April 22 – Happy Birthday Tom Brownell

BrownellTomSo you’re at an Amsterdam clam bake and the guy pictured here walks up to you and says I’ll bet you $100 that I can throw 75 horseshoe ringers out of 100 tosses. Do you bet him? Heck if that happened to me, I’d probably have said let’s make it $200. Not any more! Not after researching this guy’s past.

Tom Brownell was the greatest horseshoe pitcher in the history of Amsterdam.He was born in Olean, NY on this date in 1923 and moved to this area when he was just a boy. He started pitching horseshoes when he was 14 and proved a quick study, winning the Fulton County Horseshoe Tournament that same year. He won his first New York State Championship in 1940, at the State Fair in Syracuse. He successfully defended that title the following year in Rochester and also went to work for GE, getting hired at the Schenectady main plant.

World War II interrupted both his GE and horseshoe careers. He went into the Army in 1943 and saw action in Europe. When he came home from service he stepped up his horseshoe competition level, competing in both the state and world championship tournaments. He went on to win five more New York State titles. His best performance at the World level  was an incredible third-place finish at the 1955 World Championships held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom married Amsterdam native Shirley Palmieri on New Year’s Day in 1948 and their son Tom was born that December. The family lived in the lower East Main/Cranesville neighborhood of the city. In 1956, GE transferred him to their San Jose, California plant, where he became Manager of Drafting Documentation for the Company’s Nuclear Energy Division.

So how good was Tom with a horseshoe? During his best years, he averaged 75 ringers for every 100 shoes he pitched. In the 1955 State Tournament, he set a New York State record by throwing 30 ringers in 31 pitches for a percentage of 96.9%. So if it was Tom Brownell who approached you and me at that Amsterdam Clam Bake I was referring to up in the first paragraph, you’d be $100 poorer and I’d be a couple of C notes lighter myself.

Tom died in 1976 at the very young age of 53, one year after he was selected as one of just four people to go to South Africa to put on a horseshoe-pitching exhibition.

Two interesting side notes to today’s post; Tom Brownell was also an excellent kegler, competing in this City’s best bowling league back in the 1950’s, the old Carpet City Classic that used to roll at Tony Griffin’s Wilton Lanes. Like bowling, the secret to horseshoe pitching is replicating the exact same body motion and arm swing on each toss. The best bowler in the City back in the 1950’s was Jinx Brooks. In 1955, Jinx finished 12th in the New York State Horseshoe Tournament. He was eliminated by Tom Brownell.


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