No.7 - Frank Humber

Brendan McCarthy
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Newfoundland & Labrador's Ten Best Athletes This Corner Brook lefty has always been all right

If you listen to and/or read all the pundits and improve-yourself counselors out there today, you'd find as many formulas for success as there are recipes for meatloaf.

But here's a simple one that would go down well at most tables: ability and dedication, factored by opportunity.

With nearly two decades of senior baseball behind him, Frank Humber still is a stalwart on the Corner Brook diamond. But in a career filled with higlights and records, 1988 has to stand out for Humber. That year, he was the star pitcher for Wake Forest Un

If you listen to and/or read all the pundits and improve-yourself counselors out there today, you'd find as many formulas for success as there are recipes for meatloaf.

But here's a simple one that would go down well at most tables: ability and dedication, factored by opportunity.

It's a formula that's made Corner Brook's Franklin "Frank" Humber arguably the best baseball player Newfoundland has ever produced and helped place him seventh on The Telegram's list of this province's top 10 athletes.

Humber's abilities were evident as soon as he started playing baseball. He had a good beginning- playing catch and pickup games with his older brothers Ed and Tom, who would go on to become outstanding ball players in their own right. It also helped that he was lefthanded, a valued attribute on the diamond, especially on the pitcher's mound.

And a pitcher is what Humber wanted to be.

"If you want to be part of the action in baseball, you have to be a pitcher or a catcher," Humber told the Western Star's Chris Quigley in an interview earlier this year.

"Being a lefty, I wasn't going to be a catcher, so I did the pitching thing."

By the time he reached his teens, his talent was such that his coaches were urging him to set high goals for himself in the sport and to continue his development off the island.

Among those giving such advice was Steve Angeline, one of those American players the Corner Brook Baseball Association (CBBA) used to bring in as summer-time instructors for its minor program. One year, Angeline helped arrange for a minor team from Fairfax, Va., to travel to Corner Brook for exhibition games. As a result of that visit, the family of one of the players on the American team invited Humber, then 16, to come live with them. He accepted the invitation and attended a Washington, D.C.-area high school and played for its varsity baseball team, all the while figuring it would be a one-year experience. But in 1985, when the same family - the Koons - moved to Fort Lauderdale, they suggested Humber return to the States and live with them again, allowing him to play top-level baseball in Florida while he completed his senior year of his high school.

It was a tough decision for Humber and his parents - Frank was, and still is, extremely family-oriented - but they recognized it as one of those situations where his ability was being confronted by opportunity.

"I was never really the type that wanted to be leaving home," Humber told Quigley. "But the circumstance was there in front of me, so I went on down."

It proved to be a life-altering decision and one which placed Humber on a fast-track in baseball.

By the time the 1985 season was over, Humber had been named his high school division's player of the year in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and was being wooed with scholarship offers from several Division One university programs. In the end, his choice was Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., which then competed against Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference, recognized as one of NCAA Division One baseball's top leagues.

Also heading to Wake Forest was Johnny Koons, whose parents had welcomed Humber into their home the previous two years. And for the final two years at the school, Humber had as a teammate another Corner Brook native, Larry Colbourne.

Humber was a star and a stalwart from the beginning to the end of his university career. In each of his four years at Wake Forest, he led the Demon Deacons in wins and earned-run average, starting in 1986, when he pitched 80 innings and delivered 60 strikeouts, both most on the team.

For the first three years at Wake Forest, Humber had been a starter, but in 1989, he was asked to become the team's closer, and responded brilliantly, leading the Deacons in saves (12), appearances (33) and wins (8). He was an all-conference selection and was also voted to the ACC championship tournament all-star team, one which included a couple of future major leaguers - pitcher Bran Barnes (Montreal) and catcher Jesse Levis (Cleveland).

By the time he was finished at Wake Forest, Humber's baseball achievements were such that, almost two decades later, his name can still be found on the school's all-time top-five lists for appearances, innings pitched, wins and strikeouts.

However, despite all of his achievements at the university level, the biggest highlights of Humber's amateur career during those years happened away from Wake Forest and on the international stage.

In 1987, he was part of the Canadian team which competed at the Pan-Am Games in Indianapolis. And he was back with the Team Canada in 1988, an especially important year for international amateur baseball since the sport had been added - on a demonstration basis - to the roster for the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Humber secured his spot as one of eight pitchers on Canada's Olympic team during a July, 1988 tryout camp. The next month, he and his Canadian teammates were in Europe, first playing in an invitational tourney in the Netherlands and then in Italy at the 1988 Baseball World Cup (previously known as the Amateur World Series) .

Canada had its best-ever finish in the 30-year history of that tournament, finishing with a 7-4 record and tied for fourth place with Japan, just out of the medals (Cuba was first, the United States second and Taiwan third).

The Canadians - led by tournament all-star Matt Stairs (who played shortstop) - hit over .300 in the World Cup, but the pitching staff - which was headlined by future big-leaguers Dave Wainhouse and Rheal Cormier - had a 6.16 ERA. However, Humber was Canada's one bright spot on mound. He appeared in seven World Cup games in relief, won three, saved one and fashioned a 2.41 earned-run average while doing so.

From Italy, Humber and the Canadians continued their globe-hopping, heading to Kobe, Japan for the International Friendship Tournament, a warmup for the Summer Games in Seoul,

A save in Seoul

Canada went 1-2 at Olympics and never made it to the medal round, but that single victory came against the Americans, who would go on to win the gold medal with a starry lineup that included a bevy of future Major Leaguers, including Tino Martinez, Robin Ventura, Ed Sprague and pitchers Andy Benes, Ben McDonald, Charles Nagy, Joe Slusarski and Jim Annott.

And the Canuck pitcher who closed out that triumph over the Americans, and earning the save in the process? It was Humber, who appeared in all three of Canada's Olympic contests and didn't give a single run.

It was the topper to what Humber describes as an "incredible" summer of baseball.

"I got to see the world and played in two or three different continents ... it was just a great experience," he told Quigley.

Humber returned to Wake Forest that fall and completed his NCAA eligibility with that all-conference performance.

But as the door closed on his college career closed, another one opened, this one a passageway to the pros.

In the spring of 1988, Humber had his chance to sign a professional contract when the St. Louis Cardinals lobbied him to pass up his senior year at Wake Forest and accept an offer from them. However, with the Olympics in his sights, Humber declined.

Then, the following June, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Humber in the 16th round of the amateur draft, signed him and sent him to Great Falls, Montana and the rookie Pioneer League

Humber had solid numbers with Great Falls (3-1, eight saves, 3.13 ERA) and the following year with Bakersfield of the California 'A' League (6-5, 13 saves, 3.47 ERA), but never rose any higher in the Dodgers organization.

He did, however, have a brief glimpse at the big-league life. It came during spring training in Vero Beach, Fla.

"I remember (then-Dodgers manager) Tommy Lasorda came out on the field and I heard him talking to our pitching coach," Humber recalled during his interview with Quigley for the Western Star story.

"He pointed to me and said they needed a lefty to go with the big league team to play in a spring training game, so I got to ride on the big bus with Orel Hershiser, Eddie Murray and Mike Scioscia and all those guys. I didn't play, but it was a neat experience."

Humber told Quigley that he believes the lack of a good breaking ball prevented him from climbing any higher in the professional ranks.

"The bread and butter for me throughout the years was the fastball," he said. "When I was pitching with the Dodgers organization, my fastball was probably topping out in the low 90s, but my weakness was an inability to really get a good, hard, sharp breaking ball ... that could really bend a left-handed hitter's knees and get him buckling a little bit.

"(But) I don't feel cheated - I pitched for 30 years and thousands and thousands of innings."

The majority of those innings have come in the Corner Brook senior league, with the Barons in provincial competition and representing Newfoundland in nationals.

He was just 15 when he first pitched for the Barons in a provincial final against the St. John's Capitals, and even when he was going to Wake Forest, Humber was back in Corner Brook in the summer and playing at Jubilee Field. That included 1988, when he got in enough local senior action prior to joining the Canadian Olympic team so as to be named the Corner Brook Senior Baseball League's pitcher the year, an honour he he has won no less than 12 times (he's a four-time player of the year in the league).

The perfect team player

It was one of a number of awards that came Humber's way in 1988. He was named Newfoundland and Labrador's male athlete of the year and also received the Jimmy Rattlesnake Award, given by Baseball Canada annually to the member of the national team who best combines sportsmanship and ability. Bernie Beckman, the Canadian Olympic head coach, put it simply when he described Humber as "the perfect team player."

Humber's senior career, which included helping the Barons to a bronze medal at the 1992 Canadian senior championship, continues today.

He entered the 2008 season in possession of almost every pitching record in the Corner Brook senior league and his name can be found among the top five in the circuit's various batting categories. In fact, at the time of this writing, Humber was on the verge of setting a league record for career hits.

And at last report, he was the league's top pitcher this season, his 18th in the league.

"I can barely break a pane of glass now with the fastball and it drives me nuts," he laughingly told The Western Star. "But I'm still able to go out there in the senior league and compete, so I'm all right with that."

bmcc@thetelegram.com




Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best athletes Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Seven prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy and John Browne of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Athletes must have been born in Newfoundland and Labrador and spent a large part of their development years within the province. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
John McGrath: A former Newfoundland soccer president, McGrath is chairman of the board of governors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
Brian Brocklehurst: A two-sport star in St. John's during the late 1960s and '70s, Brocklehurst was the 1969 St. John's athlete of the year.
Don Johnson: A former president of both the Canadian and Newfoundland amateur hockey associations, Johnson was also head of the St. John's Senior Men's Softball League and Royal St. John's Regatta Committee. He has served on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council.
Roger Grimes: Otherwise known as a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, those in sports know him as an erstwhile Grand Falls Cataracts senior hockey player and Grand Falls Beothuks senior baseball player.
Terry Hart: Another Grand Falls-Windsor native, Hart has broadcasted local sports for over 30 years. He continues in radio today at VOCM.
Glenn Stanford: He's known most recently as the man who ran the St. John's Maple Leafs for 14 seasons. But before that, Stanford was a two-sport star - basketball and soccer - with Holy Cross and Memorial.
Alan (Tex) Seaborn: Seaborn has had a long-standing involvement with the Corner Brook and Newfoundland baseball associations. He served as vice-chairman and vice-president of sport for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.



Top 10 best athletes

1. TBA -Aug. 23, 2008
2. TBA -Aug. 16, 2008
3. TBA -Aug. 9, 2008
4. TBA -Aug. 2, 2008
5. TBA - July 26, 2008
6. TBA - July 19, 2008
7. Frank Humber
8. Paul McCloy
9. Colin Abbott
10. Michael Ryder

Organizations: The Telegram, Newfoundland & Labrador, Corner Brook Baseball Association NCAA Wake Forest University Georgia Tech ACC Team Canada Dodgers organization Amateur World Series St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Dodgers Pioneer League Corner Brook Senior Baseball League Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall Softball League and Royal Regatta Committee Canadian Sports Hall Fame and Canada Games Council Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Corner Brook, California Wake Forest Western Star Canada Fairfax, Va. Seoul St. John's Washington, D.C.-area Fort Lauderdale Florida Miami-Fort Lauderdale Winston-Salem, N.C. Maryland North Carolina Italy Virginia Japan Montreal Cleveland Indianapolis South Korea Europe Netherlands Cuba United States Taiwan Kobe Great Falls, Montana Great Falls Bakersfield Vero Beach, Fla Grand Falls-Windsor

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Recent comments

  • Carl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Frank's dedication, patience, athletic talent, and willingness to learn both earned him great memories and tremendous respect among his peers, and put him at the top of the list as an example of what it takes to succeed. He and his wonderful family can be extremely proud of the choices and accomplishments Frank has made along the way. Congratulations also to The Telegram for this series that keeps the list of accomplishments and recognition rolling in for the most deserving of the Province's athletes.

  • Dave Fong
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Very good Job on this story.He is truly a great ball player and person.Well done,Frank.....

  • Carl
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Frank's dedication, patience, athletic talent, and willingness to learn both earned him great memories and tremendous respect among his peers, and put him at the top of the list as an example of what it takes to succeed. He and his wonderful family can be extremely proud of the choices and accomplishments Frank has made along the way. Congratulations also to The Telegram for this series that keeps the list of accomplishments and recognition rolling in for the most deserving of the Province's athletes.

  • Dave Fong
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Very good Job on this story.He is truly a great ball player and person.Well done,Frank.....