Jim Papa knows a thing or two about 16-inch softball and is glad that Forest Park is the likely host for a hall of fame commemorating the sport. In 1962 Papa was the winning pitcher in the championship game of the local tournament, not long before the village began hosting the national playoffs in 1968. From Papa’s perspective, the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame in Forest Park sounds like a perfect fit, ideally with one addendum.
“I think it’s great,” Papa said. “Not only is it great for the players and teams in the hall of fame, but it’s a shot in the arm for [former players] like us and the community of Forest Park. With all due respect to the great players and teams in the hall of fame, I think the championship game we won should be mentioned as one of the best games ever played.”
Papa lives on Ferdinand Avenue and his home recently served as Memory Lane for several of his teammates from B.B.M., the 1962 Forest Park Softball League postseason champions.
Joining their host Papa, Pete Fiorito, Duke Olliges, Bob Quandt and Jack Flight reveled in recounting all the good times of their tournament title run. At one point during their spirited reunion, a couple of the former softball stars actually used Papa’s living room as a simulated baseball field, re-enacting plays and pitches from their past.
“The championship game we won [3-2 over Means Mesa] really was one of the best games ever played in Forest Park,” Papa said. “I never played in any game as intense as that one. Everybody was fired up.”
Means Mesa, which had won the regular season title that year, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the highly anticipated playoff rematch with B.B.M. However, B.B.M responded quickly in the second inning with a run when Warren Semper tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Quandt. In the third, B.B.M added a pair of decisive runs keyed by an RBI single from Olliges – who went 2 for 3 – scoring George Leninger en route to the 3-2 victory.
Jim Klages, a prolific hitter for Means Mesa, tagged B.B.M for three hits in the championship match up.
In addition to the glory days of 1962, the B.B.M. softball crew has countless memories as pals growing up together in Forest Park. Many of those moments still draw chuckles from the group.
“I threw a ball once from right field into the [Park District] swimming pool,” Olliges said.
“That throw was a feat in itself,” added Quandt. “I’ll tell you what, it may have not been accurate, but it sure went a hell of a long way.”
The story of the strong-armed Olliges, which drew rip roaring laughter from his lifelong pals, triggered stories of a scrappy lead-off man and a talkative catcher in Quandt, who loved to get inside his opponents’ heads.
“As a catcher, I did a lot of chatter,” Quandt said. “I said a lot of words that can’t be repeated, and I’d do anything to needle a guy. Of course, the worst thing you can do in 16-inch softball is strike out. That’s a cardinal sin.”
The secret of B.B.M’s success between the lines was a collection of talented players with unshakeable team chemistry.
“Pete or Duke would recommend different guys, so I’d try to get them on our team,” said Flight, the B.B.M manager and shortstop. “We had some really good ball clubs.”
During B.B.M’s successful run from 1959 to 1962, Fiorito provided plenty of hitting – he once hit seven homeruns in a game – and defense, while Olliges was another excellent all-around outfielder with tremendous athleticism. On the mound, Papa filled the role of team ace, offering an array of spins and deliveries to keep opposing hitters off balance. Phil Papa, Irv Dusek – who played for the St. Louis Cardinals – Rich Reinecke Ken LaRocco, Quandt, Flight, Semper and Leninger comprised the rest of the versatile squad.
“We had people in the right spots,” Fiorito said. “I used to play as many as eight games a week.”
Growing up in Forest Park, Fiorito played softball throughout Chicago and was an integral member of Proviso High School’s 1953 state championship baseball team. He also teamed up with childhood pal and former Green Bay Packers legend, Ray Nitschke, to capture the Suburban League football title for Proviso.
While Nitschke was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978, Forest Park is hoping to honor area legends of 16-inch softball in similar fashion.
Park District officials and the board of directors for the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame have had discussions dating back to September of 2007 about opening a hall of fame museum at the corner of Desplaines and Harrison streets.
The proposed site, a vacant 600-square foot building, is relatively small in terms of housing the hall of fame’s extensive collection, which includes hundreds of pieces of memorabilia.
“It is not big and that is our major concern,” board member Art Lurie said, in an earlier interview with the Forest Park Review. “We could fill 10 of those buildings, honestly.”
On the plus side, both parties agree that Forest Park is a good location for the Chicago 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame. The hall’s opening on Park District grounds remains a logistical question of when, not if, according to organizers.
“We are going along with the plans about putting a museum [there],” Park District Executive Director Larry Piekarz said. “The hall of fame representatives have been back a few times with an architect. It’s progressing, not as fast as everybody that’s involved would like, but we want to do this right.”
Whether as visitors or members, the boys from the summer of ’62 wouldn’t miss it.