ST. MARYS, Ont. — Former Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash wasn’t thinking about a lengthy career when he took a part-time job with the Toronto team’s ticket office in 1977.
He just wanted to watch some baseball.
Ash — who started his Blue Jays career in their inaugural season before working his way up to the team’s GM job — was announced Tuesday as a member this year’s Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction class along with slugger Jason Bay, pitcher Ryan Dempster and coach Rob Thomson.
“I was just happy to have a job in baseball,” Ash said on a conference call hours after the inductees were announced. “I enjoyed the history, the strategy, the whole aspect of the game. Just to get involved in some small way was a significant achievement at the time and (I was) clearly not thinking about the opportunity to get an honour like I have today.”
Ash worked the ticket office during the 1977 season and was back in that role full time the following year.
“By the end of the second inning you were finished your job and they allowed you to go in and watch the game,” Ash said of that first gig. “That was the real appeal for me.”
The Toronto native served in numerous roles with the team, and was the Jays GM from 1995 to 2001, drafting Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, among other stars. Ash later worked as Milwaukee’s GM for 12 seasons and has been as the vice-president of baseball projects for the Brewers since 2015.
The four members of the 2019 induction class own a combined eight World Series rings, five all-star selections and four Tip O’Neill awards.
They will be inducted this summer in a June 15 ceremony on the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame grounds.
Bay, a 40-year-old from Trail, B.C., played 1,278 Major League games over parts of 11 seasons with San Diego, Boston, the New York Mets, Seattle and Pittsburgh, where he won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2004 — becoming the only Canadian to do so.
The right-hitting outfielder ended his career with Seattle in 2013. He got his start with the Montreal Expos in 2000 — his senior year at Gonzaga — when the team drafted him in the 22nd round.
“At that point in my career I was just hoping to get drafted by somebody, and the fact that it was the Expos was kind of a little feather in the cap,” Bay said. “I was just looking for an opportunity. I remember I went down to Jupiter (Florida, for spring training) early one year and got to work out with some of the big league guys when I was coming out of A-ball and that was kind of an Aha moment for me.”
Dempster, from Gibsons, B.C., was selected in the third round of the 1995 draft by the Texas Rangers. The right-hander pitched in 579 games over 16 seasons for Florida, Cincinnati, Texas, the Cubs and the Red Sox, earning a spot in two all-star games, and winning the World Series with Boston in 2013 before retiring that same season.
Thomson played NCAA baseball for the University of Kansas and was chosen in the 32nd round of the draft by Detroit in 1985. The catcher/third baseman shifted his focus to coaching in 1988, serving as a minor league coach in the Tigers system for two seasons before joining the New York Yankees in 1990.
Dempster, Bay and Thomson, from Corunna, Ont., each played for Canada on the international stage in various points in their careers.
Thomson was on Canada’s Olympic roster for the Los Angeles Games in 1984 when baseball was a demonstration sport, and Bay and Dempster played in World Baseball Classics and world junior championships as teenagers.
“Coming from a small town in Ontario and playing in front of 52,000 people at Dodger Stadium was an eye-opener,” said Thomson, who is in his second season as the bench coach of the Philadelphia Phillies. “It was a great experience. I met guys I remain friends with all these years from all around Canada. … Just representing this great country was a big deal to me and I’m very proud of that.”
Dempster came out of retirement to pitch at the 2017 WBC, a memory he said he’ll cherish for years.
“What an honour that was,” the 41-year-old said. “I live in the States (but) I go back home all the time. … It was kind of a reminder for people to say, ‘hey, this guy’s from Canada and it’s something he’s really proud of.”’