Jérôme Cotnoir

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Jérôme Cotnoir

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Biographical Information[edit]

Jerome "Jerry" Cotnoir was for a decade a baseball catcher during summertime and a ice hockey goaltender during wintertime. While he never reached the major leagues in either sport, he was able to earn a good living in the top minor leagues of his time in both ventures, before turning to a successful business career. In both hockey and baseball, his job was to strap on equipment in order to stop objects hurtling towards him at great speed, but as he put it: "in baseball, the catcher gives signs, calls for a curveball or a fastball from his pitcher, and knows what's going to happen; in hockey, you have to always be on your guard as you never know what's coming".

Cotnoir played both sports and also lacrosse as a youth and first gained notice while playing junior baseball in 1945, when the Brooklyn Dodgers invited him to their rookie camp. He spoke only French at the time, and was assigned to the Burlington Bees of the Carolina League. However, he got word that his mother had fallen ill, so left the team to return home, without properly clearing things with the Brooklyn organization beforehand. The Dodgers considered that he had broken his contract and placed him on a restricted list, something which would dampen his prospects in the game for years afterwards. Being banned from organized baseball, he instead played in the independent Provincial League for Trois-Rivières, QC, while working in a steel plant in his spare time. His teammates included Manny McIntyre, another two-sports star, and Roy Tennyson, who had pitched for the Montreal Royals and gave him a lot of pointers about becoming a better catcher. McIntyre and Cotnoir would also be teammates that winter on Shawiningan's team in the Quebec Provincial Hockey League.

In 1946, Cotnoir joined the Drummondville Cubs of the Provincial League and in 1947, aged only 22, became the team's player-manager. With players such as McIntyre and Maurice Richard, better known as one of the greatest hockey players of all time, he led the team to the league finals, losing to a St. Jean, QC team managed by Jean-Pierre Roy. During those years, Cotnoir was also playing hockey at a level a notch below the National Hockey League (where there was a grand total of six goalkeepers employed - one per team - as teams did not carry any back-ups). His stops included the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League and the Tacoma Rockets of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. The fact that he played hockey far from home also explains why he did not go seeking employment opportunities in organized baseball: he had married a local Shawinigan girl in 1947, and wanted to at least spend his summers near his family. For example, in 1948, the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Rainiers gave him a tryout and liked him enough to assign him to the Yakima Bears of the Western International League, but he declined the offer, preferring to play closer to home.

1948 and 1949 were the golden era of the Provincial League, as it served as a haven for players banned from the major leagues because they had jumped their contracts to play in the outlaw Mexican League, as well as top former Negro Leagues players who were trying their luck in integrated baseball for the first time (Jackie Robinson and a couple of other Quebec-based players had only broken the minor leagues' color barrier in 1946). The caliber of play was very good and the salaries quite competitive, while Drummondville was one of the circuit's top teams, with a line-up featuring Stan Bréard, Danny Gardella, Roy Zimmerman, Sal Maglie, Max Lanier, Tex Shirley, Quincy Trouppe, Laniel Hooker and Vic Power in addition to Cotnoir. The league was so successful that Commissioner A.B. Chandler decided to affiliate it to organized baseball lest it attract more top-notch talent and undermine the major league's tight salary structure; he also lifted the bans on veterans of the Mexican League adventure, allowing players such as Gardella, Maglie and Lanier to return to the big leagues. Cotnoir's ban due to his breaking his contract with Brooklyn back in 1945 was also lifted at the time, and he was able to join the Granby Red Sox, a farm team of the Boston Red Sox, where he hit .220/.321/.278 in 77 games. However, his season ended because of a broken ankle suffered in August. That also cost him a chance to play for the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL, as they invited him to their training camp that fall, unaware that he was still recovering in a local hospital.

In 1952, with spots for local players having become few and far between in the Provincial League, he moved to the semi-pro ranks, playing for Plessisville, then became player-manager for Lachute in 1953. He played his last professional hockey games with the Sherbrooke Saints the following winter, and led Lachute to a second straight championship in 1955 before ending his sporting career. He enlisted for a business degree form the Université de Sherbrooke, then worked for a distillery in Quebec City and later as a sales representative and district manager for Molson Breweries. He became head of the brewery's distribution center in Trois-Rivières, as well as its corporate training program. Settling in the city, he served a few terms on the city council and was involved in all sorts of sporting and civic causes in his later years. Now retired, he was still living there with his second wife in 2013, and not having lost any of his mental faculties, was a regular participant in functions organized by SABR in Quebec.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bill Young: "Jérôme Cotnoir", in Gilles Janson, ed.: Dictionnaire des grands oubliés du sport au Québec, 1850-1950, Les éditions du Septentrion, Quebec, QC, 2013, pp. 92-95. ISBN 978-2-89448-725-9

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