All They Need is a Little Encouragement
“All they need is a little encouragement, and they’ll be playing it as well as I ever did.” Those words were spoken by Walter “Rabbit” Maranville in 1949 at Yankee Stadium. By then, the Rabbit was a fixture in the New York area, conducting clinics for youngsters. And he gave those youngsters more than a little encouragement.
As the United States emerged from the Second World War, changes were inevitable and baseball was very important in communities around the country. Sandlot baseball leagues were a common denominator in these towns and cities and the best of the youngsters found their way to All-Star games in the nation’s major league ball parks.
This, primarily, is the story of one such All-Star game that continued for twenty years. Those twenty years were years of profound change in the United States. Our story begins in the mid-1940’s. Just think of it. No television, no fast-food restaurants, no interstate highway system, limited travel by air, and most people not straying more than 100 miles from their homes. In those days, baseball was the National Pastime and Newspapers and Periodicals informed the masses about the game and its players. The years would be one of profound cultural, social, and economic change.
Back then, each small town had its own newspaper and often more than one. In New York, the newsstands could boast of more than ten newspapers, and it seemed that with each passing hour, new releases with new headlines were being distributed. Big league baseball was played in but ten cities, none further south or west than St. Louis. And minor league baseball more than picked up the slack with small and not so small grandstands dotting the landscape in the far reaches of America.
Set against the backdrop of a country emerging from war, and entering into a period of prosperity, the Hearst Sandlot Classic, for 20 years, offered a showcase for young baseball talent. Many of those who participated signed professional contracts and others were able to obtain scholarships to further their education. Everyone who participated gained memories to last a lifetime.
Esquire’s All-American Boys Baseball Game: 1944
Tilden, Nebraska Meets Detroit, Michigan
The Hearst Newspapers were not the first publishing group to sponsor an All-Star baseball game for the youth of America. With most of America being informed of news via newspapers and periodicals, it was not unusual for newspapers and periodicals, seeking to increase circulation, to sponsor baseball events. For three years starting in 1944, Esquire Magazine sponsored All-Star games for 16-17 year old players, using an East-West format. In 1944, players represented 29 of the 48 states, and by 1946, 33 states were represented. The game was the brainchild of Esquire’s David A. Smart. The first two Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Games were held at the Polo Grounds in New York, before that game was moved to Chicago in 1946. Esquire announced plans to drop its sponsorship in December, 1946.
The game was strongly supported by Organized Baseball, and the league presidents articulated their feelings prior to the 1945 game.
American League President Will Harridge: “Since baseball began, the lifeblood of our national sport has been the interest it always has held for the youth of our country. From the boys who started playing the game in the vacant lots, on the school grounds, and in the farm pasturelands have come the great players baseball has known- and those same boys will continue to build baseball in the years to come. Such an enterprise as the Esquire’s All-American Baseball game, therefore, is a splendid means of furthering the interest of our youth in baseball. With the teams to be selected on a nation-wide basis, thousands of boys will strive and hope, justifiably, for places on the all-star squads.”
National League President Ford Frick: “I particularly like the idea of ‘Living War Memorials’ As I understand it the aim is to provide facilities for athletic activity to encourage physical fitness. The name and fame of the game will thus express itself in tangible form and add to the incentive. Boys have played baseball in this country as far back as anybody now alive can remember. They don’t need encouragement to play. In my boyhood, I have seen the urge to play a ballgame, triumph over every obstacle that an inconsiderate world can throw in our way, but I believe that anything any grown-up can do to give the boys better ball fields and more bats and balls and gloves and suits is wonderful.”
Each city went about choosing its own representative. One of the sponsoring newspapers was the Kansas City Star which informed its readers that the top American Legion player would be going to New York. The key men involved in choosing the Kansas City representative were Yankee scout Bill Essick, who served as the commission of the American Legion league and Elton Caster, the Legion’s baseball chairman. They took their time evaluating the talent, and ballots were cast by each of the league’s managers. On the evening of June 30, an All-Star game was played at Ruppert Stadium, and on July 2, it was announced that Jim Propst would be heading to New York. Propst pitched three innings in the game in Kansas City and struck out five batters. In New York, Propst shined. In two practice games he was not scored upon and in the big game, he pitched hitless ball in the sixth and seventh innings. The left-hander went on to sign with the Yankees, and at the tender age of 16 pitched a complete game win for their top minor league affiliate in Kansas City in 1944. In all, he spent parts of eight seasons in the minors, mostly at Victoria in the Class-B Western International League.
The August 7, 1944 Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game featured 29 boys from as many cities and was won 6-0 by the East squad in front of an announced crowd of 17,803 at the Polo Grounds. The attendance for the Monday afternoon encounter was higher than the 15,299 (13,847 paid) that showed up for a Giants-Phillies doubleheader the prior day. The managers in the game were none other than Connie Mack (East) and Mel Ott (West). Mack’s coaches were Al Simmons and Roy Mack. Ott’s coaches were Carl Hubbell and Bubber Jonard. During their time in New York, the boys got to see five big league games.
In a practice prior to the game, Hubbell pitched batting practice and commented, “We’ll be seeing them again, in major league uniforms. They are the greatest looking bunch of young ballplayers I’ve ever seen gathered in one ball yard.”
And there was more than baseball. The dream itinerary included accommodations at the Hotel New Yorker, complete with meals. On August 3, after a morning practice at the Polo Grounds, the boys spent the afternoon visiting the Statue of Liberty. The following day, after practice, it was off to the Empire State Building where their tour guide was none other than former New York Governor and one-time Presidential candidate Al Smith. That evening, the boys saw the ice show at the Center Theater.
Prior to the first Esquire game, there were festivities that kept the large crowd entertained. Featured were Abbott and Costello, actors Dana Andrews and Jay C. Flippen, baseball clown-prince Al Schacht, and the Gene Krupa Band. The umpires for the game were George Barr of the National League and Bill Grieve of the American League. Red Barber and Harry Wismer broadcast the game over a national radio network.
World War II was still very much going on (the game took place barely two months after D-Day) and 500 persons were allowed to see the game free of charge for their efforts in a city-wide drive to collect waste paper. Also participation in the game was limited to 16 and 17 year-olds who had yet to reach the draft age.
Both Ott and Mack shared comments that were included in the scorecards sold for the game.
Ott stated, “The All-American Boys Baseball game is a great contribution in the nation in wartime. This game takes me right back to the days when I was a youngster playing baseball on the corner sandlot. I am very proud that Esquire has invited me to be a manager of one of the All American Boys Baseball teams.”
Mack added, “Please accept my sincere thanks for the appointment to manage the Eastern team in the All American Boys Baseball game sponsored by Esquire. I deem it a privilege to aid such a worthy cause as the “living memorial” fund and will contribute what I can to help the boys and baseball as a whole.”
Although the East team managed only five hits, they were able to bunch their hits, and take advantage of their opponent’s miscues. Four of their runs were unearned. Chicago was represented by Charlie Perchak whose eye-popping fielding in a practice game caught everyone’s attention. East team manager Connie Mack was impressed enough to name him team captain. In the game itself, it was Perchak’s bat that stood out. He was the hitting star for the East team. He had three hits in the game, drove in the first run of the game in the opening inning, and scored during his team’s three-run fifth inning. He finished second in the MVP balloting. He signed with the Chicago Cubs, but got no further than Class B.
At the time of the game, the 81-year-old Mack was in his 51st season of managing. Although he did not participate in the practices in the days leading up to the game (long time scout Ira Thomas put the boys through their paces), and did not meet his team until the day of the game, he didn’t miss a thing. Chip Royal of the Associate Press recounted the goings-on. From the time the East went out for its pre-game activities, Connie never took his eyes off that diamond. He stood up at the top of the steps watching every move his boys, and the boys on the opposition team, made. Once, during the game, catcher Jim Nelson of Birmingham, Alabama thought a third strike had been called on the West team batter and lazily rolled the ball back toward the mound. There was a man on first base at the time. Mr. Mack, once the inning was complete, asked the young man to take a seat beside him and gave the boy a little fatherly talk about his actions with the ball when there are men on base. Nelson probably never forgot that conversation. But when the game was over, there was not a kid that did not receive praise from the manager. As Mack said, “They never missed a sign all day.” Nelson played six seasons of minor league ball, starting at Class-D Opelika in the Georgia-Alabama League. He went on to play in the Tigers farm system. His dream ended at Class-B Durham in 1950.
When outfielders Frank Azzarello of New Orleans and Herb Pollock from Columbus had a miscommunication, allowing a fly ball to land safely between them, Mack had the sit down as he dispensed advice. Azzarello signed with the Red Sox and played three seasons in the low minors. Pollock did not play professionally.
Another player who caught Mack’s eye (actually they all did) was Jim Winter from Cincinnati. The second baseman was the smallest player on the field. “That Winter boy has got a lot of spunk. H says he’s 16, but I bet he’s not any more than 13. Did you see him slide into that base?” Mack took Winter out of the game in the eighth inning so as to give playing time to John Moskal of Buffalo, New York. Winter was sitting on the bench. He had a splinter under one of his nails and was in a bit of pain. Mack exclaimed, “Goodness Gracious did you have that all the time?” After winter nodded yes, Mack told him to go to the clubhouse and have the splinter removed. Winter did not play professionally.
In the pre-game festivities, Babe Ruth limped up to the microphone at home plate and said that it mattered little which team won the All-American contest so long as it was played cleanly and hard.
Ruth met with several of the youngsters, one of who was Joe Fromuth from Reading, Pennsylvania. The lad, who had starred in an American Legion All-Star game at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park earlier that summer asked the Babe if he could tell him a joke. Fromoth went on to explain that runner run faster from first to second than they do from second to third because there is a ‘short stop’ between second and third. Ruth was amused. Fromuth went on to sign with the Red Sox and batted .334 with a league-leading 18 home runs and 103 RBIs in his first year of pro ball with Wellsville in the Class-D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League. The next season would be his last as he batted only .194 in 29 games with Class-C Oneonta. He had some difficulty adjusting to the life of a ballplayer. As scout Charlie Wagner who had signed him, noted, “He simply did not want to adhere to the hard-living lifestyle of certan professional athletes. So he returned home, having proved himself as an athlete and as a person of high ethical and moral convictions.”
In those days, Ruth hosted a radio program sponsored by the A. G. Spalding Sporting Goods Company, and, on August 5, he hosted the boys, including Fromuth, on his program. Young Jim Enright of St. Louis asked the Babe how a player could learn to throw a ball harder and faster. Ruth replied, “Constant practice. Your arm won’t come up if you use it only once a week. You must practice hard every day. If you do, I’d say you will be able to throw the ball 20 feet further in a week.” Enright, a second baseman, never did play professional baseball.
Proceeds went to the Living War Memorials Commission of the National Committee on Physical Fitness. Community recreation facilities were built with the funds.
At game’s end, the youngsters in the stands mobbed the field to congratulate the players for an outstanding game and it wasn’t until twenty minutes later that the players were able to make their way to the clubhouse.
Before the game, a photographer snapped a picture of the starting pitchers with the managers, and the photo appeared in the August 17 edition of The Sporting News. A glance at the picture shows the East team’s pitcher wearing number 19. The pitching star of the East team, that number 19, known as “Mr. Zero”, due to his numerous shutouts, pitched six scoreless innings for the win, striking out seven and allowing only three hits. Hed was named the game’s MVP. Along with the award came a four year college scholarship. After the game, Billy Pierce spoke a sentiment that he shared with his teammates. “Gosh, we sure were lucky to have Mr. Mack as our manager. He’s the best there is.” He signed with the Tigers and pitched for them in parts of the 1945 (he pitched ten innings over five games during the season and got a World Series ring) and 1948 seasons before being traded to the White Sox, where he blossomed. In 13 years with Chicago, he went 186-152 with a 3.19 ERA. He was named to seven All-Star teams, and led his league in wins (20 in 1957), strikeouts (186 in 1953) and ERA (1.97 in 1955). At age 35, when it looked like he was slowing down, Pierce was traded to the Giants and his 16-6 record was vital as the Giants won the 1962 National League pennant. As for his number 19, it is one of ten numbers retired by the Chicago White Sox.
Pierce was a Detroit native and played on the sandlots with a team known as the Owls. His father, a druggist, was one of the team’s sponsors. Billy overcame wildness to become a successful high school pitcher. The school team received a great deal of coverage in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, and before long, the scouts took notice. “In 1944, I went to New York for the Esquire amateur all-star game. I had never thought about being a major leaguer – I was taking Latin and physics in anticipation of becoming a doctor – but after going to the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field, I got more of a feeling of what it would be like. The Tigers were my favorite team and I signed with their head scout, Wish Egan, when I was still 17. I finished classes on March 15, joined the Tigers (for spring training), and then came back in June and got my diploma.” The college scholarship and plans for a medical career fell by the wayside.
The game featured a young man from Tilden, Nebraska at the catching position for the West Squad. He was sent east by the Omaha World-Herald, and Floyd Olds and Chip Bowley tallied the votes of the local coaches. The choice was virtually unanimous. Tilden is not exactly a vacation spot, but it does have a city hall (with a roof that leaks), a quaint corner filling station, and a baseball diamond with a sign over it that reads: Tilden Memorial Park. Richie Ashburn Field. Richie Ashburn would return to the Polo Grounds often during his major league career, covering the expansive center field at the old ballpark. In the early 1940’s, Tilden with a population of less than 1,000, had neither a high school nor an American Legion team, and Ashburn ventured to nearby Neligh, Nebraska where he played for coach Harold Cole. Cole said of his young star, “I consider Ashburn the best all-around catcher I’ve had in 14 years, and I’ve had some pretty good ones. He is smart, clean, and a fine sport in addition to being fast, having a fine throwing arm, and being a great hitter.”
The young catcher from Nebraska wore number 1, and was somewhat frustrated that Ott did not include him in the starting lineup, especially as The New York Times had announced that he would be starting. At the last second, Ott inserted Jim Pressley into the lineup and Pressley had troubles behind the plate during the first five innings as the East team built up a 6-0 lead. Observers such as Floyd Olds of the Omaha World-Herald and Ernest Mehl of the Kansas City Star maintained that two wild pitches and a passed ball charged to Pressley could have been handled by Ashburn. Thus, Richie’s performance in the Esquire game fell short of expectations. By the time he entered the game in the sixth inning, the game was out of hand. He played flawlessly behind the plate but went 0-for-2 with the bat. In his first at-bat he lined a ball toward the foul line in left field that was grabbed by Frank Azzarello of New Orleans. With two outs in the ninth, he hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that was converted into a force play for the final out of the contest.
Ashburn signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and never caught a game in the majors. His father Neal encouraged his becoming a catcher so as to facilitate his move to the big leagues. He also encouraged him to hit from the left side so as to take advantage of his speed. At the Esquire Game, East manager Connie Mack suggested that the young man become an outfielder. Not long thereafter, the youngster was moved to the outfield, and, 18 years later, Ashburn finished his Hall-of-Fame playing career back at the Polo Grounds with the 1962 New York Mets. As a major leaguer, Ashburn felt right at home at the Polo Grounds. He first appeared there during his 1948 rookie season. On May 29, in his 30th game of the season, he led off for the Phillies and his inside-the-park homer was the first of his 29 career homers. More than half of those homers (15 to be precise) came at the Polo Grounds, including his final six as a member of the Mets in 1962.
During his time in the majors Ashburn was notorious for hitting foul balls. On one occasion, as legend has it, he was playing with the Chicago Cubs. This was in 1960. Cubs’ pitcher Jim Brewer saw his wife walking in the stands towards to concession stands for a hot dog. Brewer pointed his wife out in the stands and asked Ashburn to slap a foul fall in her direction. Sure enough, the foul ball landed directly on Mrs. Brewer’s derriere.
At the end of each season during his career, Rich looked forward to returning to Tilden. There, he and his wife, Herbie, built what was then the finest house in town and raised their children, who Rich remembers had “a lot of the same teachers in school that I did.” Although the cost of living in Tilden was low, and he did not have to work during the offseason, he was a substitute teacher, coached and did some basketball refereeing. Ed Cram remembers that during the winter Rich would walk downtown and “visit with every old fellow he knew.” Ashburn found the pace of his old hometown to be soothing.
In addition to Ashburn and Pierce, Ervin Palica and Virgil Jester made it to the majors, and 19 of the 29 participants in the game went on to play professionally.
Jester, the starting pitcher for the West team in the Esquire game, and pitched in very bad luck never strayed far from his Colorado home. In the game in New York, he was the starting pitcher for the West squad and, of the six runs he allowed, only one was earned. He signed with the Braves organization in 1947. Most of his career was spent in the minor leagues, where his record was 70-60 in nine seasons, including a career best of 13-6 in 1951 with the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association. That season, he worked almost exclusively in relief. During one three day span, from June 23 through June 25, he appeared in three consecutive games, going five innings, two innings, and four and two-thirds innings, respectively. Manager Charlie Grimm stated, after the June 25 game, “I’m lucky to have a guy like Jester. But he’s only human. He can’t keep on relieving every day as he has since Saturday (June 23). I wish he’d ask me for a day off to go fishing or something. I’d have to give it to him. He’s certainly earned a day of rest.”
After the 1951 season, the Brewers advanced to the Junior World Series where they took on the Montreal Royals of the International league. Jester saved his best for last. In the sixth and final game, after the Royals had taken a 10-2 lead, the Brewers came back to win 13-10 as ace reliever Jester, in the words of Red Thisted, “took over in the sixth and simply overpowered the Royals with his hard high one and sneaky curve, allowing just one hit in four frames to win the biggest game of the long campaign.”
Jester reached the majors in 1952 and went 3-5 in 19 games for the Braves. His final win, a complete game 11-3 triumph over Brooklyn was the last game ever played by the Boston Braves. He was with the Milwaukee Braves briefly in 1953, appearing in only two games without a decision before being sent back to the minors.
Palica hailed from Los Angeles and was the son of Austrian immigrants. Indeed, the family name was Pavliecivich. He had completed his sophomore year of high school in 1944 when he was selected to play in the game at the Polo Grounds. He was accompanied to the game by reporter Braven Dyer. Arriving a day late, Palica did not do well in the practices before the game and entered the game late. He pitched the final inning for the West team and despite two wild pitches, did not allow the opposition to score. He was signed by Tom Downey of the Dodgers in 1945 and played professional ball through 1963. His best season was 1950, when he went 13-8 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Palica came from a baseball family. He was the youngest of three brothers to play professionally. Oldest brother Ambrose “Bull” Palica pitched 14 seasons in the minors and had a 163-99 record. Alex, who was a year and a half older than Erv, pitched five minor league seasons and was 47-48. Erv’s son Wayne was signed by the Twins in 1979 and pitched four minor league seasons and Erv’s nephew John, an outfielder, also signed with the Twins and batted .267 in five minor league seasons. After baseball, Erv became a longshoreman and died in 1982.
One of the West team players, shortstop Jack Lindsey, made his way from Dallas, Texas to New York by rail, accompanied by Lewis Cox of the Dallas Times-Herald. Lindsey, according to The New York Times game day edition was the first player selected. During their week in New York, the players met with former New York Governor Al Smith, saw “Oklahoma”, and appeared on Babe Ruth’s radio program that was sponsored by A. G. Spalding. Each of the players received a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth. In the game, Lindsey had one of the six hits for the West team. After the game, he was taken on a road trip by the New York Giants. The Giants made him an offer, but he decided to go to the University of Texas. He was scouted by Wid Matthews of the Dodgers while playing at the University of Texas. After a year of college, he signed with the Dodgers’ Montreal farm club, but before joining the Dodgers went into the Navy.
He was released from the Navy late in 1946 and went to his first training camp was in 1947. The team was training in Havana that year and he played on a squad with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Chuck Connors, Gene Mauch, and George Shuba. His path to the majors was blocked by Pee Wee Reese, and he played in the minors through 1954, getting as far as Class- AAA. His best AAA season was at Montreal in 1950 when he batted .263. Jack remembers there being 26 farm clubs in the Dodger organization at the time. He was a part of a Fort Worth team in 1951 that set an outfield assist record with Gino Cimoli, Frank Brown, and Bill Sharman gunning down runners. After his playing days, Lindsey went into the insurance business. At age 87 in 2014, he was “still golfing, still dancing, and having a good time.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that on August 2, 1944 at 10:13 AM that Vic Picetti had smashed out his first double in a practice session at the Polo Grounds, and predicted stardom for the youngster from the Rincon Hill section of San Francisco, who had attended Mission High School.
To select its representative to the Esquire’s Game, the San Francisco Chronicle sponsored an All-Star game featuring 30 of the area’s finest players. Picetti, who was about to enter his senior year of high school, had come out on top. Bill Leiser of the Chronicle, who oversaw the balloting of the 14 judges, summed up his feelings about Picetti. “The dumbest judge of baseball talent, merely noting his conduct on the field, his flawless handling of all chances, his presence in the right place at all times, his full game without a sign of a bobble or a wrong play, and his two sound doubles in four trips, would know that as a high school kid, he’s a champion.”
Vic was not only the West team’s first baseman, but also served as a correspondent of sorts for the San Francisco Chronicle. He was accompanied on the trip by Leiser of the Chronicle (who referred to himself as Picetti’s bat boy) and Leiser used his column on August 11 to convey Picetti’s thoughts as he was heading home by train after the trip East. Picetti became friendly with several of the players including Virgil Jester, Roger Brown of Minneapolis, Leo Reming of Boston, Herb Pollock from Columbus, Ohio, and Pat Wohlers from Portland, Oregon. “It seemed I had known them for years. They were all fine ball players and fine friends. The best part of the trip was meeting them and going around with them in New York.” And there was one other player with whom the West team players became friendly. Although only 18-years-old, Cal McLish was already in the big leagues pitching with the Dodgers. He had signed with the Dodgers fresh out of high school and since many players were in the military, he went straight to the Dodgers. Two weeks after the Esquire’s Game, McLish was in the Army.
Picetti went on to write that he, “almost missed the game on Monday. We were ready to leave the hotel for the Polo Grounds. I had forgotten some of my equipment and hurried back to my room to get it. I told the man in charge of our trip, but probably he didn’t hear me. When I got back downstairs, everybody was gone. I started out alone but didn’t know how to go in the subway. Instead of going to the Polo Grounds, I was going to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. I asked people about it and finally got turned around. I had to change trains four or five times, and I just got there before game time.”
Within a week, Picetti signed with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League and played parts of three seasons of minor league ball. In 1944 and the first part of 1945, he played for his hero, Dolph Camilli, who had been a star first baseman in the National League for the 11 years and was the MVP with the Dodgers in 1941. In 1944, with a squad laded with left handed first baseman, on August 22, Vic was given the position and the others were relegated to the outfield or dugout. In 1945, Vic put together a 13 game hitting streak early in the season batted .282 for the Oaks. On April 26, readers of The Sporting News got a glimpse of Picetti in a feature article. The 17-year-old was still in high school at the time, and war or no war, he was considered the most promising young player on the West Coast. During his hitting streak he batted .407 (22-for 54). Although he slugged 46 extra-base hits in 1945, only one was a home run. It came, along with three singles, in a May 15 win over Sacramento. That homer would be his only PCL four-bagger. Oakland finished at 90-93 in 1945 and looking to rebuild brought in manager Casey Stengel for the 1946 season.
After starting 1946 with Oakland, and playing seven games for new manager Stengel, Picetti was reassigned to the Spokane Indians in the Class-B Western International League. He was still young, and Oakland was looking to move veteran Les Scarcella from the outfield to make room for Wally Westlake, who was returning from service during World War II. Scarcella (.332) and Westlake (.315) would be the Oaks’ leading batters as they finished second with a 111-72 record.
I am the shadow sinister called Fate … I am the Master Umpire, and I call the plays the way I see them. I have raised my arm, and nine grand boys are out.- Spokane Indians memorial program, 1946
Vic was playing well for Spokane and batting .285 after 57 games. The team’s bus was traveling from Spokane and was four miles west of the summit of Snoqualmie Pass Highway in the Cascade Mountains 50 miles east of Seattle on June 24 at about 7:30 PM en route to the team’s next game in Bremerton, Washington. A drizzly rain was falling, the driver lost control of the vehicle and it went over the side of a mountain, falling 300 feet on the muddy terrain and bursting into flames. Investigations revealed that the bus driver had swerved to elude an oncoming car that was traveling in the wrong lane. Manager Mel Cole, whose charred ruins were taken from the bus, and eight of his players perished. Six men were dead at the scene, one died en route to the hospital, and two players perished at area hospitals, George Lyden died 16 hours after the crash, and Chris Hartje died Wednesday evening.
Sixty years after the crash, writer Howie Stalwick recounted the details of the accident.
The bus began skidding, slamming into the guardrail, demolishing concrete posts holding cables in place. Suddenly, the bus hurtled into hell, flipping again and again and again down the mountain. The men inside were thrown violently against the walls, floor and roof. Some were sent crashing through windows as the bus burst into flames.
An eternity later, there was silence, except for the crackling of flames and the groans of dazed, injured men trying to escape the wreckage. Six players lay motionless; they were dead. Another died en route to the hospital. Another died the following day. Still another died the day after that.
Vic Picetti was carried from the scene to a waiting ambulance, and succumbed on the way to the hospital and was declared dead on arrival at King County Hospital. His funeral was held on Saturday June 29. He was only 18-years-old. Oaks manager Casey Stengel said, “Picetti was a very good player and there is no doubt he had major league possibilities. He hit .300 (his average with Spokane was .306 as late as June 16), had a good pair of legs and was a good runner.”
Before the 1946 Esquire’s Game in Chicago, the crowd stood in silence to honor the young man.
The two players who were runners-up in the balloting in San Francisco were Joe Kaney and Jim Zavitka. Kaney signed with the Boston Red Sox and played six minor league seasons, during which he batted .267. The highest plateau he reached was Triple-A Seattle for a brief 17-game stay in 1947. Zavitka, a pitcher, seemed destined for the big time. In his first pro season, 1947, he was 17-6 at Ogden in the Class-C Pioneer League, but he missed the next two seasons and was not the same when he returned. He was finished after the 1952 season at age 26.
As far as the newspapers that sent representatives to the game were concerned, their local players could do little wrong. The Charlotte Observer sent pitcher Mason Leeper to the game along with reporter Jake Wade. Leeper, who had injured his pitching arm prior to the game, entered the game in the ninth inning and preserved the shutout, allowing one hit. The Gastonia Gazette headline read, “Lefty Leeper Pitches Final Rack in All-Star Tilt.” Wade gave a full account of Leeper’s time in the spotlight. Picetti led off and singled to left field as his ground ball was just beyond the reach of Boston shortstop Leo Reming. Lindsey fouled out to the catcher on a 3-2 count. Perchak fielded a ground ball but threw wildly to second base, and there were runners on first and second with only one out. Wade then went on to tell his readers that “Mason (Leeper) working coolly, showing the effects of his ailing whipper and without the great stuff he showed in his battles back home proceeded to whiff Udo Jansen, who had singled off (New York’s George) Worgul on his previous trip to the plate. Rich Ashburn then grounded to Reming who tossed to (second baseman) John Moskal for a force out of Wohlers ending the game.” Leeper, who was one month shy of his 16th birthday when he pitched in the Esquire’s game, signed with the Atlanta Crackers and pitched in the minor leagues for five seasons, posting a15-24 record.
As Oscar Fraley commented, “The true highlight is that these youngsters will be learning a never-to-be-forgotten lesson in sportsmanship and the American way of life. It didn’t matter to these kids whether they were rich or poor, or whether their parents were Republicans or Democrats. All that counted was that they were able to play good baseball.”
Esquire’s All-American Boys Baseball Game: 1945
He Came from Egypt
Once again boys came to New York from all over the country and were treated to a wonderful experience that included a boat trip up the Hudson River, a meeting with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and lunch at Toots Shor’s Restaurant. Thirty-two players were representing their home towns, and each was accompanied by a local writer so to assure that the folks back home wouldn’t miss a thing. The game was broadcast nationally with Red Barber and Harry Wismer at the microphones.
Proceeds went to the Living War Memorials Commission that built community recreation facilities with the funds. Proceeds also went to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
On Tuesday August 21, the players met their managers and had their first workouts. The West Squad worked out at Ebbets Field and the East Squad worked out at the Polo Grounds. The following Monday, the teams switched venues.
In addition to seeing major league ball games, the boys met with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and wen to see “Hats off to Ice.”
The game at the Polo Grounds produced Curt Simmons who would go on to star with the Phillies and Cardinals. Managers were Babe Ruth (East) and Ty Cobb (West). Ruth was assisted by Carl Hubbell and Gordy Maquire of the New York Giants. Cobb was assisted by Chuck Dressen and Red Corriden of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
At the time, Simmons had just completed his sophomore year of high school and was 16-years-old. That summer, he pitched the Coplay American Legion team to the first of two consecutive Pennsylvania state junior crowns. The next season, he would make it three in a row. His mound prowess earned him selection to an American Legion all-star game at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, where he struck out seven of the nine hitters he faced in three innings. From there it was on to the game in New York. Simmons emulated Ruth in the game. He pitched the first four innings, allowing one earned run. He switched to the outfield for the final five innings. In the ninth inning, with one on, he hit the longest drive of the game. His triple drove in a run, and he scored the tying run during a three-run rally as his East team came from behind to win 5-4. Simmons was chosen the game’s MVP. In the picture below, that is Curt will his arms extended third from the right.
Simmons shared hero status in the game with John Neal of Bloomington, Illinois. In 1945, the selection process for the Chicago representative to the Esquire’s game took the form of an All-Star game at Comiskey Park on July 28, 1945. In the event, sponsored by the Peoria Journal, the CYO All-Stars defeated the American Legion All-Stars 1-0 in seven innings. Neal, Bloomington High School’s sophomore pitching star, started the game in the outfield, getting two hits and then pitched a hitless last inning in the seven inning contest. He was selected to go to New York. In a practice before the game, Neal was turning heads as he deposited balls into the outfield stands. The hitting display impressed team manager Babe Ruth so much that the Bambino elected Neal to play the outfield in the game. In the game itself, Neal, batting in the cleanup spot did not disappoint. He went 2-for-4 with a single and a double and was right in the middle of a rally that resulted in his team scoring its first two runs in the fourth inning. Neal after attending college at the University of Illinois and serving in the Marines, signed with the Orioles in 1954, but his professional career consisted of one appearance in Class-C.
Another hero in the game was winning pitcher Bill Glane who pitched the last two innings, striking out five batters. Glane (to Ruth’s right in the picture) first played with Spokane in 1946,joining the squad after the devastating bus crash that decimated the squad. He then signed with the Dodgers and was 60-62 in nine minor league seasons. The highest level that he reached was Class-AAA.
The first player selected for the game was Burt Stone from Miami. He was elated when informed by Jimmy Burns of the Miami Herald. The young second baseman had batted .400 (24-for-60) in the preceding season at high school, stealing 17 bases. During his time in New York, he let the folks back home know of his adventure, writing a daily column in the Miami Herald. One day, he communicated that, “We took in an ice show Wednesday night. It was really something to see. I’d never seen an ice show before and neither had the other fellows. The settings and lights and costumes were beautiful, and the girls weren’t bad either.”
In the game, he drove in Simmons with the tying run with a single, and later came around to score the winning run. Stone’s family was in attendance at the game, including his brother Corporal Larry Stone, who had flown in from Cairo, Egypt. The irony here is that game MVP Simmons had come to the game from Egypt, Pennsylvania. Burt Stone signed with the Boston Braves and spent six seasons in their organization, getting as high as Class AAA.
Six players in addition to Simmons made it to the major leagues. They included Davey Williams, Bob DiPietro, Jack Dittmer, Vern Morgan, Herbert Plews, and John Thomas.
DiPietro was days shy of his 18th birthday when the game was played in New York. He had just graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School and was chosen to represent San Francisco after hitting triple and three singles in the East Bay-West Bay All Star Game. He scored after his triple in the top of the 12th inning to put his West Bay team into the lead, 5-4, but the East Bay squad tied the score in the bottom of the inning. The West team did win the game 6-5 in 15 innings.
After graduating high school, with the draft approaching, DiPetro had met with a Navy recruiter. However, he elected to go to the game in New York. The military would wait until he returned from New York. And then, he enlisted in the Army.
In New York, DiPietro was selected as captain of the West team, and got a hit off Simmons in the game. His trip to New York was followed closely by the San Francisco Chronicle. Before departing for New York, he was asked if he was excited. “Excited? Boy, oh boy, I’ll say I’m excited! I never dreamed that anything so wonderful could happen to me. I can’t realize yet that it’s all true.” When in New York, his mom Reisa carefully went through each and every copy of each and every newspaper, clipping away and putting each article about Bob into a carefully maintained scrapbook. She had no shortage of help from family and friends, to whom Bob was known as “Deef.” He got the unusual nickname early on. His schoolmates had difficulty pronouncing DiPietro, called him “D-P,” and D-P became Deef.
As a youngster, DiPietro had been a fan of the New York Yankees and before departing for New York said, “My favorite team has been the Yankees. They, to me, have always seemed to be a legend of the best that baseball can offer. I’d be the happiest fellow in the world if I could wear a Yankee uniform.”
DiPietro and his teammates convened for their first practice at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field with no less than five scouts in attendance. A special thrill for DiPetro was playing for Ty Cobb, who was his favorite player. In that first practice, Cobb took some extra time to help DiPietro with his bunting.
He remembered a scene during a pre-game practice at the Polo Grounds on August 27, when Babe Ruth was frustrated with one of his players in the batting cage. “He (Ruth) grabbed the bat from one of the players and told the kid, ‘Get the hell out of the batting cage. You aren’t worth shit as a hitter.’ He said, ‘Carl (Hubbell), groove a few of ‘em here. Let me show them how to hit.’ Carl Hubbell was pitching! I look back. Cobb, Ruth, Hubbell, and what did I get? Zip (autographs)! Ruth hit six balls into the stands. It was the damnedest exhibition I’d seen. And he was in a sweat suit. But he had that great swing. Of course, the Polo Grounds, it was very short down both lines, but he hit a good drive to center field. He put on a show; it was great.”
After getting out of the service DiPietro signed with the Boston Red Sox and played 13 seasons in the minor leagues, batting .282. He only had a cup of coffee in the majors, playing in four games with the Red Sox in 1951.
Davey Williams represented Dallas in the game in New York, and his powerful bat earned him a start in the game. In the first inning, he walked and injured his hand, losing a nail when he was spiked trying to break up a double play, and stayed in the game through eight innings, getting a hit off Simmons. Ty Cobb was impressed by Williams’ toughness and later wrote to him to say as much. After the Esquire’s game, he signed with scout Claude Dietrich of the Atlanta Crackers, but before playing an inning of professional ball, spent 14 months fulfilling his military obligation.
He first played with Waycross, Atlanta’s affiliate in the Class-D Georgia-Florida League in 1947, batting .290 with a league leading 147 runs scored. He led the league with 34 doubles and, in all, had 52 extra base hits. The following season found him at Pensacola in the Class-B Southeastern League where he once again led his league in scoring (119) and once again had 52 extra base hits. He batted .308 and was named to his league’s All-Star team. By 1949, he was with Atlanta but was, by then, the property of the New York Giants. He spent the bulk of the 1949 season with Atlanta, batting .290 and was named the Class-AA Southern Association’s Rookie-of-the-Year.
He played in 13 games for the Giants at the end of the 1949 season and spent 1950 at Minneapolis in the Class-AAA American Association. In July of 1951, after beginning the season with Minneapolis, he rejoined the Giants and played 50 games for the National league champions. He went on to play six seasons at second base for the New York Giants and was in two World Series. In 1953, his best season, he batted .297 as was named to the National League All-Star team.
Herb Plews came all the way from Helena, Montana to play in the game. He was not the initial choice to represent Wyoming and Montana in the game. The initial choice, Dick Mitchell of Miles City, Montana, signed with the Yankees and was in their system for six seasons, compiling 53-55 record, but the highest he got was a two game stint at Triple-A Newark in 1949. Plews, who was backing up Williams at second base in the Esquire’s game, went into the game as a defensive replacement and did not get to come to the plate. Although his high school did not have a baseball team, Plews played American Legion ball and on the basis of his play in Legion ball, was selected to go to New York. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Illinois, where he led the Big Nine Conference, as it was known from 1946 through 1948, in batting with a .404 average in 1948. His first minor league experience came in the 1950 when he was signed to a minor league contract by the Kansas City Blues. The Blues, at the time, were affiliated with the New York Yankees. After serving in the service for two years during the Korean War, he returned to baseball and had his best minor league season at Denver in 1955, batting .302.
Prior to the 1956 season, he was traded by the Yankees to the Washington Senators and made it to the majors with Washington that season, playing in 91 games, batting .270. He played four seasons in the majors, mostly with Washington, and batted .262 in 346 games. After playing his final major league game for the Red Sox in July, 1959, he went back to the minor leagues and played through 1965, accumulating a total of 1,083 hits in the minor leagues.
Jack Dittmer hailed from Elkader, Iowa and had completed his junior year of high school when chosen for the Esquire’s game. Better known for his football skills as a youngster, the pass catcher commenced his senior year of high schoolboy scoring five touchdowns in the opening game. After attending the University of Iowa, where he was named to the second team All-Big Ten football squad in his senior year, he signed with the Boston Braves in 1950 and made it to the majors in 1952. He played in the majors for six seasons, batting .232. His best season was 1953 when he had a career high 134 hits, clubbed 23 doubles, and batted .266 for Milwaukee.
Vern Morgan was named to the Esquire’s squad among some controversy. It seems that he had signed a contract with the New York Giants in 1944, and his eligibility was questioned. When it was determined that he had never actually played professionally, the contract was torn up and he was allowed to represent Emporia, Virginia in the Esquire’s game. He signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1948 and finally made it to the majors in 1954. In parts of two seasons with the Cubs, he played in 31 games and batted .225. After his playing days, he managed in the minor leagues for eight seasons.
John “Bud” Thomas signed with the St. Louis Browns and made it to the major leagues for a brief stay towards the end of the 1951 season. In 14 games, he faired pretty well, batting .350 (7-for-20) with a home run and a pair of stolen bases. After the home he received the silent treatment from his teammates on the bench. Little did anyone know that he would be out of the majors the next season, sold off to Toronto of the International League. His last season in organized baseball was 1953, when he batted only .193 for San Antonio in the Class-AA Texas League. After his playing career, he became an educator in his home town of Sedalia, Missouri, starting as a student teacher and rising to the level of Assistant Superintendent of Schools, a position he held for 11 years. He died in 2015 at the age of 86.
Most of the players, of course, didn’t make it to the majors, but the competition to get to New York was just as challenging. George Fisher, a pitcher, represented Ogden, Utah. The Ogden Standard-Examiner was sending its first representative to the game and held an All-Star game on June 14 to determine its representative. 28 players from Utah and Idaho took to the field at John Affleck Park. Even Ogden, Dave Romney, took the event seriously. He practiced for ten days so as to be able to throw a strike with the first pitch. On the receiving end of the pitch was Mayor Earl Glade of Salt Lake City.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer sponsored an All-Star doubleheader on June 18 in Seattle, pitting the local King-Pierce County team against the Statewide all-stars. Although the locals won both games, it was a player from the Statewide team that made it through the gauntlet of promising youngsters to be selected for the trip east. Bob Goldstein, who had a single, double, and triple over the course of the two games , was initially signed by the Yankee organization in 1948 and batted .280 over the course of three minor league seasons, advancing as far as Class-B in 1950.
In 1945, Jim Crosset took over the reins of promoting the game for Esquire and was instrumental in moving the game to Chicago in 1946. What was to be the last Esquire game was held in from of 28,211 spectators at Wrigley Field in Chicago on August 10, 1946 and six of the 16 players on the East team eventually made it to the majors.
Esquire’s All-American Boys Baseball Game: 1946
Cobb Meets Wagner in the Windy City
New Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler added his name to the growing list of supporters for the game when he commented:
“I am tremendously interested in amateur baseball and want to encourage allof those who sponsor ethical competition among the younger ballplayers. There is a marked upsurge in interest in junior baseball all over the country and I think this is a very healthy sign.”
Before getting to go to New York, the players had to survive the selection process in their local communities. In one case, that meant going up against players from three states. The Ogden Standard-Examiner sponsored a baseball school which served as a tryout vehicle for boys from Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. From a group of more than 200, 24 boys were selected to play in an All-Star game on July 3. Proceeds from the game were used to support the Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospital Fund and the managers were George “High Pockets” Kelly and Pat Patterson, both of whom were serving as area scouts for the Cincinnati Reds. Kelly, who played sixteen seasons in the majors, stared with the New York Giants in the 1920’s when, over a seven year period, he batted .306, led the league in homers once and in RBIs twice. He was subsequently elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee in 1973. Patterson played briefly with the Giants in 1921 before going on to a career as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds.
The player selected, after the game in Ogden, to go to Chicago was none other than left hander Morris “Bud” Powers, a pitcher who probably went on to a great career, but it was most definitely not in baseball. Indeed, while with Powers in Chicago, writer Al Warden of the Ogen Standard-Examiner wrote that Powers “looks sweeter to the writer than a hundred-pound sack of sugar would look to a needy housewife.” He went on to become a successful executive with Fram Corporation.
Somehow, Kelly and the others involved in the selection process did not appreciate the talents of another pitcher, this one from, of all places, Meridian, Idaho. The kid from Idaho was one of nine Idaho players at the baseball school, and was one of three players from Idaho selected to start in the game. Vernon Law was the starting pitcher for Kelly’s Esquire team and struck out the first seven batters he faced. However, in the third inning, with one out he ran into some control trouble, walking three batters. He also allowed a single and although each of the outs he recorded was via the strikeout route, he gave up one run. Powers replace Law on the mound and pitched three shutout innings, striking out seven, and edging out Law and shortstop Andy “Buzz” Harrington for the trip to Chicago. Harrington, whose father had played in one game with the Detroit Tigers in 1925, did not play professionally. On the other hand, Law signed in 1948 with the Pirates and went on to win 162 games, including 20 (18 complete games) when he won the Cy Young Award in 1960, was named to his only All-Star team and won two games in the World Series for the Pirates.
In Denver the unanimous choice was Fred Steinmark. The shortstop was portrayed in a pre-game article by Al Warden of the Ogden Standard-Examiner as having a strong arm and as having led his high school league in RBIs. Less than a week before the game, he was replaced by infielder Paul Ciberay. Indeed, the replacement was so close to game time that Steinmark’s picture, along with a brief bio was included in the official program.
Steinmark signed with the Cleveland Indians and played three seasons in the minor leagues.
A generation later, another Fred Steinmark would be grabbing the headlines, but in a football uniform. Fred and Gloria’s son, was an outstanding football player at the University of Texas. His story went from triumph to tragedy seemingly overnight. The smallish defensive back was part of a great come from behind effort as the Longhorns defeated Arkansas on December 6, 1969 for the National Championship. Six days later, after being diagnosed with cancer, his leg was amputated. His spirits remained good, but the cancer returned and he died on June 6, 1971.
Ken Fremming represented Buffalo, New York. The pitcher signed with the Detroit Tigers and spent seven seasons in the minor leagues, getting as high as Triple-A Toledo.
In Seattle, against the backdrop of the Parade of Progress exhibition, a double header was played on July 1 to determine Seattle’s representative to the Esquire’s Game in Chicago as well as the first Hearst Classic in New York. Seattle had been conducting All-Star games for several years and, in 1944 and 1945 sent players to the Esquire’s games. Jim Presley was the representative in 1944 and Bob Goldstein was the representative in 1945. Neither made it to the majors. In 1946, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sponsored the All-Star Game on July 1. In attendance as special guest star was Tris Speaker, who flew in from Cleveland and was looking forward to getting in some fishing during his first trip to the Northwest. The managers were Casey Stengel of the Oakland Oaks and Jo-Jo White, who had succeeded Bill Skiff as manager of the Seattle Rainiers on June 12.
The local King-Pierce County team, 23 strong, was announced on June 7 and squared off against a team comprised of 25 all-stars from other parts of the state and Northern Idaho. And everyone got their names in the newspaper even if the spelling was not always accurate. For example, the State team’s first baseman was either Howley, or Rowel, or Rowley – so it was written on June 24 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. By game time the players arrived at the Olympic Hotel, it was determined that his name was actually John Rowely. As always in these type of events, there are last minute changes. On the eve of the vent, it was announced that catch Johnny Brogan, a former mayor at Boys’ Town in Nebraska, would be representing Northern Idaho in the game.
The King-Pierce County team won both games 11-1 and 8-7. The two top players from the game were sent east. Russ Rosburg went to the Hearst Classic and Tony Brodie went to the Esquire’s Game in Chicago. The alternate was Gerald Kimmerle of Lake Washington, who had batted .455 in his final high school season. All three players accompanied the Seattle Rainers on a road trip to Portland and Los Angeles before Rosburg and Brodie headed east.
Rosburg signed with the St. Louis Browns and played nine seasons of minor league baseball. He batted .306 over his nine years with 155 home runs. His highest level of play was in the Pacific Coast League, where he got into 37 games over a three year period, batting .275. He retired after the 1957 season. Brodie signed with the New York Giants and spent four seasons in the low minors, never getting beyond Class-C. He retired after the 1953 season. Kimmerle did not sign on with a big league organization.
Jerry Ahrens was a double threat for the West squad. He was from St. Louis and was accompanied to the game by Harold Tuthill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jerry, who had two no-hitters was so prodigious a hitter that manager Ty Cobb batted him fourth in the lineup and sent him to the outfield once his pitching chores were complete. He pitched the first three innings, striking out two, and was the winning pitcher. As a batter, he had one hit in three appearances and drove in two runs. He was signed by the Tigers and pitched two minor league seasons, posting a combined mark of 21-8 while batting .223. However, he would not get past Class-A.
Grabbing the sports headlines in the months leading up to the event in Chicago were the June 19 heavyweight title match between Joe Louis and Billy Conn, as Louis came back after his long layoff from serving in the military during World War II and scored, an eighth round knockout. .
In the days prior to the 1946 game in Chicago, the boys got to see two games between the White Sox and the Indians, attended a performance of the Ringling Brothers Circus, took a two and one-half hour boat ride on Lake Michigan, and attended a practice of the College All-Stars football team. Present for the pre-game festivities were Chandler, along with former heavyweight boxing champions Gene Tunney and Max Baer.
Ty Cobb returned to manage the West squad and applauded the game. “When any event makes it possible for boys from all sections of the country to meet on common ground, and where all have a common interest, it is a big step forward in making this country a better place for our coming generation to live in.”
Honus Wagner managed the East Squad. His coaches were Luke Appling and Mike Tresh. Wagner said, “Working with these boys will take me back to my kid days in Crnegie, Pennsylvania. We’ll did in and learn a lot of baseball while we are together. I can’t say that we’ll win, but I will say the West will get all the competition they are looking for when the umpire calls, ‘Play Ball!’”
Wagner was posed with an unusual challenge as five of his players were first basemen and he had to do some juggling to field all nine positions. One of those first baseman was Don Ivol from Pittsburgh, who Wagner moved to the pitcher’s mound. Ivol had been selected after an All-Star game in Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on Saturday, July 13. The game played under the auspices of a group known as the Dapper Dans, was played after the Pirates-Phillies game on that date. Ivol did not play professionally. Wagner also had nine left hand batters on his roster.
The first player selected for the game was another first baseman, Miami’s Bob Hall. He was selected by and accompanied to the game by the Miami Herald’s .Hall played left field in New York and was signed by the Yankees. He spent three years in their system but didn’t get beyond Class-D.
Cobb had his woes as well as two of his pitchers elected to stay home and participate in a local American Legion tourney. Ernie Funk from Little Rock would go on to sign with the Detroit Tigers and made it as far as Class-AAA. Funk was replaced by right fielder Louis Lasley. Lasley played three seasons in the lower minors but was never able to excite any interest by major league teams. At the last minute, Frank Womack of Houston withdrew to pitch closer to home and was replaced by shortstop William “Sonny” Bollman. Bollman signed with the Pirates and lasted three seasons in their minor league system, batting .251 and getting as high as Class-A Charleston in the South Atlantic League.
Richard Vander Clute was the starting pitcher for the East squad and pitched 1 2/3 innings. He was accompanied to Chicago by Mike Lee of the Long Island Press. He pitched college ball at Colgate and Wake Forest. He was assigned by the Yankees to their Norfolk farm team in the Class-A Piedmont League for the 1950 season, but showed up with a sore arm and never pitched an inning of organized baseball. He went on to join the Marines in 1951, and was injured during the Korean conflict. He rose to the rank of Captain and in civial life became a marketing manager with Unisys Corporation.
Cobb’s squad exploded for five runs in the sixth inning and coasted to a 10-4 victory. Walter Pocekay was chosen MVP after going 4-for-5 in the contest. Pocekay, from Richmond, California, had been sent east by the San Francisco Chronicle. He played in parts of nine minor league seasons, mostly on the West Coast, and batted .308, but he never made it to the majors.
The group that did make it to the majors included Hobie Landrith, Chuck Stobbs, Harry Agganis, Pete Whisenant, John Powers, and Harold “Tookie” Gilbert.
Harry Agganis was the top ranking player in the Eastern Massachusetts School League, and was sent to the game by Ernie Dalton of the Boston Globe. Although only a sophomore at the time, he had been awarded the Fred Ostergren Memorial Trophy as the outstanding New England athlete and student of 1946. The following year, he would be in the Hearst Classic in New York.
Tookie Gilbert, representing New Orleans, was sent to the game by Fred Digby of the New Orleans Item. He was seen as the outstanding prospect of those playing in the game, having never hit below .600 in his school and sandlot play, and had batted .415 in American Legion play during the summer of 1945. He had been initially selected for the 1945 game, but did not go to New York. Gilbert’s father, Larry had played in the majors with the Braves for two seasons, and was part of the 1914 Miracle Braves squad. Larry finished his active career playing with the New Orleans Pelicans for nine seasons, and served as the team’s manager from 1923 through 1938. Scout Bruce Connatser who had played minor league ball in New Orleans in 1931, remembered that Gilbert “was just a child” back then. Young Tookie was a fixture at the ballpark. Connatser remembered that “Harold grew right up in baseball, and his dad had him out to the New Orleans home games before he knew how to walk.” At the time of the Esquire’s game in 1946, Larry was managing at Nashville and took the day off to travel to Chicago and watch his son play.
Tookie signed with the New York Giants and made his way to Nashville in 1949, batting .334 with 33 homers in 154 games. Manager Leo Durocher of the Giants thought he was ready for the big leagues and, after an exceptional spring training, Gilbert made his debut on May 8, 1950 with the Giants, the heir to the first place job open since Johnny Mize had been traded to the Yankees late in the 1949 season. Gilbert played 111 games in 1950, but his .220 batting average showed that he had been called up too soon. He was sent back to the minors, returning to the Giants for an unproductive 70 games, batting only .189, in 1953. That was the end of his major league career.
Pete Whisenant of Paw Creek, North Carolina was selected after starring in an All-Star game in Charlotte, North Carolina between teams from North and South Carolina. He was selected for Chicago game by a seven man panel of judges headed by the coaches for the two teams, four writers including Wilton Garrison of the Charlotte Observer, and Claude Dietrick, head scout of the Atlanta Crackers. He was the best performer for the East Squad in the 1946 Esquire’s game, getting three hits in five at-bats. He made it to the major leagues with the Boston Braves in 1952 and played parts of eight seasons for six different teams. After his playing days, he continued in baseball and managed for two seasons in the Oakland A’s organization. He was named the Class –A California League’s Manager of the year in 1982 when he led Modesto to a 94-46 record.
Chuck Stobbs was a hard hitting, hard throwing first baseman and pitcher from Norfolk, Virginia, starring at Granby High School. He was named Virginia Player of the year in high school in 1946, was named to the All-State Basketball team, and led his high school football team to three consecutive undefeated seasons. He had starred in the Eastern Virginia-Western Virginia All Star game, pitching his squad to a 7-1 win and earning a trip to the game in Chicago.
He signed with George “Specs” Toporcer of the Boston Red Sox and was with the Red Sox organization through 1951, posting a 33-23 record in Boston. Later on, he pitched with the Washington Senators for nine years. He is perhaps best known for one pitch. On April 17, 1953 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, Mickey Mantle sent one of Stobbs’ offerings far and long. The tape-measure shot was said to have gone 565 feet before coming to a rest. Stobbs went on to win 107 games in the majors (with 130 losses), but that one pitch will never be forgotten.
Hobie Landrith of Detroit was selected for the game by Lyall Smith of the Detroit Free Press. In 1948, he played in the Hearst game.
John Powers hailed from Birmingham, Alabama. He was selected for the game after starring in the Alabama All-Star game sponsored by the Birmingham News. In that game, his three doubles impressed the judges, one of whom was Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler. He had 304 homers as a professional, all but six in the minor leagues. He slammed 298 homers in 13 seasons. Twice, with Class B Waco in 1950 and with Class AA New Orleans, he banged out 39 dingers. He played in parts of six seasons in the major leagues but only batted .195 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 215 at-bats.
Esquire had hoped to take the game to a different city each year, but these hopes were dashed when the magazine, in December, 1946, informed the participating newspapers from coast to coast that there would be no further games after 1946.
Two other All-Star games bringing in kids from around the United States, were played in 1946. Brooklyn Against the World at Ebbets Field and the Hearst Sandlot Classic at the Polo Grounds pitted local New York talent against the out-of-towners. The Brooklyn games continued in various formats through 1950, but the Hearst Classic, which continued through 1965 was the most enduring of the youth All-Star games.
Brooklyn Against the World – 1946
A Pitcher Plays in Right Field
In New York City, not only did the Journal-American host a classic, but the Brooklyn Eagle also got into the act with its “Brooklyn Against the World” competition at Ebbets Field. The main forces behind the game were Branch Rickey of the Dodgers and Lou Niss, the Sports Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle.
Niss was always on the stump selling tickets for the event. At a Kiwanis Club meeting on July 23, he was an invited guest and said that he was there “not to speak but to sell tickets.” The ever pragmatic Rickey, after speaking of the importance of sandlot ball to the community said, “From a selfish point of view, it is to the advantage of the major leagues to do everything in their power to stimulate increased interest in sandlot games. It is to such teams that we look for the star players of tomorrow.”
Each day, the game was advertised in the Eagle and, as players were announced for the “World” team the Brooklyn faithful received as much information about the intruders as the Eagle sportswriters could find.
Players from around the country, Canada and Hawaii were brought to Brooklyn as part of the World team for a three game series that was played August 7, 8, and 9 at Ebbets Field. One player for the 1946 “World” team hailed from Los Angeles, and he was sent east by the Los Angeles Times. Vic Marasco had the time of his life. “Those people from the Brooklyn Eagle and the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t spare the horses when it came to taking us around.” He summed it all up by saying “I think I learned more on this trip than all the time I was in Fremont High and I just want to congratulate the kid who makes it next year. He’s in for the biggest treat of his life.” The “fence-denting” Marasco had family in Brooklyn and thus had a built in cheering section for the series. He was signed with the Dodgers, spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues and put up some pretty good numbers. In 1953, he batted .306 with 14 homers and 89 RBI at Fort Worth and in 1955, with Richmond in the International League, he batted .301 with 10 homers and 50 RBI. But Triple A was as far as he would get. He retired after the 1958 season.
Marasco came a long way, but 130 pound pitcher Henry Tominaga came an even longer distance – from Honolulu, complete with a shirt with “Hawaii – 49th State,” across his chest. Tominaga, who also played the outfield, came with credentials, having pitched a no-hitter earlier that year against Mid-Pacific Institute in his first outing of the season. In the final tryout game held in Hawaii, Tominaga, a graduate of McKinley High School, struck out 10 batters in nine innings to secure his passage to Brooklyn.
Tommy Holmes told his readers that, “Up in old New England, the Boston Post rose to Brooklyn’s challenged in a great big way. Led by Gerry Hearn, the forces of that paper’s sports pages conducted the first New England talent hunt in history which resulted in a great promotion of their own. Great fun and great competition resulted. Numerous fine young ballplayers were found and the best of them all will appear here as a member of the “world” team. The best wound up being Rod Clifford, who signed with his home town Boston Braves. Clifford spent five seasons in the lower minors but was never able to advance beyond Class-C.
As was the case with the Hearst game, the Brooklyn Against the World contests had top flight managers. In 1946, the Brooklyn team was managed by Leo Durocher, who brought along Chuck Dressen, Dixie Walker, and Johnny “Red” Corriden as coaches. The World team was managed by Hall-of-Famer George Sisler, who had as his coaches Andy High, Fresco Thompson, and Clyde Sukeforth. The “World” players were housed at the St. George Hotel.
The newspapers and organizations sending ballplayers included The San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, New Orleans States, Toronto Star, Buffalo Courier-Express, The Mobile Register, Montreal Newspapers, Charleston Gazette, Boston Post, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Indianapolis Star, Charlotte Observer, Wichita Eagle, Cleveland News, Philadelphia Record, St. Paul Amateur Baseball Association, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Chicago Daily News, Honolulu Star Telegram, and Bridgeport Post.
Jimmy Murphy and Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Eagle chronicled the games. Murphy was a champion of sandlot ball and the youth of Brooklyn could look towards seeing their names in his articles. The “World” players started arriving in town in late July and had their first practices on Thursday August 1. The players worked out at Ebbets Field and Erasmus High School, witnessed the finale of a three game series between the Dodger and Cardinals, and went to a show at the Radio City Music Hall, which included a viewing of the movie “Anna and the King of Siam” with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne. On the way to and from the theater, coach Art Dede acted as tour guide, pointing out the sites along the way.
On August 2, they travelled up the Hudson River to West Point and then went on to Bear Mountain where they practiced and had dinner at the Bear Mountain Inn. The climax of their day was seeing boxers Willie Joyce and Kapilow lace up their gloves in a bout at Madison Square Garden. The following day, after practice and dinner, they saw the Dodgers play the Reds at Ebbets Field and took in “Ice-Time” at the Rockefeller Center Theater in Manhattan. And yes, there was more. The next day, they were back at Ebbets Field to see the Dodger and Reds and that was followed by a trip to Jones Beach to witness the water show. After that Henry Tominaga, Lenny Yochim, Roger Breard, Alex Romanchuk and Joe Della Monica appeared on the “We the People” broadcast on CBS radio.
There were still a couple of days left until the series was to begin, and the kids continued to practice hard, eat well, and be entertained as they had never been in their lives. Next up were “Oklahoma” at the St. James Theater, and a trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
After the performance of “Oklahoma at the St. James Theater, the boys went backstage to visit members of the cast. Beatrice Lynn, who hailed from Flatbush, posed with Chris Kitsos and Joe Torpey of the Brooklyn squad.
There was more on the schedule. On August 6, the boys were off to Coney Island and its famous steeplechase, dinner at Bossert’s Marine Roof with its majestic view of the New York skyline, and a trip to the Polo Grounds to see the Dodgers face off against the Giants. The next morning, they were up early for deep-sea fishing across the Long Island Sound at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.
During the series itself, there was even more sightseeing scheduled. From the Brooklyn Museum and nearby Botanical Gardens at the northeast end of Prospect Park to the zoo in the park, the kids saw all that Brooklyn had to offer, including a trip to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on August 8, where they toured the U. S. S. Kearsage.
Chosen to umpire the game was the Dean of all Umpires, Bill Klem. who worked the series at first base. Klem was no longer an active umpire, and he felt that the plate required the services of an active umpire. Butch Henline was chosen for the task. His reasoning was that, “It will be a great series for the boys, and I want to make certain that the game is not spoiled by incompetent officiating. That’s why Henline has been assigned for all three games.”
He sat down to chat with Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Eagle and mentioned his three top rules for umpires:
“Remember you are umpiring for BASEBALL ONLY and it must be done in a business-like manner in order to establish yourself. Be in stride on EVERY pitch. This enables you to have confidence and to be set to time and judge a play as well as be ahead of anything that may happen. It has been proven in a POSITIVE WAY that the BEST way to judge a ball or strike is from a crouched position BETWEEN the catcher and the batsmen, with a weave or up and down movement as the ball comes to the catcher.”
On the eve of the event, positive comments could be heard from entertainers and elected officials. Entertainer Jack Benny’s comments echoed the thoughts of many on the eve of the contest. “An ‘Atomic Gun Salute’ to the Brooklyn Eagle and the Brooklyn Baseball Club for this baseball idea ‘Brooklyn Against the World’. It is a most worthy project and certainly deserves the full support and enthusiasm of every American citizen. With the customary ‘Brooklyn’ Spirit behind it, this very commendable undertaking will be a great success. Good wishes and every success.”
The games would be broadcast on WHN Radio by the Dodger announcers Red Barber and Connie Desmond.
Tommy Holmes wrote in the Eagle on August 7, the date of the first scheduled game, that Mr. Rickey had, at first, proposed a North-South matchup. Lou Niss disapproved of that concept saying, “No good. The Civil War is over. Let’s make it Brooklyn Against the World.” Rickey said to Niss that “Your team will get its ears beaten off.” Niss replied that, “You underestimate our town. We can get together a club that can play anybody.” Coach Clyde Sukeforth added, “There isn’t a lad on the list of 20 who isn’t worth the attention of a big league scout. Some of them are cinches to make the majors and before very many years.” Holmes went on to introduce the starting Brooklyn nine to his readers. They didn’t all make it, of course, but on that day, they were heroes.15 of the Brooklyn players, including each of the starting nine, were signed by big league teams. Two of the young men on the Brooklyn roster made it two the majors, one all the way to Cooperstown.
The boys woke up to cloudy skies and rain on August 7, and the rain was such that the Dodgers afternoon game against the Giants at the Polo Grounds was rained out. As afternoon turned into evening the rains stopped. Before heading to Ebbets Field on August 7, the players dined in Sheepshead Bay and were joined by baseball’s Clown Prince, Al Schacht. At the ball yard, Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore threw out the first ball, and Brooklyn legend Gladys Gooding sung the National Anthem. Also in attendance was Hilda Chester, perhaps the most vociferous fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hilda was hard to miss. She came to each game equipped with her cowbells and heckled the opposition with an unmatched fervor. The young “World” players were not spared.
Durocher chose Al McEvoy as his starting pitcher and marveled as the youngster was warming up. “They won’t do him any harm tonight.” In an aside to Dixie Walker he said, “Maybe we won’t need you for a pinch hitter after all.” Walker’s eyes were trained on the opposing pitcher, Lenny Yochim from New Orleans. He’d been “looking at that other fellow over there and he just busted loose with a sidearm pitch that I can easily live without.”
McEvoy, who starred at Brooklyn Prep, pitching three no-hitters during his time there, had a complete game victory for the Brooklyn team, striking out 13 and allowing only five hits and no earned runs. The score was 4-2, and the game was completed in 97 minutes. McEvoy went to Holy Cross, going 7-0 in his freshman year, before signing with the Yankees. He went 11-4 in two minor league seasons. At the end of the 1949 season he pitched very briefly at the Class AAA level, and went no further.
McEvoy had been selected during a tryout that was overseen by scout Art Dede and former major leaguer Herb Thormahlen. Thormahlen, who had started his career with the Yankees, was involved in a trade with the Red Sox that brought Waite Hoyt to the Yankees. Of the more than 1,000 players nominated, 100 were elected to try out, 20 at a time. After the first series of tryouts, the number of candidates was cut to 35 and those 35 played in practice games in early July. On July 21, the team was announced and pictures of each of the final 20 players appeared in that day’s Brooklyn Eagle. Leading the practices that began on July 22 were Dede, Sukeforth, Thormahlen, and John Carey. Carey, a former minor league pitcher in the Dodger organization helped the team’s pitching corps. On July 30, prior to the Dodgers-Cardinals game at Ebbets Field, the Brooklyn squad worked out on the field in front of more than 31,000 fans.
Thormahlen was quite active with Brooklyn Against the World in 1946. He also conducted a baseball school in Bridgeport, Connecticut after which Frank Turcy was selected to represent the city in the games at Brooklyn. Turcy signed with the Giants and played six minor league seasons.
Yochim, who had the distinction of being the first player chosen to participate in the series, was almost as good as McEvoy in his Brooklyn Against the World appearance. In four and one third innings of work, he allowed four hits, only two of which left the infield, and struck out eight. The only runs scored off him were unearned. He was signed by the Pirates and made it to the majors for brief visits in 1951 and 1954, appearing in 12 games with a 1-2 record. In 10 minor league seasons, many of them spent with the Bucs Double A club in New Orleans, Yochim compiled a 109-68 record. After his playing days, he became a well-respected scout for the Pirates, and after retiring continued to network with his fellow scouts.
One of the unsung coaches working with the Brooklyn youngsters was Art Dede. Thirty years earlier, Dede had played with the Dodgers – for one game. On October 4, 1916, in the team’s second to last game of the season, he came in to catch, had one plate appearance, and was unable to reach base safely. He was 21-years-old at the time. He was a sandlotter, and that appearance was his only game in professional baseball. He returned to the sandlots and became a fixture in Brooklyn. In 1947, became a scout for the Dodgers. When the Dodgers moved away, Dede signed on with the Yankees and was with them through 1971.
In 1946, he was working with the young Brooklyn first baseman, Arnold Wallis. He taught him a play whereby the first baseman, with runners on first and second and none out, a definite bunt situation, would charge toward the third base line and toss the ball to third base for the force play. He worked the play in the first game of Brooklyn Against the World. Oddly enough, in his playing days “World” manager Sisler, the top first baseman of his day, had often used this play. That particular play would not really been seen in New York for another 40 years, and the player who performed it was not born until 1953.
As for Wallis, he signed on with the Dodgers and played five minor league seasons. His best year was in 1949 when he batted .327 in 113 games at Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the Class-B Interstate League. The following season he moved up a notch to Class-A Pueblo, Colorado in the Western League, but was unable to sustain his excellence of the prior season. At age 22, his baseball days were over.
It was hoped that 20,000 people would file into Ebbets Field for the game, but the day’s rains cut the crowd to about half that figure. Brooklyn Against the World was not the only game in the borough that night. The semi-pro Bushwicks hosted the Kansas City Monarchs and none other than Satchel Paige before 7,100 onlookers at Dexter Park.
In the second game, Vernon Frantz of Wichita and Rickey Rowe of Fort Worth handled Brooklyn, as the World won 4-3 in front of 10,222 spectators. Leo Durocher’s second game pitcher was Artie Raynor of Rockville Center, Long Island. Raynor had played right field in the first game. Playing right field in the second game was Ed Ford of Astoria Queens and Aviation High School in Manhattan. Ford had played his sandlot ball with the 34th Avenue Boys Club in Astoria, Queens. Raynor pitched brilliantly, allowing no hits in four innings, but the pitchers that followed him to the mound did not enjoy as much success. Brooklyn did not fare much better at the plate, mustering only three hits in the game, all off Rowe.
Frantz, a minister’s son, ran into misfortune in top of the fifth inning when Brooklyn scored twice without the benefit of a hit. Angelo Palmieri replaced Raynor in the bottom of the inning and relinquished the lead. As in the top half of the inning, the pitcher was done in by errors. In this case, the World loaded the bases without benefit of a hit. Chicago’s Art Sepke, pinch hitting for Frantz, ended the no-hitter with a single, chasing two of the runners home. An inning later the World went out in front within another unearned run, courtesy of two errors sandwiched around a stolen base by Marasco. Rowe, who had taken over the pitching in the sixth inning, was touched up for a pair of singles as Brooklyn tied the game in the seventh inning. The game was decided in the eighth inning when the World scored another unearned run, this time off pitcher Bob Cowherd, who was tagged with the loss.
Frantz was also an accomplished wrestler, won the Kansas State Championship in the 138 pound classification as a high school junior. He was chosen to represent Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska, and had earned his way onto the squad by virtue of his performance in the Kansas Ban Johnson League, where his record was 4-2. One of those defeats, ironically, was against Rickey Rowe, who was playing for Manhattan, Kansas at the time. In high school, Frantz had pitched his Wichita East High School team to the state championship, striking out 15 batters in the final game of the tournament against Topeka.
Frantz signed with the Dodgers and was in their organization from 1947 through 1951. In his best season, he went 14-9 at Class-C Santa Barbara in the California League. Rowe signed on with the Giants and was in their minor league system for three seasons, going 27-19. However, the Giants had no use for his talents after 1950 and he was out of baseball at age 22.
After Raynor and Frantz exited, their replacements were just as stingy, insofar as giving up hits was concerned. However, both teams were guilty of defensive lapses. Brooklyn was charged with six errors, and the World squad committed eight miscues.
The series was tied at one game apiece.
In the finale, Brooklyn’s Bill Mackel, from the University of Pennsylvania, and Bob Kunze, who had overcome a childhood battle with infantile paralysis, shut down the World by 5-1to win the series for Brooklyn, defeating Dick Baptista of San Francisco. Mackel, who had gone 4-1 in his first year of college,.pitched the first six innings, striking out nine and yielding but two singles. The World’s only run was unearned and resulted from an error by third baseman Joe Della Monica, a teammate of Mackel’s at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mackel signed with the Giants in 1949 and fashioned a 16-7 record for Bristol in the Class-D Appalachian League. In 1950 he was in the Cardinal organization, and at the end of the season pitched briefly at Columbus, Georgia in the Class-A South Atlantic League. He would go no further and his dream was over at age 22. After college, Kunze made his way to upstate New York playing with unaffiliated minor league teams in Watertown and Kingston in 1950 and 1951. In 1952, he plied his trade for the unaffiliated Tarboro (NC) Tars in the Class-D Coastal Plain League, going 12-10. As no major league organization was interested in his services, he called it a career at the age of 23. Baptista did not play in organized baseball.
Della Monica had played his high school ball at St. John’s Prep. He played in the Esquire’s All- American Boys Baseball game in 1945 and was team captain for Babe Ruth’s east squad. He signed with the Boston Braves in 1947 and was in their organization for six seasons before entering the military in 1953. He batted .261 at Class-B Evansville in 1952, but the Braves released him when he returned for the service. In his last season, 1955, Della Monica was in the White Sox organization, but his future would not be in baseball.
Chuck Dressen took over as manager for this game, as Durocher was in Philadelphia with the Dodgers. In all, Durocher and Dressen used six Brooklyn pitchers in the three games. Several signed on to contracts with big league teams, but none made it to the majors. However, pitcher Ed Ford, who played in only the second game and played in right field, was signed by Paul Kritchell of the Yankees. Along the line, he became known as “Whitey” Ford and had a Hall of Fame career with the Bronx Bombers.
A third player from that first Brooklyn Against the World Series made it to the majors for the briefest of stays. Chris Kitsos of Brooklyn’s James Madison High School had the distinction of playing in both the Hearst Sandlot Classic and the Brooklyn Against the World competition in 1946. In the first game of the series in Brooklyn, the switch hitter singled from each side of the plate and drove in the game’s final run for the winners. He signed with the Dodgers and spent five seasons in their minor league system.
It was far too long of a stay. When Kitsos was in the Dodgers system, he felt he was in Branch Rickey’s doghouse. After his outstanding performance in the Hearst game, he received offers. As he said, “After the game, the Boston Braves, Cleveland, New York Yankees and Giants, were offering me contracts. But I had signed like a fool with Brooklyn before that game, and when you sign a contract you are there for the life of your baseball career, unless you are bought or drafted by another club. My father and I went to branch Rickey. We asked him to give us my release because the contract that gave me was for about $2,000 and I was offered an awful lot of money from the other baseball clubs. But he wouldn’t release me and from that day I was in the doghouse: Mr. Rickey’s doghouse.”
Over five years, he made seven stops in the Dodgers organization, and then he got noticed. He batted .334 in 1951 with Asheville in the Tri-State League, and his league-leading 137 walks game him an on-base percentage of .479. He also led his league in runs scored (134), doubles (43), and stolen bases (30). In the final game of the post season playoffs against Rock Hill, he homered from the right side of the plate in the first inning and from the left side of the plate in the second inning. Nest stop – Brooklyn? Note quite.
In those days, the doghouse notwithstanding, the Dodgers infield was populated by fellows named Robinson and Reese and their minor league system had an abundance of talent. Kitsos was expendable and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs after the 1951 season. The Cubs called the shortstop up in 1954, and on April 21, he was inserted as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning after a struggling Ernie Banks had been pulled for a pinch hitter. He handled two ground balls flawlessly, returned to the dugout, and never re-emerged. His major league career was over.
The Cubs released Kitsos in 1955 and he wound up back in the Dodgers organization. He went on to play in the minor leagues through 1959, appearing in 1,618 games. In 1955, playing with Mobile, he led the Southern Association in walks with 118. At Mobile, he was reunited with Jim Baxes, against whom he played in the 1946 Hearst Game. Baxes would comment that “he (Kitsos) was a helluva ballplayer. He didn’t get a chance. We had a good time playing ball together. Chris also has a special voice. He sings like a bird.”
After his baseball career was over, he settled in Mobile, Alabama, where he worked for the Gas Company. He also served as a youth baseball coach and worked with the Mobile Parks and Recreation Department.
The out-of-towners got more than their share of ink. Chicago’s Art Sepke, who was chosen to go to the game by Rogers Hornsby, was a man of many positions and talents. He batted .405 in his senior year of high school and hurled his team to five wins as well. At the end of the season, when his squad was depleted by injury, he stepped behind the plate for a couple of games. Sepke signed with the Yankees and was with Fond du Lac in the Class D Wisconsin State League in 1947, batting .394 in the early going before he missed most of the season with a sore arm. The following two seasons were spent with Pauls Valley in the Class-D Sooner State League, where the Yankees hoped the warmer weather would improve his performance. In 1948, he got off to a good start and was batting .329 through his first 26 games. However, he slumped thereafter, and batted only .246 for the season. Although his dream of a big league career ended after a poorer performance in 1949, he continued on in baseball and was a fixture in semi-pro ball in the Chicago area for many years. He also served as an area scout for the Kansas City Royals.
Each city had its own selection process and Spokane, Washington had an All-Star Game featuring the best 30 players from the area on July 10. A committee of seven selected the representative. Players representing Washington, Montana, and Idaho were observed by the committee headed by long time Dodger scout Howie Haak. In a high scoring affair, the West team defeated the east team 12-11. Selected to go east was third baseman Lou Damman who went 3-for-4 with a sensational catch grabbing a ball between shortstop and third base. His east teammates included Herb Plews who had played in the Esquire’s Game in 1945 and Jim Presley, who had played in the Esquire’s game in 1944. Finishing second in the balloting was infielder Stan Roseboro of Walla Walla who had stolen home to score the decisive run in the final inning. Roseboro signed with the Phillies in 1951 and spent eight seasons in the minors before calling it a career at age 30 after the 1958 season. He made it as far as Triple-A.
Dammam was accompanied to Brooklyn by writer Denny Spellecy of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. He was under the weather for a couple of days during his time in Brooklyn, but took in the sights. After the final Brooklyn Against the World contest, Damman and Spellecy took in a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium and viewed the games from the press box. That evening they went to the show at the Loews State Theater and watched the Nicholas Brothers perform. On the train ride back to Spokane, the pair stopped off long enough in Chicago to see a game at Wrigley Field.
Damman signed with the Dodgers and played in their system from 1947 to 1949. He moved onto the Red Sox system 1950 season after batting .303 with 21 homers for Santa Barbara in the Class-C California League in 1949. After spending the 1951 and 1952 seasons in the military, he played at Class-AAA Louisville in the American Association in 1953 and 1954, but would go no further.
From the Twin Cities came the St. Paul Amateur Baseball Federation’s representative, Alex Romanchuk who had completed his first year at St. Thomas College, where he went 5-0. He excelled during a doubleheader between the Minneapolis All-Stars and the St. Paul All-Stars. The pitcher-third baseman played at the hot corner in the first game and pitched the nightcap, winning 9-2. In his five years of playing amateur ball in the Twin Cities, Romanchuk, who graduated from Mechanics Arts high School, had gone 60-18. Among the judges at the game was Brooklyn Dodger scout Andy High, one of the coaches for the “World” team during the series in August.
Romanchuk deserved a better fate in Brooklyn Against the World. In the first game, he came on to relieve Lenny Yochim in the fifth inning and during his time on the mound, a 2-1 lead became a 4-2 deficit due in large part to an error by his second baseman that led to three unearned runs. After the games, Romanchuk received an offer to sign with the Dodgers, but his Russian-born mother wanted her sons to be engineers. Professional baseball was not an option, and he went on to complete his studies at the University of Minnesota. Although Romanchuk did not play organized ball, he was sought after by amateur teams in Minnesota and was a fixture in the Independent North Star League. He was elected into the Minnesota Hall of Fame for Town Amateur Baseball.
On August 4, 1946, while in New York, Romanchuk and some of his teammates appeared on a radio program called “We the People,” and a group of players dined at Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant in Manhattan.
Scouts were dispatched from Brooklyn to oversee tryouts to determine the representative of West Virginia’s Charleton Gazette. The young man chosen was Howard Beverly. Beverly was skilled at many positions. Normally he split his time between the mound and the outfield, but could play in the infield as well. After college, he signed on with the Cincinnati Reds and spent the 1949 season playing for his hometown Charleston Senators in the Class-A Central League, going 2-3 in 16 appearances. That was the end of his baseball career.
For many players, the game was an opportunity to visit New York followed by a return to school and a life beyond baseball. One player in this category was Billy Pfaff of Philadelphia. He was chosen by Connie Mack who said, “this Pfaff boy seems to be built like a big leaguer.” Pfaff went on to the University of Pennsylvania, severed in the infantry during the Korean War, and went on to a successful career as a commercial banker.
The chief beneficiary of the three games in Brooklyn was Sandlot baseball. The monies raised, $22,371 in all, went to a foundation with the goal of providing greater opportunities for youngsters to play baseball and stay out of mischief. Over the coming years, boys from Brooklyn and Long Island would find their way to new fields with new equipment in any number of leagues. Some would go on to big league careers and others would find their success elsewhere, fulfilling the vision of men like Lou Niss and his counterpart the other side of the East River.
The Hearst Sandlot Classic – Founders, Managers, Personalities
In 1946, sportswriter Max Kase of the New York Journal American was instrumental in creating what came to be known as the Hearst Sandlot Classic. The game featured a team of New York All-Stars against a team of U. S. All-Stars. Early on, he enlisted the aid of Babe Ruth, who served as honorary chairman in 1947.
Harry Schlacht of the Journal American noted that Babe Ruth “set the spark which kindled a flaming torch in the hearts of the kids of the nation.” The Babe, himself stated that “The Hearst papers are doing a grand job in the sandlot program for the youngsters. It keeps the kids off the streets; It keeps them out of mischief; It builds them up physically; It helps them to become better citizens.”
The annual event was held at the Polo Grounds in New York through 1958. The game was moved to Yankee Stadium in 1959, as following the move of the Giants to San Francisco, the Polo Grounds was effectively abandoned.
Kase was also a driving force behind the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the National Basketball Association. He went on to great fame and a Pulitzer when he broke the story of the basketball fixing scandal involving City College of New York, Long Island University, and New York University in 1951. He also was a founder of the B’nai B’rith Sports Lodge and ran without great publicity, a charity that aided needy families of sports figures. In 1986, he was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
The Sandlot Classic had the backing of William Randolph Hearst who, early on, stressed the goals of the program. “This program will be conducted in all Hearst cities from coast to coast. The purpose of the program will not be to develop players for organized baseball, but will be designed to further the spirit of athletic competition among the youth of America.”
Just getting into the game was no easy task. Hearst Newspapers throughout the country sponsored tournaments, All-Star contests, and elections to determine candidates for the game in New York.
In San Antonio, the elimination event was an All-Star game. After sponsoring the games in conjunction with the American Legion for the first three years of the Hearst games, the Light, in 1949 began an affiliation with the Wrambling Wrecks, a group of disabled veterans. Not only did the games determine the players to go to New York, but they also raised funds for charities supported by the Wrambling Wrecks. With each passing year, the event grew bigger and better, and over the years, greats of the game such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Frankie Frisch were on hand, along with scouts from every major league team. There was entertainment for the whole family and kids got in free. And, oh yes, one lucky spectator would drive away in a new automobile. Writer Harold Schweritz chronicled the event and even the most obscure of players were included in his coverage, because on that night really nobody was obscure and each of the players had stars in his eyes. He wrote these words in 1962.
“Fourteen years of contributing some fun to the local athletic scene has brought these men (the Wrambling Wrecks) banged up in World War II, before the public as good citizens as well as good soldiers. Most of them were athletes before the loss of legs, arms or eyes, paralysis or other war injuries put them on the sidelines as competitors. The Wrambling Wrecks have dived into the task of setting up the game, selling the tickets, and handling most of the details. The tasks assigned to various members have snapped them out of natural unhappiness over their war injuries in many cases. The sense of accomplishment and the realization that they are paying their way and doing something for their organization has turned out to be a beneficial therapy that can’t be bought. Their organization has gained a standing in the community with the best. Baseball has benefited and Texas has been supplying top flight ballplayers as its representatives in the New York game.”
Although only five of the 39 players from the Texas games who represented San Antonio in New York over the years went on to the major leagues (including one man who was still in uniform 54 years after his first San Antonio appearance), many of the stories involve players who didn’t make it to the show. They, like the Wrambling Wrecks, made a contribution, often off the playing field.
In 1953, following the annual San Antonio- South Texas All-Star game, the San Antonio Light sent Ernie Oosterveen and Eusebio “Chevo” Contreras to the big city. In New York, they saw two Yankee games, attended a performance at the Radio City Music Hall, stayed at the prestigious Hotel New Yorker, and got to play at the Polo Grounds. Oosterveen, a pitcher, retired the side in order, with two strikeouts, to save the win for the U. S. All-Stars.
When it was all over, they had a wonderful memory. Contreras, who went on to play at the University of Texas and was chosen one of the top 100 Laredo area athletes of the 20th Century, received some attention from St. Louis Browns scout George Peters, but never signed with a major league team. As a young man, Contreras, a Mexican-American from Laredo, had to contend with language issues. When his high school team went to Austin to play in the Texas State Championships in 1952, they were the only team that consisted of Spanish-speaking players. He played semi-pro ball in the Laredo area for many years, and finally at age 27, played professionally appearing in 30 games in the Mexican League in 1962. Later on, he served as coach at Martin High School and Nixon High School in Laredo.
Ernie Oosterveen, a graduate of Jefferson High School in San Antonio, had just completed his freshman year at the University of Arizona and he had “sparkled in local (San Antonio) baseball since he was large enough to hold a bat.” In the San Antonio-South Texas All-Star game, he secured his trip to New York by pitching three perfect innings. He struck out six, and the only ball to leave the infield was a fly ball to left field by Contreras. He was one of five members of the San Antonio squad to sign contracts with major-league teams. None of the five made it to the major leagues.
Oosterveen starred at the University of Arizona, going 6-2 in 1956 and pitching a 1-0 shutout with 11 strikeouts as Arizona eliminated New Hampshire in the 1956 College World Series. On short rest, he started the final game, and was knocked out early, as Arizona lost to Minnesota 12-1. He also pitched semi-pro ball with Gary Bell for the Texas Consolidated Transporters of the Spanish American League in San Antonio, and in June, 1956, signed with the Cincinnati Reds . He played in the minor leagues through 1960, getting as far as Class B. His record over the course of his years in the minors was 17-21. He entered the Army after the 1960 season and while pitching in the Army, went 25-1.
Oosterveen, who was raised by his grandparents, was very active in the YMCA. On the Y’s website, Ernie is quoted as saying, “We lived in a tough part of town. Gang members would throw rocks at us and carry chains for fighting.” His uncle took him to the Y so that he could have a safe place with positive role models. After serving in the Army, he and his wife Sandy settled in Edmonds, Washington. He worked 10 years for the Government and spent 30 years as a salesman for Mead Corporation, retiring in 1998.
He has worked with the Mariners, helping out in their ticket office. He also works as an interpreter for the team. When he was pitching, he didn’t throw hard enough to hurt his arm, and was enjoying life and his family at age 79 in 2013.
Boston, with the support of the Boston Record-American, hosted a regional Classic for many years, starting in 1946 and continuing through 1971. Most of the games were held at Fenway Park. In 1946 and 1948, the game was staged at Braves Field. In 1949, the game was held at Fallon Field. Boston sent Harry Agganis (1947), George Bullard (1946), Joe Coleman (1964), Billy Conigliaro (1963-64), Tony Conigliaro (1960-1962), John Cumberland (1965), John Doherty (1969), Shaun Fitzmaurice (1960-61), Russ Gibson (1956), Bob Guindon (1959-60), Fran Healy (1963), Richie Hebner (1965), Walter Hriniak (1960), Frank Leja (1953), Skip Lockwood (1962-63), Don Mason (1962), Bill Macleod (1959), Bill Monboquette (1954), Danny Murphy (1958), Norman Roy (1946), Mike Ryan (1960), and Wilbur Wood (1958-59) to the majors.
The Boston program was strongly supported by Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. In 1961, he noted that several players in the Red Sox organization, including Gibson, Guindon, Macleod, Monbouquette, Ryan, Wood, and Chuck Schilling who the Sox signed off the New York Sandlots had participated in the Hearst program. Over the years, the Red Sox signed 12 Hearst Alums that made it to the majors, and the 1964 had roster included six players who could trace their roots to the Hearst Sandlot classic.
Yawkey noted, “This is a great program. I mean it. I went down to the locker-room and met some of the kids, the winners and the losers. They’re fine boys, outstanding, clean cut. They learn so much from tournaments like these. I could go into all the levels of it – juvenile delinquency, teamwork, the importance of sports in the fight for a free world. Most of all, though, it’s the fact that a kid can learn to be a man, how to take it, how to win, and how to lose. And a kid learns confidence in himself. You just can’t buy that.”
Day after day through those years, the scribes of the Boston American hyped the game and the cause. In 1956, it was writer Austin Lake’s turn. “This I know. Give a boy a baseball. Show him how to use it, and you have control of the boy. There are no delinquents on our playing fields. The program will sift and sort the best lads from the compass corners of the U. S. for the annual title game at New York on August 22, but first 30 boys are being selected for the New England championship game at Fenway Park on August 7. Best two of that collection will go to New York. It is opportunity’s Golden Door.”
The games in Boston continued for six years after the Journal-American ceased publication and the “Journal-American” game faded into history. In 1969, John Doherty represented Reading, Massachusetts in the game. He subsequently went on to sign with the California Angels. In 1974, he made it to the majors, and played in 104 games over two seasons, batting .240. His first major league hit, a double, came on June 5, 1974 in an Angels win over Milwaukee. Credited with the win in the game was fellow Hearst alum Skip Lockwood, also from Boston.
In the final year of the games at Boston, 1971, 1,023 young men attended tryouts held in nine locations to select players for the games at Fenway Park. 90 players were selected for the semi-finals on July 29. 45 young men played in the morning game, and the other 45 played in the afternoon. 15 players from each of these games (30 in total) went on to play in the final game on Monday, August 2.
The final game went eleven innings and the Record and Advertiser teams were tied at 6-6 when play was halted.
One of the top finalists was Glenn Tufts, who excelled at Raynham High School in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He was so highly thought of that the Cleveland Indians made him their first pick (fifth overall) in the 1973 draft. Glenn never made it to the majors as his career was derailed by an automobile accident. After four minor league seasons, during which he batted .240, he stayed in baseball and, in 2014, was in his 20th year as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.
Catcher Paul “Bunky” Smith was chosen the game’s MVP and received the Harry Agganis Trophy. He went 3-for-5 in the game and scored two runs for the Advertiser team. He was drafted by the Red Sox in1971, but only got as far as Class A in three minor league seasons. The pitching star of the final game was pitcher Bill Andraktos who won the Smoky Joe Wood Award. Pitching for the Record team, he faced nine batters, retired all of them and struck out eight in the process. He was chosen the game’s pitching MVP but was unsigned.
But the experience of a youngster from Everett, Massachusetts is the stuff from which miracles are made. Picked for the 90-man squad was a 16-year-old infielder who would not be denied his place. He went to tryout after tryout before being selected as one of the 90 semi-finalists. Then in the morning game on July 29, he went 1-for-2, scored the winning run, made the best fielding play of the game and was selected as one of the 30 young men to play in the finals. The personification of persistence, he eventually became far better known for his ice hockey skills, and Mike Eruzione captained the United States Olympic team to the Gold Medal in the Miracle on Ice in 1980.
Do you believe in miracles? For Hundreds of Esquire, Brooklyn Against the World, and Hearst Participants in games from 1944 through 1971, the answer is a loud, resounding – YES!
Other Newspapers that sponsored Hearst events included the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald-Express, Baltimore News-Post, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Detroit Times, the Albany Times-Union , the Chicago Herald-American, and the Oakland Post-Enquirer.
But in those days, the epicenter of Baseball in America was New York City. During the first twelve years of the Hearst Classic, there were three major league teams in New York. From 1947 through 1958, at least one New York team was in the World Series, and in seven of those years, the entire Series was played in New York. Children in New York grew up with baseball. There was little else. Young boys would find their way to a vacant sandlot, choose up sides and play as long as darkness, or an unforgiving mom summoning a child home for dinner, would allow. Stickball in the streets took on various forms, depending on the neighborhood. Home runs in the street were measured by distances between sewers or, in the suburbs, distances between telephone poles. When it rained, young boys would spend their time indoors playing board games and talking baseball. Long before “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” became a musical refrain, it was very much the core of discussions, especially during those years from 1954 through 1957. And in New York, the best of the players honed their skills on the better groomed fields in any number of leagues.
In New York, the involvement of the Journal-American in boys’ baseball began in 1945. It was a local affair with support from the Police Athletic League (PAL), Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Kiwanis, New York City Baseball Federation, and the Queens-Nassau Alliance. Heading up the program was Ethan Allen, a former major leaguer who had compiled a .300 batting average during a 13 year career with six major league clubs. While with the Phillies in 1934, he led the National League in doubles with 42 while batting .330. After his playing days, he served as coach at Yale for 26 years from 1943 through 1969.
Allen’s impact on the youth of America was major – a least to one young fan growing up on Long Island. In the 1950’s, he created a board game called All-Star Baseball. A generation of young fans would spend hours spinning the dial hoping for a home run from players of a bygone era. While at Yale, he coached a young George Herbert Walker Bush.
He also coached Dick Tettelbach, who had a brief major league career with the Yankees and Senators. Reflecting on Allen, Tettelbach said, “He was so thorough on fundamentals. When I got to pro ball after being exposed to Ethan for three or four years, I really knew more baseball than most of the guys in the major leagues. He knew it inside and out. Ethan Allen was A-plus, totally the best coach I ever played for.”
At the end of the summer of 1945, there was a citywide tournament, and the Gallahads of the Queens-Nassau Alliance won the first New York City Sandlot Championship.
In 1946, the scope of the sandlot program was increased. Hall-of-Famer Walter James Vincent “Rabbit” Maranville succeeded Allen as Director, and the first Hearst Sandlot Classic, bringing in boys from around the country was held. The New York team was selected from tryouts held in the leagues that comprised the Journal-American City Sandlot Alliance. Maranville, in addition to heading up the program, managed the New York contingent.
Maranville was truly one of the game’s legends. He began his major league career in 1912 with the Boston Braves and played in the majors for 23 years. An exceptional middle infielder, he still holds the career record for assists with 8,967. As his career wound down his defensive skills were as good as ever. In 1930, at the age of 38, he led the league’s shortstops in fielding percentage and two years later he moved to second base and duplicated the feat. Not noted for his batting, he nevertheless ranks 19th all-time with 177 triples. After his major league playing days ended, he went back to the minor leagues. In 1936, at the ripe-young-age of 44, he batted .323 as a player-manager for the Elmira Pioneers in the Class A New York-Penn League, and was named to the League’s All-Star team as a second baseman. As noted in his obituary in the New York Times, “he established himself as one of the greatest little men (he only stood 5’ 4”) baseball has ever known and also endeared himself to followers of the national pastime as an outstanding personality.” Long before Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, Maranville had mastered the basket catch to the delight of his fans. Of his defense, it was stated that “his ground covering ability was amazing, he had sure hands and a strong accurate throwing arm, and he supplemented his mechanical talents with unrivaled dash and verve.”
In his capacity as director, Maranville arranged clinics for youngsters in the New York area under the tutelage of players, coaches, and managers from the three New York major league squads. In the weeks leading up to the 1946 event, he contributed a daily column in the New York Journal-American extolling the talents of his 20 man roster. He also had a hand in publishing The Sandlotter, a newsletter that was mailed out periodically during the season. Although sentiment did play a role in his election to the Hall of Fame in 1954, (he had died just prior to the voting), his work with the youth program and his stellar defense during 23 major league seasons were also significant factors.
Arthur Daley of The New York Times was an ardent supporter of Maranville, voting for him several occasions before he gained entrance to the Hall of Fame in 1954. Maranville had been named on 62.1% of the ballots in 1953. Noting Maranville’s off-the-field escapades (he definitely enjoyed a good time), Daley stated that “there was a certain amount of irony in the fact that the Rabbit’s later years were spent in doing an extraordinarily fine job in promoting sandlot baseball for The Journal-American. He was helping and inspiring the kids, although he would have shuddered in horror if any of them had ever followed his (off-the-field) example. But maybe there was not so much irony in his job at that. The Rabbit was always a kid himself, a Peter Pan who didn’t want to grow up.”
George Vecsey of The New York Times set off a firestorm of sorts when he stated, in 1989, that Maranville’s two greatest attributes were longevity and good deeds as the sandlot ambassador for a newspaper chain with many Hall of Fame Electors. Within a couple of weeks, a deluge of letters appeared on his desk. The Rabbit, indeed, was worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Maranville didn’t miss much on the field. In the 1948 game, young Ray Pecoraro of the New York All-Stars singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, and was caught in a run down as he tried to stretch his hit into a double. He didn’t notice that U. S. All-Star shortstop Al Facchini had chased down the ball and gunned it in. The contest was close. At the time of Pecoraro’s hit, his team was down by two runs. The next batter, Pecoraro’s Brooklyn teammate, Bobby Pasquale, grounded out to end the game, depriving another of Ray’s friends, John Mirabile an at-bat. Years later, Pecoraro, who became an attorney in Brooklyn, remembered that Maranville “bawled the hell out of me. ‘Two runs behind and you gamble like that.’ he said. “Embarrassed me, but I never made that mistake again.” Pecoraro grew up playing on the Brooklyn sandlots, and graduated from Lafayette High School and St. John’s University. He did not play professional baseball.
Pecoraro’s Lafayette High School team in Brooklyn won the New York Public School Athletic League (PSAL) Championship in 1947, his junior year, defeating Grover Cleveland High School. The championship game was very much a roller coaster ride for Ray and his teammates. Pecoraro had given Lafayette a 1-0 lead in the first inning by stealing home. The “Frenchies” expanded the lead to 4-0, but Cleveland came storming back, helped by two Pecoraro errors, to take a 9-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning. Lafayette scored five runs in the ninth inning, including two on a suicide squeeze play, to knot the score at 9-9, and the winning run scored in the tenth when, with two outs, Pecoraro singled in Ken Aspromonte from third with the winning run, going from goat to hero. Pecoraro hit .407 in his junior year and was highly regarded. Jimmy Murphy noted in the Brooklyn Eagle that “Pecoraro plays center field like Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees, whose style he has aped to perfection. He can come in and go back equally for drives, owns a power arm, and is a human greyhound getting over the ground. Capitalizing on his fleetness has made him a marvelous base stealer.”
Although some scouts looked his way, Ray elected to stay close to home. He finished St. John’s in three years and went on to the University’s law school. He came out of law school with a commission in the Marines, served with the Marines, and came home to practice law in Brooklyn. He was still practicing in 2013, 65 years after his appearance in the Hearst Classic.
Maranville also extolled the values of his players to the many writers and scouts in attendance at the Hearst games. In 1950, he applauded a youngster from Brooklyn’s Kiwanis League who was a member of the New York All-Stars. The kid, who had also stared at Brooklyn’s Lafayette High School, was “the best looking backstop prospect I have seen anywhere” and predicted that the kid from Bensonhurst was “only two years from the big leagues.” The kid’s name is Mike Napoli. Also impressed with Napoli during the practices leading up to the game was Buck Lai, who was both a scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the baseball coach at Long Island University. After graduating from Lafayette High School, where he was a teammate of Pecoraro’s, Napoli went to LIU on a scholarship. He completed his freshman year and signed with the Dodgers in 1951for $10,000. The first monies spent from that bonus were for a washer and dryer for his parents’ home in Brooklyn.
Except for a two year stint in the military, he was in the Dodger farm system through 1961. His travels took him to ten different teams in nine leagues at five classifications. He got as high as Triple-A, and spent some spring training time in 1956 and 1957with the big club, but never got to the show. After his playing days were over, he settled in Fort Worth, Texas, working in security with General Motors for 27 years. He had spent the entire 1956 season and part of the 1957 season at Fort Worth, home to one of his mentors, Bobby Bragan. During his time in baseball, he developed a lasting friendship with Bragan, a former Dodger catcher who spent many years coaching and managing in the Dodgers minor league system. Bragan got his first managing job at Fort Worth in 1948, was with the Cats through 1952, and maintained strong ties to the community. Napoli and Bragan first met at the Dodgers minor league spring training facility in 1952, and Bragan took a liking to the youngster. Although Bragan wanted Napoli for his Fort Worth Squad, the Dodgers had other plans for Mike, placing him lower in the organization. Bragan and Napoli remained close over the years and Mike attended many functions that raised funds for the Bobby Bragan Foundation, an organization that awarded academic scholarships to students who would not otherwise be able to afford a college education.
Maranville managed the New York team for the first eight years of the event. After Maranville died suddenly from a heart attack in January, 1954 at age 62, Al Simmons took over. Simmons, a Hall-of-Famer, got his start playing sandlot ball in Milwaukee as a youngster, and managed in the Classic for two years until his untimely death in 1956.
George Stirnweiss took over in 1956. “Snuffy” had played with the New York Yankees from 1943 through 1950, and won the American League batting title in 1945. His batting title came when, on the final day of the season, the official scorer reversed his ruling changing an error to a hit, giving Stirnweiss an average of .308544, which allowed him to edge out Tony Cuccinello (.308457) by the barest of margins. After the tragic death of Stirnweiss in a railroad accident, when his train went off the CRRNJ Newark Bay Bridge between Elizabethport and Bayonne, New Jersey, killing 48 people, Tommy Holmes took over in 1959.
Early on, Kase enlisted Ray Schalk and Oscar Vitt to lead the U. S. All-Stars. Schalk managed the team through 1948. He stepped aside after three years, as his contract as baseball coach at Purdue did not allow him to engage in any outside activities. At the time he left, he said that he “liked being around the kids and the biggest kid of all, Rabbit Marranville.” During the first game in New York in 1946 Schalk and Maranville would share stories of bygone days with anyone who would listen and the audience included Ralph Cannon of the Chicago Herald-American. Cannon relayed stories about the pranks of Eddie Collins and Kid Gleason, and the escapades of Jim Thorpe. As the Rabbit said of Thorpe, “What a guy! What and era!”
Vitt, who conducted the San Francisco Examiner baseball school in 1946 and assisted Schalk in 1947, took over the head job in 1948, ably assisted by such greats as Max Carey, Charlie Gehringer and Lefty Gomez, and stayed with the program until illness forced him to step aside in 1962, at which time Eddie Joost took over.
Vitt was a veteran of the game. He played with the Detroit Tigers from 1912 through 1918, and the Red Sox from 1919 through 1921. He teamed with Ty Cobb and roomed with Babe Ruth. The highlights from his playing days are not plentiful, but he did break up Walter Johnson’s bid for a no-hitter on June 9, 1918.Vitt went on to a successful managerial career. He spent eleven years in the Pacific Coast League, and led the Hollywood Stars to three consecutive league championship finals from 1929 through 1931. He went on to manage the Newark Bears of the International League in 1936-37, compiling a 197-110 record and winning the League Championship in 1937. That got him a ticket to the major leagues. He managed the Cleveland Indians from 1938 through 1940. Those Indians featured a young Robert Feller. Although he combined a winning record with the Tribe with two thirds and a second place finish, there was major dissension on the team, and he was let go after the 1940 season. He retired in 1942 after a two year stint in the Pacific Coast League, and turned to youth baseball, running a baseball school, in conjunction with the San Francisco Examiner.
Frank Graham of the Journal-American said this of Vitt: “As a young fellow playing ball with the Tigers and the Red Sox, Oscar Vitt was full of zing. Now in his fifties, graying and wearing spectacles, he is – you guessed it – full of zing. The kind of guy who, if he lives to be a hundred or more, will not change. You know why the kids like him so much. He has the gift of remembering his own youth. He doesn’t have to tell that to the kids with whom he works. They know it just by looking at him and listening to him. The mistakes they make on the field are the mistakes he made long ago, and he doesn’t attempt to conceal it from them.”
His coaching philosophy was summed up in these words quoted by Graham in 1949. Graham noted that Vitt wanted his players to learn from their mistakes. Vitt said, “Sure, you don’t have to tell me. I did it (booting a ball or throwing to the wrong base). But look. Next time don’t try to throw the ball before you pick it up. You can’t do it. I tried to do it before you were born, and it didn’t work then either. And when you have to make a throw, look around and see where the ball can do the most good before you let go of it. You threw to the wrong base? Sure you did. But so have all the great ballplayers I’ve ever seen. Once anyhow. The reason they became great ballplayers is that they didn’t make a habit of it. Don’t you either.”
More than 80 of the young men on the rosters of the U. S. All-Stars and the New York All-Stars made their way to the major leagues including Hall-of-Famers Al Kaline (1951), and Ron Santo and Joe Torre (1958). From 1948 through 1985, there was at least one Hearst alumnus playing in the major leagues. In 1959, each American League team had at least one Hearst alum on its roster, and in 1960, the National League could make the same boast.
At least one Hearst player appeared in the World Series in each year from 1951 through 1975, and in the 1957 World Series, five participants could trace their start to the Hearst Classic. Two Hearst participants managed World Series champions. If you broaden this list to include the Esquire and Brooklyn Against the World games, the World Series streak goes back to 1949, and the count for the 1957 World Series goes to seven.
There were All-Stars galore, 37 in all. For four consecutive years (1957-1960), there were nine alums of the Esquire, Brooklyn Against the World, and Hearst programs in each of the All-Star games. And there was at least one Alum in every All-Star Game from 1951 through 1978.
Hearst Sandlot Classic – 1946
Inaugural Game Sends Nine Players to Majors
The year 1946 was the year of the Mexican League’s incursion into the major leagues. Several players accepted the lure of big money but several were coming disenchanted as the calendar rolled into August. Dominating the headlines in many of the Hearst papers were stories involving Mickey Owen who had become disenchanted with Mexico and was seeking to be reinstated. He and all the other players who skipped were banned from major league baseball, and the ban was not lifted until 1949. Attempts to unionize major league players were in their infancy, but that didn’t stop the Pittsburgh Pirates from threatening to strike in June.
Against this backdrop, the inaugural Hearst game was played on August 15, and set the bar as to the visitors having a lifetime memory. Seats to a Yankee-Red Sox game on August 10, a day at Long Island’s Jones Beach, a reception at the residence of New York’s Mayor, a trip around Manhattan Island by boat, a Broadway Show – that year it was “Showboat”, a trip to West Point, dinner at the Bear Mountain Inn, accommodations at the Hotel New Yorker, and an opportunity to perform in front of major league scouts and meet with major league players. Nine players, including Herb Adams, Jim Baxes, Billy Harrell, Chris Kitsos, Billy Loes, Jimmy Mangan, Norman Roy, Paul Schramka, and Earl Smith from the inaugural teams, would go on to play in the big leagues. The game was won 8-7 in eleven innings by the New Yorkers in front of 15.269 fans.
Interestingly enough, the first injury victim in Hearst history was U. S. All-Star manager Ray Schalk, whose ankle was injured when he was stuck by a line drive. During the practice sessions leading up to the game, Schalk was aided by Cub’s Scout Jim Smilgoff and Yankees’ coach John Schulte. In a scrimmage prior to the game, Chicago’s Herb Adams pitched and retired the three batters he faced, earning the starting assignment for the August 15 contest.
The first ball was thrown out by New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer. Umpiring that first game was the dean of umpires and reigning National League Umpire-in-Chief, Hall-of-Famer Bill Klem. He was assisted by Butch Henline and Albert “Dolly” Stark. Klem and Henline had also, of course, along with semi-pro umpire, Jim Druggoole, umpired the inaugural Brooklyn Against the World games earlier in August.
Each time the U. S. All-Stars put runs on the board, they were matched by the New York squad. They jumped to a one run lead in the fourth inning and were matched by the Journal-American lads. In the sixth inning, each team put up a four spot and the game was tied 5-5 going into the ninth inning. Ed Burrows of San Antonio, who didn’t play organized baseball, put the visitors up by two runs with a ninth inning single, but for a third time the New Yorkers were able to provide an answer.
The game went into extra innings when Chris Kitsos of the New York squad, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, singled in two runs to knot the score at 7-7. Kitsos was on third in the bottom of the 11th inning and scored on a wild pitch for the game-ender. He stole two bases during the course of the contest.
The starting pitcher in that first Hearst game for the U. S. All-Stars was Herb Adams from Chicago, who was accompanied to New York by writers Ralph Cannon and Tommy Kouzmanoff of the Chicago Herald-American. Adams, and the other Chicago representative Jimmy Karras, a first baseman, were both in the starting lineup for the U. S. All-Stars. In subsequent years, it was unusual for two players from the same city to be in the starting lineup.
Adams had earned his way on to the squad by virtue of his performance in an All-Star game at Wrigley Field on July 1. Behind the plate in that game was umpire Al Barlick who went on to become the dean of National League umpires. A crowd of 18,828 looked on at Chicago’s Wrigley Field as the Chicago Area All-Stars defeated the City League All-Stars 6-3. Not only did the 5’ 7” 145 pound Adams star on the mound, but he also went 3-for-5 at the plate. In the game in New York on August 15, he threw three hitless innings, striking out, at one point, four consecutive batters. He signed with his hometown White Sox in 1947 as an outfielder and batted .405 in his first minor league season with Class-D Madisonville, Kentucky.
That opened a few eyes and he was promoted to Hot Springs in the Class-C Cotton State League in 1948. With Hot Springs, his league leading .375 batting average was 61 points higher than that of the runner up. His league leading 28 doubles accounted for the lion’s share of his 41 extra base hits. He led the league in total bases (280) and drove in 67 runs. He was selected his league’s Most Valuable Player. It was no wonder that, at the end of the season, he was called up by the White Sox and made his debut on September 17 against the Philadelphia Athletics. He was inserted into the leadoff spot in the order and, in his fourth at-bat singled off Wally Holborow for his first major league hit, played parts of three seasons with the Sox before he was traded to Cleveland at the end of the 1950 season. However, he couldn’t report right away, as he was drafted. After a two-year stint in the Army, he reported to spring training with the Indians in 1953. Cleveland sent him to the minors, and he played in the minors through 1959. He never returned to the big leagues. His major league career had concluded in 1950 at age 24. He batted .261 in 95 big league games. Over the course of eleven minor league seasons, he batted .312.
Adams was matched against Rudy Yandoli who represented the Brooklyn Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). The two didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. Yandoli, who attended St. John’s Prep, signed with the new York Giants and was nothing short of spectacular during his first three minor league seasons, going 50-21. In 1951, at Sunbury, Pennsylvania in the Interstate League, he was 17-10 with a 2.57 ERA. Uncle Sam then called and his career was effectively derailed. He was dealt to Cincinnati before the 1954 season and appeared in only two lower level minor league games without a decision.
The first player to break through against either pitcher was the MVP of that very first game – Dimitrios Speros “Jim” Baxes of Mission High School in San Francisco, who could easily be mistaken for Joe DiMaggio, to whom he bore an uncanny physical resemblance. Not only did he come from the same city as the Yankee Clipper, but he also adopted Joe’s batting style.
Baxes had been selected to go to New York after participating in the San Francisco Examiner’s baseball school. During the month of June, the newspaper encouraged boys 11 years of age and older young men to sign up for the program, and during the first three weeks of July, the boys were put through their paces at the Big Rec in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and other playgrounds throughout the city. Heading up the program were baseball veterans Oscar Vitt, Tony Lazzeri, and Willie Kamm. Once the clinics ended on July 19, a tournament was held to select the lucky pair of young men who would go to New York.
Baxes, a second baseman, tore things up in the Classic. The first of his three hits was a fourth inning double that led to his team’s getting into the scoring column, taking a 1-0 lead. Each of his other hits, both singles, factored in rallies that accounted for all of his team’s runs. Although his team lost, he was clearly the star of the game, going 3-for-6. Baxes was signed by the Dodgers in 1947, and made several minor league stops before making it to the majors in 1959.
Jim said, upon his arrival in Los Angeles, “I really like baseball well enough to be playing at any level, but I honestly have always had it in the back of my head that sooner or later I would get my chance in the majors and stick.” As Melvin Durslag of the Los Angeles Examiner noted, “His fantastic peregrinations are unmatched by any Greek since the poet Homer made his Odyssey to Thebes, Troy, and Chavez Ravine. You picture a man covering all this ground as having a line of, say, ladies’ hosiery of Friendly Indian Hair Cream made from a formula that has been in the tribe 150 years. To see a fellow like Baxes in the big leagues at last is a sight of unalloyed pleasure, for he and his family have waited this moment for longer than it takes a guy to earn a medical degree.”
1959 would be his only major league season. He got into his first game on Opening Day and played in each of the Dodgers first eight games, before being benched in favor of Jim Gilliam. Before going to the bench, Baxes homered in back to-back games at the Los Angeles Coliseum against St. Louis on April 15 and April 16. He was batting .303 in 11 games with the Dodgers when he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in early May. He got into 77 games for the Tribe. In 280 major league at bats he batted .246 with 17 homers and 39 runs batted in.
Billy Harrell, who also appeared in the 1947 game, holds the distinction of being the first player of color to appear in the Hearst Classic and make it to the majors. Harrell, who was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, grew up in Troy, New York, and after playing in the Classic, attended Siena College, where he also played basketball. One of his best hoop efforts came at Madison Square Garden when he starred as Siena upset Manhattan College on December 3, 1949 in the National Catholic Invitational Championship. He was so appreciated during his time at Siena that they held a special night in his honor on February 14, 1952. The festivities began with a parade from Troy High School to the Albany Armory where Siena was facing Williams College, and concluded with a halftime ceremony. In 1962, he became the third person inducted into Siena’s Sports Hall-of-Fame, and in 2009, he was among the first group of players selected for the Capital District Basketball Hall of fame in Albany, New York. He played briefly for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1951 and was signed by Hank Greenberg of the Indians in 1952. Over the next three years, he starred in the minors at Cedar Rapids (.325), Reading (.330) and Indianapolis (.307) before playing with the Tribe in parts of the 1955, 1957, and 1958 seasons.
In those days spring training was a difficult time for the young black players. Late in life he recalled his experiences in an interview with Douglas Branch of the Albany Times Union. We took a lot of crap. (White teammates) Rocky Colavito and Herb Score had to get my food and bring it back on the bus (multiple times on the road). I couldn’t play against the Red Sox (in Winter Haven , Florida) because it was a city ordinance that African-Americans could not play with Whites. You had to know what towns you were going through. That is the the way it was coming up (from Florida to the North).”
He played at Triple-A Rochester in the Cardinals organization in 1959 and 1960. In 1960, he batted .293 with 15 homers and 78 RBIs. He was selected by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft and made his last major league stop in Boston in 1961.
In his time in the majors, he batted .231 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs. After finishing up with the Red Sox in 1961, he stayed on in their minor league system through 1966, and his career minor league numbers were impressive. He batted .284 with 114 homers and 573 RBIs in 13 minor league seasons.
Harrell’s appearance in 1946 Hearst game was even more historical in that, when he played in the Hearst Classic for the first time, Major League Baseball was not integrated. In light of Harrell’s appearance, Heavyweight Champion Joe Lewis bought 1,000 tickets for the game, and these tickets were distributed by The Amsterdam News to children in Harlem.
The picture below was taken when Siena retired Harrell’s number (he was the first player to be so honored) in 2006.
In Boston, the players were selected on Monday August 5 at Braves Field. Norman Roy of Waltham, Massachusetts was selected for the trip to New York. After the game in Boston, all of the participants were taxied to the Hotel Kenmore for a luncheon at which it was announced that Roy and George Mennard would be heading to New York. As a senior at Waltham High School, he began his season with a no-hitter against Middlesex and followed it up with a one-hitter, striking out 15, but his team lost to Watertown, 1-0. He started the game at Braves Field in center field and then took to the mound, pitching the last three innings. He was 1-for-3 at the plate and didn’t allow a run as his “Squad B” team won the game 5-1.
The only run for “Squad “A” came via a home run off the bat of Frank “Shotgun” Seastrand in the opening inning. Seastrand was not selected to go to New York, but signed with the Braves and made it as far as Class-C, hitting 61 homers in five minor league seasons. Another player not selected to go to New York was George Bullard. He signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1950 and after batting .341 at Durham in the Class-B Carolina League was called up to the Tigers at the end of the 1954 season. Bullard got into only four games. His first three appearances were as a pinch-runner. In his final appearance, on September 25 at Cleveland, he entered the game at shortstop in the bottom of the sixth inning. He had just one plate appearance, grounding into a force out.
The game in Boston lasted 12 innings, not due to the game being tied, but so as to allow the judges to get a look at all the players. Mennard, a catcher, had two hits in the Boston game. He impressed his coaches and was named to start the game in New York, despite, in a practice session, slamming a foul ball off Ray Schalk’s ankle that sent the manager to the hospital for x-rays.
Roy had the good fortune to see his hero, Ted Williams, at Yankee Stadium during an August 10 game between the Yankees and Red Sox. It was then Normie’s chance to go for the fences, which he did, launching a homer during a practice session at the Polo Grounds days prior to the big event. Prior to game time, however, Ray Schalk inserted John Darling in the lineup in lieu of Roy. Roy’s parents were both in the service, stationed overseas. His mother, a WAC Captain, was stationed in Germany and did her best to fly home for the game , but didn’t make it. In the crowd, lending moral support were Norm’s grandparents, who flew down from Boston. Roy entered the game as a pinch hitter for Darling in the sixth inning and singled. He came around to score as the U. S. squad scored four times in the frame. He singled again in the seventh inning. In the ninth inning, his sacrifice played a big role in his teams scoring a pair of runs and sending the game into extra innings. The only time he was unsuccessful at the plate was when he flied out in the tenth inning.
He signed as a pitcher with the Boston Braves prior to the 1947 season. In his first season at Pawtucket, where he pitched to a 6-1 record, he was struck by a line drive, losing four teeth. Over the next two seasons, he went a combined 21-12 with Milwaukee in the American Association, to bring his record to 27-13 over three minor league seasons. He spent the entire 1950 season with the Braves in Boston, going 4-3, with two complete games. His career in the majors ended at age 21.
Of the players in the 1946 Classic that made it to the majors, the best success was enjoyed by Billy Loes. Loes, after appearing in the 1948 Brooklyn Against the World games, was signed by the Dodgers on August 20, 1948 for a bonus estimated at $22,000. Under the bonus rule in effect at the time, Loes could spend one year in the minors, after which he had to be placed on the major league roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 draft. He split the 1949 season between Class-B Nashua (NH) and Class-AA Fort Worth, posting a 16-5 record. In 1950, with the Dodgers, he saw very little activity, getting into 10 games and pitching a total of 12 2/3 innings. After a year in the military, he returned to Brooklyn and posted a 50-25 record over the next four seasons. He was sold to Baltimore early in 1956 and finished up his career with the Giants in 1961.
Loes was a throwback to an earlier era with the Dodgers, where daffiness was part of the pedigree. As writer Jimmy Breslin noted in 1953 that, “A throwback to the old Brooklyn screwball tradition is young pitcher Billy Loes, the joy and despair of manager (Chuck) Dressen. Last year (1952), Loes picked the Yankees to win the World Series (against his Dodgers). This year, he predicted no Dodger pitcher would win more than fifteen games, then amended, “Better make it seventeen. I looked pretty good out there today.”
Perhaps the ultimate example of Loes’ daffiness occurred during the 1952 World Series. It was Game Six and Loes was handed the ball with the Dodgers ahead three games to two. For six innings, he was brilliant. The Dodgers led 1-0. In the seventh inning, Loes yielded a home run to Yogi Berra and then came a series of plays that stretched the imagination. Gene Woodling singled and, with Irv Noren batting, Loes took his stretch looked in for the signal, and somehow managed to allow the ball to drop from his grip. Of course, a balk was called and Woodling advanced to second. Loes retired Noren and Billy Martin. Woodling was still at second base with two outs as Yankee pitcher Vic Raschi stepped to the plate. Raschi hit a ground ball back to Loes and it appeared that the Dodgers would escape further damage – not quite. The ball bounced off Loes’ leg and went into right field, allowing Woodling to score the lead run. How did this happen? Loes maintained that he lost the ground ball in the sun! Loes reputation as a flake was sealed.
Adams’ battery mate in the first Classic was Jimmy Mangan from San Francisco. In 1945, Mangan had played in the East Bay – West Bay All-Star Game in San Francisco but missed out on going to the Esquire’s Game in New York. He signed with the Pirates in 1949 and made it to the big leagues, for the first time, in 1952. Over the next few years he shuttled back and forth between the majors and minors, getting into a total of 45 major league games during three seasons. He finished his major league career with the Giants in 1956.
Earl Smith was born in Washington and his family moved to Fresno, California when he was a child. He went to Bonita High School in Laverne, California where, upon graduation, he was honored as both the school’s outstanding scholar and the school’s outstanding athlete. A pitcher in high school, he was selected to represent Los Angeles in the 1947 Hearst Classic, and went to New York with his high school catcher Ed Zuber. After the Hearst game, he went to Fresno State for three years and signed with Pirates in June, 1949. He was stuck in their minor league system for far too long, but put up numbers in 1954 that forced the Bucs to take notice.
At Phoenix in the Class-C Arizona-Texas League, he batted .387 with 35 doubles, 11 triples, 32 home runs, and a league-leading 195 RBIs. In 1955, he finally got to the big club and wore number 21 for five games, garnering one hit in 16 at-bats. On April 29, he played his last game, and number 21 was reassigned for the last time – to Roberto Clemente. After baseball, Smith returned to Fresno. He and his wife Betty, who he married in 1949, raised three children. Earl, after baseball, operated a grocery store, and owned an almond ranch. He died in 2014 at the age of 86. His wife Betty, to whom he was married for 64 years said that, “Even though his career was shorter than he had hoped, it was still very important to him and he did enjoy all his baseball years.”
As brief as Smith’s career was, the career of Paul Schramka was even shorter. Schramka, who tripled in the Hearst game, signed with the Chicago Cubs in 1949. Prior to the Hearst Game, the graduate of Milwaukee’s Messmer High School had completed his freshman year at the University of San Francisco and had punched his ticket to New York by excelling in the Hearst Diamond Pennant Series All-Star Game held at Borchert Field in Milwaukee. The game that year, and for many years to come, was contested between teams managed by Bunny Brief and Jack Kloza, two stars from the 1930’s in Milwaukee. That year, Brief’s team defeated Kloza’s squad 8-2.
Schramka, playing for the Briefs, had a double, a single, and two stolen bases. Paul was accompanied to New York by pitcher Gil Gadzikowski, who had pitched two hitless innings in the Milwaukee game, striking out four. He also contributed at the plate, doubling in his only appearance. Milwaukee’s alternate that year as Red Wilson, who went on to play in the American League for ten seasons. All three had played in Milwaukee’s Stars of Yesterday League as youngsters.
“Playing in the Polo Grounds was a thrill,” Paul says unsurprisingly. He was the starting center fielder and the first batter in the game. He grounded out twice before tripling off the right-field wall in his five-inning stint. Aside from the game itself, played in front of nearly 16,000 fans, Paul enjoyed many unforgettable experiences on the week-long trip: the train ride to New York, staying in the luxurious New Yorker Hotel, an outing at Jones Beach, a tour of Radio City, and a Yankee-Red Sox game in Yankee Stadium.
He signed in 1948 with the Cubs organization after posting a .410 batting average during his final season in college. After playing at Des Moines in 1949-50, spending two years in the military, and having a good spring training in 1953, he started the season with the Cubs, wearing uniform number 14. Originally, he was slated to start in the season’s opener in place of the injured Hank Sauer, but a rainout delayed the opener and, when the team opened its season on April 14, Schramka did not start the game. He did, however, get into the game as a pinch runner in the seventh inning. His second, and last, appearance was on April 16 as a defensive replacement. He never came to the plate. A few days later, he was sent to the minors and number 14 was reassigned for the last time – to Ernie Banks.
After his time in organized ball, Schramka returned to Milwaukee where he took over the family’s funeral home business and stayed active by playing semi-pro baseball for the Falk Corporation. In 1957, Paul was proud to participate on the American team in a Global World Series in Detroit. It was the first event of its type and featured all-star teams from eight different countries. He was selected for the All-Series team. He also participated in the National Baseball Congress tournament in Wichita. Beginning in 1935, this annual event brought together the best sandlot and semi-pro teams from around the country. For thirty years Paul headed up the Old-Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin, a 2,500 member organization. On August 22, 2014, Paul was honored at the Polish-American Heritage Night baseball game in Milwaukee.
On the trip from Milwaukee to New York, via Chicago, Schramka shared a railroad compartment with Gil Gadzikowski. Whereas Paul was “a man of the World”, having completed his freshman year of college, Gil was perhaps the youngest person ever to play in the Hearst Classic. He had been part of the “Stars of Yesterday” program in Milwaukee and in 1944, at age 13, had participated in an All-Star game at Borchert Field. At the time of the Hearst game in New York, he was still in High School and was 15 years, six months, and eight days young. In the Hearst Diamond Pennant Series All-Star Game held at Borchert Field, he was summoned from the bullpen to pitch the last inning. Everything worked for him as he struck out the first two batters he faced and induced Schramka to fly out to center field for the final out.
In New York, Gil was practicing at the Polo Grounds and had his picture taken with a player. Afterward, he asked his teammates who the player was. His teammates were in disbelief that Gadzikowski didn’t know that he had been next to the great Johnny Mize. Gil’s stay in New York included a trip to see the Rockettes at Radio City Musical Hall. While there, he had the misfortune of having his pocket picked and his wallet was gone when the boys returned to the Hotel New Yorker.
In the practices prior to the game, he impressed his manager Ray Schalk. “For a lad only 15, he shows plenty of promise. He’s plenty big now, but will continue to grow and that’ll help his speed. Some more experience will make him a pretty tough chucker.”
In the game itself, Herb Adams, after his stint as a starter, went to the bullpen to act as bullpen coach. The New Yorkers, down 5-1 at the time, mounted a rally in the sixth inning. On orders from Ray Schalk, Adams had Gadzikowski warm up. Two were out, and there was a runner on third base when Schalk gave the sign to the bullpen. Adams told Gil that he was in the game, in relief of Pittsburgh’s Joe Zugay. When Gil got to the mound, manager Schalk was dismayed to see that the wrong pitcher had been sent into the game.
Nevertheless, Gadzikowski took his warm-ups and faced his first batter with a runner on third base. He walked the batter on four pitches. To further worsen the situation, his third pitch had hit the plate and bounced to the backstop allowing the runner from third to score. Gadzikowski did not register an out and was replaced by Dick Carr of Baltimore.
Gil Gadzikowski never played organized baseball. He returned to Milwaukee and graduated from Marquette High School. Interested in the priesthood, he attended a seminary outside of St. Louis for four years and went on to study at the University of St. Louis. He went on to teach Greek and Latin at a Catholic boarding school in Wisconsin. Not long thereafter, he returned to Milwaukee and received his Masters Degree in Economics and left the ministry. He thought about returning to baseball, but quickly realized that he was not in shape. He went on to a career in banking and retired in 1992 after serving as the CEO at First Federal Savings and Loan in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Among the many players who did not make it to the big leagues was Ed Burrows, who represented San Antonio. For a short time in the game, it appeared that he would be the hero, as his ninth inning single had driven in two runs and put the U. S. team ahead, 7-5. But the New Yorkers tied up the game in their half of the inning. Burrows didn’t play organized ball but was playing two years later for the semi-pro Sweeney Oilers. He had occasion to talk with the young men who would be representing San Antonio in 1948 and tell them what a great time they could expect in New York.
In the days leading up to the game, a shortstop from Oakland was heralded by coach Jim Smilgoff. Lil Arnerich, he said, “is a nice rangy, loose boy, nifty in both the feet and the hands. He can go to either side and he knows the rhythm of the glove. He can throw and hit. He would be my choice among all of them to go somewhere in baseball in the future.”
Anthony “Lil” Arnerich of Technical High School was one of two players representing the Oakland Post-Enquirer. Lil is one of six members of his family to play in organized baseball. In 1946, many hopefuls tried out for an all-star game between the Alameda County Athletic League and Oakland Athletic League. Two players from the All-Star game would be chosen to go to New York. Among those involved in the selection process was Casey Stengel, who was managing Oakland in the Pacific Coast League at the time. Arnerich was chosen for Oakland’s all-star game ahead of Billy Martin. Lil and Bill Van Heuit were later chosen to represent Oakland at the Hearst Game in New York. The shortstop played the entire eleven innings and went 1-for-6.
The thing that Lil was to remember most made nary a headline. One of the team’s coaches or the manager, as Lil recalls, harbored much in the way of bigotry and had a very unkind word for Billy Harrell, the team’s only person of color. Arnerich, who had been appointed the team captain, was quick to confront the older man when he heard the comment. He thought that he would be benched for speaking up against authority but he played the entire game.
Arnerich went on to play at St. Mary’s College and signed with the Oakland Oaks. The Oaks, like many teams in the Pacific Coast league, were unaffiliated, and had their own farm teams. The Oaks sent him to Bremerton, Washington in the Class-B Western International League where he spent most of 1948 and 1949. After batting .328 in 1949, he was called up to the Oaks at the end of the season and went 2-for-3. He never moved beyond the Triple-A level. After two more seasons in the minors, he left organized baseball. In his four minor-league seasons, he batted .294. He went on to become supervisor of athletics for the Alameda County Recreation Department, and continued to play softball for many years. Lil was very active in his community and served as a Deputy Mayor in Alameda. He stayed quite active and, at age 86, continued his daily exercise routine which included running 50 yards in less than six seconds. His son Mel played three seasons in the minor leagues with the Cleveland organization.
After the Hearst Game, those who participated went back to their homes. Some received heroes’ receptions and for others it was back to baseball. In New York, that meant the second annual citywide sandlot tournament that featured upwards of 600 teams. The championship, originally scheduled to be played at Yankee Stadium on September 21, was rained out and rescheduled at the Polo Grounds on Saturday September 28. The game was the opening game in a twin-bill. After the boys finished their game, Mel Ott’s New York Giants took on the Philadelphia Phillies.
For the second consecutive year, the winning team came from the Queens Alliance. This time it was the 34th Street Boys Club from Astoria. Their pitcher was the same Ed “Lefty” Ford who had not been used as a pitcher in Brooklyn Against the World. In the City Championship, he took to the mound against the Bay Ridge Cubs from Brooklyn, and earned himself the Lou Gehrig Award as the game’s most valuable player. He and Lou DeAngelis of the Bay Ridge squad engaged in one of the greatest pitching duels in Polo Grounds history. Ford allowed but two hits (singles in the fourth and ninth innings) and struck at 18 batters. On three occasions, he struck out the side. DeAngelis, through ten innings, had not allowed a hit. Ford broke up the no-hitter, leading off the bottom of the 11th inning with a double. He came around to score the winning run on a double by Donald Derr. One week later, Ford was signed by the Yankees for a $7,000 bonus, and his next game was as a professional.
And it wasn’t only baseball that was supported by the Hearst papers. They were equally famous for their sponsorship of junior golf. In 1946, the finals of the Hearst National Junior Open Golf Tournament were held in Detroit at the famous Oakland Hills Country Club. On Monday, August 18, there were 16 pairings. In the final pairing of the lower bracket was a 17-year-old kid from Latrobe Pennsylvania representing the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. He won his first match 2-up, and went on to defeat Chicago’s Jimmy Lamb 1-up to advance to the semi-finals. He kept going, defeating Bob Harris of San Francisco, 2-and-1 in the semi-finals. In the finals, he was defeated by H. Macgregor Hunter of Los Angeles 6-and-5. Hunter was dubbed the new Bobby Jones by writer Byron Schoeman Little did he know that Hunter had defeated the new face of golf – Arnold Palmer.