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NEWS: Dominico’s vision changed Toronto sports history (Winter 2022)

March 14th, 2022 · No Comments

Late baseball owner loomed large over amateur sports scene

Owner and lifelong fan at heart Jack Dominico ran the Maple Leafs baseball club for over 50 years.

By R.S. Konjek

As local lore will have it, the Toronto sports scene was forever changed one afternoon in the summer of 1968.

A newspaper man – on the sales side, not the writing side – happened to drive past Christie Pits Park on Bloor Street.  Circling the curious sunken playgrounds, he cast his gaze over the baseball diamond nestled in the northeast corner of the park. 

“That’s where I want my team to play,” Jack Dominico announced.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were not his team quite yet.  Pieced together from the remains of the Triple-A International League ballclub that left town for Louisville, Kentucky after 1967, a new team bearing the same “Maple Leafs” name would begin play as the amateur Intercounty Baseball League’s newest franchise in 1969.  

Alex Stanley, a local amateur baseball star, led the ownership group that brought the new Leafs into existence.  Dominico was involved from the start, handling the advertising side of things.  

The ballclub needed a new home.  The departed team had played in Maple Leaf Stadium at the corner of Lakeshore and Bathurst.  Old and rickety, the stadium was demolished in early 1968.

Whether Dominico’s fateful spin around the Pits is apocryphal or not, the new Leafs took the field in May, 1969, and Christie Pits has been their home ever since.

Dominico and his wife Lynne assumed full ownership in 1970. They operated all facets of the club together: recruitment and player signings, advertising and sponsorships, publications and game-day operations.

Playing in a public park instead of an enclosed private stadium kept the Leafs from charging admission to games, a situation that remains to this day.  From the very beginning the onus was on Dominico to keep the club afloat.  A relentless hustler, he sold ad space in club publications and on banners that hung on the outfield fences at the diamond.  Not only did he keep the club afloat, he kept it profitable, year after year.

Lynne passed away in 2008 and Jack continued as sole owner of the club until he died on January 11 at the age of 82.

Dominico loomed large over Christie Pits, literally.  On game days, his customary place was inside the press box perched on top of the hillside behind home plate.  From there he was master of all he surveyed, and he let everyone know it.

He was an assertive salesman and skillful organizer, but as soon as the first pitch hit the catcher’s mitt, Dominico became a fan like anyone else.  Not a game went by – sometimes not an inning – without hearing his booming voice react to the action below.  

If an umpire (in his opinion) blew a call, they heard about it.  If one of his players messed up, they heard about it.  If his manager let a game slip away, they heard about it.  His trademark groans and gripes rang around the Pits without needing the PA system.

“It was mostly an act,” said longtime Leafs raffle ticket seller Alan Ross.

Dominico’s outbursts may have been part of the game day entertainment, but to many, he had a heart of gold.

“He found jobs for many players,” said Ross.  “Even people who didn’t like him agreed that without Jack there wouldn’t be a league.”

While overseeing the league’s flagship franchise, Dominico quietly steered financial support to struggling clubs.  He did so without seeking fanfare, but to keep the league going in tough times.

“He knew everybody,” said Ross, citing an example from late in the 2021 season, which lasted deep into September and far beyond its usual ending point.  

The Leafs were playing in the IBL’s championship series, but the City of Toronto kept to its seasonal parks maintenance schedule and removed the portable restrooms at the park just before a game at Christie Pits.  Ross raised the issue with Dominico, who placed one phone call.  The following day, the port-a-potties were back.

In 2010, in recognition of his contributions to local sports, the city officially named the Leaf’s home Dominico Field at Christie Pits. 

The trophy presented to the IBL champions at the end of each season also bears Dominico’s name, in tribute to his unparalleled contributions to the league’s success.

In recent years, ailing health limited Dominico’s mobility and his final appearance at the ballpark was in 2019.

He maintained communications with his staff and players by phone, doting over them like a father figure.

Dominico may be gone but the Leafs will go on.  Damon Topolie, the club’s general manager, will continue to assemble the roster and manage the team on the field.  Christie Pits will be the home of Leafs baseball this summer, as it has since 1969.

In the long term it remains to be seen what will become of Dominico’s estate, including the ownership of the Leafs.  One thing for certain is that his vision for baseball at Christie Pits changed Toronto sports history.

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