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James Oliver ‘Ollie’ Sutton was a baseball legend at the head of the lakes, dominating local diamonds from 1937 until his retirement in 1954. 

He began playing baseball at the age of 15 in his native Barwick, ON where he was a pitcher and catcher, as well as a standout hitter. He distinguished himself immediately upon arrival in Fort William when he batted his way to an incredible .500 average in the 1937 season. 

Although offered a pro position in Duluth in 1938, he felt the wages were too low and instead returned to Fort William where he played in the Lakehead Senior Baseball League. Playing mostly centre field, he came into his prime in the early 1940s. He led the league in hitting for three consecutive seasons in 1941, ’42, and ’43. His baseball career was valiantly interrupted in 1944 when he shipped overseas to assist in the war effort, but when he arrived back in 1948 he returned to his former place, hitting a cool .469 average to claim the league batting title. 

In 1951, he was selected to an All-Star team from the region to play the opening game at the Port Arthur Stadium against visiting New York Bengals. Although the Bengals shut out the local team 7-0, this fan favourite ensured that the game would not be a no-hitter when he smashed a triple straight down centre field. He claimed the league hitting honours again in 1952, and had the season of his career in 1953 when he won the batting title and was named to the league All-Star team. 

Not only an outstanding player, Sutton was also an outsized character, and the legends of his showmanship and sometimes brazen behaviour abound. He was a fan favourite for his daredevil base-running in particular, setting a local record when he stole home plate 5 times in one season. A true lover of baseball, it was said that he had once played four games and umpired another in a single day. Over the course of his career, he played on at least 4 local champion teams, and when he felt he had reached his peak in 1953 he retired from baseball. 

Going on to play other sports recreationally, especially golf and curling, this champion of sport passed away in 1992.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, October 1, 1983

Ollie Sutton

Fort William
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