LL World Series changed over 55 years
Thanks to the wonderful run our Little League team from Bridge City had earlier last month, our interest in this year’s tournament at Williamsport, Pa. was piqued to see how the San Antonio team that beat Bridge City 6-4 would fare.
It would have been great if San Antonio didn’t score those four runs in the last two innings to come from behind and win that championship game that determined which team would represent the Southwest Region at Williamsport.
It would have been fun comparing notes with the Bridge City folks who ventured up to Williamsport to see how things may have changed since 1954 when yours truly was fortunate to play on the team that did, indeed, earn that coveted trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
The team from Schenectady, N.Y., on which I was the shortstop, had a difficult time just getting out of the county in the early stages of the competition. In fact, our league was divided into the American and National League, so we had to beat the AL before even representing Schenectady Little League.
The 23-0 score wasn’t as bad as it looked because we socked quite a few home runs with men on base that ran the total up quickly.
There were several other leagues in different sections of the city—Bellevue, Niskayuna, Jaycees, Rotterdam, Scotia—just to name a few we still remember. We had to go extra innings to beat Niskayuna 5-4 in the district tourney and advance to the sectionals.
Back in 1954 there were no 10-run mercy rules, no International division, no aluminum bats, no pitch counts, no courtesy runners, no rule that every player must play in every game and no pool play where a team could lose and still remain in contention for a trip to Williamsport. It was like the state football playoffs—lose and you go home.
Our team had two pitchers—both named Billy—whom the press cleverly tabbed as Schenectady’s Twin Bills. Our double-play combination—both named Joe—were the third and fourth pitchers on the team and we NEVER saw any mound action in any of the 10 games we played that summer of ’54.
We beat a team from Castleton, N.Y. 1-0 to win the Sectional Tournament as our pitching got stronger as our team advanced.
Our two Regional foes were both from Long Island and we shut them both out, beating Elmont 5-0 and Soundview 6-0 in which Billy Connors, who later pitched for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, spun a nifty no-hitter earning our ticket to Williamsport.
There were eight regions in the United States and Canada, each divided into eight sections which were divided into districts and areas. The eight regional champions were invited to participate in the World Series at Williamsport.
The travel expenses of the regional champions were assumed back in 1954 by the United States Rubber Co., national sponsors of Little League Baseball, Inc.
Ironically, there was a team from Galveston, Texas in the World Series but we never faced them. The eight teams representing various regions of the country had a combined record of 66-0 when they reached Williamsport.
Needham, Mass. represented the New England States, Colton, Calif. was the Pacific Coast entry, along with Hampton-Wythe, Va., Lakeland, Fla., Melrose Park, Ill. and the sentimental favorite Masontown, Pa. However, Schenectady was picked as the tournament favorite because we had made it to the championship game in 1953 but lost 1-0 to Birmingham, Ala.
When all eight teams had arrived in Williamsport the players were outfitted from head-to-toe with series uniforms and quartered in the dormitories of Lycoming College. Each team was assigned local chaperones whose job was to make us feel at home when we weren’t practicing or playing in the World Series.
Our first-round game was against Florida, which boasted a 6-2, 200-pound player named John Powell, whose nickname was “Boog”, who went on to star as a first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. He was Florida’s leading hitter and pitcher and he was slated to pitch against us.
Our manager Mike Maietta brought a couple of 14 and 15 year olds on the trip to pitch batting practice to allow each of us to look at some really fast pitches so that Powell or any other 12-year old couldn’t throw a fast ball by any of us. Maietta’s idea worked because we pounded Boog Powell for a 14-0 win.
Besides Florida, other teams eliminated in the quarterfinal round were Texas, which was nipped 6-5 by Illinois, Virginia which lost to California 4-2 and Massachusetts which was beat by Pennsylvania 10-2.
The semifinal game was against Masontown, Pa. and of the 14,000 fans in the stadium, 13,800 were rooting against us. We jumped off to an early 3-0 lead and hung on to win 5-3. California beat Illinois 8-1 so the stage was set for the championship game between Schenectady, N.Y. and Colton, Calif.
The day before the finals was a play-day for all the baseball players. There were sack races and all kinds of competitive games. But Maietta said there would be too much horsing around and made us stay in the dorm. He was right, because Colton’s star shortstop, Ken Hubbs, who later went on to play for the Chicago Cubs, suffered a broken toe and hobbled through the championship game.
All of those 13,800 fans rooting for Masontown, Pa. in the semifinals supported our team, so the stadium was nearly full of Schenectady fans. Again we faced a six-foot pitcher named John Doty, but scored five runs after two innings and won the game 7-5, despite a home run by the hobbling Hubbs.
The game was broadcast on the radio coast-to-coast with the voice of the New York Yankees’ Mel Allen doing the play-by-play. He presented the individual world champion trophies to each of us and autographed each one.
Our 10-hour bus trip home was a great one with a delegation meeting our bus 20 miles outside of Schenectady and giving us a police escort right up to the front steps of city hall. Each of us received a personal letter of congratulations from then-New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
It’s been 55 years and I can remember it like it was yesterday. Our centerfielder, Jimmy Barbieri, is the only person in baseball history to have played on a Little League world championship team and a major league world championship team. He was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers that won the 1965 World Series.
And Bridge City came within a whisker of perhaps duplicating our 1954 achievement. After all, San Antonio had a pretty good run in Williamsport. It would have been something those Bridge City youngsters would never forget.
KWICKIES…There still are a few openings for this weekend’s 54-hole Labor Day Tournament held at Sunset Grove Country Club in Orange. Anyone interested in playing should contact Sunset Pro Jeff Cooper at (409) 883-9454 before 9 a.m. Thursday.
And while on the topic of golf, it appears to this Korner that Tiger Woods’ putting woes continue to cost him big-time as he missed putts of three feet and just under seven feet at The Barclays last weekend. Tiger finished in a four-way tie for second place, one shot behind surprise winner Heath Slocum, who sunk a 20-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to capture the prestigious event.
JUST BETWEEN US…It’s been almost 10 months since the end of the 2008 regular high school football season. One would think that in that length of time a school would be able to make sure things like the elaborate expensive scoreboard would be in 100 per cent working order. Yet we were part of a near-capacity crowd at a game Friday night where the only thing working on the scoreboard was the score, time, what quarter it was and number of time outs remaining for each team. Nobody had a clue as to what down it was, how far to go for a first down or the line of scrimmage yard line. We’re not sure whether the scoreboard was faulty or the scoreboard operator was just not on the ball.