What about Manny? New Brunswick's baseball and hockey ace remembered

·5 min read
What about Manny? New Brunswick's baseball and hockey ace remembered

Seventy-five years ago, a Fredericton man became the first Black Canadian to be offered a professional baseball contract.

But to this day, the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame inductee remains relatively unknown in his home province.

Vincent Churchill McIntyre, known to most as Manny, signed his name on a contract just one year after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in the United States.

McIntyre grew up playing baseball in Devon on the city's north side.

When summer waned, McIntyre transitioned seamlessly to playing hockey.

As he grew, so did his skills in both sports. That landed him positions playing in senior leagues around the Martimes.

Submitted by John Lutz
Submitted by John Lutz

That's when a young hockey fan decided the hulking six-foot, 200-pound McIntyre was his idol.

"He was big, he was fast, he was strong, and he could skate like the wind," said John Lutz, who was 11 or 12 when he first watched McIntyre play with the Moncton Hawks.

Lutz also admired McIntyre because he was different from his teammates, one of very few Black men playing hockey at the time.

"That was important to me because I was born with my hearing loss, and I felt different," Lutz said.

"He became a hero to me."

Submitted by John Lutz
Submitted by John Lutz

As Lutz grew up in Moncton, he watched McIntyre's career grow, too.

The two men would later become the best of friends. When McIntyre died in 2011, his family asked Lutz to deliver the eulogy.

Lutz, who is working on a book at his home in Belleville, Ont., has been assembling everything he kept on his childhood hero, including hockey and baseball statistics and memories of their long conversations.

Who was Manny?

There was always a game — McIntyre excelled at both hockey and baseball — that Lutz could find to keep tabs on his hero.

"When the baseball season was over, it was off to hockey," Lutz said,

He started playing baseball at the minor level in 1938, when he was 19.

Submitted by John Lutz
Submitted by John Lutz

A year later, he moved to senior level, then to semi-pro, before becoming the first Black Canadian to go professional on May 30, 1946, in Sherbrooke, Que., playing for the farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"Breaking the colour barrier in baseball in this country," said Lutz. "That's very significant."

McIntyre arguably became an even bigger star playing hockey.

After playing senior hockey in New Brunswick, he heard about two Black hockey players in a mining league in Timmins, Ont. Herb and Ossie Carnegie, two brothers of Jamaican descent, worked in the local mines during the day and played hockey in the evening and weekends.

After a call to the team's manager, Manny took a bus to Timmins, wowed in tryouts and formed the first ever Black hockey line in September 1941. The trio became known as the Black Aces.

The line became a force in whatever game they played, and they quickly moved up through the leagues.

"They dominated the senior league in Quebec," said Lutz. "They filled rinks wherever they played. They were that good."

The three men were so good together, they were recruited to play in Europe in 1947 and signed with the Racing Club de Paris, becoming the first Black hockey players to play professionally in Europe.

"They won 62 games, lost two, tied two," said Lutz. "They were quite dominant."

Courtesy Bernice Carnegie
Courtesy Bernice Carnegie

After a year in Europe, the three men decided to return home to North America, but McIntyre and the Carnegie brothers could go no higher in their hockey careers.

"Simple racism," Lutz said of the NHL owners refusing McIntyre's entry to the league, despite his qualifications.

The NHL colour barrier wouldn't be broken for another decade. Another Fredericton man, Willie O'Ree, would play with the Boston Bruins in 1958.

McIntyre, who settled in Montreal, once told Lutz that he knew he was skilled enough to play professionally in the NHL and that was all he needed.

"He had a sense of inner self-confidence," Lutz said.

Submitted by John Lutz
Submitted by John Lutz

Leaving baseball

McIntyre walked away from professional baseball after a double-header one day.

"His teammates were mostly white Americans, and they were very supportive of him on the diamond, but they shunned him after the games, and on the bus rides," said Lutz.

On the road in the U.S., "whites only" restaurants and accommodations often meant McIntyre was alone.

McIntyre's family remembers him as a man with a magnetic personality who went out of his way to make friends. Being abandoned by his baseball teammates and taunted by many American fans weighed on him, his daughter Marlene McIntyre said.

So after eating yet another meal by himself, a hot dog, according to Lutz, McIntyre bought a ticket home to Montreal.

"The manager of the team said to him, 'Where are you going, Manny?'" recalled Marlene. "And he goes, 'I'm going home, so I never have to eat alone again.'"

Submitted by Marlene McIntyre
Submitted by Marlene McIntyre

McIntyre left professional baseball after playing about 30 games.

Marlene said that while playing baseball in the U.S., her father was asked by team management if he would adopt a Spanish name, Emanuel, to distance himself from his Black identity.

"They asked him if he would sort of renounce being Black and be more, like, Spanish," said Marlene. "So that's how he got the nickname "Manny."

Despite the racism he endured in his sports career, McIntyre always kept his outgoing nature. And Manny McIntyre became a household name in Montreal, Marlene said.

"As a teenager I couldn't even get a date in," she said. "They would walk into the house, instantly my father would say 'Hi.'

"They would leave my side and go and sit with my father. They'd sit and talk hockey all night and then finally at the end of the night they'd say bye to me and ask me if they could come back again."

Submitted by Marlene McIntyre
Submitted by Marlene McIntyre

Marlene said her father is still well-remembered in Montreal, and she would like to see him appreciated more in his hometown of Fredericton.

But as important as his achievements were in hockey and baseball, she wants him remembered as a gentleman in times that weren't so gentle, and for being a role model to her, her brothers and his three grandchildren.

"He was as good as a father, as he was an athlete," she said.

Submitted by Marlene McIntrye (photograph by Stan Behal)
Submitted by Marlene McIntrye (photograph by Stan Behal)