History of the A's

 
 

Canadian Sports Hall of Fame calls Fitzgerald

 

 

THROUGH THE SPORTS GATE 

by Jack Gatecliff 

The St. Catharines Standard 

Friday June 21, 1961

 

Billy Fitzgerald Sr., one of the greatest lacrosse players who ever lived, has become the first St. Catharines athlete into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.

Although he died in 1926 at the age of 38 years, many St. Catharines residents vividly recall his prowess on the lacrosse field.

Billy Hope Sr., also a brilliant player in the early part of the 20th century, played both with and against Fitzgerald.

In 1908 they were teammates with a semi-pro team in St. Catharines and the following year, when Fitzgerald joined the professional Toronto Lacrosse Club, Hope was a member of the Tecumsehs in the same league.

"He was exceptionally fast at his third home position" said Bill Hope this week, "and although he gave the impression of being almost small in uniform, he was in fact just an inch or so under six feet and built like a rock. Raw-boned I guess would be the description of Billy Fitzgerald."

The salaries paid Fitzgerald in those days of low wages (and low cost of living) attest to his brilliance.

After playing with St. Catharines Athletics in 1907 and 1908, he was signed to a fantastic, at that time, contract of $4,000 by Toronto in 1909.

As far as is known he received the same wages in 1910, then picked up $5,000 when he signed with Vancouver in 1911.

We would guess that $5,000 at that time would be worth at least $15,000 according to present-day scales.

And that money was received for a short 15 game schedule . . . one game a week between May 24 and Labor Day.

In 1912 Fitzgerald returned to the Toronto Lacrosse Club at approximately the same salary for three years before the professional league folded because of World War I.

He came back to play for the Athletics in 1918 in a semi-pro league composed of just three teams, St. Catharines, Toronto Maitlands and Leaside Indians.

The last year he played was in 1924 when, at the age of 36, he was paid $100 a week by a Vancouver team as pro lacrosse was making a belated bid at revival on the west coast.

He was also a hockey player of considerable promise but was hampered in this sport because of the stringent amateur rules of that era. As soon as he signed a pro lacrosse contract, he was immediately disqualified from playing amateur in any other pastime and had to give up hockey.

It is interesting to note that while playing in Toronto, he continued living in St. Catharines and worked as a carpenter with men such as Jim Millward and the present Ontario Labor Minister Charles (Tod) Daley.

He worked out with the local senior Athletics during the week (apparently the authorities believed that pros couldn't "contaminate" amateurs in practices) then traveled by boat to Toronto for the Saturday afternoon games at Hanlan Point.

His son Bill Fitzgerald Jr. was a box lacrosse star in his own right in later years and some who saw them both play claim they resembled each other, particularly in the "hunched over" style of running which made father and son most difficult to stop when going in on defence.

One of the major regrets in the life of Bill Jr. is that he never saw his dad play when he was in his prime and wrecking the opposition along with teammates such as Pete Barnett and Geordie Kalls.

"The only time I saw him on the lacrosse field was in 1921 when an exhibition game was played at the lacrosse grounds on Catherine St. (now the site of the St. Catharines Collegiate). I believe it was in connection with the celebration of "Old Home Week," said Billy Fitz, now St. Catharines Deputy City Clerk.

And his dad of course died 12 years before Billy was a member of the 1938 St. Catharines Mann Cup team.

Although Bill Jr. is not an expert on his father's lacrosse prowess, there are still many "old timers" around who are.

They proved it by electing him to Canada's Hall of Fame.

See Related Story: William Fitzgerald

And: 1918: Our Professionals Come Home

RETURN