Pieces of Our Past: October 2008 - Week 5
Little League Grad Honors His Dad with Donation of Baseball
An “official Little League” baseball bearing a stamped signature of Little League founder Carl E. Stotz is among the newest additions to the collection at the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in Williamsport, Pa.
The ball, in its original wrapping and box, was donated by David Smith in recognition of his father, Johnson Dale Smith, who passed away in 1990. He was 75.
In the early 1950s, David, was a member of a Little League team in the south section of Johnstown, Pa.
“We had a finely-maintained regulation Little League field to play on at Roxbury Park,” Mr. Smith said. “The team was sponsored by the local American Legion Post. We had caps, uniforms and all of the necessary equipment at our disposal.”
Mr. Smith said he was fortunate to play Little League. Not all of the children in the area had the opportunity to play because there were a limited number of Little League teams and a limit on the number of players per team.
“Many of my friends and other kids throughout the city did not have a team to play on,” said Mr. Smith “This fact bothered my father. In a fashion, similar to Carl Stotz, he took it upon himself to do something about it.”
Mr. Smith said his father worked for the C&BL (Conemaugh and Black Lick) Railroad and was a member of the C.I.O. (Congress of Industrial Organizations) union which later merged with the A.F.L (American Federation of Labor). Union. He proposed that the union fund a city-wide minor league program for youngsters who could not be accommodated by the official Little League program.
With the union’s backing, Mr. Smith met with the Johnstown Recreation Department and received approval for the program. Summer employees, many of them school coaches, were assigned to the fields to help with the minor league. Once the program was launched, Mr. Smith became the equipment purchaser.
“He would spend the entire summer going from field to field throughout the city making sure that the equipment was available to the players and reminding all, including the supervising coaches, to take good care of what they were given,” Mr. Smith said.
When the elder Mr. Smith passed away, this ball was among four that the family found in a box of personal items.
“Most of the items had little value to anyone else,” Mr. Smith said, “but the baseballs were special. They represented something of real value to many people.
“During my Little League days we would constantly tape together old, beat-up baseballs to play with at home, despite knowing that there were always new baseballs in the house,” Mr. Smith said. “Dad would never let us play with those, because they were for his minor league players.”
The donated baseball was manufactured in Torrington, Conn., by The Springfield Company.
Stamped on the ball, which has yellowed with time, are the words: Official Little League/Carl E. Stotz, comm. At the time, Mr. Stotz was the commissioner for Little League Baseball.
The red, white and blue box identifies the ball as an “official league baseball,” with “a cushioned cork center, double needle hand stitched, genuine horsehide cover and official size and weight.” The ball, a number 070, is nine inches in circumference and weighs five ounces. Most natural-covered baseballs manufactured in the past 20 years are covered in cowhide.
The tissue paper wrapping the never-used ball bears the red and blue words “Springfield, another Sealand product.” The ball manufacturer was part of Union Hardware Company, which is best known for its ice skates and tools. Mr. Smith believes that the ball was manufactured circa 1953 when he was a Little Leaguer.
Johnson Dale Smith, second from right in back row, was an avid Little League supporter in Johnstown, Pa., during the 1950s. Mr. Smith’s son, David, donated a baseball that belonged to his father to the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum. The baseball was stamped with the name of Little League founder Carl E. Stotz.
The Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum, 525 Route 15 Highway, just south of Williamsport, is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. After Labor Day in September, the hours change to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. The facility is accessible to the disabled.
Rates are $5 for adults; $3 for those 62 and older; $1.50 for children between the ages of 5 and 13. There is no fee for children 4 or younger. Group rates and tours are available. The museum also offers birthday parties and after-hours facility rentals.
For more information, call the museum at (570) 326-3607; or visit http://www.littleleague.org/Learn_More/museum.htm.