Helicopters, Cows, Horses and the Hall of Fame

By JOE McFARLAND

Medicine Hat was a long way from home for Lloyd Moseby.

1,423 miles to be exact.

There are no direct flights from Oakland to the ‘Hat, but you can get a flight to Calgary. And then just hop on a helicopter.

That might sound unorthodox, but that option apparently presented itself to the 18-year-old Moseby in 1978. Drafted in the first round (2nd overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays in that June’s MLB Amateur Draft, the youngster found himself heading to a land unknown.

“I had zero knowledge of the Toronto Blue Jays,” Moseby recalled with reporters after being named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last week.

“I won’t say I was disappointed because I was just happy to get drafted. But I didn’t know who the Blue Jays were.”

He knew who the Oakland Athletics were, with greats like Reggie Jackson and Johnny Lee “Blue Moon” Odom, and that was what he “grew up dreaming about.” But the reality quickly set in.

“I was certainly bewildered (heading to Canada),” Moseby went on. “But quickly that changed when I went to Medicine Hat and met one of the owners, Bill Yuill, who embraced me.”

To The Chopper

Quite literally, from Moseby’s account, when we asked him later on about his favourite memories of Alberta.

“Bill Yuill flew a helicopter into Calgary to pick me up,” he laughed. “I’m from Oakland, California and I’ve never been out of there. Even though I was born in Portland, Arkansas, I had never been out of Oakland, ever. And so, to have somebody send a helicopter for me, it was unbelievable.”

The Medicine Hat-based sports tycoon might have been in a bit of a rush to get his prized possession to Athletic Park in advance of the team’s first season as an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. According to the June 13 edition of the Medicine Hat News, Moseby had yet to get to the city despite being drafted by the Jays a week earlier. The story stayed the same in the June 20 edition, with the reason for the delay not explained.

But all seemed good heading into the club’s first game on June 23 against the Calgary Cardinals.

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“We’ve had to cram as much training into as short a time as possible … but we’re about as ready as anyone else in the league,” manager John McLaren told the News.

“We’ve done the best we can and I’m real optimistic about the season,” he continued. “I think we’ll give the fans a good time.”

It didn’t start that way for the Baby Jays though, as they were pounded 17-8 by the Cardinals in front of 911 fans. But one of the bright spots was the 6-foot-3 Moseby. He accounted for five of the runs, driving in three and scoring twice himself.

“He can hit the ball well and he played a good game both offensively and defensively,” McLaren said of Moseby.

“Shaker” proved his skipper right that season. Barely a game went by where his name wasn’t prominent in the headlines. On a team that finished 28-40, well out of the playoff hunt, Moseby pieced together a Pioneer League all-star calibre season. He hit .304 with 10 home runs, 38 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 67 games. Defensively, he started as a first baseman but worked his way into the left field position he would become better known for as he made his way up the ranks. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed by fans, though.

“The only member of the Jays to get voted to the Pioneer Baseball League all-stars, left fielder Lloyd Moseby, was presented with a trophy at the end of the sixth inning,” the Medicine Hat News said of the final home game of the season, a 13-11 win over the Great Falls Giants.

Not surprisingly, Moseby went 2-for-4 with three runs scored in that contest. He was a star in the making on a mediocre ball team.

At the end of the season, Moseby joined catcher Geno Petralli and pitchers Mike Cuellar, Gary Frank and Mark Stoeber as call-ups by the Blue Jays to their Florida Instructional Baseball League contingent in Dunedin.

The rest, as they say, is history. Nearly 1,600 games over 12 MLB seasons, including 10 in Toronto as part of one of the best outfields in the game alongside George Bell and Jesse Barfield. He sported a career batting average of .257 with 169 home runs, 737 runs batted in and 280 stolen bases.

Cows and Horses

When asked about his highlights of his short-lived time in Medicine Hat, it wasn’t the baseball that came to mind.

“My greatest memory, I was staying at the Assiniboia Inn, which was a place in Medicine Hat that has stood out in history,” Moseby recalled. “Anyway, I look out my window and I hear some noise. There were people with cows and horses in a parade and I’m like ‘what the hell?'”

Moseby was likely referring to the annual Medicine Hat Stampede Parade, which hit the downtown on July 26. As it turned out, the Jays were home for a few dates against Helena and Billings at the time.

“That was a culture shock, without a doubt,” Moseby chuckled.

He then gave credit to his Medicine Hat manager, who remains “one of my greatest friends in the world.”

“John McLaren had to settle me down,” he admitted. “I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t understand. What the heck?”

“John still kids me about that because it was shocking to look out my window to see cows and horses going down the middle of the street,” Moseby said.

The newly-named member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame remains a fixture whenever the Blue Jays have any kind of event across the country, be it for a speaking engagement or a baseball clinic. But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that he returned to the city where he started his professional career.

He barely recognized the city or the area around the newly-renovated Athletic Park.

“When I was in Medicine Hat, there weren’t that many people, there wasn’t anything there,” Moseby told the Canadian Baseball Network in 2015. “Now there’s a Safeway, there’s a lot of new things.”

To this day, he still has a lot of fondness for the hospitality and people of Canada, which started with Yuill and Medicine Hat.

“From that point on, I’ve been a Canadian,” the California native stated of his arrival in The Gas City. “I just loved it, I loved Toronto and all the places I’ve had stops in.”

Pedro’s Cameo

Moseby wasn’t the only new member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to spend some time in Alberta, in particular Medicine Hat. The difference is that Pedro Martinez’s time was extremely short.

In 1990, Martinez was a member of the Great Falls Dodgers, who battled the Blue Jays 12 times. He described a start he had after a trip to Alberta in his book, Pedro.

“On the road, I got lit up once against the Butte Copper Kings, who got me for 10 runs in just three innings,” he described. “I supposed I had an excuse for pitching so badly.”

“We had ridden a bus about seven hours overnight from Medicine Hat in order to get to Butte,” the future Cy Young Award winner continued. “They told me that since I was the starter I had to get my sleep, so I got down on the floor of the bus with a pillow and blanket and spent the next few hours bouncing and rolling around the floor of that bus, not catching a wink.”

Martinez then went on to talk about a phone call with his mother and other conversations about that start, and how it helped him learn.

He was much better in a later start in Alberta. In the final of the 12 meetings between the Dodgers and Blue Jays, Martinez went five innings and struck out five in an 8-3 Dodgers win on August 29, 1990.

During the Hall of Fame’s post-announcement news conference, the Dominican Republic product alluded to his time in the Pioneer League when he was asked about the difference in climate.

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“I was quickly introduced to weather that wasn’t normal in the Dominican Republic,” the former Montreal Expos hurler said.

“I got introduced to the cold weather really quick and I knew I had to make the adjustment because if I wanted to do what I was thinking about doing, I needed to make the adjustment.

“For me, it wasn’t really all that different to adjust to the weather or inconvenience I may find on my way to the big leagues,” he continued.

Moseby, Martinez and baseball historian Bill Humber will be officially honoured at a ceremony in St. Marys, Ontario on June 16.

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