Thursday, June 05, 2014

A 75-Year Memory: Little League Baseball

Howard J. Lamade Field- Home of Little League Baseball
I grew up just upriver from Williamsport, PA, where 75 years ago an American institution was born- Little League Baseball! 

June 6, 1939 the first game of this first truly organized youth baseball organization was played.

When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s Little League was expanding internationally. The first international championship team from Monterrey, Mexico took over the hearts of Central PA in 1957and 1958, especially when the Monterrey pitcher tossed a perfect game in the 1957 final. In 1959 the World Series was first played at Lamade Field in South Williamsport, which is still its home.
Crowd display at LLB museum

In 1960 ABC broadcast the final game live for the first time. Then in 1963 broadcaster Chris Schenkel does the game play-by-play on ABC's Wide World of Sports. It was memorable to  be sitting at home watching the real thing just a few miles down the road in a place we all knew well. Central PA was the center of the sports universe.

Over the next few years I attended a number of these World Series Games, making the trek by local inter-city bus and walking across the bridge to South Williamsport. Sitting out there on the hill overlooking the field on a wonderful late summer afternoon was a joy. It was baseball as it was meant to be played- at least by 12-year olds.

At LLB Museum

Then the summer of 1969 I had a real joy. The radio station I was working for, the late WMPT, had  its studios on the hill back below the field. One fine morning I joined sports director Bill Byam in broadcasting one of the consolation bracket games overseas on the Armed Forces network. I did color commentary but did do one inning of play-by-play. (By the way, that was the first year that Taiwan won the World Series!)

I never played Little League myself. I was not that coordinated. But Little League baseball was- and still is- a huge part of my history and story.

So, congratulations, Little League. Thanks for 75 years of memories for millions of us. Keep up the good work.

At the LLB museum.

From Little League Baseball's website- some of the history:
In 1938, a man named Carl Stotz hit upon the idea for an organized baseball league for the boys in his hometown of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Carl had no sons of his own, but he often played ball with his young nephews, Jimmy and Major Gehron, and wanted a way to provide an organized program for them.

Carl gathered several of the neighborhood children and experimented with different types of equipment and different field dimensions during that summer. The program still did not have a name, and no games were played.

In 1939, Carl and his wife Grayce took the experiment a step further, enlisting the help of brothers George and Bert Bebble and their wives, Annabelle and Eloise, respectively. Carl, George and Bert were the managers of the first three teams: Lycoming Dairy, Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel. John and Peggy Lindemuth soon joined the group, with the eight volunteers making up the very first Little League board of directors.

Carl also talked to his friends in the community and came up with the name: Little League. His idea was to provide a wholesome program of baseball for the boys of Williamsport, as a way to teach them the ideals of sportsmanship, fair play and teamwork.

The sponsorships (the fee was $30) helped to pay for equipment and uniforms for 30 players. Since then, sponsorship of Little League both at the local league level and at the Headquarters level have helped to keep costs to parents to a minimum.

On June 6, 1939, in the very first Little League game ever played, Lundy Lumber defeated Lycoming Dairy, 23-8. Lycoming Dairy came back to win the season’s first-half title, and faced second-half champ Lundy Lumber in a best-of-three series. Lycoming Dairy won the final game of the series, 3-2.
LLB Museum, South Williamsport, PA
(All pictures- pmPilgrim)

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