City's last game is remembered
Sunday, September 04, 2005
By GARRY BROWN
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, with 1,788 people in the grandstand at Pynchon Park, a big ballyard near Springfield's North End bridge.
The visiting Pittsfield Red Sox were shooting for the Eastern League pennant. They had George Scott at third base, Reggie Smith at second. Two years later, Scott and Smith would be playing different positions for a Boston Red Sox club on its way to an "Impossible Dream" pennant.
The home team, the Springfield Giants, had Tommy Arruda of Fall River, a 17-game winner and an Eastern League All-Star for the second straight year. Springfield also had Denny Sommers, a scrap-iron kind of catcher who prided himself on never missing a game.
Those ballclubs met Sept. 5, 1965 - making this the 40th anniversary Sunday of that game. Springfield has never had a professional baseball game since, and shows no initiative toward ever having one again.
It was sadly fitting that Springfield's last game turned out to be a resounding defeat. Pittsfield scored a 9-0 victory, punctuated by a seven-run splurge in the ninth. Pittsfield ace Billy McLeod threw a two-hitter, putting his record at 18-0. McLeod never made it to the major leagues, but it's doubtful that any other minor league pitcher ever had a better year.
Writing in The Springfield Union of Sept. 5, 1965, the late Ray Fitzgerald noted, "There was much chatter throughout the park that this could be the last year the Giants have a team in Springfield."
Ray Fitz of Westfield covered the Giants during their eight years in Springfield. He went on to become an award-winning sports columnist for the Boston Globe.
His foreshadowing proved to be correct. In early November, 1965, general manager Chick O'Malley announced that the Springfield franchise would relocate to Waterbury, Conn., for the 1966 Eastern League season. Springfield's loss of professional baseball was followed by the loss of Pynchon Park itself. In August 1966, the old stadium burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.
Springfield's first pro team, the Ponies, played in the original Eastern League from 1893-1900. Later in the 20th century, Springfield had teams in the Connecticut State League, Eastern Association, Colonial League, the Eastern League again (1939-43), the New England League and the Triple A International League.
Springfield lost its Triple A team in 1953, but baseball was revived here in 1957 when the San Francisco Giants placed their Class A farm club at Pynchon Park.
The return of baseball was met with a flush of success. Although the team finished last, Springfield led the league with an attendance total of 133,140. In 1958 and '59, San Francisco graced Springfield clubs with talent that produced back-to-back championships. Many of the players from those two teams would go on to become part of San Francisco's pennant-winning club of 1962.
Springfield drew 110,499 in 1959, when the team featured a future Hall of Famer - pitcher Juan Marichal.
After those two big years, attendance gradually diminished. The 1965 team, which went 63-77 and finished 22 games behind Pittsfield, hit the franchise low in attendance - 61,545.
Springfield's franchise became a victim of a general decline of interest in minor league baseball in the mid-'60s. It was not until the mid-'90s that a minor league baseball revival began. Today, the minors thrive, setting attendance records and establishing a revenue stream through effective marketing of team logos, caps and other merchandise.
When the Giants played here, they produced several Eastern League All-Stars and a large group of players who would make it to the major leagues. Felipe Alou, a 17-year major league player who now manages the San Francisco Giants, was Springfield's first star of the 1957-65 era. Felipe's younger brother, Matty, played with Marichal and catcher Tom Haller on the 1959 championship club.
Springfield also had its "career minor leaguers" - good players who just never got the opportunity to move up - like Arruda, Sommers and shortstop Eddie Herstek.
The last game played by the Springfield Giants took place Labor Day at Pittsfield's Wahconah Park. Pittsfield won 3-1 to take the pennant by one game over an Elmira club which had Pittsfield's Mark Belanger at shortstop and future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver as its manager. Scott homered to clinch the victory and the Eastern League's Triple Crown. The losing pitcher? Arruda, who worked the last three innings.
Tony Eichelberger, a second baseman who never got to the big leagues, gained his place in local history as the player to make the last out in Springfield's last game. He grounded to shortstop.
JOHNNY'S QUEST: Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon doesn't like to talk about the batting race, because he puts top priority on winning the American League East title. However, it certainly would be nice to have a batting championship to add to his resume when free-agency time comes around at the end of the season. Damon is looking for a five-year deal, but may have to settle for four. With the Red Sox? That will be one of the big offseason questions.
Damon had the American League batting lead for most of the season, but has slipped a bit lately, thus allowing Texas shortstop Michael Young to move ahead of him. That particular race could go right to the wire.
Young offers an interesting comparison to the rest of his ballclub. While he shoots for the batting title, the rest of the Texas lineup shoots for the American League lead in strikeouts. The Rangers went into the weekend with 913 strikeouts, most in the AL.
WELL-ARMED: When Kevin Millar hit a two-run, game-clinching home run for the Red Sox Wednesday night against Tampa Bay, he did so by getting ahead on the count and taking advantage of it.
As Millar explained his at-bat, he dropped a bit of information that the average baseball fan might not realize.
"That guy has a great arm. I mean, a really great arm. You can't fall behind against a pitcher like that. I was lucky to get ahead, and lucky to get a pitch on the plate," he said.
Millar was talking about Jesus Colome, a 27-year-old right-hander from that baseball hotbed, San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.
The average baseball fan (present company included) probably knows little of Colome, because he pitches for a last-place team and as a result, doesn't put up eye-catching numbers.
Ah, but the hitters know who can throw. Millar made that clear in his praise of Colome and his fearsome fastball.
OFF WITH THEIR SOX: A friend sent this e-mail: "I can't look at Mark Bellhorn and Alan Embree in Yankee uniforms. It's just not right."
Hey, both players needed a job after being let go by the Red Sox. They were fortunate to land with a good team, so get used to it. We'll be seeing them up close this month - and we'll even get to see how Bellhorn looks without his scraggly beard and hairdo.
Remember the words of Terry Francona: "We love Mark Bellhorn, but we hope he never gets a hit against us."
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