Veterans’ Association

of the

Chicago & North Western 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.

 

Unfortunately, records in the early years have been lost. But, here’s the “score card” for the last 28 years – 1965 through 1992.

Chicago North Western Industrial 16-Inch Softball Team Record - 29 Championships in 28 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

Park

League/Tournament

Place

1

1965

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

122

1965

Clarendon Park

Men's "B" League

Champions

23

1967

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

34

1968

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

45

1969

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

56

1969

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

City-Wide Champions

797

1969

Wells Park

Men's League

Champions

898

1970

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

City-Wide Champions

99

1971

California Park

Men's League

Champions

10

1972

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

11

1973

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

12

1973

Chase Park

Men's League

Champions

13

1974

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

14

1974

Horner Park

Men's League

Champions

15

1975

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

16

1975

Chase Park

Men's League

Champions

17

1976

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

18

1977

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

Champions

19

1977

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

20

1978

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

Champions

21

1978

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

22

1979

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

23

1980

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

24

1983

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

25

1984

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

26

1985

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

27

1990

Thillens

Industrial Tournament

City-Wide Champions

28

1991

Athletic Field

Industrial League

Champions

29

1992

Athletic Field

Industrial League

Champions

 

 

Chicago North Western Industrial 16-Inch Softball Team Record

Year

Park

League/Tournament

Place

1965

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

1965

Clarendon Park

Men's "B" League

Champions

1966

Clarendon Park

Men's "B" League

3rd Place

1967

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

1967

Clarendon Park

Men's "B" League

record lost

1968

Clarendon Park

Industrial League

Champions

1969

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

1969

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

City Champions

1969

Wells Park

Men's League

Champions

1970

Wells Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1970

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

City Champions

1971

Wells Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1971

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

5th Place

1971

California Park

Men's League

Champions

1972

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1972

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

1972

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

2nd Place

1973

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

1973

Chase Park

Men's League

Champions

1973

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

2nd Place

1974

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

1974

Horner Park

Men's League

Champions

1975

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

1975

Chase Park

Men's League

Champions

1975

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

3rd Place

1976

Chase Park

Industrial League

Champions

1976

Chase Park

Men's League

2nd Place

1976

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

4th Place

1977

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

Champions

1977

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

1977

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

3rd Place

1978

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

Champions

1978

Hamlin Park

Men's League

Champions

1979

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

1979

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

5th Place

1980

Horner Park

Industrial League

Champions

1980

Grant Park

Industrial Tournament

5th Place

1981

Wells Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1982

Wells Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1983

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

1984

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

1984

Thillens

Industrial Tournament

4th Place

1985

Wells Park

Industrial League

Champions

1986

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1986

Thillens

Industrial Tournament

4th Place

1987

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

3rd Place

1988

Hamlin Park

Industrial League

2nd Place

1989

Independence Park

Industrial League

3rd Place

1990

Independence Park

Industrial League

record lost

1991

Athletic Field

Industrial League

Champions

1992

Athletic Field

Industrial League

Champions

29 Championships – Ten 2nd Place and Five 3rd Place Finishes

 

 

There’s more. Click on the links below to see “the rest of the story.” Be sure and visit the 2005 page where Joe Umana is himself inducted into the Chicago 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame.

 

|1925-1977| |1980| |1983| |1984| |1990| |2005|

 

 

 

Posted: 11/19/09