A recent online comment from a manly reader using his real name after an earlier nostalgia piece about Eddie Overshoes went something like this: “Hey Doug, do you recall the amazing fastpitch game in the Discovery Days tournament back in the ‘70s when a rag-tag Dawson City team beat the highly-favoured Whitehorse squad in the championship game in a huge upset?”
Indeed I do, as that game became legendary in my sportswriting arsenal over the years. I once wrote about it in Whistler as one of the greatest sporting feats and comebacks I ever witnessed. I’ve also told the story around many campfires, in press rooms, beer gardens, backyard picnics and used it as inspirational fodder for young, aspiring athletes about the virtue of never giving up.
The only problem is I’m not sure after all this time if my version of the story is the honest truth or a creative embellishment but this much is a dead-solid fact: The small town bushwhackers beat the big city bureaucrats and sent them home with their tails between their legs.
The rest of the narrative is open for debate or, worse, nasty anonymous comments … probably from Whitehorse, the home of nasty anonymous comments from readers unable to sign their real names, as we do, like “Yukoner” who recently called me a “senile senior” in a grammatical nightmare which resembled the literary equivalent of the dog’s breakfast the morning after a Yuppie’s potluck dinner party.
Here’s the short version: It was a classic David versus Goliath sports story. Dawson City was a dying gold town which was trying to find new life (money) as a summer tourist destination but hadn’t succeeded yet. Whitehorse was the Big Smoke with a big economy, a large population nearing 12,000 and most of the Yukon’s best ballplayers … but not all. Unless a hot team materialized out of Alaska, you could just about count on Whitehorse winning Discovery Days in those days.
That didn’t seem right to Harry Waldron, a Yukon government welder who later became famous as “the Keeper of the Arctic Circle,” where he greeted tourists with bottles of champagne while wearing a tuxedo and top hat. Harry took it upon himself to become manager of the Dawson team that year and spent the whole summer prior to August 17 holding tryouts, practices and auditions scouting for local guys and/or summer hires who could play a little ball.
Personally, I missed all that because I was working out on the creeks, but Harry made me promise to come in for the tournament and play catcher which was a no-brainer because every mine in the Klondike always shuts down for Discovery Days.
I didn’t even know half my “teammates” but I knew the one I needed to know, our pitcher, Chester Kelly. I loved catching Chester because it was like a day off behind the plate.
We didn’t mess around with hand signals. Chester called his own game and all I wanted to know was location. If I pointed a finger down and he waved me off, that meant a riser was coming and I had to be on my toes, because his jumped about a foot just before it crossed the plate.
He had three great pitches: the riser, a fastball he could pinpoint on the corners, and a killer change-up, which all looked the same halfway to the plate. The only way anybody could hit him was to guess right.
Since I didn’t know which pitch was coming either, I played head games with the batters, tipping them off on the pitch I just “called” and chuckled at their angry looks when they swung at a “fastball” which turned out to be a change-up. Sometimes I got it right, which made them angrier, but it was just Pete Rose baseball to me. If they were fuming at the catcher, they weren’t paying enough attention to the pitcher. Yogi Berra used to tell guys their shoelaces were untied when he wanted to distract them right before a big pitch.
Long story short, both Chester and Whitehorse went undefeated through the round robin, quarters and semis and suddenly we had an all-Yukon final, with Whitehorse the overwhelming favourite in their pretty matching black and gold uniforms that said “Yukon” on the front as if they were the only town in the territory. They also had a couple of yappy twerps on their bench who later became Whitehorse politicians, which is the perfect occupation for overly-audible bench warmers who can’t make the starting lineup.
We, in the other dugout, looked like a mixed slow-pitch team on a bad laundry day, wearing cutoffs, wife beaters and torn sweatshirts with mostly old runners on our feet except our SS, who played barefoot because he “needed to feel the dirt.” Our problems were further compounded by multiple hangovers since the championship game is always played the day after Discovery Days’ big soiree.
We had a badly hungover third baseman named “Flash” who fielded his position like Brooks Robinson and had an arm like The Mad Trapper of Rat River, which Whitehorse picked up on and tried to hit slow rollers or bunts his way because his throws had a better chance of hitting the refreshment stand than the first baseman, Coleman Johnson.
After three innings we’re losing 7-0, so Harry sent a lady downtown with $20 and orders to get back quickly with 24 ice cold beers which he ordered us to chug, not sip. Our defence slowly improved, but we were still struggling at the plate and losing by seven when we came up in the bottom of the sixth, our second last at-bat. We were running out of time. The crowd was quiet and somber as if they were witnessing an inevitable execution.
Then the miracle of fermentation-restoration kicked in and we finally bit the wagging tail of the midnight dog which had bitten us. We batted around three times, scored 23 runs and the barefoot shortstop, an actor from the Palace Grand Theatre named Larry Farley, hit three home runs, two grand slams and a three-runner which gave him 11 RBIs in one inning, accounting for nearly half of our explosion. I was on-base, two singles and a walk, and scored on all three, so that fact is gospel. The hometown fans in the stands and up and down the foul lines were going nuts since it had looked moments before like it was just going to be another boring Whitehorse cakewalk in the finals.
I didn’t know Larry Farley before the tourney, don’t know if he was a singer, dancer, musician or comedian and can’t even recall now what he looked like or anything else about him, but he’s the only player I’ve ever heard of who got 11 RBIs in one inning in any kind of baseball game, from little leagues to the majors and all the variations in between.
And most of that is the truth…I think.
Doug Sack was the first sports editor of the Yukon News and later a longtime sports editor of the Whistler Question and a columnist and features writer for Ski Canada magazine. He is currently semi-retired in Whitehorse.