Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame welcomes Wiwchar

Manitoban has been involved in game for more than 70 years


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Joe Wiwchar has spent a majority of his 87 years helping grow the game of baseball in Manitoba and across the country, an illustrious journey that began in 1953 and continues to this day.

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Joe Wiwchar has spent a majority of his 87 years helping grow the game of baseball in Manitoba and across the country, an illustrious journey that began in 1953 and continues to this day.

Wiwchar, who was born in Winnipeg before putting down roots in Morden — where he still lives with his wife, Arlene — has impacted baseball in nearly every way possible. Over the last 70 years, Wiwchar has run the full gauntlet: as a player, coach, volunteer, executive, administrator and mentor, having crossed paths with a countless number of athletes in that time.

On Monday, he got the news he never thought was coming.

Wiwchar is one of four to be selected for Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2023. He joins a group that including two former MLB pitchers in former Montreal Expo Denis Boucher and former Oakland A Rich Harden, as well as Jesse Barfield, who was once a right fielder with the Toronto Blue Jays. A formal dinner will take place in June.

“When (Director of Operations) Scott (Crawford) phoned me, the first thing I said was, ‘This is a joke, right?’ And then he said, ‘No, it’s not a joke.’ And then I said, ‘OK, I have to sit down,’” Wiwchar told The Free Press in a phone interview. “I was basically speechless. It is such a surprise to get this honour. I never expected to have something like this happen. There’s a recognition to this, but baseball, I loved it. I just loved it.”

Wiwchar got his start coaching baseball in his late teens after he was approached by a group of girls who were a few years younger and in need of a coach. He would spend the majority of his career teaching the game to boys, from peewee, all the way up to senior men’s.

Over a coaching career that spanned from 1953 to 2013 and often included running multiple teams in a single season, Wiwchar had plenty of highlights.

In 1971, as coach of the South Central Beavers Peewee team, he led the club to a provincial title and a silver medal at the Western Canada Championship. That also happened to be the year Wiwchar began his 28-year run as head coach of the Morden Mohawks, a senior team playing in the Border League — a tenure that included 12 league championships over an 18-year span.

As an assistant coach with Team Manitoba, Wiwchar helped guide the provincial club to a silver medal at the 1977 Canada Summer Games. The same year, he was head coach of the juvenile provincial team that captured the Western Canada championship.

“I just had a phone call with a guy that played ball for me. That means so much to me. Even walking down the street and a player waves to me or something. I’ve gone to some of their weddings,” said Wiwchar. “Besides coaching, it’s being involved with these guys, with some of their lives and everything else. Baseball is good, but the relationships, the friendships that you make in the game, is just as important.”

While Wiwchar has been fortunate to carve out such an impressive resume — which includes being a chaperone at the 1994 World Children’s Baseball Fair in Japan, as well as head coach for four youth teams in La Rochelle, France, the following year — he said his fondest memories are the times he spent with family.

The father of three sons — Randy, Tim and Cory — Wiwchar recalled a pair of games while coaching senior baseball where he had all three playing outfield for him. While manning a midget team competing for a national championship in Fredericton, N.B., Wiwchar had one of his sons as a last-minute replacement for one of his coaches and his grandson came along as a backup catcher.

“Those were big thrills for me,” he said. “It was a blast.”

While coaching, Wiwchar also took on many roles as an executive and was a member of the committee that formed the Manitoba Baseball Association in 1968. He would serve in several capacities there, including as president in 1976 and 1977.

Wiwchar was also an executive with Baseball Canada, as part of its planning committee in the mid-70s. Decades later, in 2004, after more than 50 years in the game, he was named Baseball Canada’s Volunteer of the Year.

Wiwchar isn’t new to being recognized for his commitment to the game.

He was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 and won the Sport Manitoba Order of Sports Excellence Volunteer Service Award in 2006. In 2011, he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the same year Morden renamed a baseball field in his honour.

He was named the first administrative manager of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, a position he’s held since 1998. He announced his retirement last year but is still helping with the transition.

“My wife (Arlene) keeps asking when I’m leaving and then she says I’m never going to leave. When you’re there to start the museum and you’ve seen it grow, you have some ownership. It’s time to give it up. I’m too old and I’m too slow now,” Wiwchar said. “The unsung hero is my wife. We’ve missed vacations and everything because of baseball. She’s really the reason for all of this.”

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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