One dinger at a time: LaMacchia memories

Al Lamacchia during his St. Louis Browns days.

When I saw the headline that Al LaMacchia had passed away recently I quietly enjoyed recalling the few chats I had with the former Toronto Blue Jays executive.

LaMacchia was a former Toronto Blue Jays scouting co-ordinator and vice president. He was with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he recently died at the age of 89. I was lucky enough to meet LaMacchia a handful of times during the early 1990s because he would drop my parent’s supermarket on St. Clair Avenue to shop.

Sometimes he picked up tangerines, other times chestnuts. He had a friendly customer-shopkeeper relationship with my father and typical to the Italian culture(likely other immigrant ones as well) everyone is a ‘paisan’ when you speak the same language, even a little.

There are no tear-jerking memories of grand conversations or life-changing advice that I recall between LaMacchia and myself. However, what I do recall was a kind, sharp dressed, older man who took the time to talk baseball with an Italian-Canadian teenager wearing a white apron selling fruit.

Back then, the Jays were a baseball juggernaut and were on the cusp of winning back-to-back World Series championships. The SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) had opened in 1989 and getting a ticket to a game was like striking gold.

Carter celebrates hitting the 1993 World Series clinching homerun. "Touch'em All Joe," great Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek quipped.

The Jays owned this town from 1985, when George Bell dropped to his knees after catching a fly ball to cinch up our first American League East pennant to Joe Carter’s dramatic, heart-stopping World Series winning homerun off of ‘Wild Thing’ Mitch Williams.

During my first baseball conversation with LaMacchia we talked about how good was the flamethrowin’ Juan Guzman and could Duane Ward be a full-time closer. I was talking ball with a Blue Jays head honcho and he was actually listening to me, what an impression he left.

Then, when he handed me his office phone number before leaving and said to call him if I ever wanted tickets…well I almost passed out into the tangerine crate display right then and there.

Another conversation I recall was about how base stealing wizard Rickey Henderson could help in their 1993 World Series run. I also remember talking about the serene Cito Gaston and his merits as a manager of the Jays.

Once I stopped working at the family business I never did run into LaMacchia again. I remember a couple of years ago, while stuck in traffic commuting into the city, hearing baseball guru writer Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun talking about how great Blue Jays scouting used to be and he mentioned LaMacchia among the other Toronto scouting stalwarts.

I looked up LaMacchia’s stats on before I started typing this post. First thing I noticed was a picture of a younger version of the face I met over grocery produce a few times.

Lamacchia had 16 appearances with the St. Louis Browns and Washington Senators. Sure, his numbers were not distinguished but he had made it to “the show”, which counts for something.

Also, the fact the Blue Jays renamed their top scouting award in his honour a few years back shows what an impact he made as an executive and scout.

In the end, for one former grocery store kid, LaMacchia’s classy demeanour, kindness and love of the game made for Hall of Fame-like memories, as brief and fleeting as they were over a bag of chestnuts or handful of fruit.

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