The Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons were one of the greatest men’s fast pitch teams in history. Here is a look at their storied history.
- 1940 ASA Indiana State Runnerup to Bendix Brakes, ASA National Runnerup (44-14)
- 1941 ASA Indiana State Runnerup to Bendix brakes, ASA National Champs (50-10)
- 1942 ASA Indiana State Champ/ASA East Central Regional Champ, ASA National 3rd Place (65-12)
- 1943 ASA Indiana State Champ/ASA East Central Regional 3rd place (63-15)
- 1944 Indiana State Champ/ASA West Central Regional Champ/ASA National Runnerup (76-12)
- 1945 ASA National Industrial Champ/ASA National Champ (72-4)
- 1946 ASA National Champ/NSL League Champ (93- 7)
- 1947 ASA National Champ/NSL Regular Season and Playoff Champ (113-19)
- 1948 NSL Regular Season Champ – did not play ASA Champ Briggs Beautyware (99-21)
- 1949 NSL Regular Season & Playoff Champ – Beat ASA Champ Tip Top Tailors (114-10)
- 1950 NFL Regular Season & Playoff Champ – Beat ASA Champ Clearwater Bombers (113-17)
- 1951 NISL Regular Season & Playoff Champ – Beat ASA Champ Dow Chemical (101- 6)
- 1952 NISL Regular Season & Playoff Champ – Beat ASA Champ Briggs Beautyware (110-14)
- 1953 NISL Regular Season Champ – Lost to ASA Champ Briggs Beautyware (87-16)
- 1954 NISL Regular Season Champ/ASA Indiana State Champ/ASA West Central Regional 4th place (56-12)
- 1955 Fred Zollner disbanded the team
1945, 1946 and 1947, were the real glory years for Zollner’s club. It won world titles all three years, and no team ever won three in row before or since. It was in the 1947 World Tournament that Zollner decided he would pull his team out of ASA competition. In the final game of that tournament the opposition protested that the Pistons were using a pro, Curly Armstrong. He was a member of the Zollner Pistons pro basketball squad, and thus was indeed considered a pro. However, the other team also had a player who’ was a member of the former New York Rens, so both were thrown out of the tournament, and the final game had to be replayed. It made no difference. The Pistons won both.
A new league
Out of those ASA problems in 1947 the National Fastball League was born, and all of the great teams of that era were members. It made no difference to the Pistons. From 1948 through 1954, the last year for the Piston team here, Zollner’s team won the league championship six of seven years, losing out in 1952 to Midland, Mich.
During the 1946 national tourney in Cleveland, Lou Boudreau, manager of the Cleveland Indians, gave tryouts to Ramage and the Johnston brothers and wanted to sign all three to professional baseball contracts. “He wanted us to sign and play in, I think, Davenport, Iowa,” Ramage said. “But we were making more money in Fort Wayne than the Cleveland organization wanted to pay us, so we said thanks, but no thanks.” Naturally, with the huge salaries major league teams are paying these days, Kampschmidt and Ramage have to wonder what they might have done had they been born about 40 years after they were.
“I have to look at the St. Louis shortstop, Ozzie Smith, and wonder,” says Ramage. “The guy can’t hit his hat, and he’s making a million dollars.” They can recall boundless stories of their playing days with the Pistons, first riding in a bus all over the Midwest and later four to a car. “Fred always made sure there was one guy in each car who didn’t drink,” laughed Ramage.
Into left field
Kampschmidt remembers a game in which the Pistons had a 1-0 lead in the last inning and the other team had runners on second and third with no one out. “I looked at West, who was warming up, and he said, ‘Give me the ball, Bernie, I’ll get this thing over in a hurry.’ The batter bunted his first pitch and Bill promptly threw the ball into left field and both runs scored. He looked at me and said, ‘I told you I would get it over with in a hurry.’ ”
Kampschmidt, who was named manager of the team in 1946 and held that job until the team folded,. was asked what pitcher he would want to use if his team was playing in the seventh game of a best-of-seven series. “Bill West,” he replied with no hesitation, and added, “Luken wouldn’t be far behind, but if it was the seventh game Leo probably would have already pitched a couple of times and West was the kind of guy who could pitch every day.”
Facing retirement, Kampschmidt said, “I sure never thought when I moved here in 1940 I would work for the Winer Corp. for 42 years without ever missing a paycheck.” Ramage added, “There isn’t that first regret. Fred (Zollner) was the best sponsor a team ever had and the greatest guy in the world to work for.”
The Pistons were tickled when their old Detroit foes, the Briggs, went out Tuesday at the hands of the 38-year-old veteran, Shifty Gears, of Rochester, in an eight-inning thriller, 1-0.
Neal Barille became a father for the second time about two hours before the game Tuesday night. The new arrival is a daughter. He has a son, two. Neal celebrated with a single and two walks in four trips and has the fans here saying he’s improved since he left here.
Lou Boudreau, Cleveland Indian boss, was around to see some of the games and took a mighty good look at the Italian speedster. Porky Slater had to have a doe-tor’s care for his injured left shoulder and played with it heavily taped. But he drew a walk, hit a sharp single and made one swell catch despite the handicap. Hugh Johnston hit the ball hard three times, his second double being close to a homer, and the Pistons believe he’s out of his recent slump at the plate.
Eight more games today trim the field to three teams in each division, with the Pistons sure to be one of the three male survivors , for Thursday.
Ferguson Manager Beefs
If extra games are needed in either division after Thursday, night they are tentatively scheduled for Friday. The Piston-Ferguson game Tuesday night started nearly two hours late and was not over until way past midnight. The schedule got away behind because there were so many overtime clashes Tuesday. John Nolan, Ferguson manager, argued loud and long when the umps started calling illegal pitches on Kirkendall, but to no avail. They had called seven on him in an earlier game because he fails to stop long enough in his ball presentation.