Pictou Advocate sports

Westville star I never knew


I never intended to address the matter publicly — but I believe I should. Otherwise it will occupy a spot on my conscience for whatever time I have left on this earth.

A bit of background first.

While I was spending many months last year writing my memoirs in preparation for the publication of my first-ever book, I’ve Lived My Dream, I began to fully realize how fortunate I’ve been to have had so many great experiences in my newspaper career.

I started asking myself, how many sports-loving fans have had the same opportunities as I’ve had to meet and talk to so many sports greats? That lineup includes guys named Mantle, Maris, Berra, Koufax, Rose, Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Mahovlich, Horton, Bower, Beliveau, Ali and countless others.

But I never lost sight of the fact that, to me, it was just as rewarding to meet, to interview and — in many cases — become friends with some of the finest athletes right here at home in Pictou County. People with names such as MacDonald, Hafey, MacIntyre, Wilson, Fahey, Hayden, Semple, Malcolm, Dorrington, Dalling, MacLeod, Paris and Mackie — a list that could extend the length of my column.

The local roll-call got me thinking — again.

If I’m spared long enough, I told my shih tzu companions, I want to write a second book, this one based exclusively on my memories of the people who made Pictou County sports so memorable for me.

And so, six months ago, I did begin that second publication, calling it Remembering Pictou County. The writing phase has now been finished and, sometime soon, I hope this book will be a reality.

When I entered the research stage of the book, I began compiling a list of the Pictonians I had written about through the years, the teams I followed from childhood to old age. The lineup got as crowded as the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen.

Even while being pleased with the potential lineup of subjects, I began noticing there were some great athletes not included. I guess, even after so many years, there could be omissions.

I’ll cite one.

I never interviewed Johnny Clark, the great baseball player who was known as the “Westville Flash.”

Heck, I never even met him.

Thank goodness, as a youngster, I saw him perform — with Halifax and District Baseball League teams playing against our hometown Stellarton Albions.

Old-time ball fans don’t need reminders about how good he was. Many people, including journalists who came along before me, were unanimous in naming Clark one of the greatest players ever developed in Nova Scotia. Some went so far as to say he was the best one.

By the time I got into newspaper writing, Johnny had retired after eight years in the H&D, a circuit dominated by young American imports, about 30 of whom went on to major league baseball.

You don’t have to be a senior citizen — though it helps — to remember the Albions brought three consecutive league championships to Stellarton in 1951-52-53.

But who recalls the team that ended the Albions’ unprecedented reign?

It was the Halifax Cardinals and, to be specific, it was Johnny Clark’s play, at bat, on the bases and in the field, that made it happen.

Johnny wasn’t the only Pictonian to star in the best league this province ever had. That distinction includes ones who played with Stellarton — Harry Reekie, Sid and Clyde Roy and John (Brother) MacDonald.

For Clark, there were high points even before the H&D loop was organized. In 1946, playing with the Truro Bearcats coached by Trenton’s Sonny MacDonald, the Westville Flash led the club to the Nova Scotia title. There were two other Pictou County players on that roster — Clyde Roy and Alex (Crazylegs) Robertson.

In the 1964 provincial finals, the Bearcats knocked off the Liverpool Larrupers. In that series, Johnny played outstandingly in the outfield, stole several bases and, at a clutch moment, walloped a tremendous ninth-inning home run to clinch the win.

Johnny never won the H&D batting title but, among all the talented young Americans, he was runner-up twice — in 1949 and 1950.

How good were Clark and his team?

In 1981, those 1946 Bearcats were inducted into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame. A year later, Johnny himself was admitted in the athlete category.

A.J. (Sandy) Young, an American who came to Halifax to teach at Dalhousie University, fell in love with Nova Scotia and began calling himself “an ex-Yankee who has seen the light.” He got big on researching Nova Scotia sports, wrote books on the subject, and called Johnny Clark “one of the great Nova Scotians to play baseball during the post-World War Two era.”

If there was a better Nova Scotia player in that league, I would say it was Buddy Condy, of Halifax. I was fortunate to get to know Condy — by then a distinguished member of the medical profession. Every time I talked to him, every time I did an interview with him, he told me in his opinion the best player in the province was Johnny Clark.

Condy and Clark had a great admiration for each other.

Even after all this time, I still can’t understand how Clark and I never crossed paths. It’s not like we lived far apart.

Johnny worked at the Halifax Shipyards for 43 years and — — making it even more surprising — his wife Irene worked at The Chronicle Herald. Of course, I was at the Herald for only 48 years!

Ten years ago the Westville Flash passed away in Calgary, where he and Irene had moved in 1991 to be closer to their daughter and her family.

Yes, it was a void in my career that I never got to sit down and chat baseball with one of the best.

I’ve regretted it all this time.

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