John Haar’s father Rud was well-known as one of North America’s leading groundskeepers, meticulously grooming Capilano and later Nat Bailey Stadium’s diamond to ensure baseballs ran true over the emerald carpet. Rud passed on his love of baseball to his son and one day with similar dedication John tended to an even broader field over a 50+ year career: the grassroots growth of Canadian ballplayers from coast-to-coast. Today, he stands as one of the most respected builders in the history of Canadian baseball.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Haar could very well be inducted for his athletic accomplishments. Excelling at baseball, soccer, and football, many consider him among UBC’s all-time greatest athletes. In 1968, he won the Bobby Gaul Award, UBC’s highest athletic honour. At the same time, Haar played outfield for Double A affiliates of the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees. One season with the Yankees’ Johnson City farm club he wore the hand-me-down uniform #7 of his idol Mickey Mantle. On the soccer pitch, he was invited to join Canada’s national team for 1968 Olympic qualifying, won a national championship with Vancouver Firefighters in 1973, coached them to another in 1983, and was drafted by the NASL’s Oakland Clippers. Most surprising was football. Haar had kickedfor UBC on a lark, but in one game set a North American intercollegiate record with a 97-yard punt against California’s Santa Clara University. This later earned him a try-out and contract offer from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.

Haar turned to coaching in the 1970s when former Vancouver Mounties player Wayne Norton brought him into the national team fold as an assistant on Canada’s 1975 Pan American Games baseball squad. Haar and Norton also teamed up to create a popular national coaching manual, which the US requested use of as their national manual also. Meanwhile, Haar guided Vancouver Puccini’s to senior men’s BC and Canadian titles.

In 1987, Haar managed Canada’s Pan Am Games team to a fourth-place finish in Indianapolis, losing a semi-final heartbreaker to the US. Later that year, he took Canada’s squad to Cuba for the final Olympic qualifying tournament where they won a memorable sudden-death playoff against European champion Italy to secure a berth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Perhaps his proudest moment came in 1991 in Brandon, Manitoba, when he coached a determined group of Canadian kids past heavily-favoured American and Chinese Taipei squads to a wholly-unexpected world junior championship, Canadian baseball’s first-ever international gold medal.

Ultimately though, Haar’s greatest legacy proved the Vancouver-based National Baseball Institute. Conceived by Norton and Toronto Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick to strengthen Canada’s national team, the NBI aimed to keep the best Canadian prospects training together as one squad in Canada while obtaining a university education. Haar was brought in as the NBI’s head coach in1986 and ran the program for the next 14 years. In that time, the NBI produced eight Canadian major league players including Matt Stairs, Corey Koskie, and Paul Spoljaric, as well as over thirty others who signed pro contracts. One year alone, seven NBI players were drafted into the big leagues. Countless others went on to manage and scout throughout North America. The program propelled Canada to a best-ever fifth-place world ranking.

After all of this, honours have rightfully flowed Haar’s way. In 1991, he was awarded Canada’s Coach of the Year and in 1992 was named the International Baseball Federation’s Top Coach. In 2007, hewas inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.