In the memory of many, Jack Graney is associated with Cleveland as a Major League baseball player and broadcaster. But to residents in his hometown of St. Thomas, he’s remembered as a local hero.
Born in the Railway City in 1886, Graney caught the attention of scouts as early as age 11 and was recommended by Bob Emslie, another St. Thomas baseball stalwart, to the Chicago Cubs about 10 years later.
After one season with that Major League team, he joined the Cleveland Naps (now the Cleveland Guardians), first as a pitcher and later as an outfielder.
Graney earned a reputation as a player of firsts: the first to bat against Babe Ruth, in a July 1914 game against the Boston Red Sox, and the first to wear a number on his jersey — No. 1, matching his leadoff position in the batting order.
Following a 14-season career from 1908 to 1922, Graney became the first Major League player to jump to the broadcast booth, where he would spend 30 seasons as a radio broadcaster for his former Cleveland team.
On July 24, Graney will be honoured with the 2022 Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for broadcasting excellence.
"There aren't too many people from St. Thomas that have gone on to the level that he's made it to," said Sean Dyke, executive officer of the city's economic development office that is hosting an event next month to honour the hometown legend.
"To win the Ford. C. Frick Award in Cooperstown is a huge honour. It's been an amazing accomplishment to see and celebrate. We were over the moon (and) just so excited about that when he won it."
The St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. is teaming up with Messenger Freight Systems to celebrate Graney's award and achievements on July 27 at Emslie Field in the city's Pinafore Park.
Graney's family plans to attend, along with St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston and Barbara Gregorich, author of Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog. The 2012 book tells the story of Graney and his bull terrier Larry, who earned the mascot title while travelling with the Cleveland team.
The free event, which starts at 6:30 p.m., will feature outdoor games, food trucks, live music, the St. Thomas Police Pipe and Drum Band, a drone show and ceremonial pitches from hometown athletes and hometown stars such as James Dunn, a Beijing Paralympic silver medalist with Canada's hockey team.
Attendees can watch the 14U St. Thomas Cardinals compete against Sarnia Brigade in a ball game from 8 to 10 p.m.
“We’ll be treating it almost like a Major League game, where we have announcers, we have music, and we have the equivalent of a seventh-inning stretch and first pitches throwing out,” Dyke said. “All the kind of stuff that makes Major League games a little bit more fun to go to.”
What: Hometown celebration of baseball major leaguer Jack Graney
When: July 27, starting 6:30 p.m.
Where: Emslie Field, Pinafore Park, St. Thomas
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press