Star of the Week

#2 fred butt

Fred Butt ...."SHEIK" Written by Mike "Red Dog" O'Hearn

Having faced this mountain of a man many times in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s, it was certainly an honour when I was asked to do a fastball bio on my friend, teammate and now sponsor of the Durham Bulls Legends Fastpitch Club.......Fred Butt.

Fred first learned that he could throw a softball underhand faster than most at the tender age of 14 in his native town of Dunville, Newfoundland. By the time he was 16 he had moved with his family to Toronto and the legend of his fearsome fastball began to gain momentum. He never played at the junior level and instead began pitching in a men’s league in Topham Park (1972) with Scarbin Realty. He followed that up with another year in Topham with Croyroy. He proved himself to be a more than adequate hitter and as such sometimes found himself playing 1st base just so the team could get his bat into the lineup, but pitching was to be the spot where his reputation would grow in leaps and bounds. In those days there were many fastball leagues around Toronto and Topham Park was considered a “B” league. The places to play, if one wanted to get noticed, was either the Dieppe Park Major League or the Beaches Major League. It wasn’t long before Dieppe teams came calling for the services of this 6’ 7” giant. His first taste of major fastball was with the Westover Dukes. Throughout the rest of the 70’s and 80’s Fred showed why he was a force to be dealt with whenever he took the mound. He plied his trade with teams such as Wallace Tavern, a resurrected Croyroy team, AV Systems and the Toronto Cavaliers as well as the Beaches Merchants in the Beaches Major League and Landers and Champion Team Wear in the Scarborough Major League. But the team he enjoyed playing for the most and where he left his biggest mark was with Drive Tavern. It got to the point where he was virtually unbeatable. In fact in 1980 he went 16-0 in the Dieppe Park Major league and almost singlehandedly helped his team win not only the league championship, but pretty much every tournament they entered, with Fred picking up the MVP awards in numerous tournaments including St. Catherines, Barrie, Bradford, and the coveted Bulova Watch tournament held annually at the CNE where Fred beat Barrie Slessor in the finals. He followed that up in 1981 by only losing a single game in Dieppe. Fred proved his mettle beyond the confines of Dieppe Park and added OASA titles to his resume in 1985 and 1986. 

Besides all the league and tournament titles, MVP and pitching awards Fred has acquired over the years, and believe me there are many, one of his most cherished possessions is a plaque given to him by the Honorable Bill Davis in 1981 declaring him to be the Player of the Year in the GTA. In 1985 we asked Fred if he’d help our team (Nevada Dining Lounge) which had entered the annual Charlie Acton Memorial tournament. He did. Leading us to the championship while going undefeated and garnering another MVP award. During the early 80’s intermediate pitchers were allowed to throw 5 games in the Ontario Fastball League before declaring whether or not they wished to remain a senior player or go back to intermediate. Agincourt Rawlings approached Fred and asked if he’d like to give it a go with the so called big boys. Once again he answered the challenge and went undefeated in 5 outings. He declared he wished to remain with his friends in Dieppe Park. I remember asking him at the time why he didn’t stay senior. He laughed and said “There’s better hitters and players here in Dieppe”. One night in the 80’s over a beer I told Fred that if he ever learned to throw a change up he’d never lose again. He glared at me and said “Screw the change up, let them try and hit the Newfy Bullet”. He was scary out there. Not only did he throw as hard as anyone at the time, it seemed like he was on top of you before releasing the ball. One playoff night at Dieppe he hit the first three batters to start the game and then struck out the next three. Nobody was crowding that plate the rest of the night. 

Another time during an OASA regional playdown in a game played at Dieppe Park against “Dizzy” Edwards and his Mississauga team. It was felt the umpires were allowing “Dizzy” a lot of liberties on the mound. This was before everyone was hopping and “Dizzy” was clearly taking two steps before releasing the ball. Fred’s manager Tony Verszi was going nuts. Fred calmly told Tony to forget about it. That he would take care of matters. Fred took his 6’ 7” frame and strode out to the mound and started taking two full strides towards the plate. He had to be about 35 feet from the plate before releasing the ball. I never saw such terrified batters. Needless to say his team won. Some of his favourite memories include playing against The King and his Court with Eddie Feigner and one time facing the Richmond Hill Dynes just a couple of years after they won the world title in Manilla in the semi-finals of the Beaches Major tournament. Well known Bob Domik was on the mound for Richmond Hill. Fred beat them in extra innings 1-0. 

Fred was clear that his favourite team to play on was Drive Tavern, and he still keeps in touch with many from that team. Some of his favourite teammates included Gary Prescaztor, Mike Glass, and Mike O’Hearn, but his closest friend, who he still remains close to today is Blair McBratney. He also fondly remembers and is grateful for being given the opportunity to pitch on the same team as his brother Wayne. When asked who were the top 3 pitchers he’d faced off against he responded he couldn’t give just 3 and included Bob Domik, Pete Landers, Mark Smith, Brad Underwood, and Jim Cowdrey. Although there was a time when no one was a tough out for Fred I asked him who he bore down on when they came to the plate. He responded with Chris Giamou, Ray Tilley, Dan Donahue, Mark Bendahan and Vere Small. Asking him for a list of his favourite tournaments I think posed one of the toughest questions. Anyone that knows Fred is familiar with his love of life. Going to tournaments with him always meant having a good time was primary. I believe Fred loved every tournament and cherished getting away with the boys. He mentioned the Bulova Watch, St. Catherines, Dunkirk, Meaford and the Beaches Major tournaments as some of his favourites, but everytime I named another he’d excitedly say “ya that one too”.

He left the game earlier than some of us, because he was smart enough to realize that fastball wasn’t forever. He learned about pumps and motors from the ground up and started his business Butts Pumps and Motors which he and his lovely wife Sharon have turned into a very successful enterprise. Having never lost his love for the game and all the players he’d come to know, he approached me in November 2013 about forming the Durham Bulls Legends because the ISC Legends tournament was coming to Kitchener. I was truly honoured he asked me. It was nice to see Fred getting back into the game. 2015 should be interesting.
Besides his love of ball, hockey, and the odd round of golf, Fred and Sharon enjoy getting away to their winter residence in Florida as often as possible and taking their Harley out for a spin. They love entertaining and some of their parties are legendary. Together they are the most gracious hosts one could ever know.  
He’s a big man with a big heart. The game lost someone special when Fred walked away from fastball, but he’s back with a vengeance, and so is his larger than life persona . Love ya, you big lug.

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