Th el oad e d gun t hat slowed everyone down
It was a bizarre season for the Toronto Blue Jays — actually, not all that different from this one — but the weirdest day in it was one very few people remember.
It was the first couple of days of summer in 1989, a promising pitcher (Al Leiter) was out with blister and shoulder problems, the Jays had replaced Jimy Williams with Cito Gaston as manager, the big stars were playing inconsistently, and the Blue Jays had just climbed to .500 on Friday June 23 for the first time since the second day of the season but would fall below the break-even mark the very next day. They did go on to win the AL East, though.
On the day they were about to fall below .500 again they decided to send a young (22) outfielder named Kevin Batiste back to their double-A team in Knoxville after a six-game look in the majors.
Batiste would never play another game in the majors, and played just one and a half more years in the minors before giving up baseball and switching to football.
He spent a season as a 25-year-old safety for the University of Houston.
But not before he disrupted the casual border-crossing routine for an entire majorleague baseball team and its entourage.
During the Saturday matinee game in Oakland, Jays’ travelling secretary John “Rude Dog” Brioux got a phone call from Oakland airport police who said that they had discovered a concealed, and loaded, handgun in Batiste’s luggage, and he’d been arrested. He spent about 12 hours in an Oakland city jail before the Jays paid his $13,000 bail about midnight that Saturday.
But in mid-afternoon, Brioux arranged for Batiste to talk to the small Jays’ media corps (Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, Hamilton Spectator) by phone through what is known in the industry as a “pool reporter.” That means one media representative asks the questions and the resulting answers, all of them, are made available verbatim to the others.
We chose Allan “Bear” Ryan of the Toronto Star. Bear is a very, very funny guy and like all good humorists has a great sense of timing. Sitting in the press box at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum he chose to repeat the answers out loud, with an impeccable, slow, delivery so we could all be in real time with the conversation.
No, Batiste replied, he didn’t realize carrying a concealed gun was illegal and definitely no, he didn’t realize it had been stolen. It was given to him before spring training by a friend in his hometown of Galveston, Texas for “personal protection.”
“You never know what’s going on these days, especially where I come from.”
But the stinger came when Bear asked Batiste if he’d ever carried the gun with him before. Obviously, he’d had it on the Jays’ charter from Toronto to California.
“You also had it with when you came into Toronto from Knoxville (two weeks earlier)?” Bear said slowly and clearly, obviously repeating Batiste’s answer. The rest of us nearly fell over. A Blue Jay had brought a loaded gun through Canadian customs in Toronto and had not been caught. That actually wasn’t surprising — the not-getting-caught part, not the gun part — since the Jays’ charter plane group was often whisked through a cursory customs and immigration check in a remote part of the Toronto airport generally reserved for business and sports charters, and the players, team officials and media weren’t considered security risks.
Remember, this was a half-generation before 9/11.
“And when the team flew to Milwaukee from Hamilton, too?” Bear repeated, wide-eyed.
In those days there was a late-night antinoise bylaw at Pearson International Airport so when they were leaving or arriving after midnight, the Jays used Hamilton International Airport.
I don’t remember — and can’t find it on an internet search — whether Batiste was eventually convicted of the gun charges, but I do remember the arrest’s short-term effect on our travelling caravan.
Customs officials on both sides of the border don’t like being shown up, let alone having been lax in policing. So the rest of the year and much of the next we were subject to more security checks than even passengers on regular flights were. Even at 3 in the morning in Hamilton. Today, we might even find ourselves on the no-fly list.
A month or so after the incident, on a short flight from Toronto to Detroit, every member of the Jays travelling party, including the inkstained wretches (writers from the four major papers travelled on the Jay charter until the late 1990s), was subjected to a physical check and his paperwork was run through the security computer. The delay was considerably longer than the one-hour flight itself.
And although Batiste’s days as a Jay farmhand wouldn’t stretch past the end of the season, a number of Jays pitchers said tongue-incheek that they hoped he got invited to spring training in 1990 … just so they could throw at him.
A young BlueJay disrupted thecasualborder-crossing routinefor an entire team and its entourage.