Former Blue Jays bullpen catcher made catch of a lifetime

By Scott Pitoniak

John Sullivan has lost track of how many baseballs he caught during his 35-year professional baseball career. Certainly tens of thousands. Maybe even hundreds of thousands. But the man known as “Sully” will never, ever forget the one he snagged on Oct. 23, 1993 at precisely 11:36 p.m. in the Toronto stadium then known as SkyDome.

For at that moment, the former Blue Jays bullpen coach didn’t merely get his hands on a baseball. He caught a piece of history.

The cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Joe Carter's historic World Series home run.

The cover of Sports Illustrated featuring Joe Carter’s historic World Series home run.

Sullivan was warming up a Jays pitcher that night in the bottom of the ninth of Game Six of the World Series when he heard the crack of a bat and saw a baseball streak over his head. It bounced once before ricocheting off the back wall of the pen and into his catcher’s mitt.

“Barely had to move my glove,’’ he said.

Sullivan was too caught up in the bedlam of the moment to realize its significance at the time. Ball in hand, he and his fellow Blue Jays tore off for home plate to join in the celebration of Joe Carter’s Series-winning homer. It wasn’t until about an hour later, after the fireworks had stopped exploding and the champagne showers had ceased and the media had left the clubhouse that he and Carter realized this was only the second time in history a Fall Classic had ended with a homer.

Representatives from the Baseball Hall of Fame were in Toronto that night, hoping to return to Cooperstown with artifacts to chronicle the monumental finish. One of them asked Sullivan if he knew the whereabouts of the ball. The Jays bullpen coach played dumb.

“I had stashed it in my locker because I wanted Joe to have it, and then he could decide what to do with it,’’ said Sullivan, whose 14 seasons as a catcher included 116 games in the majors. “Once things died down in the clubhouse, I called Joe over and told him I had something for him. When I gave him the ball, he was all smiles.”

Carter did donate his bat and few other items to the Hall of Fame. But he kept the ball as a reminder of one of the most historic finishes in baseball history.

 

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