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Martin, Key, Stephenson, Heisler, Godfrey, Birnie to be inducted into Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame June 15



By St. Marys Independent staff

Six new members will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (CBHFM) in a ceremony on the Hall of Fame grounds June 15.

Former Toronto Blue Jays all-stars Russell Martin (East York, Ont.) and Jimmy Key will be inducted alongside national team infielder and trailblazing coach Ashley Stephenson (Mississauga, Ont.) and national team pitching legend Rod Heisler (Moose Jaw, Sask.). Onetime Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey, who played a significant role in bringing Major League Baseball to Toronto, and longtime Toronto Leaside baseball executive Howard Birnie will also be honoured.

"Each member of this year’s class has had a tremendous impact on the game of baseball in Canada," said Jeremy Diamond, chair of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s board of directors. "We look forward to celebrating their outstanding careers in St. Marys on June 15th."

Unfortunately, Jimmy Key will not be able to attend the ceremony, but his former Blue Jays teammate and fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jesse Barfield will accept the honour on Key’s behalf.

The induction ceremony will be part of a series of activities that will also include a meet-and-greet with the inductees and other special guests called “The Opening Pitch” at the Rogers Centre in Toronto (June 13) and the Hall’s 26th annual celebrity golf tournament and banquet (June 14). Canadian broadcasting legend Rod Black will emcee the induction ceremony.

Induction Day Schedule:

9:30-10:15 a.m. – Inductee press conference inside the museum (386 Church St. S.) (media only)

11 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Baseball games will be played on the Hall’s diamonds.

11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – Museum open to public for regular admission fees.

1-3:30 p.m. – Induction Ceremony on the Hall of Fame grounds. Buck Martinez will also be presented with the Jack Graney Award. (386 Church St. S.). Free to attend.

4-5:30 p.m. – Autograph session* (Please read rules below) with inductees, past inductees and other special guests. Check the Hall’s website for more information.

*Autograph session cost and rules:

• Members should bring their membership card. Members must pay $25 each to enter the autograph session.

• Non-members must pay $35 each to enter the autograph session.

• Hall of Fame 2024 members will enter the autograph line first.

• Autograph session is 90 minutes long.

• Autographs are limited to one item per person per inductee/special guest.

• Autographs will be signed on a first-come first-serve basis.

• Hall of Fame staff reserve the right to cut the autograph line at any time.

• Autographs are not guaranteed.

• No posed photos.

2024 Inductee Bios

Russell Martin

Born in East York, Ont., in 1983, Russell Martin moved to Montreal when he was two and honed his skills with the Junior National Team before being selected in the 17th round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After a strong rookie season with the Dodgers in 2006, he hit .293 with 19 home runs and a career-best 87 RBIs in his sophomore campaign and was honoured with his first All-Star Game selection, a Silver Slugger Award, a Gold Glove Award and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award.

He followed that up with another All-Star season in 2008 and played two more seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the New York Yankees and belting a combined 39 home runs in 2011 and 2012.

On Nov. 30, 2012, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and proceeded to earn two consecutive Wilson Defensive Player of the Year honours. Following the 2014 campaign, Martin landed a five-year contract with the Blue Jays. In his first season with Toronto, he belted a career-best 23 homers to earn his fourth All-Star selection and help the club to their first postseason appearance in 22 years.

Martin played 14 big league seasons and ranks in the top 10 among Canadians in most major league statistical categories, including first in dWAR (16.5), third in WAR (38.8), and sixth in hits (1,416). He also holds Canadian major league postseason records in games (58) and hits (38). On the international stage, Martin suited up for Canada at the World Baseball Classic in 2009 and coached for Canada at the event in 2017 and 2023.

“My first thought when I heard the news was, ‘Man, I must be getting old.’ My next thought was what an honour to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame alongside other greats,” said Martin. “I’ve never played the game for awards and accolades, but this is pretty darn special.”

Jimmy Key

Born in 1961 in Huntsville, Ala., Jimmy Key was selected in the third round of the 1982 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. The crafty left-hander rose through the team’s ranks to make his big-league debut on April 6, 1984.

In 1985, the Blue Jays’ first division-winning season, the steady southpaw joined the club’s starting rotation and posted a 14-6 record and a 3.00 ERA in 212-2/3 innings in 35 appearances to earn his first All-Star selection. Over the next seven seasons, Key continued to be a top-end starter for the Blue Jays, registering at least 12 wins in each campaign.

His finest season with the Blue Jays was in 1987, when he went 17-8 and topped American League pitchers with a 2.76 ERA while tossing a team-leading 261 innings. For his efforts, he was named the American League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News.

Four years later, he almost equaled his 1987 campaign when he registered 16 wins and a 3.05 ERA and was named to his second All-Star team. In 1992, he notched 13 regular season victories and added two more in the World Series against the Atlanta Braves to help the Blue Jays capture their first championship.

Key ranks near the top in many of the Blue Jays’ all-time pitching categories (minimum 1,000 innings pitched), including tied for first in ERA (3.42) and WHIP (1.20) and fourth in wins (116) and innings pitched (1,695-2/3).

In total, in his 15-year major league career, which also included stops with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, he registered 186 wins and finished with a 49.0 WAR.

“I would like to thank the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and their executive committee for this great honour,” said Key. “This recognition caps off nine great years that I played in Toronto for the Blue Jays organization. To be a part of the first professional baseball World Championship team in Canada is the highlight of my career.”

Ashley Stephenson

Born in Mississauga, Ont., in 1982, Ashley Stephenson was a member of the first Women’s National Team in 2004. She excelled with the team for 15 seasons and helped lead them to seven medals, including silvers at the WBSC Women’s World Cups in 2008 and 2016 and at the Pan Am Games in 2015. She was also a force on four bronze-medal-winning teams at the World Cup (2004, 2006, 2012 and 2018). Along the way, she was named Women’s National Team MVP twice (2005 and 2008).

After concluding her playing career, Stephenson became a coach and was part of the Women’s National Team staff that led Canada to a bronze medal at the COPABE Women’s Pan-American Championships in 2019. Three years later, she became the first woman to manage the Women’s National Team when she was the dugout boss for their five-game series against the United States in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Stephenson would make history again that November when she became the first woman to capture Baseball Canada’s Lionel Ruhr Elite Coach of the Year Award.

In 2023, Stephenson was hired as a position coach by the Blue Jays’ High-A Vancouver Canadians. She has returned to this role this season.

A highly respected ambassador for baseball nationally and internationally, Stephenson also served as a member of the WBSC Athletes Commission from 2018 to 2022.

“Wow! Thank you so much. This was one of the best surprise calls I’ve ever received,” said Stephenson when informed she was being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. “I played baseball because I love the game. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d play for my country and have some of the experiences and opportunities I’ve had. I hope girls and women see this as an example of what you can do through hard work, dedication and perseverance. The Hall of Fame is forever. I’m so incredibly honoured to be a part of it!”

Rod Heisler

Born in 1957 in Moose Jaw, Sask., Rod Heisler pitched in a record 14 international competitions for the men’s National Team.

The Canadian left-hander attended Bemidji State University where he earned All-Conference honours in 1978 and 1979 and was also named All-District in 1979.

His first national team assignment came in 1978 at the Amateur World Series. He would pitch for Canada at the same competition in 1980 and 1982. In 1982, he went 3-0 with a 2.35 ERA and was named the left-handed pitcher on the tournament All-Star team.

Two years later, Heisler started Canada’s first game at the 1984 Olympics and allowed just two runs in 10-1/3 innings in a loss to Nicaragua. He was also selected to Canada’s 1988 Olympic Team but was sidelined due to an injury.

Heisler also toed the rubber for Canada at three Pan Am Games (1979, 1983 and 1987) and three Intercontinental Cups (1981, 1983 and 1985). For his efforts, he was recognized with a Government of Canada Merit Award in 1988.

Following his playing career, Heisler became a teacher and coached baseball at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask.

In 2006, he was inducted into the Bemidji University Hall of Fame and 11 years later, he was inducted into the Moose Jaw and District Sports Hall of Fame.

“When you first told me that I was being inducted I was so thrilled. I assumed that it was our (1984) Olympic team nominated and the guys were getting called about the news. Then when you said it was me, that took me by total surprise,” said Heisler. “Not in my craziest dreams would I have put myself in any consideration for such an honour.”

Paul Godfrey

Born in Toronto in 1939, Paul Godfrey played a crucial role in bringing Major League Baseball to Toronto. As an ambitious, young North York alderman in 1969, he paid his own way to Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings in Bal Harbor, Fla., to tell commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he wanted to secure a big-league team for Toronto. Kuhn told Godfrey he would have to have a baseball stadium in Toronto before they would even consider it.

Armed with that feedback, Godfrey returned to Toronto with his sights set on creating a stadium. In 1973, Godfrey was elected chairman of Metropolitan Toronto, and on his first day in his new position, he promised he would land a big-league team for the city and see that a dome stadium was built.

In the short term, however, he needed a budget-friendly alternative, so he came up with the idea to retrofit Exhibition Stadium into a dual baseball/football stadium. In November 1973, he convinced Ontario premier Bill Davis to chip in half the estimated $15-million cost to renovate the stadium. The resulting retrofit of Exhibition Stadium helped lay the groundwork for the ownership group of Labatt Breweries, CIBC and Howard Webster to secure a major-league team in 1976.

Eight years later, Godfrey was appointed to the Crown Corporation that was in charge of the design, construction and of selecting a location for what would become SkyDome.

In 2000, Godfrey was hired as president and CEO of the Blue Jays, a position he would hold through the 2008 season.

The highly respected Toronto native was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1999 and to the Order of Ontario in 2010.

"I was very surprised and thrilled with the news of being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Godfrey. “It even brought tears of happiness to my eyes. Being inducted into this wonderful institution is one of the great honours of my life. I love baseball and joining this Hall of Fame is a thrill beyond belief."

Howard Birnie

Born in Toronto in 1937, Howard Birnie has been involved in baseball in his home city for more than 70 years as a player, coach and umpire.

During his tenure as a baseball coach in Toronto from 1958 to 1988, he guided teams to seven city championships and one national championship with the Toronto Leaside All-Stars in 1964.

Over the years, Birnie has assumed countless leadership roles, including serving as president of the Leaside Baseball Association since 1973 and president of the Ontario Baseball Association in 1991 and 1992.

Birnie, however, may be best known as one of the country’s most respected umpires. During his 34 years of calling balls and strikes, Birnie worked six national championships between 1979 and 1989, three international championships (1985, 1987 and 1990) and two World Junior Championships (1986-87). He was also selected to umpire three Pearson Cup games, an annual exhibition contest between the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos.

In recognition of his 50 years of volunteering in amateur baseball, Birnie received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012 and five years later, he was inducted into the Ontario Baseball Hall of Fame. He continues to serve as an appointed director of the OBA.

“I was incredibly surprised to begin with then very much humbled and grateful to be recognized for simply doing something I have loved most of my life,” said Birnie after being told he was being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. “With my past connections to the Hall, I know that the list of inductees is composed of a stellar number of people who have been involved in our game in different ways. My inclusion is beyond my dreams.”

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