Another year has come and gone and seemingly another year of some glaring holes in the approach of the Kenosha Softball HOF committee. Again, I mean no disrespect to those who have been selected….kudos. But from one guy’s perspective, Kenosha softball was just so much more than the guys from a collection of about 5 teams. It kind of gives one the impression that the committee is saying, “Well, who from this particular team gets to go in next”? There seems to be little rhyme or reason other than who one was friends with, who one drank with, or who had allies on the committee.
The Golden Age of Kenosha Softball was LOADED with Hall of Fame PERSONALITIES. And that is what should be celebrated…to at least some degree. Note to folks on those 4 or 5 teams….there are way more of us than there are of you and we were never all that impressed with you. Sure, there are no-brainers like Dick Laba and Bill Johnson (somehow NOT a first-ballot HOFer lolololol), but when you start working your way down the batting order, the quality of the player becomes more and more interchangeable with any one of about 50 or 60 guys who just happen to drink with a different crowd.
Celebrate the team that had the whole fricken team wearing No 9. Celebrate Winklers Wildcats or IBEW who collectively won about 5 games in a decade out at Finney’s West. Celebrate the Sunnyside Lizards playing in Hawaiian shirts, celebrate the Washington Island Fish Market and Fats Frazier, Wilbur Buckle, and Fred “The Hammer” Parham. Celebrate the guys on KRM that are all STILL PLAYING at like 65 years old. THAT is the HOF stuff Kenosha Softball is made of..spend less time on the glorification of a 7-hole hitter who happened to hang out with the best teams of a VERY short amount of time in KTown softball history. Do away with the “whose turn is it next” mentality.
My HOF list of guys I played with or against:
P Lonnie McCrossen – The Dolly Lonnie was very difficult to hit with that backup spinner he threw. Also, a much better hitter than he was given credit for, and extremely clutch with the game on the line. Also had great wheels and was an absolute blast to hang out with on a road trip.
C Scott Kessler – The poster child for Kenosha Softball. A man that will STILL be playing short and getting a sponsor for the Bade. Also, I believe he once got married at home plate at Finney’s West…name me a more HOF maneuver than that. He has earned a lifetime of respect from the game…period.
1B Don Umschied – Already has a kid in the HOF and will undoubtedly get at least one more sooner than later. Don’t sleep on the fact that he was smashing balls with Bombats and winning batting titles in the most competitive leagues at Finney’s West at 50 years old.
2B Rick Smith – Not sure where to play him and that was one of the many strengths of this man…he literally played anywhere…well. Legit power, excellent teammate and competitor, and another one of those guys STILL PLAYING at a very high level. Absolutely a Hall of Fame career that will never get recognized as it should.
SS Steve Hoppenjan – Without question my favorite teammate of all time. Self-aware, held himself to the highest of standards, played excellent SS for 30 years while hitting 3rd and being incredibly productive and consistent. He was never flashy, he was not a self-promoter he was just that guy that played his position well and never ever took a play off.
3B Craig Stewart – Another guy who would never self-promote. Stewie was an offensive force and personally took me downtown at Bullpen more times than I care to remember. Folks would give their “list” of power hitters featuring the usual suspects but you rarely heard this guy’s name…and you sure should have. The same goes for his consideration of the HOF.
LF Vince Chambers – Another dude STILL playing at a very high level. Speed. power, arm, average, productivity, defense…all off the charts good for what, 45 years? How in the name of anything sane is that not a HOF career? He played with the same bunch of dudes including his brother but he could have played for ANY team in the Golden Age and played well.
LC Tito Gonzalez – Probably the biggest snub in my opinion. Should have been in by the 3rd vote at the latest. Easily the guy who has hit the most balls OUT of Roosevelt Park, Tito could have hit 3rd and played middle outfield for ANY TEAM of ANY ERA. Rocket for an arm, unbelievable foot speed, and literally the nicest teammate I ever played with.
RC Rocky Jurvis – I never played with or against really but he was my JV baseball coach at St Joe’s. A man with natural ability possessed by few, with a cannon from the outfield, he never threw to the wrong base or had an unproductive AB. And there are others on that team that should be in, Mike Higgins and Sam Saftig to name a few.
RF Jim Costable – Straight up a winner. A tear-your-heart-out competitor who transitioned from the OF to the mound in later years and was equally effective from the hill. Speed, power, and attitude were backed up by ability and production. Hit him lead-off, clean-up, or last, you know that dude is going to be on base and making things happen every game all game.
AH Jerry Kalbfell – My mentor in the game and the man I respect the most as a player. Big Man hit balls you could hear…every time. And he never hit any higher than 7 or 8 in the order. He took catching seriously and kept his pitchers in the game. He also mentored another half dozen of the game’s greats like his son, The Whammer, and Ron Schuler to name a few.
Mgr Archie Griffin – He is another “how in the world is this dude not in”. Easily a Top 5 KTown softball personality of ALL TIME, all he did was produce winning teams. He certainly wasn’t easy to like and he could care less…seemed to enjoy that role and he played it well. A solid player in his day, Arch was without a doubt as important of a person in KTown softball history as we have ever seen.
Sponsor Bea Dinan – The godmother of ALL women’s competitions in Kenosha tavern history. Bea started more leagues than some of these sponsors ever had a team in…and that’s a fact! But Bill’s is a corner bar, never spent a ton of time in the Thursday National so sorry, not relevant to this HOF. And that is a shame and a glaring example of completely missing the boat of what a HOF career really is.
Umpire Marv Statema – Not a “larger than life” personality like many umpires on the list were, Marv was an OK ump…but he gave a shit, he tried hard and he was always there. He knew he wasn’t flawless but he was a hustler and knew the game. He’d ump all weekend at the Rotary and still had a truckload of corn delivered in Lexington, KY for me at midnight on Sunday. The man wanted to be your umpire.