Tofield and the Northern Alberta Intermediate Baseball League

In 1958 the Tofield Legionnaires played in what was known as the Northern Alberta Intermediate Baseball League. A league made up of teams in the Edmonton area as well as Red Deer, Stony Plain and Fort Saskatchewan. It appears that the NAIBL was a precursor of sorts to the North Central Alberta Baseball League, a senior AA league which was established in 1967 and featured the Camrose Axemen from 2008 through 2017. The NAIBL will definitely require some more future research to learn more about it, however in 1958 the Tofield Mercury had fairly extensive coverage of the Legionnaires season in the league, at the expense of Powerline Baseball League coverage that year unfortunately. 

The Tofield Legionnaires were two time Alberta Junior Baseball champions in 1954 and 1955, with many of the players in 1958 being a part of those teams. The 1954 Alberta Amateur Junior Baseball Championship Legionnaires squad has one of the best baseball stories attached to their win. After playing in Taber and going a controversial 1-1, the series shifted to Tofield where they teams would again split in a Sunday double header. A final game was set up on a Monday in Tofield to determine the provincial champion. The Legionnaires had a problem though as their pitching was depleted and a fresh arm was needed. The team had a high school student on their roster, Leonard Lawson, and pulled him out of school on a Monday to pitch and win the Championship deciding game.  

This Legionnaires team was so special to the Tofield community that the team was invited to a ten year reunion at the 1964 July 1 Dominion Day celebration. They would be the focal point of the sports side of the annual event and even participated in the baseball tournament where they still had it. The Legionnaires would defeat Holden and Ryley but could not run the table and beat Bardo in what was their third game in a row. The organizers of the the July 1 celebration in 1964 announced that over 2,500 people attended the events at the Tofield Sports Grounds (the population of the town was 997 in 1964), setting a new attendance record with many coming for the baseball tournament and the Legionnaires. 

The Northern Alberta Intermediate Baseball League was a ten team baseball league split into two divisions in 1958, Intermediate A and Intermediate B. In the ‘A’ division were the Beverly Drakes, the Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox, the South Jasper Place Outlaws, Campion Pipe Liners and the Red Deer Dodgers. The ‘B’ division featured the Legionnaires, Stony Plain, St. Josaphat’s Saints, the Edmonton City Police Athletics and the North Edmonton Rockets. The season was a 26 game schedule which appeared to have started around May 22 with the end of the season set for July 27. The Legionnaires made their league debut with a home game against Fort Saskatchewan which included a home run on the first pitch of the game from Red SoxJerry Cordingly. The home run would help pace Fort Saskatchewan to a 18-4 Opening Day win. 

The first Legionnaires win would come the following week when Tofield defeated the South Jasper Place Outlaws by a final score of 25-8, despite starting the game in a 5-0 hole. There were a total of five home runs hit in the game, with the Legionnaires hitting four of them. Don Bailey hit two home runes, Al Bjork hit a grand slam and Mel Raymond hit a solo home run. Don Bailey would finish the game 5 for 7 while Al Bjork would go 4 for 6. Eddie Williams would throw a complete game for the franchise’s first win. Eddie Williams’ name was constantly popping up in game reports throughout the year. Williams was the ace of the staff and appeared to pitch at least every second game, sometimes pulling duty with a start and complete game in the first game of a double header followed by an inning of relief in game two if needed. On Sunday June 8, 1958, Williams would pitch the Legionnaires to a 21-7 victory over the Edmonton City Police in game one, before hitting a walk off home run in the ninth inning in game two for a 9-8 victory to end the back and forth game. 

Eddie Williams (right) would go on to pitch for the Edmonton City Police Athletics after the Tofield Legionnaires folded.

As the summer rolled on, the Legionnaires would put together a decent first season in the NAIBL as baseball fans were getting their fix of entertainment. Despite the Powerline Baseball League still operating in Bardo, Round Hill and Ryley, the media focus was on the Legionnaires with the occasional article highlighting an under sixteen team nicknamed the Tofield Orphans as well as updates of the local Little League and Pony League games. The only PBL mentions in the spring/summer of 1958 was the initial schedule announcement and the tournament wins by Ryley at Bardo Sports Day and Ryley Sports Day. 

On July 10, 1958 the Tofield Legionnaires found themselves atop the NAIBL standings after sweeping a double header against the North Edmonton Rockets. Everyone was running smoothly for baseball in Tofield in July. The Legionnaires were atop the standings, a big two day baseball tournament was being organized and planned by the Tofield Legion, who were the main sponsors as well, and a group of Tofield and Ryley baseball players were planning on entering the Alberta playoffs. This I am assuming was what today we call Provincials. The team was pretty confident as coach Charlie Nolan told the Tofield Mercury that they expect to win a provincial championship with the team. The baseball tournament, which was an invitational tournament for the best teams in the province, was eventually called off as teams were in the midst of playoff races in various leagues across the province and didn’t want to jeopardize their chance at a league championship due to a tournament. 

The 1958 playoff run would be cut short for the Legionnaires as they would bow out to the Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox in their series. Fort Saskatchewan would take a 1-0 series lead in a game that the Mercury reported Tofield finding out it was a playoff game once they got to the field in Fort Saskatchewan versus the exhibition game they thought it was going to be. Tofield would win game two at home but in the third and final game the Red Sox were too much with a 5-1 win back in Fort Saskatchewan. 

With the Legionnaires done for the season, Tofield baseball fans geared up for a provincial ball tournament in town later in the week. The combined Tofield/Ryley team would take on teams from Edmonton, Jasper Place, Hinton and Lac La Biche. The winner would then play against the winner of the provincial tournament in Red Deer in a series for the Northern Alberta Champion. Edmonton would win the tournament after defeating Tofield 7-3 in the final. And just like that the 1958 baseball season in Tofield was over in the middle of August. 

1959 saw the return of the Tofield Legionnaires, however the paper was now calling the Northern Alberta Intermediate Baseball League the Northern Alberta Baseball League (NABL). This might have been just a change the paper made to their reporting or it could have been a re-branding by the league. It is unclear. The baseball coverage as a whole was less in 1959 than the previous season. The PBL featured four teams with Bardo, Round Hill, Ryley and a Tofield team participating. Round Hill won the famous Ryley Tournament and at one point were out to a 5-0 record to sit atop the standings. 

In the NABL Tofield news was slim throughout the season. Stony Plain had dropped out of the league after the season began, leaving the Legionnaires, Edmonton Northern Rockets, Gibbons, St Josephats and the Edmonton City Police competing in the North division with the Beverly Drakes, Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox, Ponoka Stampeders and the Red Deer Dodgers playing the in the south. Tofield would win their first playoff series by sweeping St. Josephats 2-0 in the series with a no-hitter from Lefty Belter in game one and a two hitter from Eddie Williams in game two. Tofield went on to play the City Police in the finals winning game one in Edmonton then winning again in game two at home to claim the Intermediate A Cup. Tofield then would play Beaverlodge on the road for the 1959 Alberta Baseball Championship over the September Long Weekend. 

And that is it. 

There was no information I could find on who won that Alberta Championship Series in 1959. It was as if baseball stopped being news once harvest hit full swing that season. Perhaps there was a staffing change at the local newspaper as there was no baseball coverage in 1960 or 1961 for the PBL or any other baseball league. We know the PBL was operating these seasons as the league was moved to the Tuesday/Thursday schedule in 1961 according to the Bardo’s notebook of PBL history. A lot of the time the newspaper and the local teams worked hand in hand to get the baseball news out to the readership. A player, manager or league president would provide information to the paper, the paper would edit and publish. It very could have been that the paper was no longer receiving information like schedules or game updates as well. 

At some point shortly after the 1959 season, the Northern Alberta Baseball League was re-branded as the Edmonton Big Seven League. The teams playing that season were the Beverly Drakes, the City Police Athletics, the Fort Saskatchewan Red Sox, the North Edmonton Rockets, the Red Deer Dodgers and the St Josaphat’s Saints. Former Tofield Legionnaire Eddie Williams was pitching with the City Police Athletics in 1960. Behind him at second base was Edmonton Eskimos running back/line backer and future Canadian Football League Hall of Fame inductee, Rollie Miles along with fellow Legionnaires Don Bailey and Dale Barrow. In 1961 Williams became the best pitcher in the Edmonton Big Seven League going 9-2 with a league best 1.25 ERA striking out 69 hitters over 79 innings. Dale Barrow would find himself in the top 10 for hitters with a .333 average with 7 doubles. 

The Tofield Legionnaires are a big part of the baseball history in the town. They are fondly remembered in the history book Tales of Tofield Two – Celebrating 100 Years of History (1906-2006). You can read that article here as it was written by Ron Taylor. Below is a story announcing the 1964 reunion of the Tofield Legionnaires published by the Tofield Mercury on June 11, 1964.

Alberta Junior Ball champs of 1954 to hold reunion here on July 1st

The team whose picture appears above is the Tofield Legionnaires whose fame extended over Alberta in 1954 and 1955 when, for two consecutive years, they won the Provincial Junior Amateur Baseball Championship. 

Graham Allan, manager of the team in those momentous years, this week recalled the crucial championship games. He said, “The series with Taber in 1954 was the most exciting. We went to Taber to play one game in the 2 out of 3 seres, which we won. We then, after obtaining the consent of Mr. Doherty, the baseball commissioner, played what was to be an exhibition game, which we lost. To out dismay, the authorizes then decided that this last game would count as a loss against Tofield. Neeldess to say, the team, coaches, manager and fans who had accompanied us to Taber were infuriated. 

“The remainder of the series, which then developed (according to our viewpoint), into a 3 out of 5 series, was played in Tofield on the Sunday and Monday following Labor Day. We split a double header on Sunday sot the final had to be played on Monday.

“We used up all of our pitchers, but since we had taken the precaution of registering Leonard Lawson, a high school student, as pitcher, we took him out of school and, on the strength of his excellent pitching (remember his slow ball?) won the series! Lawson was a local hero. 

“After that, the 1955 series, which was played in Lethbridge, was anti-climax. But we were still proud of our second Alberta championship”.

Graham Allan and Doug McKernan are looking forward to welcoming the former members of their championship team on July 1. Those expected to be here are Eddie Williams, Dale Barrow, Dave Takabuski, Leo Rurka, Marshall Slewka, Allan Bjork, Lawrence Williams, Denzil Solberg, Eddie Slewka, Aronold Bailey, Bob Nahrebeski. 

No doubt “remember when?” Will be the phrase most frequently used. 

Posted in Kris, PBL