John Upham was an accomplished batter and pitcher who played nine years of professional baseball, directly out of high school, in the 1960s. He reached the Major Leagues in 1968, playing well in 21 games with the Chicago Cubs before an arm injury ended his career. He went on to have a successful coaching career, including a stint as Manager of the Canadian National Team.
Born in Windsor on December 29, 1940, Upham began his baseball career as a pitcher in the Windsor Jaycee League, aged 12, in 1953. Upham played for the Jackson Dodgers, who were named City Bantam Champions in 1954, his second season.
As a 12 year old, Upham also began to play baseball for Assumption under Father Ronald Cullen. He spent several seasons with the team, competing in the Class “F” Detroit Federation and Class “D” Billy Rogell Leagues. Upham also suited up for the Dad’s Club team in the Detroit Class “D” league, coached by Gene Dziadura and Roy Giroux. He won titles in 1955 and ’56 with Eastern Construction, playing as a pitch.
As a student at Assumption High School, Upham played basketball, hockey, and baseball. An outstanding athlete, he won WSSA, WOSSA, and OFSAA All-Ontario titles in 1957-58 with the school’s basketball team. Upham was named a First-Team All-City selection. During his time at Assumption, Upham also play on the school’s championship Midget hockey team.
In his late teens, Upham captured USA National Basketball Federation Championships in 1958 and ’59 while playing for Lundquist Insurance. In 1959 he famously threw seven consecutive shutouts while playing with future Major Leaguers Bill Freehan, Dave DeBusschere, Carmen Fanzone, and Dennis Ribant.
After high school, Upham turned down full-ride baseball scholarship offers from Michigan State, Michigan, Western Michigan, and the University of Detroit. Instead, he entered professional baseball by accepting a healthy signing bonus after catching the eye of Philadelphia Phillies “super scout” Tony Lucadello. Upham committed in 1959 and went on to play nine years of professional baseball. He pitched for eight seasons before switching to the outfield in his final year.
Upham’s Minor League career took his across America. He represented Buffalo and Arkansas in the International League (“AAA”), Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League (“AAA”), Chatanooga in the Southern League (“AA”), Dallas-Fort Worth in the Texas League (“AA”), Bakersfield in the California League (“C”), Tampa in the Florida State League (“D”), and Eugene in the Northwestern League (“D”). Upham played a total of 769 Minor League games, accumulating 2632 at bats, 772 hits, and a .293 career batting average.
In 1961, he was named “Best Centerfielder” for all professional Class “C” leagues and finished second with a .356 batting average.
In 1967, Upham finally appeared at the Major League level, pitching in one inning and earning two hits in three at bats for the National League’s Chicago Cubs. In 1962, he had been slated for a call-up to the Phillies before a knee injury curtailed his season. Upham added a further two hits in 10 at bats for the Cubs in 1968. He finished with a .308 career batting average and 0-1 pitching record in the Majors.
Ten years after his playing career, Upham enjoyed a successful series of spells in baseball coaching. Between 1978 and ’81, he was Manager for Riverside Baseball Association. In 1981, he was named Pitching Coach for the Ontario Junior All-Star Team, which won gold at the Canada Summer Games. Upham reassumed the role for the 1985 Games, three years after managing the Windsor Chiefs to the 1982 Ontario and Canadian Senior Baseball titles.
Upham coached for several years at the international level. He was Pitching Coach for the Canadian National Youth Team at three consecutive World Junior Championships from 1986 to ’88, winning a bronze medal in ’87. In 1988, he was also Offensive Coordinator and Third Base Coach for Team Canada at the Olympic Games in Seoul. Upham became Manager of the Canadian National Youth Team in 1989, coaching the team at World Junior Championships in that year and 1990. Notably, he managed the full Canadian National Team in 1992 after serving as Pitching Coach at the 1991 Pan-American Games.
Later in life, Upham managed the Riverside Bantams to the Canadian Bronze Medal in 2000 and the Canadian Silver Medal in 2001.