Coach Bob Noto’s All-Time Top Ten List of Amsterdam High School Baseball Players

Bob Noto Sr. has been competing with, watching or coaching Amsterdam High School baseball players since the early 1970’s, when he himself was a member of one of the great AHS teams responsible for Brian Mee’s historic 53-game winning streak. I put my fellow Amsterdam West End native on the spot recently by asking him to name his Top Ten AHS Baseball Players. After pulling his hair out for a few weeks he came up with the following group. I too had the pleasure of watching most of these guys play the game and would put this group up against any other in AHS history. Thank you Coach Noto for sharing these gifted memories: (I’ve included the even number picks from Coach Noto’s Top Ten below. The other five, including Bob’s top pick will appear in my new Amsterdam All-Time Top Ten’s book to be released later this year.)

 2. Dennis Kaczor – Another former AHS Teammate of Noto’s, Kaczor was an amazing all-around baseball player who could hit, run, field any position and pitch with the best of them. He went 8-0 on the mound during Amsterdam’s 23-0 1974 season.

 4. Sean Whitty – Another former AHS catcher, Noto coached Whitty and put him on this list because of his power-hitting capability, calling the kid the best hitting catcher he could remember.

 6. Joe Hage – Another old teammate of Noto’s, Hage was a great all-around player with excellent speed and good power at the plate. He was also an outstanding tailback for the AHS football team. He ended up playing minor league baseball for a spell.

 8. Thom Safran – Like his 3-sport teammate Flesh, Safran was extremely gifted when it came to sports. He was a smooth fielding shortstop and a very good hitter. He put together three great seasons of varsity baseball for Brian Mee from 1968-1970. His older brother Donnie was also an outstanding AHS shortstop a decade earlier.

  10. Mark Haver – A smart, dandy-fielding second baseman with a really good bat. Haver’s AHS teams won his last 40 games as a varsity player. This photo shows the smile on Mark’s face on the day he and the rest of the Rams ended the 5-year-long Suburban Council’s hold on the Section II Baseball championship on June 6, 1973 by beating Shenendehowa 6-5!

Once a month, I send out a newsletter that includes a portion of the All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists I happen to be working on at the time. I will also use this monthly newsletter to announce the topics for upcoming Top Ten Lists and welcoming readers to put forth their own nominations for these compilations. If you’d like be included, please add your e-mail address here.

Ten of Amsterdam’s All-Time Most Beautiful Singing Voices

Who better to ask to select Amsterdam’s all-time most beautiful singing voices than the woman who taught voice and directed the Amsterdam High School’s choral programs for close to three decades! Patricia Valiante told me she found this to be a very challenging assignment but not because of a shortage of Amsterdamian’s with gifted singing voices. Her problem was limiting the list to just ten. So she reached out to two other friends who have had their ears tuned to beautiful music in Amsterdam for even longer than she has, Bert DeRose and Peg Lazarou. I thank them all. Today in this post I present three of  the voices on Pattie’s list in the category of Pop-Broadway-Jazz. My upcoming book will include the entire list:

Arlene Fontana Born in 1936, as a student at Amsterdam High School she participated in a number of variety shows directed by Bert DeRose. In 1949, she appeared on the WRGB TV show Teenage Barn, where she attracted regional attention. She worked on a radio theatre series at local station WCSS., and did summer stock at the Malden Bridge Playhouse. When she graduated from AHS in 1954 she was offered a contract to perform at the Millers Shell Lounge in Miami. She sang at nightclubs throughout the United States and Cuba. In the late 1950’s she had a hit record of the song Easy and I’m in Love. She appeared in the Broadway productions of No, No Nanette and The Ritz. She was the character Linda Low in the musical Flower Drum Song and played that signature song I Enjoy Being a Girl a record 1,972 times. In addition to Broadway, she appeared on TV on the Ed Sullivan Show, Merv Griffin, The Tonight Show, and Mike Douglass. She acted in the Soap Operas Another World and Loving. Fontana died in 1990.

Sue Dunning Matthews A 1971 graduate of Amsterdam High School, as a student Dunning-Matthews showed much musical promise as a singer in the chorus, as a female lead in the high school musicals and as a soloist with the high school jazz band as well as other bands in the area. After she graduated, her life and career took her to the Washington DC area. She became a well known Jazz singer releasing her first album, Love Dances in 1991; her second, When You’re Around in 1993; and a third, One at a Time in 2002. She sings with a Maryland based group called Guys and Dolls. She also recorded an album of Irish pop songs, and has been a featured artist with several different ensembles and at several special musical events and venues. Dunning-Matthews continues to perform in the Maryland area.

Kyle Brown- Originally from Broadalbin, Kyle started singing and performing as a child. He was the lead character Amahl in the opera Amahl and the Night Visitor. From there his life took him to the University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, and then to the stage. He has been in many off-Broadway and touring companies, most recently he has appeared on Broadway in An American in Paris and is presently on Broadway in Anastasia the Musical.

Who were Pattie Valiante’s seven other choices ? You’ll find out when my “Book of 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists,” is released later this year.

Once a month, I will be sending out a newsletter that includes a portion of the All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists I happen to be working on at the time. I will also use this monthly newsletter to announce the topics for upcoming Top Ten Lists and welcoming readers to put forth their own nominations for these compilations. If you’d like be included, please add your e-mail address here.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Greatest Baseball Players

In Amsterdam’s rich and highly coveted sports history, baseball has always held a special place in the hearts of generations of Rug City sports fans. Names like Alex Isabel, Jack Tracy, the Amsterdam Rugmakers, Brian Mee and most recently Brian Spagnola and his Amsterdam Mohawks have ensured that if you live in this upstate community, at any point in your life you will have had the opportunity to watch gifted hitters hit, gifted pitchers pitch and gifted teams compete. One of the great joys I’ve experienced in the process of writing about the history of this place has been learning more about the great baseball players who have lived among us. In putting together the following compilation, I’ve automatically assumed that an appearance at the big league level of the sport automatically qualified an individual for inclusion and a spot above those who never made it to the big show. Therefore, four of my first five choices are former big leaguers

1. Roger Bowman – This Amsterdam native grew up on Meadow Street and in the early 1940’s he was the star pitcher of the legendary Amsterdam High School team that won 40 straight games for head coach Jack Tracy. Bowman was a left-hander who had a blazing fastball, an impressive curve and amazing control for a high school-aged hurler. In the prestigious All-American Amateur Baseball Tournament of 1945 held in Johnstown, PA, Bowman struck out 70 batters in his three starts to lead Amsterdam to a championship. In the title game of that tourney, he put together a two-hit shut out with 24 K’s! He decided to attend Colgate and on a wintery morning there, Bowman slipped while running to catch a bus and jammed his left shoulder. He was never again able to pitch without a sore arm and the injury turned his fastball from blazing to just above average. But even with the bum shoulder. Bowman was still good enough to earn a contract with the New York Giants. By his second year in the organization, he became one of their top pitching prospects, when he put together a 17-win season for New York’s B-level farm club in Trenton. He followed that up with three successive double-digit victory seasons in the high minors while the local Recorder newspaper faithfully reported his progress to his proud hometown. He got his first big league experience with two 1949 late-season starts against the Reds and Braves. The first big league hitter he faced was the Reds’ All Star third baseman Grady Hamner, who he retired on a groundout. He made it through four innings in his first start but just two his next and would spend the entire 1950 season back in the minors. By the time the 1951 Giants’ spring training camp opened, Bowman was 23-years-old with four straight solid seasons of minor league pitching on his resume and ready to pitch his way onto New York Manager Leo Durocher’s big league staff. He did just that with a solid spring performance and made the Opening Day roster. But after he lost his first two starts in April that year, he was demoted to the bullpen. Then on May 5, 1951 Bowman earned his first-ever big league victory with a scoreless five-inning relief performance against the Pirates. Just five days later, he got his first and only win as a Major League starting pitcher when he gave up only one run in a six-inning stint against the Cardinals in the Polo Grounds. All of Amsterdam celebrated the good news. Unfortunately, that would also turn out to be Bowman’s last big league victory. By the middle of June, he had walked 22 batters in just 26 innings and that lack of control had helped his ERA grow to over six runs per game and got him demoted back to the minors. Though he’d never pitch for New York again, its important to keep in mind that the 1951 Giant team he did pitch for had to win 98 games to catch the Dodgers for first place on the last day of the season. Without either of Bowman’s two wins, there’s no playoff between the two teams to decide the Pennant and Bobby Thomson never gets a chance to hit his “Shot heard round the World!” The Giants released Bowman in 1953 and the Pirates picked him up and gave him two more chances to pitch in the big leagues in 1953 and 55. He saw plenty of action in that ’53 campaign, appearing in 30 games for a terrible Pittsburgh team that would finish that season with a 50-104 record and in last place.Then in 1954, the Pirates sent him to their Hollywood affiliate in the Pacific Coast League where Bowman had the greatest season of his professional career, winning 22 games. That got him one more shot with the Pirates in 1955, but he could not take advantage of it. His career as a Major League pitcher ended in May of 1955. Bowman would end up settling in California with his wife Pat and one daughter and open a custom furniture upholstery shop in Los Angeles. He died there on July 21, 1997 at the age of 69.

2. Jack “Wobby” Hammond – Had the distinction of being the very first Amsterdam-born big league player. In 1939, three decades after he graduated from AHS, Recorder sports editor Jack Minnoch still called Hammond the greatest baseball player in Amsterdam school history”. He was born in the Rug City in 1891 and  was a superb athlete for Amsterdam High School, starring in both basketball and baseball. He was certainly good enough at each sport to letter in both when he played for Colgate University, where he captained the Varsity basketball team in his 1914 senior season.He started playing minor league ball in 1909. By 1915, he was ready for his shot at the big leagues. The Cleveland Indians invited Hammond to their1915 spring training camp, where he made enough of an impression to make the team’s Opening Day roster as Cleveland’s backup second baseman. His first big league appearance took place on April 15th of that year, when he was inserted as a pinch runner. His first hit came eight days later in Cleveland versus the same Tigers when Hammond singled off the very tough Detroit southpaw Harry Coveleski, who would go on to win 27 games during that 1915 season. The Indians were not very good that year, finishing the season in next-to-last place. Hammond finished his season playing in Birmingham, AL. In his 91 plate appearances for Cleveland he had managed only 18 hits and his .214 batting average had got him demoted back to the minors. It would take the Amsterdam native seven long years to make it back to the Majors. During those seven seasons he played both professional baseball and basketball, the latter in the New York State League that used to compete back then. In 1920, he accepted his alma mater’s offer to become Colgate’s Athletic Director. But he still had the bug to play pro baseball and from 1919-1921, he not only put together the three best minor league seasons of his career for the Pittsfield Hillies in the Eastern League, he also managed the ball club to the 1921 Eastern League title while averaging .351 as the team’s starting second baseman.That performance earned him another shot with the 1922 Cleveland Indians, who were then being managed by the Hall of Fame outfielder, Tris Speaker. His first chance to play a regular season game for Speaker would become Hammond’s only chance and it ended with a bizarre incident. According to an article in the April 25, 1922 edition of the Utica Post Dispatch, Speaker had inserted Hammond in a game at second base after his starter was spiked and couldn’t continue. He did fine at the plate, singling and scoring a run in four at bats that afternoon but he made two errors in the field, dropping two throws. According to this article, Hammond actually laughed when he dropped each of the throws. After the second time it happened, Speaker took him out of the game and after the game, the Indians released him. Less than a month later, Hammond became a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent two months as a utility infielder with the Bucs, getting three hits and scoring three runs in eleven at bats. He played his last big league game on June 16, 1922. He was 31 years old. Hammond spent one more year playing ball for the Kansas City Blues in the American Association, considered one of the top leagues in the country. After averaging .300 for that team he hung up the spikes for good. He ended up settling in Kenosha, Wisconsin where he put his Colgate education to great use, enjoying a long career as a chemist. Hammond died in Kenosha, on March 4, 1942 at the age of 51.

3. Steve Kuczek – Born in 1924, he was one of five brothers who played and excelled at baseball for Jack Tracy-coached AHS varsity teams. His dad worked as a machine repairman in the Mohawk Carpet mills. After completing his own superlative high school baseball career in 1942, he went right into the Army. Discharged after the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill and like his older brother Eddie, went to college at Colgate University and played baseball for Raider coach Eppy Barnes, captaining the team in 1949. That summer he got a tryout with the Braves who signed the then 24-year-old infielder and sent him to their Class A Eastern League team in Hartford, CT. That club’s roster was loaded with infielders and when it became clear Kuczek was not going to get playing time, the Braves reassigned him to their B-level farm team in Pawtucket, RI. The Amsterdam native took over the starting shortstop position there and led the team to a league Pennant. On September 8, 1949, the Braves called Kuczek up to the big leagues. He sat on the bench for three full weeks watching veteran shortstop Alvin Dark play his position while the Braves, who had won the 1948 NL Pennant, were eliminated from repeating that title in ’49. That year the Dodgers and Cardinals were battling for the top spot and on September 29th the Dodgers came to Boston for a double header. It was a rainy dreary day but with one game separating Brooklyn from first place St. Louis and just four left to play, the Umpires were determined to get both games in. That determination was most likely the reason Kuczek got his name in the record books. Brooklyn won the first game and then the weather got even worse. The field was a mud bowl and if not for the ramifications the second game had on the Pennant race it surely would have been cancelled. The Boston players were none to thrilled with the decision to play it however and made sure to express their displeasure quite vocally. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Braves’ shortstop Connie Ryan decided to get real cute and wore a raincoat while warming up in the on-deck circle. His creative protest did not please the home plate umpire who promptly ejected Ryan from the game. The Braves skipper, Johnny Cooney looked down his bench and decided it was a perfect time to give his raw rookie shortstop from Amsterdam, NY his first Major League plate appearance. Kuczek grabbed a bat and after a few quick practice swings approached the plate to face Brooklyn’s monster ace Don Newcombe, who up until that point had held Boston’s offense scoreless, yielding just three harmless singles. With a runner on first the right hand hitting Kuczek went with a pitch and lined it down the right field line for a double but the runner in front of him did not score, instead stopping at third. Both that runner and Kuczek were then stranded when Newcombe struck out the next three hitters and since that ended the fifth inning and the game was then official, the Umpires immediately stopped the contest, awarding the victory to the Dodgers. The following spring, Kuczek was invited to the Braves’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Florida. He found himself third on the depth chart for he team’s shortstop position and got very few chances to prove he belonged on the big league roster. By then Kuczek was already 25-years-old, still young for most people but ancient for a shortstop with only one at bat on his big league resume. When the same thing happened to him in 1951 following a solid .301 season with Class A Binghamton, he decided it was time to switch careers. He had married Amsterdam native Clara Pikul in 1947. They settled in Schenectady, where Steve accepted a technical position with the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. They raised five more ‘Kuczek’s.” Steve lived to be 85 years old passing away in November of 2010.

4. Jacob “Bugs” Reisigl – Born in Brooklyn, NY on December 12, 1887, Reisigl grew up to become a very talented baseball pitcher. How talented? When he was 21 years old, this right-hander signed a contract to pitch for the New Haven Black Crows, a Class B level minor league ball club that used to compete in the old Connecticut State League. He won 46 games during his first three seasons there including a 20 – 14 record in 1911 that caught the attention of the Cleveland Indians, then being called the Cleveland Naps. They signed Reisigl to a contract at the tail end of their 1911 season and gave him a start and a relief appearance before season’s end. He ended up with an 0-1 record for the big league club and a 6.23 ERA and even though he went back to New Haven and posted a 21-9 record the following year, Reisigl would never again wear a major league uniform. He did go on to pitch several more seasons in the minors, finishing his career with a 102-93 lifetime record before quitting professional ball in 1916. Reisigl ended up in Amsterdam in 1922, when he took a job as a lineman for the local power company. When he wasn’t climbing poles and running wire, he pitched for several local teams including the Bigelow Weavers, an Amsterdam-based semi pro club sponsored by the Bigelow Sanford Rug Mills. He married Amsterdam native Louise Reuss in 1934. They had three children, a daughter and two sons. Louise died in 1943 and three years later Reisigl married Margaret Hyatt, a widow with three children of her own. When he couldn’t play baseball any more, Reisigl helped others enjoy the game, especially the youth of this city. For many years he was Amsterdam’s busiest umpire, calling balls and strikes for both Babe Ruth and Wee Men’s leagues for many years. He was also a big fan of the Amsterdam Rugmakers minor league team that used to play in the city and he was one of the organizers of a booster club created to promote the team and the game of baseball throughout the community. He passed away in 1957.

5. Steve Kuk – I used to tend bar on Sunday afternoons at an Amsterdam watering hole on Market Street. One of my favorite customers was a guy named Eddie Fitzgerald, who was one of Amsterdam’s all-time great baseball enthusiasts. He’d never have more than two beers on a visit but we’d watch three or four innings of a Yankee game together and we’d talk about Amsterdam baseball. Eddie had been playing, coaching and watching the best baseball players in this town compete since the early 1920’s and he used to always tell me that the city’s greatest baseball player ever was Steve Kuk. Kuk had played for Jack Tracy’s varsity nine at Amsterdam High School in the late 1920’s and early ’30s. He was a superb hitter, a wizard defensively as both an infielder and outfielder and a lights out pitcher for Tracy during his AHS career. He then went on to Colgate, where he lettered in the three major sports and made All-American in baseball. Kuk signed a contract with the New York baseball Giants in 1935 and spent the next seven seasons trying to break through the logjam of outstanding talent that organization had accumulated at all levels of its minor league organization. He almost did, putting together three straight 20-homer seasons at one point before service in World War II disrupted his path. He retired as a player in 1945. He had blasted 106 homers, collected over 1,100 hits and averaged .282 during his eleven seasons of professional ball. Kuk then tried coaching and managing in the minors but found his niche and national acclaim as a coach at private prep schools first in New Jersey and then Connecticut. Amsterdam has had several families who have produced multiple great athletes but the Kuk bloodline has to be right up there near the very top of the list. Steve, his brother John and is nephew John Jr. all played minor league ball and the Mom of  all-time AHS basketball great Tim Kolodziej was also a Kuk.

I will finish this list of the Top Ten All-Time Greatest Amsterdam Ballplayers  in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

 

 

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Most Famous Rugmaker Ballplayers

Since my hometown is Amsterdam, NY and I’m a passionate long- time fan of the New York Yankees, its only natural that I have a strong interest in the history of a now-defunct minor league franchise known as the Amsterdam Rugmakers. The team was the Yankees’ affiliate in the Class C Canadian-American League from 1938 until 1951. They were immediately successful, winning their league’s pennant during the first two years of their existence and the Can-Am playoff Championship in their third. Several Rugmaker players made it to the big leagues and a few enjoyed great successes at that level. Here are are five of the ten who did. I will share the top five in my new book; 50 All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists is released later this year.

6. Frank “Spec” Shea – This native of Naugatuck, Connecticut spent his first season of organized ball in Amsterdam, playing for the Rugmakers and living in the old Amsterdam Hotel. The year was 1940. He had been signed by the Yankees after pitching impressively in a 1939 collegiate summer league following his senior year in high school. The guy who signed him was the legendary Yankee super scout, Paul Krichell, who also signed Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford. His real name was Francis Joseph O’Shea but he had dropped the “O” when he played in that summer league, much to his Dad’s consternation. In an interview of Shea, which appears in the excellent book entitled “Baseball’s Canadian-Amsterdam League,” written by Rug City native David Pietrusza, the pitcher explained how he almost packed his bags and went home after his first start for Amsterdam against Gloversville. The young right-hander described how he had been shelled in that appearance and was actually filling his suitcase back at the hotel ready to catch a bus home, when Amsterdam manager, Eddie Sawyer showed up and convinced him to stay. The next time he faced Gloversville, Shea threw a two-hit shutout against them. Shea finished his 1940 Rugmaker season with an 11-4 record. He spent the next two years climbing up New York’s minor league ladder and the three after that serving his country in WWII. He then went 15-5 for the Yankee’s Triple-A team in Oakland, finally making the big club in 1947. Spec went 14-5 as a rookie for the Yankees and won the AL All Star game plus beat the Dodgers twice in the 1947 World Series. He would have been AL Rookie of the Year as well but back then only one player in all of baseball got that award and Shea finished behind Jackie Robinson. Yankee announcer Mel Allen gave him the nickname the “Naugatuck Nugget.” Spec than hurt his arm the following season and never again achieved the level of success he had during his first year in pinstripes and was finally traded to the Senators in 1952. After leaving the game, Shea returned to his hometown where for the next couple of decades he served as Naugatuck’s director of recreation. He also helped Robert Redford learn how to throw a baseball for the Hollywood star’s role as Roy Hobbs in the movie “The Natural.” Spec Shea died in 2001 at the age of 81.

7. Johnny Blanchard – How many third string big league catchers have hit 21 home runs in a season? That’s exactly what this Minneapolis native did in 1961, while playing behind both Elston Howard and Yogi Berra. In the 1961 World Series Blanchard blasted two home runs against the Cincinnati Reds in just ten total at-bats. He had been a three sport all-star in high school and could have attended the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship, but chose to play baseball instead. The Yankees gave him a $50,000 bonus to sign with them in 1951, which at the time was a huge amount of money. Having been an outfielder during his high school days, Blanchard entered a Yankee organization loaded with outfielders at every level. Since they gave him so much money to sign, New York decided to start him near the top, in triple A ball with their Kansas City affiliate. When he struggled there he was demoted to single A Binghamton, where he played even worse. It was right about this time that the Yankees got the idea to convert him to catcher, and that conversion began when Blanchard was again demoted during his first season in the minors, this time to the Class C Amsterdam Rugmakers. Blanchard did not want to be here and played that way for manager Frank Novosel, averaging just .204 during his short nine-game stint with the local team. But he also belted three home runs in those nine games and the following season he would hit 30 more round-trippers for the Yankee farm team in Joplin, Missouri and continue his transformation to catching and his journey to the Bronx. Meanwhile, that 1951 Rugmaker Can-Am League team he played for was the last one to ever play here in Amsterdam.

8. Mayo Smith – After achieving great success during their first years in Amsterdam, the Rugmaker’s ceased operations during the WWII years and when play resumed in 1946, the franchise struggled to regain their pre-war winning ways. They hit bottom in 1948, finishing in seventh place with a 57-80 record, setting a franchise record for most losses in a season. It was decided that a managerial change was in order. At the time, Jim Turner, the former Yankee relief pitcher and future Yankee pitching coach was managing a minor league team in Portland. His starting center fielder on that team was a 33-year-old native Floridian who had failed to stick in his one trial as a big leaguer. His name was Mayo Smith and Turner recommended him to the Yankees for the Rugmakers’ job. Seeing a chance to save some money by employing a player/manager, Smith was hired and spent two years managing and playing outfield for Amsterdam. After a 67-71 fifth place finish in 1949, Smith’s 1950 Rugmakers got back into the playoffs with a 72- 65 fourth place finish and advanced to but lost in the finals. Smith was rewarded with a promotion to the Yankee’s Class B Piedmont League affiliate in Norfolk, VA. He managed that team to two straight league championships and then got promoted again, this time to the Yankee Class A Southern League affiliate in Birmingham, AL, where his team advanced to the league championship finals (but lost) in his first season at the helm. Suddenly, Smith was being mentioned as the potential successor for Yankee legend Casey Stengel. In fact, the “Ol’ Perfessor” himself told reporters that Smith was the most impressive coach he encountered during New York’s spring training camps and he predicted great things for Smith’s future. Stengel was right. In 1955 Smith got his first big league managerial position with the Philadelphia Phillies. He did a solid job with a pretty mediocre ball club for three-and-a-half seasons. After getting let go by the Phillies midway through the 1958 season he was hired to manage the Reds in ’59. After lasting just a half-year in Cincinnati, Smith left managing to return to the Yankees as a scout. Actually, he became the team’s first ever-super scout. Major League Baseball had just instituted its inter-league trading period. Previously, if a team in one league wanted to trade a player to a team in the other league, that player would have to clear waivers within his own league first. The Yankees gave Smith the responsibility of scouting all NL teams and in that capacity he became a well-known fixture at all of the senior circuit’s ballparks. Smith remained in that role for six years until he was hired to manage the Detroit Tigers. He managed his 1968 team to a World Series win over the Cardinals. Smith’s decision to play outfielder Mickey Stanley at shortstop during that Fall Classic so he could keep both Stanley’s and Al Kaline’s bat in the lineup, was praised for years afterwards by the baseball press. Smith remained the Tiger manager through the 1970 season. He died in 1977, a victim of a heart attack.

9. Eddie Sawyer – Talk about a tough employer, even though the Rugmakers had captured the 1938 Can Am League Pennant during their first season in Amsterdam, that team’s skipper, Admiral Martin was told his services were no longer needed. It seems Martin did not have good communication skills with the new generation of ballplayers the Yankee organization was trying to develop in Amsterdam. So Martin was out and the job of field boss was going to a 27-year-old outfielder with a masters’ degree in biology and physiology from Cornell and a bachelors’ degree from Ithaca College, where he taught biology and phys. ed. in the offseason. His name was Eddie Sawyer and he would become the first Amsterdam Rugmaker skipper to go on to manage in a big league World Series. Sawyer had signed a contract to play for the Yankees in 1934 at the pretty advanced age of 23. New York assigned him to their B-level affiliate in Norfolk, where he averaged an impressive .361 his first year. He kept topping the .300 mark all the way up the ladder to Triple A ball but the problem was Sawyer was a singles hitter and considered too old to be a top tier big league prospect. So after the 1938 season, Sawyer asked the Yanks to try him as a player manager and they took him up on his offer and made Amsterdam his first assignment in that dual role. When Krichell told Recorder Sports Editor Jack Minnoch the Yankees were replacing Admiral Martin with Sawyer he made sure to point out that the new skipper “is a fellow with a likeable personality who has proven he can get along with people.” And get along he did. He led the team to a 79-49 record and the 1939 Canadian American League pennant. He made his own managing job easier because as a player on that same squad he averaged .369, drove in 103 runs and even poked 16 home runs. Needless to say, Sawyer became real popular with Rugmaker fans real fast that summer. He returned to the helm of the local team in 1940, and though Amsterdam fell to third place in the Pennant race that season, Sawyer led them to victory in the postseason playoffs. He had certainly earned a promotion and in 1941 the Yanks moved him up to B-level Norfolk and the following year to their Eastern League A-level affiliate in Binghamton. That’s when the Philadelphia Phillies organization swooped in and stole him from New York. After four more years  of managing in the minors he got the call to take over as skipper of the parent club in 1948. Three years later, Sawyer was managing the 1950 Philadelphia team to an NL Pennant. He than took his famous “Whiz Kids” team to that year’s World Series against the mighty Yankees. Philadelphia lost but in the process, Sawyer had quickly become one of the most highly respected managers in the game. Unfortunately for him, that 1950 season would be Sawyer’s last winning season as a big league skipper. The Phillies would fire him at midseason in 1952 and then rehire him in 1958, again at midseason, when he would replace Mayo Smith. Ironically, Smith was the second Rugmaker manager to become a skipper in the big leagues, the second to manage in a Fall Classic and the first and only ex- Amsterdam field boss to win a World Series, with Detroit in 1968. Sawyer passed away in 1997 at the age of 87.

10. Alfred “Allie” Clark – The Yankees signed Clark right out of his South Amboy, New Jersey High School in 1941 and sent him to the D-level affiliate in Easton, Pennsylvania. He tore up the pitching in that Eastern Shore League, averaging a robust .325 after 70 games, which earned him a promotion to C-level ball and a bus-ticket to Amsterdam for the final 20 games of the Rugmakers’ 1941 season. He treated Can-Am league pitchers even worse. In 76 at bats he collected 28 hits for a torrid .368 batting average. Amsterdam fans quickly realized this six-foot tall second baseman was just passing through the Rug City on his way to a big league career. He kept moving up the minor league ladder until 1943, when he went into service and then a year after he returned to baseball in 1946 he finally made it to the big leagues. He got into 24 games for the 1947 New York Yankees and batted a stellar .373, which earned him a spot on Manager Bucky Harris’s World Series roster. In what must have been the biggest thrill of his career, he pinch-hit for Yogi Berra in the seventh game against Brooklyn and drove in a huge run. That would be his final appearance in a Yankee uniform. That December, he was traded to Cleveland. Clark’s big league career lasted seven seasons. His lifetime batting average was a respectable .262. He was one of just 28 Rugmaker players who made it to the big leagues. He died in 2012.

I will finish this list of Most Famous Amsterdam Rugmaker Ballplayers  in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Most Elected Mayors

Who should be considered the most popular Mayor in history, the one who serves the longest or the one who gets reelected the most times? Compounding the issue is also the fact that Amsterdam’s Mayoral term has swung back and forth between two-and four-years since 1900 and there was even a time that term limits prevented reelection efforts in the first place. So I chose to rank Amsterdam’s Mayors since 1900 by the number of times the voters gave them a majority of votes, straight and simple. I created the following gallery to give readers a peak of my top ten. In my upcoming book, I include profile’s of each Mayor on my list, including the opponents they beat to make it:

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I will write about five of these ten former Amsterdam mayors in the May issue of the free Amsterdam Top Ten monthly newsletter. If you are not yet on the newsletter’s distribution list, you can sign up for here.

All-Time Top Ten Favorite Amsterdam Pastimes

I’ve lived in Amsterdam for 63 years but have only been cognizant of my surroundings for about 60 of them. Over the course of those six decades, the demographics of my hometown have changed quite a bit and ditto for our society in general. As a result, so have the things people like to do in their spare time. The following list is therefore a hybrid of what folks in Amsterdam typically used to enjoy doing and what they enjoy doing now. You will note there are a few Amsterdam pastimes that have withstood the test of time. I’ve included five of the ten below:

2. Playing a number – If Amsterdam had its own Olympics, playing numbers would be a medal competition. Back before OTB an Amsterdam bookie was like an Amsterdam physician, every family had one. Our’s owned the grocery store at the foot of our street. What the new baby weighed, the time of day your great aunt died, the license plate number on your cousin’s new car, the dream book number for dreaming about a divorce all became straight and boxed three-digit hopes and dreams for folks in every neighborhood of this city. Then that night at exactly 6:40 PM, your aunt would tell you to call the grocer and ask how much she owes him. The grocer would turn that night’s number into a dollar amount. “Tell your aunt she owes me zero dollars and sixteen cents.” You’d give your aunt the amount and 999 times out of a 1,000 she’d respond with her patented “Awwwwwwww shit!”

4. Softball – Playing softball in Amsterdam isn’t just a sport, its pretty close to a religion. When the time comes, you either get invited to join a team or you start one of your own and you keep playing until there’s a verifiable and irreversible reason why you can’t play any longer. Game nights are eagerly anticipated, not just for the thrill of the competition but also because its a night out with a bunch of good friends and a chance to laugh, reminisce, tip a few cold ones and maybe if you’re lucky, rip a shot into the gap and make it to second standing up. And its been going on forever. Ask anyone whose played recreation league softball from my dad’s generation, from mine or my kids’ to name a best memory from their own playing days and they will instantly recall five.

6. Bingo – My Dad’s lady-friend would beg me to go with them to play Bingo every week so one night I did. At the time you could play that game in far more places in this city than you could buy a book. Every church and fraternal organization ran a Bingo night. I had always played as a kid on Sunday nights at my grandmother’s house while eating Aunt Onnie’s homemade pizza, with the Ed Sullivan show on TV in the background. I remember the night we finally realized the O-68 chip was missing from that Bingo set. My grandmother was devastated! But nothing prepared me for the K of C Bingo night I experienced with my dad and his friend a full decade later. The hall on Market Street was packed! We sat next to a lady who must have had fifty Bingo cards going. She had Bingo markers, at least a dozen lucky charms including a framed photo of her dead sister and four bags of snacks in front of her and she was slurping on at least a 32-ounce soft drink. I’m sure glad they didn’t allow guns in there because as the night wore on the crowd got pretty ornery! “Shake em up God darn ya!” “Again with B-15, Shove that B-15 where the sun don’t shine!” “Her again??? She wins every damn week!” I have to admit I enjoyed the evening but didn’t get the bug. Last year, while doing a cleanup at my grandmother’s house I found that old Bingo game set and brought it home. Now we play it whenever my grandkids come to visit. The other night while deep into a game little Frankie asked me “Poppi, how come you never call O-68?”

8. Friday Night Football – You can see the lights from the Thruway and hear the noise of the crowd from my back deck a mile away. Its a Friday night in autumn in Amsterdam and the Rams are playing at Lynch Stadium with the stands on both sides of the field packed. The quality of the football is of course top notch but that’s certainly not the only reason it seems as if half of all Amsterdam shows up for those games. Those Friday night contests really truly are a social event for this community. There’s the one and only Marching Rams, one of the best high school bands around. There’s the 50-50 raffle, paid off in cash and on a good night the winner walks away with enough to pay next quarter’s property tax installment. There’s the chance to see and catch up with just about every person you know. You even get a chance to sing the old alma mater, flubbing the words of course. If someone who doesn’t know Amsterdam asks you what’s good about this place, take them to a Friday night football game at Lynch.

10. Texting – This is certainly a newer phenomenon. Nobody talks to anybody any more in Amsterdam. Instead, we pull out this way-too-expensive-to-use device and start pressing our fingers to its screen in rapid succession in order to convey information that most of the time, does not need to be conveyed at that moment. Like any pastime, we text message because we enjoy doing it not because we have to do it.

I will finish this list of Amsterdam’s Favorite Pastimes in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

The Best AHS Football Players in each of the last ten decades

The Amsterdam High School Football program started in 1927 when head coach Jack Tracy led the first Varsity gridiron team in school history to a 6-1 finish. So the current decade is the tenth decade the school’s gridiron team has competed. I thought it would be fun to try and name the greatest AHS football player from the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, etcetera, right up till this current decade. Now I realize high school football especially here in Amsterdam has never been about an individual player. Teams win games and championships and it is so hard to compare the accomplishments of so many players competing at so many different positions. But since I’ve been paying attention to AHS Football from right around 1965 or so, I thought the comparison of players and teams from different eras would make interesting reading. You can let me know if it does or not. Here’s five of my ten picks for Players of the Decade:

2010-2017 – AHS record during this decade – 46-22
Player of the DecadeBryan Stanavich
The current decade started with the final two seasons of Pat Liverio’s outstanding head coaching career and since 2012, the program has been in the able hands of his successor, Doug Edick. During this eight year period, the name “Stanavich” has become synonymous with a very strong Rugged Ram running game. The oldest of the three Stanavich brothers, Brett and the youngest, Dale each had outstanding careers for the Purple and Gold but it was middle brother Bryan who rewrote Amsterdam’s record books by breaking Justice Smith’s 25-year-old rushing record. Bryan ran for 4,202 yards during his three year career. Keep in mind that Smith started four seasons in Amsterdam’s backfield, making Stanavich’s accomplishment in three even more noteworthy. He also set program benchmarks for both touchdowns and scoring and was a brilliant return man during his stellar career.

2000-2009 – AHS record during this decade – 79 -26
Player of the Decade – To be revealed in my upcoming book

1990-1999 – AHS record during this decade – 79-20-2
Player of the DecadeJosh Beekman
Who else but the only player in Amsterdam High School football history to earn All-American honors at the Division 1 (Boston College) level plus play and start for an NFL (Chicago Bears) football team. Beekman was a rock on Amsterdam’s O- and D-lines for five straight seasons and became the first player in history to earn first team honors on the Albany Times Union all-Capital District team for four straight seasons. He earned High School All-American honors from Prep-Star in his senior season.

1980-89 – AHS record during this decade – 68-24-5
Player of the Decade – To be revealed in my upcoming book

1970-79 – AHS record during this decade – 63-21-6
Player of the Decade Bobby Gutowski
He started for varsity as a sophomore during the 1969-70 season and really came into his own during his junior year. In addition to leading that team in tackles, averaging 11 per game, “Gutter” had an uncanny ability to disrupt and contain plays back into coverage. He was the leader of that 1970-71 squad’s defensive unit and it was that unit that led the Rams to their first Class A League title in 22 years. The following summer, Bobby went under the knife to repair a knee injury. Then he put the pads back on, went back to Lynch Stadium and had one of the greatest seasons in the history of Amsterdam football. By then, the game plans of opposing coaches could be summed up in four words; “Stay away from Gutowski.” He still led the team in tackles with 70 and when the season was over, Amsterdam had won its second straight league title and his head coach, John Los called Gutter the greatest high school lineman he had ever seen. In addition to making every all-star team in the capital district area, Gutowski was also selected as one of the top 14 best high school linemen in the entire country by Gillette. He also happened to be a superb offensive weapon at the tight end position. In addition to being the best blocker on the team, Bobby had great hands and in his senior year, he caught 17 passes, gaining over 300 yards. He ended up playing college ball for Northern Colorado and becoming one of that school’s all-time defensive lineman.

1960-69 – AHS record during this decade – 34-41-3
Player of the Decade – To be revealed in my upcoming book

1950-59 – AHS record during this decade – 9-50-1
Player of the DecadeMike Angelo
The 1950’s was a lost decade for Amsterdam High School’s football program. How bad was it? The school did not win a single football game for four full seasons from 1950-through-1953. It didn’t get much better either. They won just a total of nine games during this entire ten-year period. The most wins any of the fifties teams had in a single season was two. So picking the best player of this era was tough for me, especially because I was born in 1954 and never saw the team play during during that decade. But I did find this two-way lineman. Mike Angelo played for AHS in his junior year of 1954 and then captained the ’55 squad in his senior season, starting at center and earning the team’s most valuable player award. But what really sold me was the fact that he ended up going to Ithaca College, made the football team there, became a two-way starter and in 1958 earned Associated Press Little All American honorable mention honors for a 6-1 Bomber squad. Angelo only weighed 230 pounds but the Ithaca College coach told Recorder sports editor Bob Wischmeyer that Angelo dominated the interior of the line in every game. This guy was actually scouted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Winnipeg franchise of the Canadian Football League!

1940-49 – AHS record during this decade – 14 -24-2
Player of the Decade – To be revealed in my upcoming book

1930-39 – AHS record during this decade – 23-33-1
Player of the DecadeMickey McGuire
The 1936-37 Amsterdam football team coached by the late Axel Perman was led on the field by star quarterback John “Mickey” McGuire. McGuire had taken over as AHS’s QB during his junior year. Perman’s squad won their last two games that year and then in 1937, became the first team in the school’s history to finish a regular season undefeated, winning six games and tying another. Jack Minnoch, the Recorder Sports Editor during that era loved this squad and nicknamed them “the fighting Tarzan’s.” He also loved McGuire’s game and predicted the kid would become a big-time college player. As the Lynch Class of 38’s Graduation Day approached, the rumor was that he was headed to Syracuse but instead McGuire accepted a scholarship to a pretty prestigious prep school in Manlius. The football coach there, a former Colgate football star named Winnie Anderson, specialized in turning great high school players into great college ones. McGuire would spend the next two years at Manilus, starring on Anderson’s team and ending up heading to Ithaca, to play major college football for Cornell University. At Cornell, McGuire studied mechanical engineering. In 1941, he was inducted into the US Army and later the US Air Force.

1920-29 – AHS record during this decade – 16-5
Player of the Decade – To be revealed in my upcoming book

I will finish writing the profiles of the five other Ram Players of the Decade in time to get them in my upcoming book which is scheduled for release later this year. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe to my free monthly Amsterdam Top Ten Newsletter for previews and reveals of more Amsterdam Top Ten Lists. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Places to Dine Out!

What is the favorite Amsterdam pastime? There are plenty of candidates for this honor. Bowling used to be high up on the list and gambling, softball, shopping and bitching about anything and everything still are. But if I had to pick the number one all-time favorite Amsterdam pastime it would be going out to eat. So in today’s All Time Top Ten List for Amsterdam, I’ve defined three different types of dining out options and present five of the ten establishments in each of those categories that made my list. Bon appetite!

Russo’s – West Main St.

Restaurants with Full Menu and Bar Service 

Isabel’s – That wonderful booth-room, thin-sliced eggplant, Danny Haver’s illustrations on the wall, their hamburgers were made with ground sirloin – best I ever had! Fresh cut fries! Guy & Ida, Pup & Louie, Bam & Flo, Mike & Pete. Nobody has ever done it any better in this town.
Russo’s – Not really a full-menu restaurant but full enough, good enough and in business long enough to become this town’s best-known place to eat ever!
Armory Grill – Great food, innovators, community pride and most importantly, the place is still open for business. Hat’s off to all those past and present who have worked so hard and long to make “the Grill” a South Side institution,
Lorenzo’s – You waited an hour for a table but didn’t mind at all because everybody you knew was there too and so were those Lanzi boys. Only about six entree choices on the dinner menu plus that homemade pasta, When you left your belly was full, you had a bit of a buzz and your sides hurt from laughing so hard.
Pepe’s & Bosco’s – If in the Godfather movie, Michael Corleone had to kill Solozzo and that crooked cop in Amsterdam instead of the Bronx, no doubt he would have done it at Pepe’s. Sammy Pepe Sr. was one of the most colorful characters in Amsterdam during his heyday and he created an iconic west end restaurant that his sons kept alive for a second generation.Bosco’s invented the Amsterdam version of a calzone and they serve some of the best tasting dinner entrees you’ll find anywhere.
Tuman’s – Forest Ave.

Bars that also served food

Tuman’s – While Bill poured the short ones with beer chasers, Nadia was in the kitchen making the food that filled the hungry bellies of the workers who in turn filled the rug factories and offices on the other side of Forest Ave. Both of them did their jobs very well.
Shorty’s – As good as his sausage and provolone sandwich was, the real pleasure of stopping at this Broad Street classic was getting a chance to talk to it’s original owner. Shorty Persico was the best! By the way, Shorty’s is still open and their food is outstanding!
Tony’s – Tony and Anna Fischetti created the perfect food and drink environment for a good time on the corner of Division and Bayard.
Skiba’s – If I had a nickel for every shot glass emptied at this place I’d be a rich man but what you may not have known about Skiba’s is that besides Brownies, they served the best hot dogs in town.
Crystal Bar – Gabe Centi and an old fashioned pizza went together like good food and good friends do!
Europa – Forest Ave.

Food but no Booze

Brownie’s – Two dogs all the way, fries with gravy and a chocolate milk equaled 3AM heaven on Amsterdam’s Reid Street
Carmel’s Diner – I could eat twenty of their greasy grilled hamburgers and still want another one. They would put a perfect circular pool of gravy smack in the middle of your mash potatoes and a scoop of vanilla ice cream in half a cantaloupe.
DiCaprio’s Diner – The best sausage on a hard-roll anywhere and of course the one and only Jigger’s.
Johnny’s Seafood – I heard one of the reasons the Catholic Church ended its no-eating-meat on Friday’s mandate was because going to this place wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a pleasure.
Ralph’s Deli & Europa– Ralph’s had the best pastrami, corned beef, roast beef and charcoal-broiled burgers there ever has been in Amsterdam. Unlike Ralph’s, Europa is still in business and their Forest Avenue eatery serves the best breakfast and one of the best lunches in the city.

Want to see my other five selections in each of the above categories? I’ll include the rest of my picks for the “Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Restaurants with Full Menu and Bar Service” in the May 2017 version of my free e-mailed newsletter. If you’re not on the distribution list for the newsletter you can sign up here.

You can read about the rest of my top ten picks for the two other restaurant categories when my new book “50 All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists” is released later this year.

Bob Cudmore’s All-Time Top Ten Amsterdam Broadcasters

Editor’s Note: No list of Amsterdam’s all-time top broadcasters could be accurate or complete without the name “Bob Cudmore” at the very top. I’ve had both the extreme pleasures of listening to his smooth baritone and reading his wonderful newspaper columns and books for a large part of my life, but it has been only recently that I’ve gotten to know this Amsterdam native better as a person and that has been the biggest pleasure of all. His long-running Contact interview and call-in show on WGY was a classic and then his decade long tenure at WVTL hosting Coffee With Cudmore made him what I like to call “the official voice of Amsterdam”. So thank you Bob Cudmore for so many treasured listening memories and for taking the time to prepare and contribute the following Top Ten list:

Joe Spencer was the son of WCSS owner Phil Spencer.  Joe became a television correspondent for ABC news.  He died in a 1986 helicopter crash while on his way to cover a strike in Minnesota.  ABC television anchor Peter Jennings and a young Bill O’Reilly spoke at Joe’s funeral in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam native Chet (Kukiewicz) Curtis became a 30-year Boston television news anchor, teamed with his second wife, Natalie Jacobsen.  They ultimately divorced.  Curtis moved on to New England Cable News.  He died in 2014 and was buried at Amsterdam’s St. Stanislaus Cemetery.

Todd Pettingill started at WCSS in 1968 and became a top-rated, outrageously funny talent at FLY 92 in Albany.  For over 25 years Pettengill has entertained on WPLJ radio in New York City.  He’s also been an interviewer on Worldwide Wrestling Federation television.

Lloyd Smith was born in Albany and became morning host for WCSS for many decades, starting in 1969.  Quick with a joke, knowledgeable about the local scene, dependable and a music aficionado, Smith also was a radio engineer. He died in 2014.

Bill Pope came to Amsterdam in 1961 after years as a popular rock disc jockey in Albany.  Pope retooled his career and became a big band disc jockey, talk host and promoter of worthwhile local causes.  In his years at WCSS he was also a radio salesman and mentor to young broadcasters.

Amsterdam-born Tom Stewart worked at local radio station WAFS.  Stewart has appeared in movie and television roles.  He has been the longtime off camera voice and on camera fund raiser for New York City public television station WNET.

Dorothy Johnson Hale was an account executive and copywriter at WCSS who hosted a program called Woman’s World in the 1960s.  Hale provided recipes, fashion news and advice on her program.  Hale’s daughter Diane later married WCSS morning host Lloyd Smith.

Sam Zurlo had a newspaper career as a Mohawk Valley reporter for the Daily Gazette.  Zurlo also worked in radio and his call-in talk show is still a staple on WCSS.

World War II Polish freedom fighter and Amsterdam beer distributor Richard Bartyzel hosted the nightly Polka Party on WCSS radio for many years.  When you walked through a Polish neighborhood on a summer night, you could hear polka music coming from many open windows.

Dusty Miller (Elmer Rossi) always had a day job and a country and western band.  Miller was a fixture on Amsterdam radio through the years with live and recorded music.  When he died, he was buried wearing his colorful cowboy clothes

Many others could be on the list of top Amsterdam broadcasters.  Here are some honorable mentions, in alphabetical order: morning host Carl Bahn, Albany rocker Boom Boom Brannigan who later did an Amsterdam talk show, WRGB and WTEN news director Don Decker, early WCSS manager Walt Gaines, KDKA-TV street reporter Ralph Iannotti in Pittsburgh, “Swap Shop” Joe Isabel, Italian show host Joe Mason, Albany sportscaster Rip Rowan, NBC radio news anchor Neal Seavey, WCSS owner Phil Spencer and WRGB weatherman Tim Welch.

Editor’s note: This certainly is an outstanding list of professionals; well known folks who made magic with their microphones. I’d also add a third member of Amsterdam’s talented Spencer family to the names mentioned above. Phil Spencer Jr’s dee-jaying and sports commentating work at WCSS were much appreciated and admired. There’s also John Allen, a wonderful actor in many of Bert DeRose’s Amsterdam stage productions, who also worked for many years as a news correspondent and weekend anchor at Channel 13 in Albany. Also, Amsterdam native Lee Richey, who was the WCSS music director for a spell and then went out to the western part of New York State and became one of the most popular C&W deejays in the Northeast.

Amsterdam’s All-Time Top Ten Boxers

Just how big a sport was boxing in Amsterdam during the first half of the 20th Century? It wasn’t uncommon for boxing cards put together by local promoters like Jimmy Pepe or Jo Jo Zeno or Shorty Persico to draw over a thousand Rug City fight fans to boxing rings set up in the backyard of Lanzi’s Restaurant on Bridge Street, the Junior High gym, or at Sanford (Now Veterans Field) Park. In fact, over 2,300 people showed up at Lanzi’s place one September evening in 1938 to watch what many consider to be the greatest fight ever staged in the history of Amsterdam but more about that later. And where did the promoters mentioned above find all this local pugilistic talent? Believe it or not, Amsterdam taxpayers helped produce them. How? Every summer, the city’s Recreation Department sponsored boxing as an activity as part of its neighborhood playgrounds program. Pictured here is a playground boxing card that appeared in the local newspaper back in the late 1930’s. Now here’s my choices for numbers 1, 3, 5, 7 & 9  of the Top Ten Boxers in Amsterdam, NY history. I’ll post the other 5 in my upcoming book. (A note about the ring records cited in the accounts of the fighters below. They may or may not be exact. I found several inconsistencies in the reporting of those won-loss-draw numbers through the years.)

1. Buddy Benoit (aka Buddy O’Dell)
This guy was such a good fighter that after he graduated from Amsterdam’s Wilbur Lynch High School, Michigan State gave him a scholarship to fight for the Spartans. He did that for two years and then in 1940, after an amateur and collegiate career that included 120 fights he turned professional. He used his Mom’s maiden name as his pro-boxing moniker and as middleweight Buddy O’Dell he fought 76 professional fights during the next seven years and won 67 of them with one draw. This guy fought the very best middleweights in the World during his era and more than held his own. On April 21, 1942 for example, Benoit lost a 10-round split decision to the great, Jake LaMotta. Ten months later, LaMotta was becoming the first fighter ever to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson. Benoit then served in the Navy during WWII and after being discharged, resumed his boxing career and his education, taking law courses. He finally hung his gloves up for good in 1947 and started his own collection agency in Los Angeles.

3. Sam Crocetti 
This East End featherweight started fighting as an amateur in 1930. He turned pro in 1935 after capturing the 1934 Amateur Sports Federation bantamweight title held in Rochester, NY, which required him to win four fights in two nights. He then won his first 11 bouts as a pro and was then paired against Jackie Wilson, who was the 4th-ranked featherweight contender in the world. The fight was stopped in the eighth round by referee Jack Dempsey when Wilson split Crocetti’s lip open for the Amsterdamian’s first pro loss. Often referred to as “Battling Sam Crocetti” by the late Recorder Sports Editor, Jack Minnoch, Crocetti and the number two fighter on this top ten list were the participants in what many local boxing fans considered to be  the most famous fight in Amsterdam’s history, which took place at Lanzi’s Arena on September 14, 1938. Crocetti lost that epic bout in a six-round decision. No Amsterdam fighter faced any stiffer competition in their career than the title contenders this guy battled before retiring from the ring in 1941, telling Minnoch at the time that “It was all right” while it lasted.” Crocetti died in 2002 at the age of 83.

5. Alphonse “Measles” Raco
Those who followed his career closely claimed this Rug City welterweight never fought a bad fight. Raco’s career record certainly bears that out. He won 101 of 102 amateur fights and 13 more as a pro. He retired from the ring after breaking some ribs in a 1936 fight against Willie Pal in Albany, NY but then mounted a comeback two years later. Measles was a disciple of good conditioning and the training regimen he followed at Amsterdam’s YMCA set the standard for all the pugilists who succeeded him. He also ran the city recreation department’s summer playground boxing program for many years and was one of this area’s most respected ring referees as well. He later became the long-time proprietor of the Pink & Rock Grill on Amsterdam’s East Main Street.

7. Carl Palombo
The son of an Amsterdam West End shoe repair shop proprietor, “Carl the Cobbler” fought 200 times as an amateur and won 166 of those bouts. He captured two Albany Diamond Belt titles and the US Eastern Division Diamond Belt as well before entering service during WWII. It was while fighting the Nazi’s that he earned his greatest fame in the ring. While stationed in North Africa, he won the Allied featherweight championship in Algiers and was undefeated in 40 straight fights while in uniform. A respected AP sportswriter covering boxing in the armed services back then predicted Palombo would be a leading contender for the world featherweight title when the war ended. Unfortunately for this talented Rug City native, it did not end soon enough. He was hit in the lower body by shrapnel during the Allied invasion of France causing a leg wound that would never heal and which in the late 1950’s cost him the leg. He eventually married and moved out to California where he became a graphic artist. Carl has since passed away, but I still see his beautiful and ageless younger sister Mary Greco all around Amsterdam.

9. Bobby Stewart
This guy just about singlehandedly brought the sport of boxing back to the forefront here in Amsterdam in the 1970’s. Stewart went 45-5 during an amateur career that culminated with his thrilling National Golden Gloves Lightweight Championship in 1974, when he beat the future World Heavyweight Champion, Michael Dokes in the final bout. Amsterdam went crazy and that moment when the referee raised Bobby’s hand in victory after that Dokes’ fight in Denver would be the definite high point of his ring career.Stewart decided to turn pro after his victory in Denver, motivated by the fact that he was 22 years old at the time, with a wife and two boys at home to take care of. Though he went on to have a fine career as a light heavyweight, winning 13 of his 16 fights, he also found out quickly that the pro ranks of the sport were run with a lot less scruples than the amateur side was. He would always regret that he did not continue on as an amateur so he could have competed in the 1976 Olympics. In order to get the fairest shake possible as a young pro fighter you have to begin your career ranked as high as possible in terms of potential. An Olympic Gold Medal got you treated a lot more preferentially by pro matchmakers, promoters, judges and referees than a Golden Gloves title did. As it turned out, his 58 victories in the ring did not end up representing Stewart’s most noteworthy contribution to boxing. While working as a counselor at the Tryon School, a now-closed state-run Fulton County facility for at risk youth, Bobby gave a 13-year old  kid from Brooklyn his first boxing lessons. That kid’s name was Mike Tyson.

Who were my choices for number’s 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10? You’ll find out when my “Book of 50 Top Ten All-Time Amsterdam Lists,” is released later this year.

Once a month, I will be sending out a newsletter that includes a portion of the All Time Amsterdam Top Ten Lists I happen to be working on at the time. I will also use this monthly newsletter to announce the topics for upcoming Top Ten Lists and welcoming readers to put forth their own nominations for these compilations. If you’d like be included, please add your e-mail address here.