Who’s On First? The Walkerville Chicks, that’s who.


It’s kind of fun checking my blog’s stats to see how people find it. Now, before you think I don’t get out much, I have to say in my defence that that is simply not the case. I do get out, but perhaps not enough. I must spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer due to my work so I can’t resist sneaking peeks every now and again. (And I’m trying very hard not to get obsessive about it.)

This week I’m seeing a number of visits from people apparently hunting for stories about a great local baseball team from long ago called “The Walkerville Chicks”. Perhaps this could have a little something to do with the fact that despite the weird weather – hot for two days and back to cold and rain, it is indeed spring when people either watch or play baseball until the late fall when it starts to snow again.

Or perhaps, the way this year is going, it will start to snow in the late summer. (I can’t resist inserting here what a facebook friend wrote today: “Mother Nature is going through Menopause and she’s forgotten to take her Black Cohosh and JUST BECAUSE SHE’S HAVING HOT FLASHES DOESN’T MEAN WE ALL HAVE TO SUFFER.”)

Now, where was I? Ah yes, we just happened to have published a letter from a reader in our March 2001 edition of The Walkerville Times whose dad played infield on that glorious team, and whose grandmother saved every newspaper article about them.

So here you go all you people wondering about the good ole’ days when guys were Chicks.

Walkerville’s Baseball Team

On the trail of triumph tomorrow, this veteran hurler, Jack Smith of the Chicks, will be at work against Steve Paris Shines, attempting to set the Windsorites back in the second game of the Southern Ontario baseball play-off. Facing him, for the Shines, will be the youngest ball player in the game, Dave Kay, clever Windsor right hander.

Back in the 1920s, there was a semi-professional baseball team in Walkerville sponsored by a very successful local businessman named Thomas Chick [who owned Chick Construction and was responsible for paving many of Windsor’s roads back in the day]. Called “The Walkerville Chicks,” they were quite a sensation.

My father, Charlie Gatecliff, played infield. He was a good player and my grandmother collected hundreds of newspaper articles about him and the team. For over 50 years they were stored away.

Reading many of these articles and studying the pictures of these earnest looking young men, I came to realize that these articles are about more than just a baseball team. They are stories about Walkerville and its people. These young guys were having the time of their lives; baseball was their great love and they were good at it.

They knew the value of hard work, fair play, teamwork, giving it your all, while playing in tough conditions.

One article described the Chicks playing in the snow when the season ran unusually long due to playoff games; another mentioned how spectators turned on their car lights to illuminate the field when a game continued after sunset.

The Chicks were subject to the baseball politics of the day when games were delayed or the opponents didn’t show. They played with primitive equipment and without a team doctor — when they were injured they kept right on playing.

The former Windsor battery that put Walkerville out of the 1927 race carried the Chicks to victory at Strathroy on Saturday. Bill Bernie, inset, blew his fast ball past the batters for nine innings and should have had a shutout if not a no-hit game. "Tal" Johnson, his catcher, led the clouters for the afternoon with two triples, a double and a single. Both may be in action against Niagara Falls here on Wednesday.

They often attracted huge crowds for the big game — one report noted that 5,000 people attended a play-off game and that the townspeople from small towns enroute to the tournament, stood by the side of the road and cheered them — even after they had beaten their home team! They were local heroes and pioneers of the game, the team few could beat.

The Chicks stayed on top by recruiting the best players from the area. Prospects developed their skills by playing on a junior team called the “Chicklets.”

My father’s baseball career ended when he broke his leg trying out for a spot on a professional baseball team. He never shared this part of his life with me — being a kid I never thought to ask him about himself.

The articles end in the fall of 1929. I am left with many questions: Whatever became of the Chicks? How long did they continue to play as a team? Did any of the guys ever make it to the major leagues? Were the Chicks one of the many casualties of the Depression?

Even if the players were unable to make it to a big league ball team, they were “big leaguers” to the people of Walkerville.

Mary Feldott, Windsor

As was usually the case when we produced The Walkerville Times (which morphed into The Times Magazine) one story led to another. After Mary’s letter appeared, another reader wrote:

I have recently moved back into Windsor after living 40 years in Toronto. In the summer I happened upon a copy of your paper. Imagine my surprise when I read about the Walkerville Chicks, a team my dad Lori (Spear) Carnegie played 1st base for in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Patricia Carnegie, Windsor

If you’d like to get a copy of our best selling local history book, “Best of The Times”, which features this story as well as tales about other great local sports teams and heroes, you’d better hurry because a lot of people have beaten you to it. You can still get a copy at Indigo Books in St. Clair Beach, Juniper Books on Ottawa Street near Kildare in Olde Walkerville, Bergeron Art and Frame Shop in Olde Riverside at 5640 Wyandotte St. E., or through our website.

Advertisements

About Elaine Weeks

How history was taught in my day: memorize lots of boring dates and facts, watch corny old black & white history films. There was one bright spot, however. Grade 9 history at Walkerville Collegiate with Miss Falls (Georgina) when she taught a section on local history and took us on a field trip to explore some of Windsor's built heritage. Due to a peculiar series of events, celebrating local history became part of my business. My company, (partner is Chris Edwards,) Walkerville Publishing Inc., launched "The Walkerville Times" in 1999, which in due course became "The Times Magazine". Our goal was to make history real. I am a writer, editor, blogger, photographer, mother, wife, sister, activist, traveller, gardener, knitter, masters track & field competitor (when I have time), glass is nearly full person.
This entry was posted in People, Walkerville, Windsor Now, Windsor Then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Who’s On First? The Walkerville Chicks, that’s who.

  1. Gary Johnson says:

    Thank you Elaine, however the plaque my father received was from the old time ball players Windsor association

  2. Gary Johnson says:

    Hi Elaine, My name is Gary Johnson, my father was Telmer (Tel) Johnson he played for the Chicks as their catcher. The picture showing the catcher could be my father. Also Telmer was inducted into the old time baseball hall of fame. I’ve been trying to find out where that is?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s