Westgarth stalwart Eddie Illingworth enters MCC Hall of Fame

Long time Westgarth BC member Eddie Illingworth has proven his status as an all round sport star with his entry into the Melbourne Baseball Club Hall of Fame along with a cricket honour.

WHEN it comes to picking between cricket and baseball, don’t make Eddie Illingworth choose.

The 74-year-old Glen Iris resident was recently inducted in to the Melbourne Cricket Club Baseball Section Hall of Fame, and on the same night was inducted in to the Fitzroy Doncaster Cricket Club Hall of Fame. When it came to deciding which event he’d attend, it simply came down to which invitation he received first, with cricket getting the nod in the end, only just. Eddie has a long and colourful history with both sports. As a young cricketer, he was looking for a way to keep his eye in, his arm turning over and his fitness up during the winter, so someone suggested baseball. In those times, cricketers who weren’t interested in playing the more popular winter sport, football, baseball was the most obvious choice for them.

Eddie started with the Westgarth Baseball Club, originally the Epiphany Baseball Club, as a 12 year old in 1952. In the summer he played cricket for the Fitzroy Doncaster Cricket club, where he played for 25 years and eventually captained. Football did manage to lure him away in the winter for a couple of seasons, but eventually he went back to baseball.

“If I had to chose between baseball and cricket, I couldn’t,” he said. “I’d look forward to baseball at the end of cricket season, but vice versa also.”

Eddie was one of many good cricketers who played baseball in the winter. The Chappell brothers and Allan Border were amongst the other well known players in the game to do the same.

“It certainly helped my game,” he said. “And the baseball in turn would also help my cricket.”

Eddie moved on to play with the Melbourne Baseball Club from 1960 to 1972, where he got to compete at a much higher level. And between 1960 and 1965, he also played in the Claxton Shield, which was the premier state based baseball competition in Australia at the time. In 1975, he went back to at Westgarth, where he still filled in if they were short up until 2006. At 67 years of age, he finally hung up his glove and cleats. Describing himself as a utility player who was a handy pitcher, good with the bat, a solid first baser and strong in the outfield, Eddie was also named in the Victorian Baseball Team of the Century in 2002.

“I think it was because of my batting that I got in to the side,” he said.

He is also a Westgarth Baseball Club life member and their MVP trophy is named after him.

To fill his days, Eddie now plays golf four times a week, off a handicap of 13.

“I suppose I’m a bit above average,” he said. “But I’m a doer not a watcher. I’ve got to be involved, I don’t like sitting back.”

Once a year, Eddie also dons his baseball uniform again to play in a curtain raiser when Westgarth take on the Melbourne University Baseball Club for the Illingworth/Bitmead Trophy.

“I still get out there but after all of those years throwing baseballs and bowling cricket balls the arm no longer does what it should or could, but it’s a bit of fun,” he said.

Eddie said throughout his eventful sporting career he’d had lots of different successes but that he wasn’t always striving for them. “I wasn’t always concentrating on those successes. If it happened, it happened.”

Though he loves his golf these days as way of keeping fit, his heart will always be with team sports. “Golf is a very individual game. I’ve always love team sports. It builds character, makes you a better person and certainly gives you a better outlook on life,” he said.

Unlike the professional sportsmen of today, Eddie also had to hold down a job throughout his sporting career and butchery was his trade. The last 32 years of his working life, he spent at William Angliss teaching butchery. Now that he’s fully retired, Eddie enjoys spending time with his wife Pam, daughter Allison and young son grandson, Liam, who he hopes will one day share his love of baseball and cricket.

“I’m keen to get him involved, though at age five his span of attention is not great yet, but we’ll get there,” he said.

By Sally Heppleston