Bill 'Spider' Sinclair: a baseball life well lived
21 February 2015
Among the very many worthy nominations for Baseball Australia Diamond Awards, announcement of a winner in the Volunteer category will be one of the most enthusiastically received – given the vital role that our volunteers play in delivery and development of domestic baseball.
While each of the three nominations has a terrific baseball story to tell – and while any one of them would be a deserving winner – we were intrigued by the chequered history and the mighty commitment of one William “Spider” Sinclair – a Western Australian whose involvement in the sport goes way back to the early fifties.
Australian Baseball Alumni was fortunate enough to have Bill share his baseball journey with us just recently.
Now a sprightly 78, Bill Sinclair became involved in baseball fundamentally through circumstance.
Signing a six-year apprenticeship as a machinist with Paramount Print in 1951, a business takeover the following year caused his transfer to the Lamson Paragon company - where a fellow apprentice in Eric Robinson happened to be a player with the Perth Baseball Club.
Eric invited Bill to be first-aid officer for his Perth team, which supplied the necessary first aid items that enabled Bill to follow the team around the metropolitan area during the 1953 season.
“The bug got me and I started playing in 1954,” Bill Sinclair told Australian Baseball Alumni. “I missed the 1955 season – due to National Service – but went on to play and coach until 1960.”
“I was never a great player – just B and C Grade under Coach Graeme Friend for the first few years. When Graeme retired - around 1957 - I took over the coaching role until 1960.”
While Bill remains unsure of the circumstances, there was a protracted umpires’ strike during 1960, the resolution of which led to the departure of a number of officials who were involved. Responding to the shortage, Western Australia Baseball Association put out a call to lower grade players to assist by running the bases at A Grade games.
“I put my hand up,” Bill Sinclair said. “It resulted in me playing at 10.00 AM and then heading off to the nearest A Grade game. This time it was the umpiring bug that got to me.”
Joining the ranks of the Baseball Umpires’ Association in 1962, Bill was that year called into Claxton Shield action – where he officiated on base and in the outfield for the series, which was held in Perth and ultimately won by Victoria.
“At that series we had seven umpires on a game – plate, three on base, two foul line umpires and one in centrefield. A bit over the top compared to today,” he said.
“There were some very good players going around in those days – as there are now,” he said. “The likes of Bandy McPherson. Kingsley "Duke" Wellington and Kevin "Crazy" Cantwell are some of the more colourful ones that come to mind.”
Local umpires officiated at the Claxton Shield until around 1970, when the Australian Baseball League introduced neutral adjudication, requiring each participating state to send an umpire to officiate at interstate series.
“In 1971 I had the privilege of representing Western Australia in Adelaide,” Bill Sinclair said. “However, I gave away umpiring after the 1973/1974 season because I had become involved in youth work that required taking the young people interstate during the Christmas period five times over a period of eight years.”
“I remained interested in baseball, but fundraising for those trips took a lot of time and effort as well as the actual time away.”
It was not until 1991 that Bill returned fully to the baseball fold, initially agreeing simply to help out with umpiring Masters baseball at Parry Field on a Tuesday night – the beginning of the next phase of an extraordinary period of service to Australian Baseball.
Over the ensuing twenty year period until 2011 – and since – Bill Sinclair has managed to serve the sport over a range of areas and in various capacities. Aside from earlier umpiring at three Claxton Shield series, he has had stints as Secretary of the Baseball Umpires Association, as a Baseball Umpires’ Coach and as Western Australian Baseball League Registrar who over those two decades assisted clubs that required umpires for lower grades - while on some occasions himself plating State League games.
He was a member of the Baseball Western Australia Tribunal for twenty years, he has been President of WA Masters since 1994 and he has amassed huge umpiring experience in Perth, Singapore, Japan, China and in Youth Series. He officiated at eleven Alice Springs Masters series, at the Australian Masters Games in Adelaide (twice), in Newcastle and Canberra - along with the 2009 World Masters Games in Sydney.
His leadership in helping popularise Masters baseball has been legendary. Masters is a massive growth area in Australian baseball, with people drawn to the activity, Bill believes, by “the fellowship, the chance to still play at an older age and have fun.”
“In 2011 I decided that being out in the sun was getting a bit much for a 75 year-old and I opted to hang up my clicker,” Bill Sinclair said.
“But it was still not over,” he continued. “In November 2011 I had a phone call from a granddaughter asking if I would umpire her Little League game. Even up until this time I have been umpiring my great-grandson’s team at Gosnells. The umpiring is a bit more laid back than years ago though, when I broke my nose three times – twice behind the plate and one from an accidental elbow sorting out a melee.”
“At least the breaks help keep my specs up!”
Making such an extraordinary contribution to the game, Bill “Spider” Sinclair has been the recipient of a number of awards and other formal recognition. He was twice presented with the Frank Woods Memorial Trophy at Alice Springs Masters and he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000, along with a Sports Achievement Award in 2006. He was made a Life Member of Western Australia Masters League in 2011 and he has been a committee member of Claxton Shield Club since its inception.
Through all of that, Bill Sinclair has remained a humble and self-deprecating servant of the sport who is always willing to share a laugh at his own expense.
“Because I was never good enough to get on a baseball card I printed my own just for fun,” he said of a light-hearted project some years back. “On a trip to USA my wife and I made it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I gave a set of cards to front office saying that if they wished to keep them or bin them it was alright by me.”
“About a month after returning home I received a letter stating that the cards were part of the Hall of Fame – along with a certificate and lifetime pass to Cooperstown.”
While his playing, coaching and - apparently - his senior umpiring days have come to a close, Bill Sinclair has been a tireless supporter of the Perth Heat, now engaged in serious fund-raising through producing and selling Catch Cards at Heat games – an initiative that has gleaned just over $ 30,000 since rebirth of the Australian Baseball League.
He offers some clear insights into Heat club success and the overall state of baseball in the west.
“Baseball Western Australia has a great Development Officer in Steve Fish - and his junior programmes are second to none,” he said. “Baseball here in WA is definitely heading in the right direction with a lot of boys and some girls participating at junior levels. Also there is a better liaison with T-Ball now than in the past.”
“The Heat are in a very strong position. Good recruiting by management has played a big part in that. Very little media coverage is provided over here for minor sports, although the West Australian did cover the Championship Series very well.”
Although just a tick off becoming an octogenarian, William “Spider” Sinclair still feels a great passion towards a sport for which he has given so much and from which he has derived so much enjoyment.
“Being a less than ordinary player yet being able to help out in the game by umpiring has given me great satisfaction,” he said. “Being chosen to represent Western Australia after it was introduced to the Claxton Shield was a great honour.”
“As for the future, I am in the process of organising next ABL season’s Catch Cards and I certainly hope to be able to assist with umpiring Little League for a few more years.”
“These kids are the future of baseball.”
Australian Baseball Alumni extends its appreciation to Bill “Spider” Sinclair for his assistance in preparing this story. We offer our congratulations and our best wishes to all finalists for Baseball Australia Diamond Awards.