Expos icon, Blue Jays ambassador of baseball officially gains citizenship at 84
St. Marys – After living 43 years in Canada while carrying a USA passport, Jim Fanning officially became a Canadian citizen at 1:30pm on Saturday in a ceremony in London, Ontario. The spirit-lifting honour couldn’t have come at a better time for the former Montreal Expos boss and current Ambassador of Baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays, who has been heavy-hearted due to the loss of his friend Gary Carter, another Expos’ icon, who passed away at 57 on Thursday following a battle with brain cancer.
William James Fanning, 84, was accompanied by his wife of 27 years, Maria, as well as his daughter, Cynthia Jayne, 22, who recently graduated from the University of Waterloo, and his son, Frank James, 21, the lead guitarist for the rock ‘n roll band named of “Entropy,” and an instructor at SW London Baseball. The ceremony was also attended by Tom Valcke, president & CEO of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“As accomplished as Jim was, if you look up his stolen bases, you’ll find nothing,” quipped Montreal’s George Springate, Canada’s Senior Citizenship Judge, who presided over the ceremony for his friend of 40+ years.
“Fanning was slow! But not as slow as having taken 43 years to finally become a Canadian citizen!,” the former CFL-er Springate added, much to the delight of the crowd. Springate has presided over more than 1,400 such ceremonies.
“Canada has been so good to me!”, praised Fanning, who was appointed as the first general manager of the Expos in August of 1968.
“I love the country. I love the people. I want to give back, and this is the best way I know how to say thank you.”
Fanning can easily recall the afternoon of April 8, 1969, but not without getting teary-eyed, when the Expos took the field for the first time at Shea Stadium in New York against the Mets. His team won 11-10, but it is not the victory that is embedded in Fanning’s heart.
“It was the exhilaration of seeing the flags of the United States and Canada being flown side-by-side for first time, and hearing the anthems back-to-back. I have never experienced anything more beautiful and powerful,” said the emotional former Cubs’ catcher, who was born September 14, 1927 in Chicago.
The Expos then went on to win their first home game, at Jarry Park on April 14, 1969, when they edged the St. Louis Cardinals 8-7, which was a sell-out and broadcast nation-wide on CBC television and radio.
Fanning went on to serve the Expos in numerous capacities for a quarter-century, most memorably as their field manager in 1981 when he led Montreal into the playoffs for the only time in the 36-year history of the franchise. It was Carter who was behind the plate catching Steve Rogers when the Expos went on to win their first and only playoff series against the mighty Philadelphia Phillies.
Fanning was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, Carter followed him in 2001, and Rogers was next in 2005. Charles Bronfman, the original Expos owner, who was inducted in 1984, remains a dear friend to Fanning to this day. Claude Raymond, Ron Piche, John McHale, Andre Dawson, and Larry Walker are further Expos-related inductees, and New Brunswick’s Rheal Cormier, along with Rusty Staub, nicknamed by the Montreal faithful “Le Grand Orange,” will be enshrined on June 23, 2012.
Visibly shaken by Carter’s death, Fanning was unable to discuss the topic publicly until the following day. With Expo stalwarts Charlie Lea and Woodie Fryman also dying over the past year, Fanning described the recent losses as “the Expos tree losing its leaves.”
When asked what his greatest acquisition was over his tenure with the Expos, Fanning immediately replies that it was his wife Marie. With equal love and admiration, Marie considers her husband to be “the trunk of the Expos’ tree,” and she is not alone.
With Fanning now proudly being adorned a Canadian citizen, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame now considers that Expos tree to be an “Acer Rubrum,” the scientific name for “Red Maple”.