On the eve of the opening of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s 18th season, the St. Marys-based institution has lost one of its most beloved inductees.
The original general manager of the Montreal Expos, Jim Fanning, a frequent visitor to the Stonetown — not just for the Hall of Fame’s annual Induction Weekend, but also serving as an unofficial ambassador of sorts at many other events — passed away Saturday, April 25 from a heart attack. He was surrounded by his family in London at the time.
“Jim Fanning was a baseball pioneer in this country,” said CBHFM Director of Operations Scott Crawford, in a statement sent out by the Hall of Fame. “Without his tireless efforts, there may not be Major League Baseball in Canada.”
Serving as a player, manager, executive and community ambassador, Fanning spent over 65 years in professional baseball. A Chicago native, he was first signed by his home-town Cubs as a catcher in 1949, and went on to play 64 games over four seasons, before pursuing a managing career.
His first big-league posting came in 1963, as a special assignment scout with the Milwaukee Braves, serving under fellow future Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer John McHale. The following year Fanning was promoted to assistant general manager, a post he would hold until 1967.
In 1968, he was hired to be the first scouting director of Major League Baseball’s Scouting Bureau. But his tenure at that position would be short; in August, 1968, he was named the first general manager of the expansion franchise in Montreal — a city which he grew to love, and which grew to love him.
“An outpouring of support took place on social media Saturday afternoon as Montrealers and baseball fans shared memories and thoughts of Fanning,” wrote Montreal Gazette reporter Jesse Feith, in the April 26 edition of the newspaper.
Feith also related the words of Fanning’s son Frank: “(Jim) even tried to learn French, so he’d be speaking the best American French he could to French Canadians. And he was so happy to, because he loved Montreal from the bottom of his heart.”
In his 25-year tenure with the Expos, Fanning helped build the franchise from scratch and served in several different capacities, including vice-president, scout and two stints as the field manager. When Fanning took over as the field boss in 1981, he had drafted or helped develop the skills of 21 players on the roster. The respected baseball man would guide the Expos to their first and only playoff berth in 1981, leading the team to within one win of advancing to the World Series.
In his quarter century with the Expos, he established himself as one of baseball’s best talent evaluators, counting Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga and Randy Johnson among the players he helped sign.
Jim Fanning met his wife, Maria, in Montreal, and remained a resident of the area for several years after he no longer worked for the baseball club. But after coming to St. Marys to accept his Hall of Fame induction in 2000, he and Maria made the decision to relocate to southwestern Ontario — first to Dorchester, then to London. His face and trademark smile became familiar in St. Marys.
“He was a tremendous talent evaluator, an astute general manager and a smart field manager who led the Montreal Expos to their only playoff appearance,” offered Crawford in his statement. “We were proud to induct him into our museum.
“But most importantly, Jim was a passionate teacher, a loving husband and father, and a wonderfully generous man. He was baseball royalty in Canada who visited our museum regularly.
“I speak for myself and the staff at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame when I say that we loved him. We will miss him deeply, but we will never forget him.”
Hall of Fame's 18th season
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is set to open for another season on Saturday, May 2. The Hall will be open on weekends in May (Saturdays 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays noon to 4 p.m.) and on Victoria Day (May 18) from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Starting on June 1 through Aug. 31, the Hall will be open daily (Monday through Saturday) from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Then from Sept. 1 through Oct. 10 the Hall will be open Thursday to Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.