Saturday, August 03, 2013

August 4th in History

I wasn’t really aware of how important a date August 4 is in the history of Toronto and the planet.

Yes, I remember where I was when JFK was shot (Grade 9 English Class, Nelson High School). When Apollo 11 landed on moon I was working at the #2 Rod Mill at Stelco in Hamilton.  And I have a clear memory of September 9, 1956 when a six-year-old surreptitiously crawled down the back hallway, apparently undetected by unsuspecting parents, to watch Elvis gyrating on the Ed Sullivan show.

Now the Toronto Star has reminded me that August 4, 1983 was indeed an historic date that I should add to my list.  (

And, yes, I remember where I was that day.  I was there at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium when Dave Winfield “slew a gull.”  My memory is foggy though.  I guess I should have taken notes.

Along with about 36,000 others I was taking in the game from the cheap, but covered,  seats in left-centre field at what later became known as the Mistake-by-the Lake.   Burlington Post reporter Dennis Smith and I spent four dollars each for our seats (Could they really have been $4.00 dollars then?)  Between innings I had my 7x50 Dienstglas binoculars trained on this bird.  It had pretty much sitting in the same place in right-centre field for several innings.  As I looked at the gull through the binos it was smacked by a baseball. 
Someone sitting near us called out:  Winfield killed that poor pigeon.”

The “pigeon” was indeed dead.  A hapless ball boy was dispatched to cover and remove the dead bird.  While some booing began I, clearly identifying with that ball boy, flashed back to a similar incident in my past.   As a student steelworker I had been ordered by the foreman to “bury that poor effing cat” that had been found dead in Stelco’s #2 Rod Mill.  Poor ball boy, I empathized with him.

As I’ve suggested some of the details of this important day are lost to me.

The Star says the charge against Winfield, later dismissed, was “cruelty to animals.” I can’t say I remembered that specific but for some reason I do recall Winfield’s manager’s response to the charge:   
Said Billy Martin: “Cruelty to animals?  That’s the first time he’s hit the cut-off man all year.”

I remember too that the birding community was irked.  Peter Whalen of the Globe and Mail wrote about it. His column lamented the fact that the deceased bird was continuously referred to by the media and public as a “seagull.”    There is no such species, as any birder worth his feathers would tell you.  It was a ring billed gull or larus delawarensis, if you prefer.

I do have some memory of, then Metro Chairman, Paul Godfrey grovelling to the Americans over the incident. But didn’t that have to do with getting a NFL franchise for Toronto?

All these memories coming back to me……

Oh, and where were you on August 4, 1983?

Where they are now
Dennis Smith, who attended the game with this Blogger, is semi-retired and does some freelance work for the Burlington Post.  When reached today he declined comment on the incident as he was busy doing a story on a book written about another team that played in Toronto in the ‘Year of the Dead Bird.’  That team, the Toronto Argonauts, won the Grey Cup in 1983.

While the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the Yankees that August day they did go on to record their first winning season in 1983 winning 89 times against 73 losses.  This year they are on pace for a record of 74 wins and 88 loses.

The #2 Rod Mill was opened by the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) in 1966.  Once North America’s largest manufacturer of hot rolled wire rods, it closed for good in 2004.  Stelco was purchased by US Steel in 2007.

In 2008, an alleged NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, began playing four down football in Toronto once a year.  Ticket prices per seat averaged $183 that first year.  

Bob Wood lives in Port Rowan Ontario and last attended a Blue Jays game when his son’s school choir was singing the national anthem at the Sky Dome.  That would be about twenty years ago.  He preferred the Mistake-by–the-Lake as a sporting venue even if they were cruel to animals there.

No comments: