The improbable dream of 1959

The following is another "Have Fun or Get Out of the Way" column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Daily Telegram.

The following is another "Have Fun or Get Out of the Way" column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Daily Telegram.

Most events of a lasting historical nature are commemorated with special anniversary dates such as 10, 25 or 50 years with a celebration of some sort held to honor that event.

Well, something very special happened to a bunch of young boys from Superior back in 1959. This year is one year shy of the 50th anniversary, but Lance and Billy cannot wait one more year.

We have a happy story to tell, one that was one game away from something very rare and special: The Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.

No team from Superior has ever advanced to the World Series, but 14 special baseball players and their two coaches, Bernie Tomzak and Ray Thillman, almost accomplished the improbable.


In 1959 the Superior Little League was still in its infancy, being only three years old. District play that year was in Bessemer, Mich., and Superior had two entrants, the National and American All-Stars.

On Saturday, July 18, 1959, the Americans defeated Ironwood, Mich. 12-1 and Wakefield 18-4. The next day matched the hometown Bessemer team against the Americans. Once again Superior's bats remained hot as it defeated Bessemer 8-2 to win the district championship.

To say that the hitting was the reason Superior won would be right and wrong. You need runs to win, but the pitching was outstanding allowing only seven runs in three games. Pat Walsh won two games, including the title game, and Mark Fitzgerald won the other.

Superior pounded out 40 hits while its pitching allowed 15, and it outscored their foes 38-7. Leading hitters for Superior were Larry Raymond, 8-for-11; Tom McCauley 5-for-8, including two home runs; Chuck Mahaffey, 5-for-12; Pat Longrie, 4-for-8; and Walsh 4-for-9.

In order to advance to the state tournament in Wausau, there was one more hurdle in the way: the team from Marquette, Mich. Would it be the hot bats of Superior or would the pitching-rich team from the Michigan's Upper Peninsula prevail.

The date for the game was Saturday, Aug. 1, 1959, and was played at Bessemer. Marquette had won by scores of 1-0 and 6-1 in its two contests. They say, whoever they are, that good pitching always beats good hitting. Shows you what "they" know.

The only problem, Walsh, recognized as Superior's top pitcher, won the district championship on Aug. 19 and Little League rules prohibited a pitcher from pitching in two consecutive games. What would coach Tomzak do? To whom would he turn? Fitzgerald to the rescue.

All Fitzgerald did, in a pressure packed game, was throw a seven-hitter allowing only two runs. However, it wasn't easy.


Remember that good pitching Marquette possessed? They led Superior 2-0 into the sixth inning when Superior tied the game. Longrie led off the bottom of the sixth with a single. McCauley reached on an error which set the dramatic stage for Raymond, who batting with one out, doubled in both runners.

The score remained tied into extra innings when, in the bottom of the seventh, Longrie singled to start the winning rally and scored on a misplayed fly ball off the bat of Mahaffey.

Fitzgerald struck out seven, allowed seven hits, two runs and worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, with only one run allowed. Superior won 3-2 and advanced to the state tournament.

Superior faced Green Bay on Friday, Aug. 7, 1959, in its opening game at state and had its ace, Walsh, on the mound. He played OK in the ballgame.

Superior won 11-0, he allowed three hits, struck out 13 and hit a three-run home run. Not a bad day for Walsh and his teammates in their first state tournament appearance.

Superior started the game with bunt singles by Longrie and McCauley, a sacrifice fly by Mahaffey, a single by Raymond, and the three-run blast by Walsh. Superior led 5-0 after one inning and never looked back.

Sunday, Aug. 9, 1959, is a day that should be revered by all who have played in Little League and Cal Ripkin baseball in the city of Superior.

For the first time in its brief history, a baseball team from Superior brought home a state championship. Its opponent, Milwaukee North Shore, jumped off to a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a home run by Tom Dean.


Superior answered with three runs in the top of the third. Longrie walked and McCauley reached on a fielder's choice. Mahaffey, Raymond and Walsh each singled for a 3-1 lead. Milwaukee battled back tying the game with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Once again, drama presented itself in the top of the sixth.

Walsh opened the inning with a double and advanced to third when Tom Custard grounded out. Coming to the plate was none other than the pitcher, Fitzgerald. He promptly squeezed home Walsh from third to give Superior the lead at 4-3. Dean led off the home half of the sixth with a single. (Lance and Billy can only assume that the collective blood pressures of the Superior faithful approached stroke point.)

According to the Telegram of Aug. 10, 1959, "Fitzgerald tightened up in the clutch and set the losers down in order."

Fitzgerald was the winning pitcher to go to state and the winning pitcher to go to the national sectional tournament in St. Joseph, Mo. One more hurdle to go to Williamsport, Penn., for the Little League World Series.

Thursday, Aug. 13, 1959, began as a bright and sunny day. Superior led 2-0 after four innings of play before their opponent, Ottumwa, Iowa, mounted a fierce comeback. As the top of the fifth began, it became a dark and dreary day. A light drizzle began to fall and Ottumwa began to score runs: four of them in fact.

Trailing 4-2, Longrie homered in the bottom of the fifth to close the gap, 4-3. Ottumwa scored one in the top of the sixth to increase its lead to 5-3 and in the process set the stage for more dramatics in the bottom of the sixth for Superior.

We'll let the Telegram from Friday, Aug. 14, 1959, tell you what happened next.

"Superior made its last chance a good one with two doubles and a single but couldn't score the runs it needed to win. Pat Walsh opened up with a double but was forced at third by Custard. Tony Depta struck out but Bob Peck hit for Fitzgerald and doubled. Bobby Johnson hit for Armstrong and singled to load the bases, but a strike out ended the game."


What a wonderful season this team of 12 year-olds had in 1959. To get that close to going to Williamsport is a feat that should be remembered and celebrated by all of Superior. Many of these young boys were on the American Legion team that won the state tournament in 1965.

In 1986, Jerry Peck coached a Little League team to the state tournament. They lost 1-0 in seven innings.

The '59 team is the only Little League team from Superior to win a state championship. 1986 was the last year Superior baseball was involved with the Little League.

Beginning in 1987, Superior joined Babe Ruth Baseball and participated in the Bambino Division, which is now called Cal Ripken.

Some of the players from 1959 and Tomzak still live in the area. In an article next week, Lance and Billy will have comments from those players about that magical season. We will even have some photos for your viewing pleasure.

Remember, "Have Fun or get out of the Way!"

Boyling in the Pirkolator

With football just around the corner, Lance and Billy have found some great quotes from former players, coaches and announcers. Read, enjoy and remember to grill your ball park franks.


  • Joe Theismann, ESPN football analyst and former NFL quarterback -- "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."
  • George Rogers, former New Orleans Saints running back -- "I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first."
  • Bill Peterson, former Houston Oilers head coach -- "You guys line up alphabetically by height."
  • William "The Refrigerator" Perry, former Chicago Bear defensive tackle -- "I've been big ever since I was little."
  • Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, former Dallas Cowboys linebacker, commenting on Terry Bradshaw's intelligence -- "He couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the C and the T."
  • Lee Corso, college football analyst for ESPN -- "Hawaii doesn't win many games in the United States."

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