Postmedia founder Paul Godfrey inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Postmedia founder Paul Godfrey inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame

Godfrey had campaigned as a municipal politician for Toronto to get a baseball team, which it finally did, back in 1977. He was also on the board of the Crown corporation that built the Toronto SkyDome

Article content

Paul Godfrey, the founder of Postmedia, the company that publishes the National Post, has been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

The hall of fame announced the induction of the former CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays and civic politician on Tuesday morning.

Article content

“I’m a sports fan all the way across, but baseball has always been my greatest interest,” Godfrey told the National Post in an interview. “I’ve been very fortunate and lucky, but you know, I never anticipated it. I was thrilled. I put the phone down (after I was told) and I got up and — Oh my God, this really happened to me.”

Advertisement 2

Article content

Scott Crawford, the director of operations of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, said to Godfrey, on the call telling him he’d be receiving the honour, that the election was long overdue.

“So well deserved. So many things you did,” said Crawford.

Blue Jays
Former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, right, presents Blue Jays president Paul Godfrey and Rogers Communications VP Edward Rogers with a commemorative plaque marking the baseball team’s 25 years in the city yesterday, the day of the ’01 home opener. Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun

For eight years, Godfrey was at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays, at the time one of two Canadian teams in the major league. He became president and CEO of the club in 2000, when Rogers Communications bought an 80 per cent stake in the team from Interbrew SA, a Belgian brewer.

Godfrey had campaigned decades earlier as a municipal politician for Toronto to get a baseball team, which it finally did, back in 1977. He was also on the board of the Crown corporation that built the Toronto SkyDome.

Heading up the Blue Jays, Godfrey said at the time he took the job, was among the “toughest” assignments he’d ever taken on.

“I know that going in,” Godfrey said then, the National Post reported.

Godfrey came to the job after a long career in politics and media. He was first elected, as an alderman in North York, in 1963, and served well into the 1980s on municipal governments in the Toronto area. During this period, he was part of the campaign to bring Major League Baseball to Toronto; Montreal got the Expos in 1969.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It disturbed me that Montreal was given a franchise,” Godfrey told the Toronto Sun in 1993.

Speaking to the National Post this week, Godfrey said when he was chairman of Metro Toronto, the media would ask him what he was going to do: More funding for the police? More daycare or homes for the aged?

“And I said, ‘I’m going to bring a Major League Baseball team.’ I said ‘I’m going to build you a stadium that’s got a covered roof. And I’m going to build you a new convention centre.’ I was able to do all three,” Godfrey recalled.

Godfrey stands in front of Rogers centre
For eight years, Godfrey was at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays, at the time one of two Canadian teams in the major league. Fred Thornhill, Toronto Sun

In an online history of the creation of the Toronto Blue Jays, Godfrey recounted that he’d approached Bowie Kuhn in 1969, then the MLB’s commissioner.

“Son, here’s the way baseball works. You get a stadium to play in and baseball will decide whether we’ll come,” Kuhn said, according to Godfrey.

Four years later, Godfrey, then the Metro Toronto chairman, met with then-Ontario premier Bill Davis and they hammered out a deal to upgrade Exhibition Stadium, a multipurpose sports field that was the home of the Toronto Argonauts, the Toronto Blizzard and the Jays.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Eventually, the league voted for a Toronto expansion team, to join the American League and owned by the Labatt Brewing Company. The process, Godfrey told the Post, was somewhat tedious — lots of meetings, lobbying Kuhn and visiting various teams. But the dream came true.

As it turned out, Robin Godfrey, Paul Godfrey’s son, threw the opening pitch when the Jays played their opening game.

After leaving politics in 1984, Godfrey became publisher and CEO of the Toronto Sun newspaper, a role he held for some 16 years. A decade later, he was back in the media business, becoming the National Post’s publisher in 2009 and forming Postmedia Network Ltd. in 2010 to take over the Canwest newspaper chain.

But in those intervening years, Godfrey was in the business of baseball. And he was always a fan.

Blue Jay mascot Diamond hugs the team's CEO
Blue Jay mascot Diamond hugs the team’s new CEO Paul Godfrey. Veronica Henri, Toronto Sun

“I’m like any fan who replays the game nine times after it’s over — talking about the great play, or why the manager didn’t bunt with runners on first and second with nobody out, or why he didn’t pinch run for so and so,” he said in October 2000.

Godfrey came to the helm of the Jays after years of struggle. Since the Jays won the World Series in 1993, attendance had collapsed and the team struggled to attract players.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“Ted Rogers … said to me, ‘Look, I’d like you to help me buy the team,’” Godfrey recalled. “He says, ‘you do that and I’ll give you the opportunity of becoming president and CEO.’ I had to pinch myself to find out whether that was a realistic thing.”

In those eight years, Godfrey oversaw a massive expansion of the team’s payroll, from about $46 million in 2000 to almost $98 million in 2008. This was, at least in part, because while Godfrey was at the helm of the Jays, Rogers bought the SkyDome for a meagre $25 million, although it cost $600 million to build. It gave the club control over stadium revenues, benefiting the team’s bottom line.

I’m like any fan who replays the game nine times after it’s over

“They were all great thrills for me,” Godfrey said.

The team, while it didn’t finish better than second place in the league’s eastern division, posted several excellent seasons, including an average of 83 wins in the final three years of Godfrey’s tenure — the best baseball it had played since the early 1990s.

“If you took a snapshot of when I arrived in 2000 and when I’m leaving in 2008, the picture is much brighter, much clearer, and much deeper in talent than it was,” Godfrey told the CBC in October 2008, shortly after his resignation as team president.

Now, Godfrey says he’ll be taking his six grandchildren to Blue Jays training camp.

“Like I seem to do every year,” he said.

Our website is the place for the latest breaking news, exclusive scoops, longreads and provocative commentary. Please bookmark nationalpost.com and sign up for our daily newsletter, Posted, here.

Article content

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *