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ICYMI: Former Blue Jays highlight Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees

The Hall of Fame and Museum 'commemorates great players, teams, and accomplishments of baseball in Canada'
Inductees in the 2024 class were announced on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

In case you missed it. This article was previously published on StratfordToday. 

Former Toronto Blue Jays Jimmy Key and Russell Martin highlight the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's 2024 induction class. 

The six inductees, announced on Tuesday, also include Paul Godfrey, a former Blue Jays president and CEO, who helped bring baseball to Toronto, as well as national team infielder and coach Ashley Stephenson and national team pitcher, Rod Heisler.

Toronto Leaside baseball executive Howard Birnie rounds out this year's group, who will be inducted in a ceremony at the Hall of Fame grounds in St. Marys on June 15. 

The Hall of Fame and Museum commemorates great players, teams, and accomplishments of baseball in Canada.

Scott Crawford, director of operations at the Hall of Fame and Museum, told StratfordToday the current group of inductees meets the organization's standards of a well-rounded class with a diverse group of contributors. 

They include professional baseball players, a founder, a grass roots contributor and two national team players. 

"A lot of people are happy to see Ashley get in," said Crawford. "She is known as the best ever female national team player and continued on with coaching."

Crawford said younger fans will recognize Martin, 40, who suited up relatively recently for the Blue Jays, while all fans will love the decades-long contributions of people like Godfrey and Birnie, who has 70 years in the sport as a player, coach and umpire. 

The local hall of fame prioritizes grass roots contributions to coaching, umpiring and other volunteer-driven aspects because, "kids would not be playing without them," Crawford said. 

Player bios 

Key, a left-handed pitcher originally from Alabama, was a steady presence on the mound for the Blue Jays. His best season for the Blue Jays was in 1987, when he finished 17-8 and topped American League pitchers with a 2.76 ERA, finishing second in the American League Cy Young voting. After playing nine seasons in Toronto, he is near the top in all-time pitching categories for the club. Key also played for the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, according to the Hall of Fame website. 

Martin, born in East York, Ont. before moving to Montreal, played for four Major League teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, LA Dodgers and the Yankees. The catcher signed a five-year deal with the Blue Jays after the 2014 season going on to lead Toronto to their first playoff appearance in 22 years. Martin ranks in the top 10 among Canadians in many major league statistical categories, including fourth in games played (1,693). 

Godfrey worked tirelessly to bring baseball to Toronto, and led the idea to retrofit Exhibition Stadium into a dual baseball/football stadium, after he was told the city would need a stadium to be considered for an expansion franchise. In 1973, he convinced Ontario premier Bill Davis to chip in half the estimated $15-million cost to renovate the stadium. The retrofit of Exhibition Stadium and Godfrey’s negotiation skills, helped lay the groundwork for an ownership group that included Labatt Breweries, CIBC and Howard Webster to secure a major league team in 1976.

He was also on the Crown Corporation in charge of the design, construction and selecting a location for what would become the SkyDome (Rogers Centre). He was also CEO of the Blue Jays for a number of years. 

Stephenson, from Mississauga, is regarded as one of the best players in the history of the national women's baseball team. The infielder played for the national team for 15 seasons, leading the team to seven medals, including four bronze medals at the World Cup. 

In 2011 and 2016, she received Baseball Canada’s Jimmy Rattlesnake Award, handed out annually to recognize a national team member demonstrating 'outstanding ability and sportsmanship'. The award was renamed in her honour in 2018. Stephenson went on to coach and was part of the women’s national team staff that led Canada to a bronze medal at the 2019 COPABE Women’s Pan-American Championships. 

She is currently a position coach for the Blue Jays’ High-A Vancouver Canadians.

Heisler pitched in a record 14 international competitions for the men’s national team. The native of Moose Jaw, Sask. started Canada’s first game at the 1984 Olympics, allowing two runs in 10-1/3 innings in a 4-3 loss to Nicaragua. He was part of Canada’s 1988 Olympic team. 

Heisler pitched for Canada at three Pan Am Games (1979, 1983, 1987), three Intercontinental Cups (1981, 1983, 1985), in the Pacific Cup in 1986 and in the World Cup in 1988. He was recognized with a Government of Canada Merit Award in 1988. 

Heisler became a teacher and coached baseball at the Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask., and Little League baseball in Moose Jaw. In 2000, he was honoured with the Kinsmen Sports Lifetime Achievement Award

Birnie has been involved in baseball for more than 70 years. During his tenure as a baseball coach in Toronto (1958 to 1988), he guided teams to seven city championships, a provincial championship and a national championship with Toronto Leaside All-Stars, in 1964. Birnie was president of the Toronto Baseball Association from 1978 to 1985 and the Ontario Baseball Association for two years, and president of the Leaside Baseball Association since 1973.

He has also umpired for 34 years. 

Birnie received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2012 in recognition of 50 years of baseball volunteering. He is in the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame, Ontario Baseball Hall of Fame and Toronto Sport Hall of Honour.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is located in St. Marys, Ont. (photo courtesy of Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)