable one.
In the autumn of 1958, the Indians outlasted the Simcoe Meteors, 1-0, to capture the Ontario Baseball Association Intermediate Minor A title.
Was it championship number one for Midland?
Newspaper accounts varied. The Midland Free Press Herald of Sept. 24 declared the town hadn’t been the provincial best in more than 30 years; two days earlier, the Toronto Star reported that this indeed was Midland’s first Ontario baseball crown ever.
What is certain is this: after the final win, the Midland players, still wearing their uniforms, climbed into open convertibles and then rode down King Street in an impromptu victory parade.
There were further triumphs and similar celebrations to come over the next 14 years.
Midland’s baseball Indians – from 1958 to 1972 – became one of the most prolific Intermediate A outfits within Ontario, becoming OBA champions five times and advancing to the provincial final on four other occasions, though the 1958 championship final is the only one played by Midland in which the OBA has classed as an Intermediate A minor series.
The eight other times the Indians would compete for a provincial title (1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1971, and 1972), the provincial designation for the final was solely Intermediate A.
The ’58 Indians, of course, started it all.
The clinching game in the best-of-three championship series against Simcoe, game two of the series, was played at Midland’s Town Park and it was an extra-inning thriller.
“I never slept a wink before that last game,” said Harold Jackson (now deceased), the team’s veteran second baseman. “That game turned out to be a real nail-biter.”
After nine innings the two pitchers – Gord Dyment for Midland and Simcoe’s Bob White – hadn’t given up a run.
Dyment tossed a two-hitter that day, striking out 17 Meteor batters and walking none.
In the tenth inning Simcoe still couldn’t score, and when the Indians came to bat in the bottom half of the frame, they didn’t know that it would serve as the stage for one of the most exciting moments in Midland sports history.
Buck Rogers led off with a loud fly ball to deep centre field.
Joe Faragher, who went two-for-four during the contest, singled through the right side of the infield.
Jim Lemieux then followed him by looping a safety over first base that chased Faragher to third.
By now, the Midland fans hoped for the best. Standees were everywhere. They had filled the bleachers and lined the ballpark from baseline to baseline, stretching farther still along the outfield fence, while others squeezed three to four deep behind the home plate screen.
It was not a good afternoon for anyone with heart trouble. And all the Indians’ faithful could do was yell for their heroes and wait. The next batter was 18-year-old Buzz Deschamps.
With the winning run 90 feet away, and another runner on base as well, Simcoe decided to intentionally walk the Indians’ lefty-hitting shortstop, setting up the potential of a force at any base and potentially getting out of the inning with a double-play.
Boos and hoots rose to a crescendo as Deschamps waited in the batter’s box while Bob White, still pitching for the Meteors, instructed his catcher to set up away. White didn’t want to take any chances.
The sidearmer then delivered outside for ball one. White threw again, and suddenly there was Deschamps swinging at the outside pitch. He reached wide across the plate, as though he simply could not stand it any longer, and swatted the ball cleanly into right field.
The hit brought Faragher home and into the greeting arms of a delirious Murray Yorke, and it gave the town the OBA title in a two-game sweep.
“Everybody just went crazy,” Jackson said of the crowd.
Members of the 1958-champion Indians were player-coach Vic Valentine, Jack Hendrickson, Deschamps, Harold Jackson, Albert Stainton, Jim Wilcox, Paul Creighton, Greene, Bob Hendrickson, Lemieux, Buck Rogers, Connie Adams, Bill Kettle, Murray Yorke, Joe Faragher, Gord Dyment, and bat boy Fred Jackson. Their manager was Bunn Deschamps. Fred Rutherford served as the club's trainer.
"Bunn kept us together,” Jackson said. “He knew his baseball. And if you didn’t come to practise, you didn’t play.”
“We were like the Blue Jays in ’92 when they won the World Series. We couldn’t be denied,” said the late Yorke, who, like Jackson, was interviewed in 1996. “We won hard and we lost hard.
“There was always somebody there to get you off your back,” he went on to say. “We had a great mix of veteran guys and younger players. We had a lot of timely hitting. We’d win big most of the time, but many times we had to scratch. That was a big thing with that team; a strong point. We could manufacture runs.”
Because a fall fair had moved into the ball field in Simcoe, the Indians travelled to the neighbouring town of Port Dover for the opening game of the OBA final. They beat the Meteors, 2-1. Midland loaded the bases in the first inning as Deschamps singled, Wilcox was hit by a pitch, and Greene walked. This time, however, it was Faragher who knocked in the runner from third base.
He drove a fly ball high enough and deep enough to allow Deschamps to tag and score. Two innings later, Midland added a second run. Yorke doubled with two outs, and then scored on a Meteor's throwing error of Dyment’s infield grounder.
The contest stayed 2-0 for Midland into the eighth inning. Bill Pond's pinch-hit single off Dyment drove Simcoe teammate Brian Coates home, cutting the Indians’ lead in half. On the same play the ball rolled past Buck Rogers in centre field and carried through to the outfield fence. Seeing this, Pond decided to try and circle the bases.
He didn’t break stride as he sharply cut the corner at second. Pond ran with a single-minded purpose, his spikes churning up even more dirt as he neared third. It seemed certain that he'd score the Meteors' second run. Then, in the blink of an eye the game was altered when, to everyone's amazement, Simcoe's would-be hero inexplicably found himself lying face down on the ground.
Maybe it was fate, or luck, or simply him running too fast, but after having rounded the last bag a few seconds before, Pond had somehow tripped, and fell. Now, unable to get back on his feet, he began crawling the remaining distance home.
All the while, Lemieux had raced from right field and retrieved the ball for the Indians. He relayed it to the cut-off man, Faragher, coming off first base, who threw on to Yorke, the catcher. The throw was perfect. Pond, on his hands and knees, was tagged out by Yorke just inches from the plate.
“I can still see Murray waiting for him,” recalled a smiling Jackson. “Murray had the ball in his glove and waggled his finger like this, telling him to ‘come here.’”
“That was a turning point,” Yorke said. “If he scores it ties the game and maybe gives them momentum to go on and win.”
But the crisis hadn’t ended. In the last of the ninth, Midland ahead by only a run with none out, the Indians committed two errors to put Simcoe runners on second and third base. Tying run at third, winning run at second, ninth inning of the first game of the provincial championship, and on the mound for Midland a 28-year-old former professional. It was one of those classic moments baseball does so well.
Dyment had faced Henry Aaron in the minor leagues, thrown batting practice to Willie Mays at spring training, and competed across diamonds within the New York Giants’ farm system alongside Willie McCovey, his teammate, who, like Aaron and Mays, was later a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame. Now, he took the ball with three Meteor hitters prepared to take their swings.
The large, partisan Simcoe crowd at Port Dover stirred in anticipation. If Dyment gave up a sacrifice fly, or the Indians provided yet another error, the Meteors would tie the game; one solid hit delivered by the home squad surely meant two final tallies, and Midland's loss. Jackson and Buzz Deschamps, the middle infielders, went over to talk to their ace hurler. As the first batter stepped in, Dyment turned to Jackson, and said, “Hold onto your hat.” He began to pitch. His fastball crackled and he snapped curves that broke around the knees. Nine pitches later – and the game was over. He had struck out the side.
“It was very important when we got Gordie,” Jackson said. “He was pitching up in Copper Cliff (near Sudbury) and he came back to Midland in July. We were good, but with Gordie, he made our chances better. He carried us through.”
“After that first game against Simcoe we thought we could win it all,” added Jackson. “Simcoe had a damn good ball club, but we knew we were just as good, even better. And we won.”
Before that triumph Midland came out of the Bruce Baseball League playoffs and into the semi-final of the OBA, which the Indians won two-straight from the Bowmanville Harvesters. Dyment put on an astonishing performance in Game One at Midland: the big righthander pitched a masterful one-hitter, fanning 18 batters, and shut out the Harvesters, 2-0. With a man aboard Larry Greene hit a home run for the Indians, and that was that.
In the second game, at Bowmanville, the Harvesters’ pitching was destroyed by Midland, who scored often and easily and pounded 12 hits. Jack Hendrickson had four of them, batting in five runs as the Indians rolled to a 7-0 win. The stunning offensive numbers put up by the “The Tribe's” infield star proved to be a farewell gift to his teammates. A tremendous all-round athlete, Hendrickson would begin his second season of professional hockey that fall, after defending the blue line the previous year for the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Flyers.
Said Harold Jackson, “Jack wasn’t with us when we played Simcoe. He had to report to the Detroit Red Wings training camp. He delayed leaving for as long as he could.”
This month marks 65 years since the beginning of Midland's unmatched baseball dynasty. For decades afterward, many of the players from the 1958 Indians kept the same newspaper clipping, preserving the treasured memento in scrapbooks, photo albums and dresser drawers. It is from the front page of the Free Press Herald, the Sept. 24 edition.
Though yellowed with age, the photographs above the headline forever tell what it was like then: Murray Yorke is still waiting to hug Joe Faragher; and Faragher is pictured beaming alongside Buzz Deschamps, Gord Dyment and Jim Lemieux, their arms gleefully wrapped around one another.
And to the right is the team, champions all, perched atop the convertibles. The images seem even more poignant in 2023. Sadly, the majority of the '58 Indians have passed away, with Faragher, Buzz Deschamps and Fred Jackson thought to be the club's three surviving members. A few seasons ago, the men's baseball team which represents Midland in the North Dufferin league changed its name from Indians to the more politically correct, Mariners.
The Midland Indians exist only in memory now. But if you look hard enough, and listen, too, you can still find traces of the club's baseball legacy. The Mariners continue to play their home games at Gord Dyment Field, the ballpark in Tiffin Park named for the Indians' greatest pitcher. Next year, they will again try to end Midland's OBA championship drought.
It's going on 55 years since a town squad higher than the juvenile level has brought home a provincial title, the last being the Intermediate A Indians of 1969. Whenever the Mariners do claim that elusive crown, perhaps they will share the same feeling Murray Yorke described shortly before the 1996 induction of the 1958 Midland Indians into the Midland Sports Hall of Fame:
“It was a big deal then, and it still is,” said Yorke then. “People relate back and talk about it. I was on the Midland Red Wings Junior C hockey team that won the Ontario championship in 1954. The Indians winning in 1958 was on a par with that, for what it meant in the town. People today still care, and they still remember."