Toronto’s love affair with baseball has been on the wane of late, but Tom Henke remembers when the romance was loud and proud.
The six-foot-five closer still recalls his home debut at Exhibition Stadium for the Blue Jays in 1985, calling it one of the most memorable of his career.
The six-foot-five Henke had made his presence felt at the previous series in Baltimore, helping mow down the A’s, and the Toronto fans wanted to show him some love.
"I finally got to come out on the mound in front of the Toronto fans and they wouldn’t let me pitch," Henke recalled Monday on a conference call. "I mean they stood up for, I know, at least a good 10 minutes.
"Coming from Texas, where we were getting maybe 10,000 people a game, to having 55,000 people in Exhibition Stadium, (and) about 10 to 15 per cent of them couldn’t even see the game, they were below the fence. That is still in my mind one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in my life, in baseball anyway."
Twenty-six years later, Canada has arranged another warm reception for Henke.
The Terminator is headed to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, along with Baseball America founder Allan Simpson and the late George (Dandy) Wood, who played in the majors from 1880 to 1892.
They will enter the Hall in St. Marys, Ont., on June 18.
Simpson began his magazine out of his garage. It now has a base of approximately 250,000 readers.
Wood, the eighth Canadian to reach the major leagues, played almost 1,300 games from 1880 to 1892 for Worcester, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
The Hall said Wood’s Canadian citizenship was only uncovered a year ago.
Henke, who played for Texas, Toronto and St. Louis from 1982 to 1995, was a fan favourite with the Jays.
In his heyday, when he took the mound he got the job done.
And with his glasses, Missouri roots and bricklaying background, there were no airs about him.
"I guess I just had a good upbringing. I tried to keep the important things in my life important. And that’s family and your faith. I guess that just carried on."
Henke, who has a farm of about 1,000 acres in Missouri, calls Canada his second home and says he still gets recognized north of the border.
"That’s an unbelievable feeling to have meant that much people that they still recognize you 20 years later. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like."
Henke’s 217 saves as a Jay still tops the Toronto record book, and his 311 career saves are 17th best in the majors. He played eight seasons for Toronto, pitching in 446 games, winning 29, and compiling a 2.48 earned-run average.
Henke’s best season with the Blue Jays was 1987, when he was named to the all-star team and led the American League with 34 saves. He helped the Jays to the World Series in 1992.
Henke says while he misses the camaraderie of his teammates, he doesn’t miss the pressure of pitching.
"When the season was over, it was like somebody rolled a house off your back. Just because as a closer, you never got to rest. Even if they told you ‘Hey Tom, you may not be in there tonight’ or We’re not going to use you.’ I’ve heard that a number of times and all of a sudden they say "Hey, can you get us an out?’
"So it was one of those things where you had to be ready day in day out. The physical part of being a closer wasn’t that tough, but the mental part of it was really the toughest part of the job."
He remains grateful to the Jays for rescuing him from "the doghouse" in Texas where he was labelled as a wild pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes.
Henke credits the late Al Widmar, Toronto’s pitching coach, for getting him back in the strike zone "probably more than I’d ever been. And (it) just took off from there."
And he points to the late John Cerutti, a friend and teammate, for his nickname. They saw the film "The Terminator" while playing in Syracuse, the Jays’ farm team, and Cerutti started calling him that.
When Henke and some Syracuse teammates were promoted to the big team, the nickname came with him.
"I guess I could have had a worse nickname," he said. "So I kind of enjoyed it."
Simpson grew up in Kelowna, B.C., but, unable to sort out immigration issues to start his business in the U.S., eventually moved to the border town of White Rock.
Believing the magazine would not fly if it was made in Canada, he would cross the border daily to pick up mail and get the magazine printed there — "and do everything to give the impression it was an American product."
It originated with 1,500 subscribers and, 30 years later, now has a base of approximately 250,000 readers.
The first issue featured Kevin McReynolds, then a junior at the University of Arkansas, on the cover. He went on to play for the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Kansas City Royals.
Eventually, production shifted to North Carolina.
Simpson parted ways with the magazine five years ago and is now affiliated with an Iowa-based scouting company called Perfect Game.
Born in Pownal, P.E.I., Wood joins 2002 inductee Don McDougall as the only P.E.I. Hall members. The only other P.E.I. players to make the majors were Vern Handrahan and Henry Oxley, according to the Hall.
The National League’s 1882 home run champion also became one of only eight Canadians to manage in the major leagues (143 games with Philadelphia in 1891), and was also one of only six Canadians to umpire in the majors (1886-98).
Wood was the first Canadian to hit for the cycle on June 12, 1885.
His lifetime batting average was .273, with 1,467 hits, 68 homers and 601 RBIs.