You’re in medical school and a professional scout offers you ten times the money you’d ever make practicing medicine, just to play baseball with a major league American team. What would you do?
If you were Nova Scotia’s baseball batting legend, Dr. William “Buddy” Condy, you’d have said no without hesitation. Condy had many offers like this, but didn’t have to think twice about his answer. He was born in Springhill, Nova Scotia in 1923. At the age of five he began to play baseball, but by age seven young Buddy had decided his life’s goal was to become a physician.
Depression era Nova Scotia offered few amenities to the average person in rural Nova Scotia. The children of Springhill used to make their own equipment, including balls constructed from scrap pieces of string and electrical tape. Young Buddy would spend hours practicing batting in the bean field behind his house, hitting rocks with a worn-out ax handle, past wooden railroad ties used as distance markers. After hundreds of hours of practice and thousands of rocks, Condy learned to blast a small stone over a 100 feet with ease.
Later in his career he got a reputation as someone who swung at “bad balls,” but in truth there were no bad balls for someone who honed his skills in this manner. Condy could literally slam a ball out of the park from virtually anywhere he could reach. Umpire “Squirm” Noiles was once asked what was the safest pitch to throw to Condy. In all seriousness he replied, “That’s easy, low and behind him.”
Buddy first played baseball at a senior level in 1938. The fourteen-year-old had been doing some batting practice with the Springhill team, when at the start of the game they discovered they were short a player. Coach “Blondie” Burden (no relation to author) was in a rage and called over to Buddy, “Hey kid! You want to play ball?” He answered in the affirmative and Burden threw him a glove with such force that it almost knocked the 95-pound-Condy to the ground. The diminutive player’s first time at bat was with bases loaded. In a scenario more reminiscent of a movie script than real life, Condy had three balls and two strikes against him when he hit a home run for a grand slam and the game.
In 1939 Buddy played with the Springhill Fence Busters for an abbreviated season of about ten games, then enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. After serving overseas he was transferred back to Canada, but played little baseball — with one exception — during his service years. While stationed in Toronto he took part in a school operated by the Brooklyn Dodgers. They were very impressed with his batting skills and asked him if he wanted to play pro ball. Condy, however, had medicine on his mind and refused this first (but far from last) offer to join a major league team.
Returning to Springhill in 1945, Condy again joined the Fence Busters. He recalled how the Halifax crowds laughed at his team members, who could not afford decent uniforms and looked pretty ragtag. The crowds stopped laughing when the Fence Busters defeated the favored Halifax Shipyard team in a seven game series. Condy played again for the Fence Busters in 1946, but moved to Halifax in 1947 both to play in the Halifax and District (H.& D.) League and to further his studies.
In ’47 Buddy played with “Porky” Flinn’s Halifax Arrows, winning MVP for the H.& D. League, with most hits, most home runs and most runs batted in. Flinn had a cogent understanding of his star player’s psyche and did not complain at his absolute refusal to bunt a ball and his continued propensity to swing at anything. Condy joined the Halifax Capitals in 1948. During this season a young American pitcher bounced a ball in front of home plate just to see what Buddy would swing at. The result was a center field home run.
In the post war years there was a lot of money flowing in Halifax and the H.&D. became a training ground for many promising U.S. players who often outnumbered local players. Playing triple A caliber ball, scouts from many major league American teams were attracted to H.& D. games and many of the players went on to professional careers. Buddy found baseball a useful way to finance his pre-medical and medical studies, but continued to refuse major league offers. Umpire John Fortunato recalls that the ballplayer would simply tell scouts “My goal is to attend Dalhousie University and become a medical doctor.” This was despite financial prospects which even at that time were greatly in excess of a physician’s expected earnings.
Condy held the H.& D. League batting titles in 1949 and 1950 with a .368 and .358 batting average respectively, incredible averages against high-caliber pitchers. In 1951 he was runner up with a .409 average (having played the season with an injured wrist). In 1952 Condy agreed to play with a Dartmouth, N.S. team with the understanding that his Halifax team would be unable to participate that season. When Halifax subsequently did field a team, Condy refused to break his gentleman’s agreement with Dartmouth (though the “contract” was only a handshake) and was forbidden to play in the H.& D. League that year.
Undaunted, Buddy transferred to Saint John, New Brunswick and played with the Boosters that season, managing to simultaneously pack the stadium and carry out a junior internship at the Saint John General. By now he admitted that “baseball and medicine were on a collision course.”
Following the ’52 season, Condy continued his rigorous medical studies and dropped baseball. He graduated from Dalhousie Medical School in 1954 and set up general practice in Halifax. Said Condy “As far as I was concerned, I had played my last game. I had achieved what I always wanted to do, practice medicine.”
Buddy did come back briefly, to help out coach Art Hoch and the troubled Halifax Cardinals. Doing house calls in the morning, he’d attend batting practice in the afternoons. With Condy’s help the Cardinals won the championship. After one game, Moe Drabowsky, who later pitched in the major leagues for Baltimore, approached Condy, shook his head ruefully and said “You hit my best pitches!” This was the last time the physician would play professional baseball.
Subsequently, Condy did general practice and obstetrics in Halifax for many years, confining himself to catching babies rather than baseballs. He was on staff at the Victoria General, Halifax Civic, Izaak Walton Killam, Grace Maternity and Halifax Infirmary Hospitals. Condy continued to practice until 1993, when he passed away after a brief illness on September 2nd of that year. Halifax was saddened at the loss of both a dedicated family physician and a baseball legend.
William Buddy Condy – Virtual Museum