Veterans’ Association of the  Chicago & Northwestern Railway
Organized December 9, 1924
The C&NW 16-Inch Softball Team
The game of softball started in Chicago on Thanksgiving day 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club, when Yale & Harvard alumni, waiting for the ticker-tape score of their annual football game, wrapped up a boxing glove with tape & started hitting it around inside the gym with a broom-stick. Those men formalized rules & eventually the game moved outdoors. In Chicago the parks & school grounds were small, so the ball had to be bigger to stay in the park. The 16-inch diameter became the size of choice and the game of choice during the "Great Depression" since all you needed was a bat & a ball. 16-inch, or "NO-GLOVE," softball has been famous only in Chicago since the 1920's. 16-Inch softball remained a Chicago game and is played without gloves. Starting back in the 1920’s, the C&NW fielded a team made up of Ravenswood office employees which lasted into the 1990’s. In 2008, Jim Hallgren submitted the team’s application for induction into the Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame and in 2009 this application was accepted and the team became part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2008. This application for this honor, repeated below, and succeeding pages on this web site tell the story. Our thanks to Jim Hallgren who made this material available.
To the Board of Directors of the Chicago 16" Softball Hall of Fame Re: The Chicago & North Western Railroad (also the "C&NW" or the "Railroad") Softball Dynasty. Thank you for the opportunity to describe to you why the C&NW should have the honor and distinct privilege of being inducted into the Chicago 16" Softball Hall of Fame. The primary reason for the induction is the team's remarkable string of victories and Championships under Hall of Fame Manager Joe Umana (inducted 2004) from 1965 to and through 1992. But those teams were the pinnacle of a gloried history that started in the 1920's. Records of games played by C&NW teams in the Twenties demonstrate a "roaring" and successful team that captured the essence of that decade. A photograph of the 1925 C&NW team includes visage of its player/manager 23 year old Abe Saperstein (bottom row second from the left). Mr. Saperstein played shortstop and managed that team the year before he became the leader of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1926. In the Thirties, the Railroad recruited workers, despite the Great Depression, based on their prowess on the diamond. Employees were retained regardless of their work skills (or lack of work skills) until the softball season ended. The records of their games were unfortunately lost to time, but legends remain about the teams and hundreds of dollars won and lost on the field and in the stands on wagers, at a time when one dollar was an acceptable daily wage. But, it was in the 60's when the C&NW truly became Joe Umana's "Monster of the Midway." In 1965, Umana entered the Chicago & North Western team in the Clarendon Park Industrial League. The team took first place. From 1965 to and through the 1992 season, "Joe's Team", the Chicago & North Western Railroad 16" Softball Team, won 26 Industrial League and Men's League Park Championships; 2 Grant Park Tournament of Champions City-Wide First Place Titles; one City-Wide Industrial first place finish at Thillens Stadium, 2 Grant Park Tournament of Champions Second Place finishes; with a total of 7 Final Four finishes in the Grant Park Industrial Tournament of Champions from 1969 through 1977. There are few, if any, teams with records that even come close to the C&NW's record of success during those years. Some highlights worth recounting include the following: · In 1969, Manager Umana led the Chicago & North Western 16-Inch Softball Team to an undefeated regular season at Welles Park. This was followed by the team capturing the City Championship of 16-Inch Industrial Softball at the Grant Park Industrial Tournament of Champions. · In 1970, the C&NW repeated as the City-Wide Champions by once again taking the Grant Park Industrial Tournament of Champions. · In 1972 and 1973, the team repeated its success at the highest levels of Chicago 16-Inch Industrial softball by winning the first five games of the Grant Park Tournament. In both years, the team took second place at the Tournament. As a result, during that five-year period, the Chicago & North Western 16" Softball Team finished first or second, four years out of five. · In 1990 Joe Umana entered his railroad team in the City Wide Industrial Tournament at Thillens Stadium. The team prevailed in come-from-behind fashion, by winning five straight games then losing to the U. S. Postal service, who had played their way through the "loser's bracket". Then defeating that same Postal Service team m the Championship game 11-6. This Championship Team consisted of many of the same players who were mainstays of the great 1969 through 1977 team. One of the C&NW's most memorable games at the Grant Park Industrial Tournament of Champions was in 1976. The C&NW came face-to-face with the fantastic Chicago Daily News team that was inducted into your Hall of Fame last year. Mike Royko was on the mound for the "Paper" and Tim Weigel played left field for them. The previous year, 1975, that Daily News team was crowned City Champs. But that was not to happen in 1976. Instead, the Chicago & North Western team beat the Daily by 10 runs. More incredible - the 1975 City Champs were shut out by the Chicago & North Western team 10-0. When asked if he was going to give his team the "Weigel Weiner" on his nightly sportscast, a very gracious Tim Weigel had nothing but praise for the C&NW team, and he admitted that in all of his years playing 16" softball, he had never before been the victim of a shutout. Over the years the Chicago & North Western Team played & developed some great rivalries with many tough teams such as; The First National Bank of Chicago, Commonwealth Edison, Illinois Bell, Peoples Gas, CTA, Rheem Co., The Chicago Fire Dept, The Chicago Police Dept., S&C Electric Co., Stewart Warner, Zenith Co., Kemper Insurance Co. and Combined Insurance Co. to name a few. Our favorite opponent was The Bank of Ravenswood; in 1982 & 1983 their team included Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks. What a thrill it was to play on the same field with a Chicago icon. Ernie could still hit the ball with authority even at the age of 51. There was very little worker turnover at the Chicago & North Western and that carried over to the softball team. It was not uncommon to field a team consisting of a majority of players that worked and played together for more than 15 years. Joe Umana's guys were and still are a loyal bunch, some say that he taught us all how to be winners. His leadership and constant striving for excellence brought the team to championship form 29 times in that 28 year span from 1965 to 1992. Here is a list of players that were very proud to be a part of the Chicago & North Western Railroad 16-Inch Softball winning tradition: Joe Umana, Mike Coyne, Billy Haig, Wally Friese, Sy Berman, Bud Allen, Joe Jurkisatis, Ron Ambroziak, Jack Walter, Noel Julian, Denny Zeri, Jerry Steigerwald, Cliff Edington, Larry Thompson, Dick Stewart, Sal Pantano, Tom May, Ted Lambrakis, Vince Flanagan, Tony Handzel, Jim Hallgren, Bob Franzen, Rich Gonzales, Dave Knight, Gary Ogurek, Ed Lydiksen, Tim O'Brien, Bob Madsen, Gary Kolbe, Denny Madison, Sylvester Bobo, Lee Bellman, Jeff Liggett, Roy Kramer, Rich Ginger, Paul Blazek, Joe Collins, Al Long, Howard Schulman, Joe Hill, Ziggy Wejman, Dennis Brauner, Pat Fiege, Nick Poulos, Larry Prince, Bill Boukas & Don Napen. The Chicago & North Western Industrial Team has an 80-year commitment to excellence and a record and history that reflects that commitment. It would be a just tribute to the Railroad and the honor of a lifetime to those of us who battled for the Railroad on the softball diamonds of Chicago, to have the team inducted into the Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame. Here’s the group attending the 2008 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Standing, left to right:: Dick Stewart, Pat Fiege, Roy Kramer, Ed Lydiksen, Tony Handzel, Jerry Steigerwald, Wally Friese, Sylvester Bobo, Jim Hallgren & Vince Flanagan. Seated, left to right: Tim O'Brien, Gary Kolbe, Bob Madsen, Joe Umana, Sy Berman, Bob Franzen, Joe Collins & Zig Wejman. Also attending but not pictured: Lee Bellman, Paul Blazek & Mike Coyne.
Following the induction, commemorative shirts were made up and given to all former team members. Here’s what they look like. We all got a view of this one, held by Marie Lambrakis, on September 25th at the 2009 Chicago Chapter luncheon.
Championships Championships Team Records Team Records 1925-1977 1925-1977 1980 1980 1983 1983 1984 1984 1990 1990 2005 2005 Top of Page Top of Page