Big Time Softball

Until 1973, top level men’s slow pitch softball was almost exclusively made up of teams whose rosters were comprised of players within each local area. From the first ASA slow pitch champions in the mid-1950’s through the 60’s and early 70’s, teams made up of players from Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee and Long Island sponsored by smaller retail businesses battled it out for the Labor Day title. Teams pretty much played during the week in local leagues and drove to a half dozen out of town tournaments from May to August.

In 1971, Virginia Piledrivers won the championship in Cleveland after helping all-time great Bert Smith move from Long Island where he played with County Sports to Virginia. Several other players from the Maryland-Northern Virginia area also played on that team but other than Bert, it was a regional team. In 1973, Richard Howard became the first national sponsor to bring in multiple players from out-of state, those being Bert Smith, Stan Harvey, David Carroll and HT Waller. It paid off with Howard’s winning back-to-back championships in 1973 and 1974. Jerry’s Catering out of Miami finished second in 1974 and brought in Al White but most of the team was from Florida.

The USSSA at that point also had local teams as champions with Bay Area Merchants, Dino’s and Snyder’s in 1973-75.

1975 was the year that the ASA instituted a residency rule and the competition was very even with any one of 20 teams having a great chance to win championships. It turned out that 2 totally homegrown teams, Pyramid Cafe from Cleveland and Snyder’s from Detroit won the ASA and USSSA championships respectively.

Nelson’s Paint began some national recruiting in 1975 as did Warren Motors in 1976 although both teams had a majority of players from Oklahoma and Florida in those years. Also, in 1976, Taylor Brothers recruited Rick Sherr from Milwaukee and the 1976 USSSA World Series featured Little Caesar’s picking up Bert Smith, Stan Harvey and Denny Hogan from Howard’s and Snyder’s picking up Phil Higgins from Milwaukee and Braxton Speller from North Carolina. Braxton moved full-time to Detroit to work in the auto industry where he joined Chuck Drewicz who had moved from Milwaukee to Detroit earlier that year.

It was 1977 when the wholesale movement of players and significant costs began. With the advent of the professional league, players were paid to play and Bert Smith, Ronnie Ford, Mike Nye and Jack Roudebush were brought to Detroit to play for Detroit Caesars. Nelson’s recruited extensively, bringing in Bruce Meade, Herman Rathman, Joe Young and Al White and Crusher moved to North Carolina to play for Howard’s. By 1978, Campbell’s recruited players from coast-to-coast and it became apparent that to win championships, a sponsor would have to provide significant resources to compete for a championship.

Nelson’s, Campbell’s and Howard’s won the Triple Crown 1979-81 with rosters comprised of players from around the United States. Jerry’s won the USSSA in 1982 and 1983 with a similar roster and then Steele’s, Elite, Smythe Sox and Ritch’s Superior followed suit during the remainder of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Major Men’s Softball had become an expensive proposition that required partnerships with equipment manufacturers to offset certain costs.


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