October 11 – Happy Birthday Steve Soulla

22soullaEvery school year from September of 1966 until June of 1969, I not only saw Steve Soulla every day of the week, I gave him some of my money too. Well, actually, it was my parents’ money. He was the proprietor of a store called Soulla’s Card-Craft that used to be located on the southwestern corner of Guy Park Avenue and Wall Street, right across from the old Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School Building. Today, there’s a gas station on the site of Soulla’s old business and a seniors’ high-rise where the school used to be. But back in the day, the traffic back and forth between those two locations in the morning before the first school bell rang, at lunchtime and in the afternoon after the final bell sounded, was a constant flow of hundreds of kids spending between fifty cents and a dollar each on candy, gum, baseball cards, school supplies, ice cream bars, etc.

Today’s Birthday Celebrant was a lifelong native of Amsterdam, N.Y. born here on October 9, 1921. He was one of the eight children (6 girls, 2 boys) born to Fedele and Evelina Soulla. During his high school years at Wilbur Lynch he was a very talented basketball player for Coach DeWitt Benjamin’s Purple & Gold cagers, jumping center and usually finishing among each game’s top scorers. After graduating in 1941, Soulla joined the Navy and saw action in both Guam and Okinawa. After returning from service he went to college, eventually earning his degree from Qinnipiac University. Steve’s athletic talents extended to both golf and bowling. He excelled at both for a very long time.

His Card-Craft store was a hit from the start with its perfect location and Soulla’s knack for staying on top of the nickel-and-dime-costing tastes of the Amsterdam adolescent market. He and his long-time friend Tony Cosentino would both work the counter when the store got busy.  I used to jokingly refer to them as Batman and Robin because the old Batman television show was a hit back then. The girls loved Cosentino, who had Bobby Darren type looks, the patience of Job and always wore a smile. Soulla was the disciplinarian no-nonsense expeditor of each purchase. If you took too long to make your buying decision he’d come up with a line like, “You know we close in six hours.”

When the Gas Station owners purchased the corner property, Card-Craft was forced to move to the kitty-corner location of the same two streets but the end of the store’s days as a thriving business was fast approaching. Soulla went to work at Mohasco for a short time and then became the superintendent at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course until he retired and moved south to Florida. He passed away in March of 2009 at the age of 87. I can still hear him tell a 12-year-old at the front of a long line who’s trying to count out the correct change, “You’ll never be a math teacher kid!”

October 10 – Happy Birthday Anthony Kosiba

tonykosibaFuture generations of the families of Amsterdam veterans who made the supreme sacrifice for their Country during World War II will forever be grateful to the late Bob Going for painstakingly compiling and so eloquently chronicling the stories of their ancestor heroes. Knowing the effort I’ve put into just my own “Birthday” compilations, I can attest to the fact that his two books on the subject, Honor Roll and Where Do We Find Such Men represent huge undertakings and I’m confident they will continue to be recognized as treasured local history references long after we here now are gone.

I’ve learned so much from both books and one of my favorites is Bob’s story of today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant. Anthony Kosiba was born in the Rug City on October 10, 1908, one of eight children. At the age of fifteen, he began working for the Fitzgerald Bottling Works in Amsterdam. By the time he was called into service, he was 35-years-old, had married his wife Olga and had put in 20 years of service at Fitzgerald.

Kosiba was inducted in the Army on April 12, 1943. He did his basic training in Florida and then received additional training at bases in Arkansas, Alabama and Maryland. On August 1, 1944, a little less than two months after D-Day took place, Private First Class Kosiba was shipped over to England and was subsequently sent into action in France. He fought his way through Belgium and reached Hitler’s Germany by early Fall. That’s when the telegram addressed to his wife arrived back home. It informed her that her husband had been killed in action in Germany on October 6th.

A funeral Mass was held for Anthony at St. Stanislaus Church and Olga set about making the sad adjustment to the life of a young widow and then a letter arrived at her McCleary Avenue home. It was from her husband.

Going’s books include descriptions of a few instances when widows of fallen Amsterdam servicemen received letters from husbands who had lost their lives in action after the correspondence had been written and mailed back home. That’s exactly what Olga thought the circumstances were as she read what she thought were the last words her husband would ever share with her.  But then she noticed that her husband had dated the letter and he had written it after the date he supposedly died.

Going tells his readers that Olga later learned that Anthony had been so seriously wounded in battle that it was initially thought he was dead. Going surmises that at that point his nametag was collected and the process that culminated with the initial telegram being sent to Mrs. Kosiba was initiated. Meanwhile, Anthony Kosiba’s Guardian Angel went to work and Kosiba showed the sign of life necessary to make someone realize he was not ready to meet his maker quite yet. After a long and arduous recovery period in Army hospitals, he came home to Olga. He went back to work at the bottling plant and retired as production manager. He and Olga got to spend another 55 years together before she died in 1998.  Anthony Kosiba lived another five years before he passed on March 6, 2003, at the age of 94. As of today, no one has reported receiving any letters from him dated later than that.

 

 

October 9 – Happy Birthday Ed Hardies

22ehardiesLike his contemporary Otto Greco, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday, Ed Hardies was an Amsterdam native who had a trade that he could have practiced and done just fine with in his life. But like Otto, he was willing to take that extra step and make the extra effort necessary to go into business for himself.

He was born in Amsterdam, NY on October 8, 1926. He graduated from Amsterdam High School in 1944 and then joined the US Navy. It was in the Navy that he took classes in electronics, did really well in them and realized he could make a career out of it.

He married an Amsterdam girl, Nora Mae Koch in 1947, they had their first two children and then Ed got called back into the Navy during the Korean conflict. He then went to work locally as an electrician. By 1959, his family had grown with the addition of four more children and he decided it was time to go out on his own. He began Hardies Electric that year and with a family of eight to support, worked his rear end off making sure it succeeded. And it did.

Hardies focused on electrical contracting work more than residential and that’s really how he grew his business. He also took an active role in his community’s affairs, getting elected to the Greater Amsterdam School Board and serving three terms. He was a Mason, an Elk, a member of Rotary and the Green Hill Cemetery Association.

In the early seventies, Amsterdam Mayor John Gomulka asked him to serve as the City’s Commissioner of Public Works, which he did for four years. He was also the City’s Water commissioner for a short time before returning to Hardies Electric to help his youngest son Sean, who had by then taken over the business. In 1974, his oldest son, Dr. Michael Hardies called upon his Dad to help him build the new Medical Center he opened in Troy, NY and Ed ended up managing that facility for his son for the next dozen years.

As if he didn’t have enough to keep him busy, Hardies also invested in and developed several properties in Amsterdam, including both the Highland and Holland Garden Apartment complexes. Whenever he could squeeze in the time, he absolutely loved to fish and hunt and he cherished the annual chartered trips he’d take into Canada with Sean and a bunch of his buddies to do both.

Unfortunately it was a hunting accident that slowed him down physically when Ed was in his sixties. Sean Hardies told me that his dad never fully recovered from it. He died in 2001 at the age of 74. In addition to his wife and two sons, he left behind four daughters who he absolutely adored and fourteen cherished grandchildren.

October 8 – Happy Birthday Otto Greco

Otto Pic2There were quite a few of them from my Dad’s generation back then here in Amsterdam. Today they call them fancy names like entrepreneurs or job creators but back in the day, right after World War II, they were the guys who just worked harder and longer and smarter than everyone else. Otto Greco was at heart, a painter. He was honest, took pride in his work and didn’t try to cut corners when it came to doing a job the right way. He started his own painting business called West End Painters after the War. He married his wife Josephine in 1953 and together they would raise two sons and all the while Otto’s business kept growing.

When a huge job was being bid in the late fifties, he noticed another Amsterdam firm called Port Jackson Painters on the bid list. It was owned by Amsterdam resident, Joe Carlucci. The two men made a deal. If either won the bid they would combine their crews and form one company and that’s exactly how the Amsterdam Painting Company was born. Before you knew it, their painters were painting just about every new commercial building going up in Amsterdam as well as plenty from outside the area as well. Business was good but Otto wanted to take it a step further.

Painting contractors just like every other type of business get better prices on the supplies they need to complete their work when they can buy in bulk. Otto figured if he opened up a paint store and did his own paint color mixing, he could buy his paint in larger volumes and what he didn’t use on his contracting jobs could be sold in the store. Now this was several decades before “Do It Yourself” became a hot consumer trend as well as a television network, but when Otto opened the doors to his new Amsterdam Decorating Center at 333 West Main Street, it was busy from the get go. It seemed as if everyone who needed a gallon of paint in the Rug City drove down there to buy it and they’d always pick up a brush, some roller heads and a roller pan as well.

A huge key to the retail store’s initial success was Otto’s brother Tony Greco, a well-liked crackerjack store salesman who had worked for years at Sears. Otto had convinced his sibling to join him in the business and Tony proved to be the perfect choice. In addition to paint the store sold all kinds of wall and floor coverings and maintained a talented team of installers who were kept constantly busy.

With both the store and contracting business booming, Otto could finally sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor but he never really did. He was too much of a hands-on guy to stay away from the store for long and he enjoyed interacting with his customers. I used to buy all my paint there. Otto would always start laughing when I walked through the door of his store because he knew it meant my Wife had roped me into a home improvement project and he also knew I hated to paint! He’d always tell me a story about when him and my Dad were kids growing up on the West End. He’d also always throw a roller head or paint brush on the counter and tell the cashier “That’s on the house.”

Otto Greco died in 1992 at the much-too-young age of 67. He lived long enough to see his good ideas turn into a great Amsterdam business.

October 7 – Happy Birthday Rip Rowan

73593Though he was born in Schenectady where his Mom Clarissa hailed from, William Rowan Jr. did his growing up in Amsterdam, NY. He resided on the lower “200 block” of Guy Park Avenue and he graduated from Lynch High School in 1953. His father was “Red” Rowan, a skilled Rug City bowler in his day and a huge sports fan, a trait he certainly passed on to his namesake. The kid loved sports and was a fanatical follower of his beloved New York Yankees. He played Church League basketball for St. Ann’s and was an outfielder on the old Mortan’s team that used to compete in the inter-city State League. The team played its home games at Mohawk Mills Park and I came across a 1953 Recorder article that documents the fact that the young Mr. Rowan was a powerful enough hitter to have driven a ball over that venue’s distant center field fence in one such contest.

He graduated from Ithaca College, did his military hitch with the Air Force and got his first job behind a mike at Amsterdam’s WCSS radio station in the late 1950’s, where he quickly became a listening audience favorite, noted for his rapid-fire, high energy play-by-play announcing of high school basketball games. It was 1966, when Rowan landed the sports casting job with WTEN that ended up making him a Capital District Sports Legend. He and Bob McNamara, another long-time Albany-area sports broadcasting celebrity, were hired by the station at the about the same time. When “Mac” accepted an offer the following year to anchor the sports desk at Schenectady’s WRGB, Rowan took over as Channel 10 anchor and the two competed for audience share for the next 20 years, prompting the question heard in thousands of Capital District taverns and bars, “Who do you like better, Mac or Rip?”.

As for the nickname “Rip,” it came from a former star Army running back from the late 1940’s by the name of Elwyn “Rip” Rowan. Rowan was also pretty well known for his ability to “pass gas” on demand and he was not above covertly doing so “on the air,” which added a different level of appropriateness to his nickname, especially when it was extended later in his career to “the Ripper.”

Rowan’s love for the game of baseball made him this area’s biggest advocate for the return of minor league play and he got his wish when the Oakland A’s put a farm club here, resulting in the construction of Heritage Park in 1981. Two years later, Rowan’s beloved Yankees replaced the A’s as tenants of the Park and offered Rip a job in the team’s front office, which he quickly accepted. It was the job of his dreams. He became best of friends with Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto and got to watch Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera up close and personal on their way to the Bronx. Current Yankee GM Brian Cashman interned for Rowan one summer and George “the Boss” Steinbrenner would actually pick up the phone when his secretary told him he had a call from Rip. He spent the next twenty years working as a minor league team exec, switching to the Diamond Dawgs when the Yankees abandoned Albany and then the Tri City Valley Cats.

He retired from everything in 2006 and spent the last seven years of his life living in Saratoga, staying connected to his three kids and five grandchildren and paying occasional visits to his favorite corner of the bar at the Barnsider Restaurant in Colonie. Rip Rowan died in November of 2013 at the age of 79.

 

 

October 6 – Happy Birthday Billy Bernat

bernat2Sometimes life isn’t fair. It certainly wasn’t on the afternoon of January 29, 1997, when 42-year-old Billy Bernat died shortly after being admitted to Albany Medical Center. I wasn’t a close friend of Billy’s but you didn’t have to be to like him anyway. He was a year behind me at Wilbur Lynch High School and he was always smiling and upbeat. He was a superb athlete in high school. I believe he made the varsity squads of all three major sports as a sophomore, which was incredibly hard to do. But his best sport was baseball. As a senior, Bernat was a left-handed starting pitcher for Brian Mee’s 1973 Class A Section II Champions. That was the first-ever sectional championship for Amsterdam baseball and it ended the Suburban Council’s dominance over the old Class A League in sectional play. Bernat was the mound ace on that very good squad. He went a perfect 7-0 that season and one of his victories was an amazing 11-inning complete game stint over Mt. Pleasant! He was also one of the team’s best hitters. That Ram nine finished the season with16 straight victories with Billy getting the win over powerhouse Shenendehowa in the championship.

Billy was named after his Dad, a popular local insurance agent who never missed one of his son’s games. His Mom Pauline was a nurse. He also had two sisters. The Bernat’s were a solid close-knit family.

After high school, he had gone to St. Rose and after getting his degree from there he went to work as a salesman for a food broker in Albany. He married an Amsterdam girl named Maureen Harrington, who was the daughter of former Amsterdam mailman Jack Harrington and his wife Anne. They had settled in Altamont and had two daughters. He and his wife were back in Amsterdam often with their children and Billy kept in touch with old buddies via his memberships at Bigelow Weavers and Irish American Club. What made Billy’s death at such a young age so hard for me to believe was the fact that he had always kept himself in great shape. He exercised regularly at the Albany Y. His family buried his remains in St. Stephen’s cemetery in the village of Hagaman, where he grew up.

An annual award is given in Billy’s honor by the Amsterdam High School Football Booster Club which recognizes a volunteer for contributions to the AHS Football program that go above and beyond what has been asked of that individual. It has become a distinguished annual honor given in memory of a highly admired and wonderfully talented former AHS athlete.

October 5 – Happy Birthday Tim Zepperi

timz222Tim “Zip” Zepperi was a classic Amsterdam West Ender. He grew up in a huge four-family apartment house next to the old St. Agnello Club on West Main Street, the oldest brother in a family of seven kids. As a youngster, his posse included Johnny Nasso, Frank Valiante and Moses Hopkins and their childhood was filled with street football, whiffle ball games, school dances and plenty of sitting on various front porches in the neighborhood, arguing over the best ballplayers, the prettiest girls in school, who the best Beatle was and their favorite TV shows.

In high school the thing with girls began getting more serious. Timmy fell in love with a Ram cheerleader named Gerri and that love would last for the rest of his life. After graduation, he went to work at Amsterdam Printing and never left. Tony Greco and him coached the Blue Junior’s team together in Little Giants and became best friends for life. Later he helped Tony take over the Maroon Wildcats and create a kids football dynasty that would last a decade.

I always thought him and Gerri were a perfect couple. They fit and worked together like a pair of warm gloves on a cold winter day and when it came to their greatest accomplishment as a couple, daughters Trish and Amy, they sort of defined what loving and supporting parents were supposed to be like.

When I think of Zip certain scenes keep popping in my head. I see him holding a beer in front of his house on Guy Park, cheering and making jokes that afternoon way back in the 1980’s when Kirk Douglas was honored here with a parade. I see him up in that tiny announcer’s booth that used to sit alongside the Little Giants football field at Veterans. In between calling the games he’d yell out greetings to spectators as they came into the park. I see him playing softball up on the four diamonds with younger brothers he loved so much. I see him up at the Lynch Football Stadium, sitting up high in the bleachers with the entire Zepperi clan, cheering on the greatest running back in the history of the Rugged Rams, his beloved nephew Justice Smith. I see him down Russo’s standing at the end of the bar with Johnny, Frankie, Tony and Mo, holding a cold one and talking real loud in that classic half-hoarse-sounding Zip voice of his. I see him in the Lynch and AHS Auditoriums, at one of the hundred or so musical concerts Trish and Amy participated in. Both our daughter’s played the oboe together all through school and he’d always jokingly say to me “Of all the instruments to choose from they pick the oboe!”

He fought the cancer that would claim his life hard as hell. But after a bone marrow transplant failed, Timmy passed away on October 2, 1992, just three days short of his 40th birthday. The WestEnd of Amsterdam lost a good one that day.

“Zip” is one of my all-time favorite nicknames but if anyone needed a nickname it was this long-ago member of Amsterdam’s upper class!

Mr. Patrick H. Reilly 1937-2019

He was as talented, caring and unselfish a person as we’ve ever had in our midst. Pat Reilly was an incredibly gifted coach and a unique and  effective classroom teacher who touched so many lives in a very positive way.  He easily made my book’s Top Ten List of all-time greatest Amsterdam coaches but if I had ever put together a Top Ten List of the greatest Amsterdam love affairs, Pat and Audrey Reilly would have been at the very top of it. My deepest sympathies to his wife, his daughters & grandkids, his wrestlers, softball players and students.
 
Here’s how I describe Mr. Reilly’s career as AHS Wrestling Coach in my book:

There was no Amsterdam High School wrestling program when Pat Reilly was hired to teach history at the Wilbur Lynch High School in 1965, This guy started it from scratch, nada, nothing! Three decades later, thanks to his passion, skill and leadership, the school had one of the best mat programs in all of Section II.

Here’s what his grapplers produced during his career as head coach: 267 dual meet victories; 9 Big Ten titles; 3 Sectional championships; 10 individual Section II crowns, and 25 individual Class A champs. Is it any wonder why the high school’s wrestling room is now named the Patrick H. Reilly Hall of Fame Wrestling Gymnasium? Mr. Reilly also served as head coach of AHS Softball at both the Varsity and JV level. One of the most beloved figures in the history of Amsterdam High School athletics, he was named to the Section II Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009, the New York State Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010 and the AHS Hall of Fame in 2015.

His was a life well lived. Thank you Mr. Reilly for all you did for this community.

October 3 – Happy Birthday Tony Murdico

murdico2Born on October 3, 1915 Anthony “Tony” Murdico was just eight years old when he, his parents and four brothers moved to Amsterdam, NY in 1923 all the way from Reggio di Calabria, Italy. By the time he was fourteen, he had a job in the Mohawk Carpet Mills and he advanced steadily until he was given the coveted position of weaver.

Organized labor attempted to infiltrate the mills in 1942, when the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) inducted the State Labor Board to conduct an election to form a local chapter. Despite plenty of pressure from management, the workers voted to unionize and Local 489 was formed. Its first Shop Steward was Tony Murdico.

If you’re familiar with the structure of labor unions, you know the Shop Steward position is a key to any local chapter’s ability to be effective, especially at its inception. It is the position that recruits new members, makes sure they are performing according to contract, supports them in any workplace issues with management and develops the spirit of unity that is so essential to gaining the strength and leverage necessary to bargain collectively with effectiveness. Tony did a solid job in the position. In 1946 he became the local’s Recording Secretary and in 1952, he ran for President and won. His leadership was put to the test almost immediately when that same year, Local 489 joined textile workers at factories throughout the Northeastern US that went on strike for increased wages. In Amsterdam, it was known as the “big strike” and it lasted for 12 long weeks. In the end, the workers got an 11-cent increase in their hourly wage and though Tony would vocally resent the meagerness of that raise for the rest of his life, his members had remained unified and their respect for Murdico’s leadership grew. Murdico would remain chief executive of the Local for the next 27 years. He also served as President of the Amsterdam Joint Board of CIO, which included Chalmers, Fownes, Bigelow-Sanford and Mohawk Mills

As meager as that eleven-cent raise seemed, Mohawk’s management was not happy their workers had organized. They began looking south to the non-union labor markets and sure enough, within a few short years they started transferring large scale manufacturing operations in that direction. By 1969, the last 250 of what used to be 4,000 manufacturing jobs in Amsterdam’s carpet industry were eliminated.

By then the company was called Mohasco and Tony continued working there until 1980, retiring after a total of 51 years of employment. He and his first wife Marina raised a son and a daughter. After Marina passed away, he married his second wife, Delores. Tony was an active member of St. Michael’s Church and the Knights of Columbus. He was also a very good baseball and softball player in his day and a pretty talented bowler as well. He served on the city’s Recreation Commission and if you listened to Amsterdam’s local talk radio shows back then, you frequently heard Tony call in to share his knowledge of the Carpet City’s past, passionately present his astute opinions on the issues of the day or give listeners an update on the ripeness and quality of this year’s tomato patch. One of the saddest days of his life occurred in 1992 when the Mohasco complex erupted into flames. He stood across the street from the inferno, watching with tears in his eyes. Tony lived to be 97 years old, passing away a week before Christmas in 2008. He was an Amsterdam original.

This Amsterdam born, nationally recognized cardiologist was also born on October 3.

 

 

October 2 – Happy Birthday Spec Shea

spec-sheaFrank “Spec” Shea spent his first season of organized ball in Amsterdam, playing for the old Rugmakers and living in the old Amsterdam Hotel. The year was 1940. A native of Naugatuck, Connecticut, 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 first game I pitched against Gloversville, and they jocked me real bad. They got eight runs in the first inning, and I couldn’t get anybody out. I said, “Professional ball’s real tough…. I better pack it up and go home.”

“Eddie Sawyer was our manager, and he found out. I was over in the clubhouse packing and he sent someone over to get me and talk to me. He said ‘You’re not going no place,’ and he explained all the things that could happen, you know. If you leave, you’re going to get a blacklist from baseball, this and that. So I said, ‘Well, all right. I don’t know what I’m going to do though.’

“So the next time out I pitched against Gloversville on their home court, and I think it was a two-hitter I pitched and shut them out. And that got me on my way, but the first game I pitched I thought, ‘Oh, gee! This is tough.’ Like he [Sawyer] said to me after the game, ‘Your rhythm, your coordination, was way off. You weren’t pitching. You were just aiming and throwing.”

In that same interview, Shea described his concern about a bonus the Yankees had promised him if he proved he belonged in professional baseball; “They had an agreement with me. If I stayed with the club until July 4th, I was going to get a bonus, and I’m sitting in the Hotel Amsterdam [that night] and Eddie

Sawyer came down and he said ‘I hope you get it because you’ve done a good job for us so far.’ We’re sitting there, and he come over and he said ‘Did you hear anything yet?’ I said, ‘No. It’s getting near 12 o’clock, and if I don’t get it by then, I don’t.” So Krichell came walking down the stairs, and he come over and sat right across from us, and I said, “That’s the guy, Ed. I don’t know what he’s going to do, but I’m going to wait till 12 o’clock, and if he don’t say nothing then I’m going to bed.’ So, Jesus, about five minutes to 12, he come walking over, and he said, ‘Well, we’re supposed to talk about a bonus here today.’ And Sawyer says, ‘Jeez, I hope you’re gonna give the kid a bonus. He’s helping the ball club, and this and that.’ He [Krichell] says, ‘˜Well, he’s coming along. He’s got to improve and get a little better than that.’ Jeez, the Yankees hated to give you anything at that time, so he finally said, ‘We’re going to take a chance. I’m gonna give him the bonus.’ He gave me a check for $250. You’re talking about a lot of money. Christ, you’d think it was a big deal!”

Shea finished his 1940 Rugmaker season with an 11-4 record. He spent the next two seasons 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. He pitched very well during his first two seasons in Washington winning 23 games and losing just 14 times for a very bad team. He called it quits after the 1955 season. He was 29-21 as a Yankee and 56-46 for his eight-season big league career.

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.

Shea shares his October 2 birthday with a guy who rose to the Number 2 position at Mohasco Corp. when it was still Amsterdam’s biggest employer.