Friends and family are mourning the death of the only Prince Edward Island native to play Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era.
James Vernon (Vern) Handrahan died Wednesday. The Charlottetown native was 79.
His former P.E.I. teammates painted a picture Wednesday of a devoted family man with no bad habits, who was always willing to give back to others while deflecting any recognition.
“Vern was a very humble person, never sought any attention,” said friend Bobby Lund.
“He’s going to be sorely missed,” he added of his former teammate. “He was so good with everybody and a real role model.”
Handrahan started playing baseball when he was 15 years old. He was a good all-around athlete, but it was on the mound he excelled.
“He never saw himself as being the centrepiece of the team,” Don Leclair said. “He was a terrific all-around ball player. He wasn't just a pitcher.”
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Leclair was catching the day the coach called Handrahan in from the outfield to make his pitching debut. The right-handed hurler, Leclair said, was exceptionally fast.
“He had a fantastic arm and he rode that arm all the way to 12 years of professional baseball,” Lund said.
It included stops with minor league teams in New York, Wisconsin, Idaho and Orgeon.
Six years after picking up the sport, Handrahan caught the attention of a pro scout while playing for the Stellarton Albions in Nova Scotia. In 1959, he signed with the Milwaukee Braves.
He played two seasons with the Kansas City Athletics in the MLB. He amassed a 0-2 record with a 5.31 earned-run average in 34 games. He also had two hits as a batter.
From Memorial Field to Yankee Stadium, Handrahan made it the top level of baseball during a time when there were no YouTube videos of players or information on prospects readily available as it is today. It was before the Montreal Expos or Toronto Blue Jays were born.
“A Canadian, let alone an Islander, to make it up through those ranks was unbelievable,” said Fred (Fiddler) MacDonald, a sports columnist with The Guardian and a batboy for Charlottetown teams in the 1950s that Handrahan played for. “A first-class gentleman who never said anything bad about anybody.”
RELATED: FRED (FIDDLER) MACDONALD WROTE ABOUT VERN IN MAY.
Leclair played ball with Handrahan after his professional career. Pitching against the likes of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hadn’t changed Handrahan.
Leclair remembers a fan getting on him once during an oldtimers game in Stellarton, saying how Handrahan wasn’t that good.
“He threw two or three pitches that I think illustrated to them that he certainly was capable of playing professional baseball,” Leclair said. “But he was the type of guy that wasn't out there to exhibit how good he was, rather he was thinking of the poor guy who was up at-bat and giving him the opportunity to make contact.”
Lund said he referenced Handrahan while coaching kids.
“I'd always say, ‘Don't give up if you have a dream because here’s a fella who had a dream and at the age of 21 it came to fruition,’ so to speak,” he said.
Handrahan was the first inductee into the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.