SOFTBALL AT SOLDIER FIELD: Broadcasting on WTTW for the 1974 World Series of Softball in the North Field of Soldier Field with Mike Royko (left) with his sons David and Robbie (far left) Marty Robbins (center) Don DeBat (standing) and Tim Weigel (far right).

In 1969, man first set foot on the Moon, some concert-goers thought they were on the Moon at Woodstock and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid dominated the box office. It was also the first year that Forest Park hosted an “All Star” 16-inch softball tournament. This competition later evolved into the acclaimed No Glove Nationals Tournament.

The tournament differed in many ways from the present version. It was a single-elimination affair, played on Labor Day weekend, on the Park District’s only lighted field. It was restricted to suburban teams and only ten competed. The heavily-favored Maywood Agents defeated the Cinderella Forest Park All Stars on September 1 to become the first champions.

The Review article about the tournament didn’t mention the final score of the title game but did say it attracted “one of the largest crowds to witness a softball game.” The piece was surrounded by ads promoting Sam Zussman’s Men’s Style Shop, The Pines Steak House and a young Sales Manager for Reich & Becker Realty named Carl A. Schwebl.

The softball bash was the brainchild of Park District Director James Sarno. He named P.E. teacher Fred O’Connor Tournament Director and Marty Popelka coached the Forest Park squad. There were some familiar local names on the roster, Ron Milchoefer, Ken Stange and Ed Phillips.

During its first decade, the tournament started on a Saturday and finished nine days later on a Sunday. Its peak attendance was 15,000 with 5,000 fans for the final championship-round games. Its popularity certainly increased when Chicago teams were invited starting the second year. It attracted all the legendary teams, the Bobcats, Sobies and Bruins.

It was also a Mecca for the game’s greatest stars. In 1973 Mike Tallo’s Strikers beat Eddie Zolna’s Bobcats 9-1 in the title game. Holding the Bobcats to one run was unprecedented. The following year, this same Bobcats team scored 85 runs in five games, before beating the Bruins 23-17 for the title.

One of the most thrilling games in tournament history was when Al Maag’s young Baggers lost to the powerhouse Spirits 8-7 in extra-innings. “I think the most exciting part for a young neighborhood team was to be on center stage at the Wrigley Field of softball,” Maag said afterward.

During its heyday, old-timers remember fans standing six-deep all the way around the field. By 1986, however, attendance had dropped. Park District Director Dave Novak reduced the field to 24 teams and made it double elimination, with the champion of the winner’s bracket facing the survivor of the loser’s bracket for the title. This format became popular with players and fans.

It also produced the most exciting No Gloves comeback of all time. In 1992, Lettuce beat the Splinters to top the winner’s bracket. After the Splinters won the loser’s bracket, they fell eight runs behind Lettuce in the semi-final game. Splinters pitcher Tom Czarnik, though, held Lettuce in check, while his catcher, John O’Connor, won the game with a three-run homer that sailed into the lawn chairs in left center. The Splinters then blew Lettuce away in the title game.

O’Connor’s homer, by the way, flew past the light tower that used to be in left field. In another dramatic game in 2000, Licorice Softball’s Mike Tuman hit a 240-foot shot that ricocheted off the scoreboard in center. One of the greatest improvements to the Park and the tournament was relocating the lights and scoreboard to the perimeter of the playing field. Licorice, by the way, scored 16 runs that inning and won 23-10. Their sponsor was radio personality Mike North, who had previously done telecasts of 16-inch softball from the Park.

Forest Park softball games are no longer on TV and many of the old-timers would say 16-inch softball has declined since 1969. They see the need to grow the game geographically and demographically. North helped get softball into Chicago high schools, while teams from Iowa are invited to the No Gloves. There’s also the possibility games will be podcast some day at Tim Maher’s www.chicagolandprepreport.com site.

Regardless of the changing fortunes of 16-inch softball, the No Gloves Tournament remains a tradition for players and an annual reunion for thousands of fans. Park District Commissioner John Doss summed it up, “Best competition, best fields, best food, best atmosphere.”

 

Championship game scores

2012: Flashback 13 Windy City 12

2011: Flashback 12 Roadrunners 6

2010: Flashback 6 Roadrunners 4

2009: Miller 45s 6 Jynx 5

2008: Miller 45s 14 Windy City 2

2007: Miller 45s 15 Windy City 2

2006: Miller 45s 20 Maxim 3

2005: Flash 11 Sage 1

2004: Miller 45s 5 Paragon 4

2003: Miller 45s 10 March Manufacturing 9

2002: Licorice 7 Miller 45s 1

2001: Miller 45s 11 Cuervo Golf Crush 4

2000: Bucks 11 Licorice 4

1999: Puglise 13 Lettuce 6

1998: Rizza Rockers 16 Puglise 8

1997: Lettuce 14 Gamblers 7

1996: Bud 45s 5 Lettuce 4

1995: Thee Doll House 8 Lettuce 7

1994: Lettuce 2 March Manufacturing 1

1993: Lettuce 9 Bud 45s 3

1992: Splinters 10 Lettuce 2

1991: Lettuce 11 Taggers 3

1990: Whips 11 March Manufact. 6

1989: Bud North 13 Whips 8

1988: Auto Mart* 8 Whips 6

1987: Bud North defeated Jaybirds

1986: Bud North 9 Coopers 7

1985: Whips 28 Magis 11

1984: Whips 16 Stompers 3

1983: Whips defeated Flames

1982: Otto's defeated Whips

1981: Otto's 11 Budweiser Whips 8

1980: Stompers defeated Down the Hatch

1979: Mr. A Lucky defeated Railbirds

1978: Bobcats defeated Stompers

1977: American Rivet 11 Josefs 1

1976: Bobcats defeated American Rivet

1975: Sobees defeated Strikers

1974: Bobcats 17 Bruins 7

1973: Strikers 9 Bobcats 1

1972: Cabin defeated Bobcats

1971: Chiefs defeated Relatives

1970: Ambro Dukes 16 Bruins 1

1969: Maywood Agents defeated Forest Park All-Stars

*(Bud North)

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...