16th Annual Hall of Fame Event: 16-Inch Chicago-Style Softball is Celebrating Its 125th Anniversary

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Softball fans will want to know who is inducted in the 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame and possibly attend the annual inductee dinner. Of special note this is the 125th anniversary of game of softball originating in Chicago...details worth knowing.

Chicago’s game—the sport of 16-inch slow-pitch softball—just turned 125 years old, so it’s time to honor the great history and players at the 16th annual Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame induction event on April 14th.
Softball was born as an indoor sport in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club at 31st Street and Lake Park Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. About 20 club members were gathered in the gymnasium of the clubhouse on Thanksgiving Day to follow via telegram the progress of the annual Harvard-Yale football game.

“A combination of good spirits and empty time on their hands resulted in one of the young members picking up a stray boxing glove and tossing to another member who with a stick batted at it,” noted Robert Pruter, Illinois High School Association historian.

George Hancock, an inspired spectator, decided to make a formal game out of the hijinks. Hancock drew a baseball diamond on the gym floor, tied up the laces around the boxing glove to form a sphere and the players swatted it with a broomstick.

Hancock outlined a rough set of rules, and for the remainder of the evening the members played “Indoor Baseball.” The game caught on and by the end of the winter the Farragut team was playing indoor baseball with other clubs.
Softball developed into an outdoor sport in the 1920s, and 16-inch slow-pitch was the perfect game for the Windy City’s blue-collar ethnic inner-city neighborhoods and small parks to play in. To play the game, all a kid needed was a bat and an over-stuffed softball, sometimes called the “mush ball.” No expensive glove was required.

And, that was—and still is—the beauty of Chicago’s game, which flourished on makeshift diamonds in the streets, vacant lots, school yards, parking lots, prairies and under the “el” tracks from Rogers Park to Mount Greenwood long before it ascended to the green grass of the city’s public parks.

The Hall of Fame honors both men and women—players, historic teams, organizers, managers and umpires—who since the 1920s have “excelled at their craft, provided thrills and memories and have set the benchmark for future generations,” said Ron Kubicki, president of the Hall of Fame.

The 16th annual induction ceremony and awards dinner is scheduled to be held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 14nd at Drury Lane Theater & Conference Center in Oakbrook Terrace.

This year, the event will also recognize Lane Tech College Prep High School for winning Chicago Public League’s 16-Inch Softball Championships, the school has nine titles in 13 years.
The wheelchair World Series champions, the Rehabilitation Institute Cubs, also will be honored.

The first 15 Hall of Fame events have attracted more than 9,000 guests. The Hall of Fame will induct 17 individuals and five historic teams at this year’s event.

“It is always a wonderful night to congratulate the winners and network with past friends, teammates and competitors,” said Maag, who noted that more than 600 people are expected to attend the awards event.

“Each year it gets tougher reviewing nominations, but when the dust settles the crop of stellar players and supporters of our game is always impressive. This year is not exception,” noted Kubicki.

Smoke, a B-saloon team with a 25-year history of winning championships in leagues from Shabbona Park to Skokie, Elmhurst and Villa Park, will be inducted in the Historic Team category. Stars of Smoke are pitcher Gary S. Goldberg,
and outfielders Chuck Martinkus and Larry Comstock.

Today, Comstock, 60, is a fine hitter with good hands who still plays competitive softball with Vintage Risk and wonders how he has survived four decades in the game. “I’ve experienced so many mallet fingers and torn ligaments in softball games I’ve lost count,” Comstock said. His motto: “If you get hurt, put some tape on it.”

One colorful inductee from the 1950-1960 Era is Lou Vine, a fleet outfielder who played for the Rogues and many other fine teams at Clarendon Park and Kelly Park. Handsome and blond in his youth, Vine always took his uniform to an Italian tailor to have it altered, teammates recalled. “Lou also caught fly balls basket-style like Willie Mays in centerfield and used hair spray before it was in vogue in in major league softball,” the late Jerry Jess once quipped.

Another inductee is pitcher Rich “Chopper” Knorowski, who starred for the Lyons 45s during the 1964-1979 “juiced-ball” era at Clarendon Park.

Details on the 2011 Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame honorees follow:
Historic Teams: Splinters, Buffalo Grove Bruins, Smoke, The Eastsiders and RCI Cubs
Pioneers: Al Brocious
1950-1963 Era: Louie Vine, Jack Marcoline, Raymond Ray
1964-1979 Era: Rock Waldo, Rich “Chopper” Knorowski
1980-1992 Era: Rich Lasky, Mark “Shu” Schuler
1993-current Era: Mike Lopez, Angelo Alesia
Organizer: Gary Kasanders
Media: Larry Randa
Umpire: Joe Manza
Manager: Sherman Martin Jr.
Wall of Fame: Phillip Williams, George Sherman
Woman: Mary Walz
Frank Holan Award; Jim McCabe
Field of Dreams: Washington Park, Chicago

Tickets for the Hall of Fame dinner and awards presentation can be bought in advance for $100. Tickets will be $125 at the door.

For more information on the Hall of Fame event, please call Donna Levy at 630-544-5054, via e-mail: dlevy(at)landon-farrey(dot)com.

The Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame is the premier organization for supporting and recognizing the game of 16-inch softball since 1996. For more information, visit: http://www.16inchsoftballhof.com.

Don DeBat is a 1999, 2008 and 2010 Softball Hall of Fame inductee.
Don DeBat 312-944-1177 debatnet(at)aol(dot)com

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