Born November 27, 1936 in Charlottetown, James Vernon Handrahan did not start to play organized baseball until he was 15 years of age.
In 1954, while trying out for a midget baseball team, Randy Edwards asked for someone to volunteer and pitch until the regulars showed up. This is how it started.
He pitched for four years in Midget and Junior baseball at Memorial Field in Charlottetown, PEI. In 1958, on the advice of Tom MacFarlane and Jimmy “Fiddler” MacDonald, Vern went to Nova Scotia and played in a semi-pro League with the Stellarton Albions along with Roger Macleod and Bob Lund.
In late August, Handrahan caught the other of the scouts who were impressed with his fastball, and in 1959 he signed a professional baseball contract with the Milwaukee Braves (after being spotted by Maritime scout Jeff Jones), after catching the eye of both Cleveland and Cincinatti.
For four years he received excellent training and instruction. Playing in Wellsville, New York in 1959 (8 wins, 8 losses, 10 saves, where his roommate was Phil Niekro) and Wellsville and Eau Claire in 1960 (where he developed a great slider to complement his fastball, and where he was caught by Joe Torre). He returned to Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1961 (2 wins, 9 losses 8 saves in a season ruined by a back muscle injury, where he was caught by Rico Carty), and Bosie, Idaho of the Pioneer League in 1962, where he once struck out 19 against the Great Falls Montana Dodgers. After the 1962 baseball season (13 wins, 14 losses, 241 strike-outs) Handrahan was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics of the American League.
In 1963, Vern suffered a finger injury and had a poor spring training by his admission, but he started for the Lewiston Broncs in Idaho, (a farm team) and was moved to AAA Portland Oregon in June of 1963, after impressing against them in an exhibition game. In 1964, he pitched the first half of the baseball season with Kansas City Athletics of the American League, making his big league debut against the Detroit Tigers in April. That season with the big club saw him go 0-1 in 18 games, picking up a save, striking out 18, and finishing with an ERA of 6.00.
In the winter of 1964 he played for a month and a half in the Dominion Republic Winter Baseball in its Capital, Lanto Domingo, while in 1965, in a season he admitted he wished to forget, he pitched with the Vancouver Mounties Triple A, and then Jacksonville of the International League.
In 1966, he pitched for Vancouver Mounties, and in August was called up to the Kansas City Athletics Major League team again, where he went 0-1 in 16 games, picking up a save and striking out 18 in 16 innings, recording an ERA of 4.32.
In the winter of 1966 Handrahan pitched winter baseball in Puerto Rico.
In 1967 he returned pitching for the Vancouver Mounties, and again in June was shifted to Birmingham, Alabama of the Southern League (manager John McNamara) where they won the Pennant and clinched the Texas Leagues Dixie Series. In one game against Knoxville, Tenn., Handrahan came within one out of a perfect game. During this time Vern’s teammates included Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Dave Duncan. He finished with an 8-4 record, and a miserly 1.50 era.
In 1968, once more Handrahan pitched for Vancouver Mounties Triple A baseball in the Pacific Coast league for the full season, going 4-2.
In 1969 Handrahan played for the Iowa Oaks, in Des Moines, Iowa of the American Association Triple A baseball league (4-1 record), and for two months in 1970. In June of that year he was traded to the Toledo Mud Hens, Triple A farm club of the Detroit Tigers (going 3-6). In April 1971 he retired from pro ball after he failed to make the team out of spring training, the Tigers preferring to give youth its head.
“The Tigers game me my walking papers,” he said years later. “I could have stuck around for a couple of years, but when you are in your mid-30s, it’s hard to keep a job unless you have a super pitch. I hated to give it up. Baseball,” he said, “is the good life.”
His major league stats finally read 34 games, 2 of which he started. No wins, 2 losses, and era of 5.31 in 61 innings of work, and 1 save. Vern gave up 53 hits, 40 bases on balls, and recorded 36 strikeouts. Vern also had 2 hits, with an average of .222.
On his retirement, Vern became a scout for the Montreal Expos organization, and was a coach in the City Baseball League.
During his playing days, you could always spot Vern on the field because of his habit of chewing toothpicks!
His years as a professional meant a lot to Vern – “I wouldn’t trade anything for it,” he remarked later. He retired with a record of 0-2 in the major leagues, and a 75-61 record in the minors. One of the highlights of his career with Kansas was getting the call in the bullpen to pitch in the Game of the Week at Yankee Stadium. He also picked up 2 hits in 12 major-league career at-bats.
Handrahan was inducted onto the Wall of Fame at the Sport Page Club on February 28, 1989, and was the very first inductee for PEI Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.
Island Voices did an interview with Vern in 1994 that can be heard here Vern Handrahan Interview
Vern Handrahan’s statistics can be viewed by visiting www.baseball-reference.com/h/handrve01.shtml
Vern Handrahan passed away on November 2, 2016 at the age of 79.
Memorial Field, where he first learned his craft all those years ago, now has a plaque in his honour. As well as his playing honours, it reads “Husband, Father, Grandfather, Friend, Postman. Modest and humble Islander.”
He still remains PEI’s only Major League Baseball player of the modern era. In 2012, Vern threw out the first pitch at the Canadian Old-timers tournament in Charlottetown, and Baseball PEI have named the midget championship trophy in his honour.
Updated: April 17 2020