Fairs a Major part of London baseball’s rich history
By Paul Mayne
Jack Fairs, one of the oldest-living London Majors alumni, remembers fondly his time as a backstop with the club in the 1940s and 50s.
Fairs, who turns 98 this summer, still enjoys reminiscing about his time catching for the London Majors, a team that enjoyed tremendous success during his tenure.
Jack Fairs closes his eyes, sits back and smiles. As the warm afternoon sun embraces his face, he is taken back to Labatt Park.
Crouched behind home plate calling for a fastball, the sights and sounds of a humid London summer evening in 1948 are so real he can brush away the smell of stale popcorn and the sounds of honking horns along Dundas Street.
As one of the oldest living London Majors alumni, Fairs turns a youthful 98 years old later this summer.
Fellow catcher Stan ‘Tubby’ Jones also turns 98 this year. He was a big part of the 1943 London Army Team, winners of the Senior Intercounty Baseball League (IBL) title, the Ontario Baseball Association (OBA) Senior A title, and the Canadian Baseball Congress (CBC) championship.
Shortly after helping bring home the trophies, Jones shipped out to Europe during World War II. He would return to play, off and on, with the Majors, as well as a team in Strathroy.
For Fairs, though his playing days are far in the past, the time he spent playing with the Majors, his prowess on the field, and the life-long friendships he forged still fill the stories he loves to reminisce about.
Simply mention the 1948 Majors, and their dominance (not only locally but also nationally and internationally), and Fairs evokes a squad that had it all.
“Oh, you bet,” said Fairs, recalling teammates such as Joe Bechard, Don Cooper, Gil Robertson and Tommy White. “I remember catching Tommy for his career in London. It’s huge, when it comes to winning the big games, you have to have the guys you can win with on the mound.”
That year, the Majors took home the IBL title, the CBC championship and the National Baseball Congress Can-Am championship, beating the Fort Wayne General Electrics in a best-of-seven series played at Labatt Park. The Majors are the only Canadian team to have won that honour.
The London Majors Alumni Association plans to honour the 1948 squad this summer with a pair of plaques to be unveiled at Labatt Park, commemorating the team’s amazing run. The ’48 Majors have previously earned induction into the London Sports Hall of Fame.
That Majors squad could have possibly added yet another championship to the mix had Mother Nature not thrown a curveball. Scheduled to play for the OBA Championship, London needed to wait three weeks for the other two teams to complete their series.
By the time those games were decided, October had surprised the city with an early snowstorm, blanketing Labatt Park with six inches of fresh snow. The Majors decided to forfeit the series.
Born in Toronto, but raised in the small town of Tillsonburg, Fairs fell in love with baseball at a young age. Receiving his first bat and glove as a seven-year-old, it was meant to be.
He was a natural born athlete. Turning heads at a young age – even playing for the Tillsonburg Pandrieds senior men’s team as a 14-year-old – Fairs played well above his age. Yes, he was barely in high school playing ball with grown men.
Fairs got the attention of members of the Welland Atlas Steels, part of the Niagara District Baseball League, who convinced him to be their catcher. As expected, Fairs once again fit in seamlessly and, in 1944, he was named league MVP, leading the semi-pro team to the Ontario Baseball Senior A title.
“I remember playing with them when I was just 16. They were all grown men, but I felt like I belonged,” said Fairs, adding that the ’44 team was led by soon-to-be major league pitcher Sal Maglie. “Oh gosh, he was a great pitcher and I get to say I caught him for a few years. He’s one of the few pitchers to have played for all three New York teams (Yankees, Giants and Dodgers).”
Maglie would be the starting pitcher in the ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ game as the New York Giants won the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s famous (‘the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!)’ walk-off home run.
“Sal was a great pitcher, and we became life-long friends,” said Fairs.
After playing a few more years with Welland – all the while playing football and basketball and finishing up his Chemistry degree from the University of Western Ontario – Fairs would take a hiatus from the diamond, heading to New York’s Columbia university for his master’s degree in Physical Education.
Upon his return to London, he started teaching at the university, along with becoming a coach with the school’s football and basketball programs. Yet Fairs knew something was missing.
“Western had offered me a job, and I know I had quite a bit on my plate, but I just had such a great time playing baseball and wanted to keep playing, so I joined the Majors and caught for them,” said Fairs, who still lives in London with his wife of 60 years, Peigi.
While there were opportunities for Fairs to take his game to the next level – including being offered professional contracts in 1949 from the Chicago Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers – he chose to remain in London, and the Majors, through the 1953 season.
“I didn’t see my future doing that,” said Fairs, of a career in major league baseball. “I had quite a career as a catcher with the Majors. I enjoyed that so much. I remember we had some great teams.”
Fairs would go on to a long and distinguished career as a professor at the university, and he’s a member of seven different halls of fame, including the Welland, Chatham and London Sports Hall of Fame.
While his extensive athletic and coaching career has spanned decades – and can generate boundless stories with a simple ‘tell me about this time, Jack? – Fairs will always smile a bit wider when he gets to talk baseball.
“Oh, you bet,” he grinned. “Those were some great times for me.”
Editor’s note: The above article originally appeared in and is re-printed here in agreement with www.gamedaylondon.com.