Claude Raymond is the first professional athlete I met. It was during baseball camp in the late 1980s. He showed me how to place my fingers on the seams to land a spin ball. He was so impressed that I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was more of a first baseman.
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Ten years later, I met him again while covering the Expos. I even wrote a chapter about him in a book about the 1959 Chicago White Sox. It was also at this point that I realized that even after rubbing elbows with him in Olympic Stadium and on the road, I didn’t really know his career. Yes, like everyone else, I knew he pitched for the Expos. But in previous years?
All he had found was a short autobiography, The third withdrawal, published in 1973. A curious object. This 139-page booklet, written in myopic handwriting, included a summary of his life, technical tips, a glossary of baseball terms and dozens of pages of photographs. Since ? Any.
“Several people approached me about writing a real biography, he told me. I always said no. I knew the involvement it would require of me. » Until the day the author Marc Robitaille (A summer without points or hits) met him in Cooperstown and later convinced him to tell his story. The whole story of him. “He told me: ‘You should leave this as a legacy for your children and your grandchildren.’ scored points [rires]. »
thus was born Frenchthe biography that Claude Raymond deserved.
The story is rich, detailed and, above all, full of anecdotes. Claude Raymond’s generosity contrasts with that of other former athletes, whose biographies are just an improved version of his Wikipedia page. With French (his nickname), what happened in the locker room finally comes out of the locker room.
He speaks fondly of his childhood idol, Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies. “When I was a child, he explains to me, the Montreal-morning he had posted four photos showing how he placed his fingers in the seams. She was trying to replicate her stuff. Fifteen years later, we were roommates. »
He admires his former teammates Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Nellie Fox or Hank Aaron, all inducted into the Hall of Fame. He also has good words for former Expos coach Frank Robinson, whom he was an assistant to during the club’s final seasons in Montreal. I was surprised, because Robinson really didn’t make a good impression here.
“We started from afar, he and I,” he wrote in his biography, told in the first person.
“Since I shot him in 1961, he had always looked at me with a wary, almost hostile air. But in Montreal we met. To Frank, his players were like his children. The instructors of him, like brothers. In our meetings, he really wanted to hear our opinion, it was important to him. He did everything in his power to support us, to protect us, sometimes even against the advice of his bosses. »
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Frenchie, warns Marc Robitaille in his introduction, “speaks very frankly. He says things exactly as he has seen or understood them.” Thus, Claude Raymond does not hesitate to send a few rapids to the interior to those who he least appreciated.
Former Expos manager Gene Mauch falls from his perch. He is presented to her as a vile, petty and toxic man. “I could have told even more about him,” Claude Raymond told me. My career ended because of him. »
A former Braves teammate, Rico Carty, is also skinned. Raymond says that he saw him fight Hank Aaron on a plane. Felipe Alou then challenged Carty, a champion boxer, to a fight. ” When [Felipe] He stared at you with his penetrating gaze, we thought twice before answering. Carty had run away.
But it was for former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria and his son-in-law and club vice president David Samson that Claude Raymond kept his harshest words to himself. He returns to an incident that occurred during a friendly game between journalists and Expos employees, in which Samson had participated. Raymond hit him with a shot and then forced him to hit a short fly ball into the infield. Samson never spoke to him again until he fired him over the holidays.
The big class.
Other anecdotes reveal the social tensions of which he was a privileged witness in the 1950s and 1960s.
In several cities in the United States, he writes, racial segregation was “widespread.” “When we played in Houston, it was terrible to see our team bus stop in a city ghetto to drop off Hank. [Aaron], as we continue our way to our luxury hotel. He grossed out our Spahn veterans, Lew Burdette and Mathews, who didn’t hesitate to get on the bus and report the situation. »
At another time, Claude Raymond was in a winter league in the Dominican Republic. A remarkable adventure. The team owner pulled out a gun on him to settle a referee’s case. “The climate in the club was not the healthiest: at night we had to barricade ourselves in our rooms and if there was a knock on the door we would not open it without a baseball bat in hand. He left the country in a hurry, in the middle of the night, with a partner.
His career, you will understand, was not linear. There have been ups and downs, in which all readers will recognize themselves. But what I remember most about the story is Claude Raymond’s deep love and gratitude for his sport.
Baseball allowed him to travel throughout North America. To meet the astronauts. Visit the NASA facilities in Houston, during the conquest of space. Meet Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Robin Roberts. To befriend her hippie apartment neighbor, singer Kenny Rogers. She too would have liked to meet Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau during a visit to Jarry Park in the early 1970s. But Gene Mauch stepped in and preferred to delegate her three favorites…
With French, Claude Raymond leaves a very beautiful legacy. It’s not fair to his children and grandchildren. For all Quebec sports fans.
Frenchie – The Claude Raymond Story
Claude Raymond and Marc Robitaille
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