August 25 – Happy Birthday Gerard “Pup” Isabel

PupWhen I originally penned this post back in 2015, people who serve prepared food as a profession were much in the news around here. The arguments why they should or shouldn’t be paid a minimum of $15 per hour were appearing all over my Facebook page. It was amazing to me how some who were against the raise stereotyped and insulted an entire profession. You kept reading  descriptors like lazy, uneducated, no ambition, unskilled etc. and if you’re like me, you wondered if these hard-hearted critics had ever met just one waiter or waitress they respected and admired or really got to know. I myself have met many but then again, my Mom was a waitress for many years so not only did I meet them, they and their families became big parts of my childhood. I remember how many times they served a booth full or counter full of rude impolite people and kept smiles on their faces and how many times the tip they were left amounted to one percent of the check. I remember their horrible hours, the times they came home with cuts, burns, sore backs and blistered feet and how incredibly hard they worked, yet had to “hope” the folks they waited on recognized and respected their efforts to earn a “living wage.”

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was one of the most liked and respected waiters in Amsterdam history and he happened to also be one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever met in my life as well. His name was Gerard Isabel but everyone knew him better as “Pup.” He was the son of the legendary Alex Isabel, who was one of Amsterdam’s all-time great athletes and coaches. Born on August 25, 1925, Pup graduated from SMI in 1943 and from Siena with a degree in political science. He was also a proud veteran of the US Navy serving his country during both WWII and the Korean War. In 1955, he married his beloved Angela and together they raised three boys, Benji, Alex and Gerry, who they adored and to whom they devoted their lives.

Pup held a number of daytime jobs as a young man. He worked at GE, he sold insurance and he sold advertising for WCSS but what he also did was wait on tables at Isabel’s, his Uncle Guy’s wildly popular restaurant on Amsterdam’s West Main Street. For 38 years he wore his famous gray jacket, white shirt, black tie and black slacks and waited on one side of that eatery’s famous “booth room” while a similarly attired Louie Frollo waited the other.

A lifelong friend of my Dad, I can still hear him address me with that distinct voice of his as “Jerry’s boy” or “little Cinquanti,” which he continued to do even after my father had passed away and even though I had grown up to be taller than him. He worked at Isabel’s long enough to bring me an extra package of crackers for my soup when I was a little kid and do the same for my oldest daughter.

He was the consummate server. He could answer any possible question you had about the restaurant’s menu or bar. If asked for a recommendation he would never make a bad one and if you wanted to converse about any topic known to man, Pup Isabel was your guy. One of the best read, most learned individuals you’d ever want to meet, Pup had an insatiable hunger and thirst for knowledge his entire life. He was an absolute wizard when it came to the New York Times crossword puzzle and probably because his Dad had scouted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pup was also a diehard Mets fan too. His son Benji told me that a bunch of Isabel regulars would make it a habit to watch nighttime Jeopardy before going out to dinner and then rush down to the restaurant to try to trip Pup up on the Final Jeopardy question. They seldom if ever did.

But what Pup did best was treat every single person who ever sat in one of his booths with the same high level of respect and courteousness, regardless of their age, background or station in life.

Pup lived to be 86 years old, passing away in 2012. His Angela followed him less than two years later. I have no idea how Pup would have felt about this $15.00 minimum wage for food server’s issue but I do know that Pup’s contribution to the amazing long-term success of Isabel’s Restaurant was priceless.

 

August 24 – Happy Birthday Robert Crouch

crouch photo2Even though he was 32 years old, married, had three children and World War II was nearing its end, one-time Amsterdam bus driver Robert Crouch was certain he was about to get drafted. So in September of 1944 he enlisted in the US Army and one month later was sent to Fort Knox in Kentucky for his. basic training. In March of 1945 he came home to Amsterdam on a six day furlough and then was shipped out to Europe, where he would see action in Holland and Belgium. No one could blame his wife Esther for being apprehensive about her husband’s entry into the war. Her brother William Hassenfuss, a US Army mechanic serving in Pearl Harbor had been the first Amsterdam resident killed in the war when the Japanese attacked his air base on December 7, 1941.

That’s why she must have been overjoyed to hear the news that the War in Europe was officially over on May 8, 1945. She probably felt a huge sense of relief knowing her husband would no longer have to be in harms way. She felt even better when she received a letter from him dated June 16, 1945 reporting that he was in great spirits and guarding German Prisoners of War. Can you imagine her shock and disbelief when a few days later another letter arrived at the Crouch home at 10 Charles Street informing Esther that Robert had been killed on June 17, 1945 by an exploding booby trap put in place by the German prisoners he had been guarding. Thus the sister of the first Amsterdam soldier to make the supreme sacrifice during WWII also became the wife of the last Amsterdam resident to be killed by the Germans during WWII.

Crouch was born in Broadalbin on August 24, 1912 and had moved to Amsterdam after marrying Esther in November of 1936. He got a job as a driver for the Vollmer Bus Line and later went to work at GE in Schenectady. His tragic death left his five-year-old daughter Barbara, four-year old son William and one-year old baby boy fatherless. Barbara Crouch remained in Amsterdam with her children and passed away in July of 1972 at the age of 57. All three of her children survived her and all three of them were living in Michigan at the time of her death.

 

August 23 – Happy Birthday Buddy Benoit

buddybenoitWhen I went down to Marcellino’s last Friday night to pick up our pizza and wings the order wasn’t yet ready so I had a chance to read over some of the mixed martial arts fight posters hanging on the wall of of the very popular West Main Street pizzeria. Amsterdam’s Tommy Marcellino, the younger brother of Tony who runs the place happens to be a very skilled professional MMA fighter, who’s appeared in nationally televised bouts in the past and is scheduled to do so again in the very near future.

Those posters brought back plenty of memories. Back in the 1970s, another Amsterdam native, Bobby Stewart was making quite a name for himself as a fighter. Unlike Marcellino, Bobby’s sport was boxing and he had won a National Golden Gloves championship in his weight class in 1974. He then went on to win 13 of 16 professional fights before retiring from the ring and becoming a counselor at Tryon School for Boys, where he discovered future heavyweight champion of the World, Iron Mike Tyson.

As good as Marcellino is and Stewart was, the greatest professional fighter in the history of Amsterdam New York was Buddy Benoit. His real name was Delor Benoit Jr. He was born in the Rug City on this date in 1920. His Dad had moved here from Canada and worked in this town’s carpet mills. The Benoit’s lived on Fairview Place.

Back in the 1930s, Amsterdam’s summer parks and playground program included boxing. That’s why so many young boys living in this city back then got involved in the pugilistic art. Benny was one of them. He used to spend his summers hanging around Brookside Park where he put on boxing gloves for the very first time in 1936 and defeated Tony Squillace in his first ever fight. He went on to become the 118 pound City Champion that year.

Benoit’s uncle, Harry O’Dell recognized his nephew had potential and took him to meet JoJo Zeno, who at the time was considered the dean of this area’s boxing trainers. Zeno took Benoit under his wing and for the next four years the youngster was very active and very successful on both the area and regional AAU boxing circuit. He was winning just about every local AAU Tournament he entered and in 1940, he almost won the National Middleweight title, losing a decision to future hall of famer, Joey Maxim in Boston.

He was so good that after he graduated from Amstrdam’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 while Benoit was fighting the Japanese as a sailor on board the Navy’s light plane carrier, the U.S.S. Princeton. In October of 1944, the Princeton found itself in the thick of the fighting during the historic Battle for Leyte Gulf, off the coast of the Philippines. When a Japanese torpedo bomb crippled and sank the ship, nearly killing Benoit, he was forced to leap into the shark-invested waters of the Pacific with the rest of the carrier’s surviving crew. He was rescued by a Navy Destroyer an hour later.

After being discharged from the Navy, Benoit 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. A few years later, he began a long career as a claims adjustor in California for an insurance company.

When I first wrote this post in 2015, I could not find out if Buddy Benoit had passed away. Two year’s later, his daughter posted a comment. It is one of hundreds I’ve received over the years from the children, grandchildren and spouses of the former Amsterdam residents I write about. Here is her comment:

Hello! I came across this while looking for something else…very nice birthday wish, thank you. I’m Bari Lynn (Benoit) Rudmann, Delor Benoit’s (Buddy O’Dell) daughter.

It’s nice that people in Amsterdam still remember the people who grew up there. My Dad talked fondly of his time in Amsterdam all of his life. Unfortunately he is no longer with us. He passed away just after his 94th birthday. His body was still healthy! But Alzheimer’s Disease claimed him. We miss him.

Thank you again.

 

August 22 – Happy Birthday Carl Yastrzemski

167940When I first started following Major League baseball in 1960, I did not hate the Boston Red Sox like I do now. There really was no reason to because back then they stunk and my Yankees were the most successful franchise in all of sports. Today of course, things are different. The Red Sox have not only won more World Championships than my Bronx Bombers in the 21st Century, up until the 2019 season, they had a pretty significant edge in talent on their big league roster so it is now much easier to despise those Beantown Bums. But because above all else I am a baseball fan, there have always been individual Red Sox players I admire. The current one is their wonderful right fielder, Mookie Betts, who plays the game the way it was meant to be played. Back when I was a kid my favorite Red Sox was Frank Malzone, who had been born in the Bronx, in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. He was a hustling, hard-hitting and good fielding third baseman and had been a Fenway favorite for years.

Then there was Carl Yastrzemski. The first time I saw him play live was at a 1962 or ’63 Yankees-Red Sox game in the House that Ruth Built. Every time he came up he hit the ball hard and every time a ball came near him in right field, he gobbled it up. Fortunately my Yankees won that day but on my way out of the old Stadium I stopped and purchased a package of 5 x 8 black & white glossy player photos of the Boston Red Sox to add to my growing collection. I got both Malzone and Yastrzemski in that package and I was one happy little baseball fan on the ride back up the thruway that evening.

It was Yastrzemski who would lead the Boston ball club out of the wilderness with his 1967 Triple Crown Performance that helped get the Red Sox to a World Series. By then, the Yankee Dynasty had already crumbled so rooting for Boston and Yastrzemski against St. Louis in the 1967 World Series was easy for me to do, but they lost.

At this point you may be asking yourself why, if this blog is supposed to be celebrating the birthdays of folks who were either born or at one time lived in Amsterdam, NY, you are reading about Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Long Island potato farmer? Young Carl did live in Amsterdam for a very short while but he made quite an impression while he was here.

The kid who would one day be known simply as “Yaz” came to Amsterdam during the last week of July in 1955 to participate in the New York State Babe Ruth League Tournament. By then, the Rug City had lost both their Yankee minor league franchise and the Bigelow-Sanford carpet mills along with the thousands of jobs that went with it. Organizers were hoping that the scores of families who would be coming to Amsterdam from across the state to watch their boys play would not just enjoy the baseball but also get a great impression of the host city. Those organizers included Mortan Guttenberg, Dick Case, Carl Ferrarra, Mike Valerio, Dick Ruback, Norm McKnight, Joe Janeski, Iggy DiMezza, John Cady, Ray Sinda, Bud McQuatters and Joe Demars. As then-Recorder Sports Editor, Johnny Page observed in one of the columns he wrote which welcomed the Babe Ruth-er’s to our City, “…the Tournament is serving notice that our town is not dead.”

Yastrzemski was the 16-year-old star shortstop and pitcher on a team from Bridgehampton, on Long Island, which was coached by his dad. He quickly put everyone on notice just how good he was when he one-hit a team from Harlem-Valley in the Tournament’s very first contest, striking out 13 while driving in two of his team’s five runs with a single and a double and he was just warming up.

He played short in his team’s second game and slammed two home runs to lead Bridgehampton’s victory over a very good team from nearby Schenectady, 9-3. He again played short in his team’s third tourney game and ripped a double in the 5-1 victory over Auburn. That win sent Bridgehampton into the championship game in which they would face a very good Mattydale ball club, from out near Syracuse. Yastrzemski was the starting pitcher and threw a one-hitter for the first six innings, striking out nine in the process. His team held a 1-0 lead when he took the mound for the seventh and final inning but a single, a broken bat blooper and a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. The young Yaz then struck out the final two batters to win the tournament. His dad, who was Bridgehampton’s third base coach then watched proudly as his son got mobbed by his appreciative teammates.

Five years later, then Recorder sports editor, Bob Wischmeyer started his “Sports Beat” column with the news that a 20-year-old Yastrzemski had just inked a $100,000 contract to play for the Red Sox. In just a few years, fans at Fenway would find out what the Amsterdam fans who watched that ’55 Babe Ruth Tournament at Mohawk Mills already knew. This kid was something special.

What I loved learning about during my research for this post was how a group of former Amsterdam residents, many of whom I knew personally and remember so well, banded together at a time when Amsterdam was reeling with horrible economic news. They put together a youth sports event designed to showcase our City’s beautiful baseball park and then got families from all over New York State to come here, meet our people, eat in our restaurants, lodge here and then return back home with a great impression about our City. The Historic Amsterdam League’s slogan rings very true to me; The key to the Future is the Past.

Note: Since “Yaz” really wasn’t a formal resident of Amsterdam, I want to also wish my longtime friend, high school classmate and fellow HAL member Ray Fyfe (see photo on left) a very Happy Birthday. Ray was born and raised in our City and loves learning about Amsterdam’s history as much as I do so if you see Ray today, wish him a Happy Birthday, or better yet, buy him a beer!

 

 

 

 

 

August 21 – Happy Birthday John Torani

torani brothers222
John Torani in middle, John Morrell on left and Vito Torani on right.

During the first ten-to-twelve years of my life, feeling hard cold linoleum beneath the soles of my bare feet was part of the waking-up process. Even though Amsterdam was known as the Rug City, most of the floors in the upstairs’ and downstairs’ flats in Amsterdam’s West End were covered with that less expensive hardened linseed oil or resin based material. Your Dad had to have had a really decent job or a good connection with one of the big bosses in an Amsterdam rug mill back then for you to have your toes meet warmer and toastier  tufted carpet when your Mom yelled “Time to wake up” on a cold winter school day morning.

But today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant knew a revolution in floor covering was coming when he returned to Amsterdam from military service during World War II. New materials and new manufacturing processes were driving the square foot cost of carpeting down to a point where most everyone could afford it. Between the 1950s and ’60s, carpeting went from being the preferred floor covering in just the formal rooms of the well-to-do, to just about every room of every house in every neighborhood in town. Most of the square yards laid here in Amsterdam were purchased from Carpetland.

John Torani’s parents came to Amsterdam from Pisciotta in Southern Italy at the beginning of the 20th Century. He attended Amsterdam schools and like so many before him, started working in an Amsterdam rug mill until called to duty in WWII. It was after returning to Amsterdam that the idea of opening a store in Amsterdam to sell carpets. Partnering with his brother Vito and brother-in-law, John Morrell, he opened the very first version of Carpetland in a storefront on Forbes Street. Their business model back then was more focused on cleaning carpets than selling them but there was no doubt that a retail carpet store located within a few city blocks from the biggest producer of carpeting in the World made lots of sense.

Torani moved the store to its landmark 411 West Main Street location in 1949 and quickly began expanding that site with acquisitions of neighboring houses and new construction. From the outside, the store’s patchwork profile was probably the weirdest looking retail location in the city but it was inside that mattered and Torani and his partners made sure customer’s got royal treatment as soon as the walked through the front door. Also thriving was the company’s contracting business. Carpetland was selling and installing thousands of square yards of its products via successful bidding on new private and government and government construction and renovation projects.

In 1969, Carpetland added a brand new showroom dedicated strictly to carpeting so that they could use the old selling space to showcase all the other types of floor coverings the business was selling by then. In March of 1971, the store celebrated its 25thanniversary with a multi-page explosion of full page ads in the Amsterdam Recorder and over 3,000 people showed up to the week-long, prize-giveaway-filled event. At the same time, John Torani announced that he and his partners had purchased the old Stanton-Ouderkirk Warehouse site located several blocks east of the existing store on West Main Street at the foot of Pearl Street. Torani told the Recorder that within five years the new acquisition would be transformed into “the finest showroom in the area.” That never happened.

Instead, in 1971 John Torani opened up a new Carpetland location in Saratoga Springs. The firm also brought in the next generations of the Torani and Morrell families to help manage their expanding business. But nationally, carpet sales began declining and an economic recession in the US helped hasten its fall. By then the carpet making portion of Amsterdam’s rug industry had long since moved elsewhere and Carpetland saw its local business decline as well. The Amsterdam location remained open until Hurricane Irene put the store six feet under water in 2011.

Amsterdam is no longer called the Rug City but that portion of West Main Street still gets a high volume of traffic going east and west on Route 5. The flooding problem appears to have been rectified as well. Will another entrepreneur like John Torani come along and see an opportunity for that area? You never know.

 

August 20 – Happy Birthday Tony Filiberto

Tony Filberto working his magic behind Sansalone's meat counter.
Tony Filberto working his magic behind Sansalone’s meat counter.
Mary Filiberto, a West End classic
Mary Filiberto, a West End classic

The neighborhood grocery store was an Amsterdam community mainstay for generations until the big box supermarkets and proliferation of automobiles and multi-car families forced them into extinction. But they fought a good, long and valiant fight here in the Rug City, largely because of the strong personalities of their ownership and the strong relationships those owners built with their customer base. A classic example was Sansalone’s, the former West Main Street market that was last managed by today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant and his wife Mary.

The business was first opened in the late 1930’s by Joe Sansalone, a native of Pisciotta, Italy and his wife Theresa. Theresa kept it going for awhile after Joe died in 1961 but she needed the help of her daughters Rae and Mary to do so. Since both of the Sansalone sisters were also married with three children each of their own, it was pretty clear someone had to step in and run the place full time. That someone turned out to be Mary’s husband Tony Filiberto, who up till then had worked as both an independent carpenter and as a multi-skilled on-the-road repairman for Sears & Roebuck. Born in Amsterdam on August 20, 1927, he also had plenty of grocery and meat cutting experience because at the time he married Mary Sansalone back on Flag Day in 1947, he had worked for his new father-in-law Joe, helping him operate the store.

Tony proved to be a perfect choice. He was a bull of a worker, had a great sense of humor, learned to become an outstanding butcher and could deal effectively with every sort of personality that walked through that market’s front door. Whether you were buying two pounds of his exquisite Italian sausage, a half-pound of baloney sliced thin or a bunch of steaks for a weekend barbecue, Tony consistently had what you needed. He would also carry on a full and detailed conversation with you while he cut, chopped or sliced your order, weighed it, wrapped it in paper, wrote the price on the package and handed it to you with a smile, while sticking his writing utensil back behind his ear. Meanwhile his wife Mary worked the cash register with a young assistant constantly at her side who she’d send throughout the store to get this or that for a customer, while she and whoever that patron happened to be discussed much more important things.

sansalone2Which brings me to Sansalone’s other important function. It was more than just a place to buy the food your family ate. The store was also one of the nerve centers for West End news and gossip. If you lived in that section of town and you wanted to find out who died, who was sick, who had a baby, who lost their job, who got a new job, who was drunk in Russo’s last night, who so and so was having an affair with, who bought a new car, or how much someone lost playing cards at St. Agnello that Friday, you didn’t buy a Recorder. Instead, you just went to Sansalone’s.

That place did an amazing volume of business for a store its size and it wasn’t just people from the West End who shopped there. You could run into just about anyone in the City when you visited that market. Each Christmas, I would give my employees their choice of a ham or prime rib and we would always order them from Sansalone’s. My staff loved their stuff!

While several of Amsterdam’s neighborhood grocery stores closed their doors for good by the late 1980’s (in the West End these closings included Califano’s, Boice’s, Andy’s, and Fusella’s) Sansalone’s continued to thrive and then Mary Filberto suddenly died in February of 1988. She was just 60 years old at the time. It was a crushing blow for Tony and their three children and the store never recovered from her loss. Tony eventually retired and he too passed away in 2001, at the age of 74.

August 19 – Happy Birthday Tim Welch

Tim Welch on the SMI basketball team in 1966
Tim Welch on the SMI basketball team in 1966

Imagine if a degree in meteorology had always been a requirement for television weather reporters? David Letterman might never have been discovered and Willard Scott wouldn’t have been able to wish century-old Americans happy birthday. Locally, folks my age would never have heard long-time Channel 6 weatherman Howard Tupper greet his youngest viewers with his familiar “Hi ya small fry!” And today’s Amsterdam Birthday celebrant would not have become one of the best known Capital District television personalities during the late 1970’s and ’80’s.

Tim Welch was born in Amsterdam on this date in 1948. He went to school at Saint Mary’s Institute, where he played varsity basketball for Dutch Howlan and graduated in 1966. He would go on to get his Masters degree in Education from St. Michael’s College but instead of beginning his professional career in the classroom, he migrated into the media. By the late 1970’s, Tupper was ready to give up his role as the dean of local television weathermen and WRGB Channel 6 put Welch on the air to take his place.

Thus began a near-decade-long run of Weather with Welch, during which his well-trimmed mustache and his louder than loud plaid dominated wardrobe graced a majority of the TV screens here in Amsterdam both at dinner- and bedtimes. He was noted for being a bit unorthodox on air at times.

Tim as a member of the News Center 6 team.

On one Groundhogs day he dressed up as one and made believe he was emerging from a hole in a large snow bank to look for his shadow. In another report, he interviewed Santa Claus and asked the jolly old soul if any kid had ever been so scared of him that they pee’d while sitting in his lap. Once during a special drawing for a free Cadillac Tim conducted from the back of a platform truck at the Saratoga Flat Track, he announced the winner’s name and then dropped the card back into the truckload of over two million four hundred thousand cards. It took the folks at PriceChopper Supermarket, the sponsor of the contest, over two months to find the winning card again.

Welch was the first Channel 6 weather personality to venture outside into the weather while reporting it. In searing heat waves, near-hurricane-force rainstorms and bitter cold January frosts, Tim used actual weather as his visual. During his time at Channel 6 he also hosted the popular Answers Please quiz show that used to pit four-student teams from area high schools against each other.

In 1986, WRGB decided to get more technically credentialed with its weather reporting, joining the national trend at the time to use degreed meteorologists. Welch was let go.

He would then start his own PR and video production firm up in Saratoga for the next 20 years. He also got into teaching. His communications & media course offerings have been very popular with students at SUNY Oneonta. He also serves as the President of the U.S. Grant Historic Site near Saratoga and produces audiobooks for Audible.com and iTunes.

August 18 – Happy Birthday Roger Bowman

Roger_BowmanHow good a pitcher was Amsterdam’s Roger Bowman? Based on his career accomplishments, this former southpaw from Meadow Street was the best there ever was in the Rug City.  What were some of those accomplishments? Let’s start with his high school career at Wilbur Lynch during the early 1940’s. He was the star pitcher of a legendary Jack Tracy-led varsity nine that won 40 straight games for the Hilltoppers. Bowman’s catcher during that incredible streak was the great Costa Lazarou. Never before or since has Amsterdam High School fielded more talented battery mates.

Costa had already joined the Navy, when in 1945, a contingent of Amsterdam schoolboys were assembled to participate in the prestigious All American Amateur Baseball Tournament in Johnstown, PA. In his three starts during that tournament, Bowman struck out an incredible 70 batters. In the Championship game, which underscored just how good the baseball talent was in our area, Amsterdam squared off against Schenectady. All Bowman did was pitch a complete game two hit shutout and get 24 of the 27 outs his team needed to win the game via strikeout.

In high school, Bowman possessed a blazing fastball, an impressive curve and outstanding control for a pitcher of such a young age. But during the winter of 1945, during his freshman year at Colgate University, he slipped while running to catch a bus and slammed his left shoulder into a fire hydrant. He was never again able to pitch without a sore arm and the injury turned his fastball from blazing to just above average.

Even with the bad 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.

Roger continued pitching in the minors until 1961, which brings us to his final big moment on the mound in front of hometown admirers. Bowman was asked to pitch for the Amsterdam Textile Workers Union Team in a Schenectady Twilight League Game against a Schenectady team that featured their own pitching ace named Don Blaha. A standing room crowd of over 800 fans showed up at Mohawk Mills Park on the evening of July 6, 1961 to see if Bowman could still get good hitters out. The game would reunite Bowman with his high school catcher, Costa Lazarou and their AHS teammate, Johnny Krochina.

At first, it looked as if Bowman was about to get pounded. He had given up two runs and three hits in the second inning and the Schenectady bats were easily getting around on his best fastball. That’s when Bowman and Lazarou decided to focus on his curveball and for the next seven innings, Amsterdam fans were treated to a classic pitching performance as their native son did not allow another run and struck out ten and the Textiler’s won the game 3-2, when Bobby Cantine drove in the winning run with a ninth-inning single.

Bowman would end up returning to 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.

Bowman’s big league lifetime record was not noteworthy. He pitched in a total of 50 games, compiling a 2-11 record with 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 5.81. But he did win 131 games against the very best minor league talent in this country, when baseball was still the top sport of choice for America’s best athletes. There’s absolutely no doubt that Roger Bowman was the best and most successful baseball pitcher ever to be born in Amsterdam, NY.

Here is a rundown of pitching statistics for Bowman’s professional baseball career:

Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1946 18 NYG-min B,AAA 2 5 .286 8.74 8 35.0 27 30 34 49 2 2.171
1947 19 NYG-min B 17 8 .680 3.56 30 197.0 187 96 78 106 1.487
1948 20 NYG-min A,AAA 11 9 .550 3.60 35 1 0 0 180.0 159 92 72 100 8 1.439
1949 21 NYG-min AAA 15 9 .625 3.39 34 26 16 2 194.0 156 91 73 90 165 1.268
1949 21 NYG NL 0 0 4.26 2 2 0 0 0 6.1 6 3 3 1 7 4 2.053
1950 22 NYG-min AAA 16 11 .593 3.71 31 30 19 2 233.0 202 111 96 112 181 1.348
1951 23 NYG-min AAA 6 6 .500 3.19 17 15 4 2 110.0 84 54 39 55 106 1.264
1951 23 NYG NL 2 4 .333 6.15 9 5 0 0 0 26.1 35 18 18 2 22 24 2.165
1952 24 NYG-min Opn,AAA 9 7 .563 3.65 23 17 6 3 133.0 105 60 54 1 43 80 1.113
1952 24 NYG NL 0 0 12.00 2 1 0 0 0 3.0 6 4 4 0 3 3 3.000
1953 25 PIT NL 0 4 .000 4.82 30 2 0 0 0 65.1 65 42 35 9 29 36 1.439
1954 26 PIT-min Opn 22 13 .629 2.51 46 37 16 6 258.1 218 90 72 15 99 165 1.227
1955 27 PIT-min Opn 5 10 .333 3.70 26 21 6 3 131.1 147 71 54 9 46 80 1.470
1955 27 PIT NL 0 3 .000 8.64 7 2 0 0 0 16.2 25 18 16 2 10 8 2.100
1956 28 NYG-min AAA 10 14 .417 3.99 33 23 10 3 169.0 182 85 75 16 69 87 1.485
1957 29 NYG-min Opn,AAA 7 13 .350 4.90 39 20 6 3 148.2 162 87 81 14 69 76 1.554
1958 30 SAC AAA 5 5 .500 4.38 45 4 0 0 74.0 85 42 36 5 37 42 1.649
1959 31 MLN-min AAA 5 5 .500 2.61 28 11 4 0 114.0 94 41 33 10 43 88 1.202
1960 32 MLN-min AAA 0 4 .000 4.14 40 1 0 0 50.0 54 27 23 2 27 47 1.620
1961 33 KCA-min AAA 1 0 1.000 1.80 7 0 5.0 10 4 1 2 1 2.200
5 Yrs 2 11 .154 5.81 50 12 0 0 0 117.2 137 85 76 14 71 75 1.768
162 Game Avg. 2 12 .154 5.81 55 13 0 0 0 129 150 93 83 15 78 82 1.768
NYG (3 yrs) 2 4 .333 6.31 13 8 0 0 0 35.2 47 25 25 3 32 31 2.215
PIT (2 yrs) 0 7 .000 5.60 37 4 0 0 0 82.0 90 60 51 11 39 44 1.573
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/18/2016.

 

August 17 – Happy Birthday Benny Pisano

FluPoster
This poster could be found everywhere during the 1918 epidemic of influenza that ravaged the World and Amsterdam too

The influenza epidemic that swept the World in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. According to information found in the National Archives, one fifth of the Earth’s population was attacked by this deadly virus which was nicknamed the Spanish Flu because reports had indicated the first cases appeared in German WWI Army troop encampments located in Spain. More than three times as many people lost their lives during this outbreak than were killed in World War I but yet, most history books don’t even mention it.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant was just 13-years old when the epidemic hit Amsterdam, NY in late September of 1918. The editions of the Recorder that appeared during this outbreak were packed with articles that described the flu’s spread and symptoms, advertisements claiming cures for and commercial protections from its deadly results and warnings from public health officials that none of the ads were to be believed. The hard truth was that there were no known vaccines or cures. If you caught it your body’s immune system either fought it successfully or you died. Benny Pisano’s mom, Margaret Furman Pisano and his younger brother lost their battle, leaving Benny, his dad Peter and younger sister Adeline to go on without them. A tragedy like that, especially early on in life could turn anyone into a hopeless pessimist, but not this guy…

You can read the rest of my story about Benny in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

August 16 – Happy Birthday Bobby Greco

bobgrecoThere certainly are and were a lot of “Greco’s” in Amsterdam and I personally know or knew many of them. One of my all-time favorite Greco’s is today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Robert “Bobby” Greco. He’s the son of Frank and Jennie Greco, the husband and wife team that used to run Greco’s Market on Division Street in Amsterdam, located right behind the old Guy Park Avenue School. Bobby was born the same year as me on August 16. Though he went to West Spring  and then McNulty Schools and I went to Guy Park, during the summers his parents would have both him and his older brother Frank come with them to the store each day and both would hang around the Guy Park Avenue playground from early July till school started back up again in September. That’s where I met him and during the course of our childhood and teen-aged years he became one of my very best friends. Here are the ten things I’d like to share about my dear buddy Bobby.

1) Bobby and his older brother Frank were the first kids I knew to own and ride the classic “Sting Ray” style bicycle that was introduced in the mid sixties.

2) Bobby was a great basketball player. Though he wasn’t blessed with height he was without a doubt one of the great two-handed set shooters of all time. In fact, during our CYO basketball days playing for St. Michael’s parish team, I bet Bobby hit ninety percent of his foul shots. Which brings me to one of the funny stories of my childhood. Bobby had a nifty little basketball court in the backyard of his West Main Street house and we would have epic games there every day. Our mutual good buddy Dave Malkowich, an outstanding basketball player in his day would be one of the regular participants in those always competitive contests. Dave, who could leap like a kangaroo used to tease Bobby by telling him that his two handed set shot was out-of-date and too easy to defend, which used to drive Greco nuts. So one night he challenged Dave to try and block his set-shot. Malkowich proceeded to block about twenty-five straight, but persistent Bobby just kept shooting and insisting the two-handed set shot would never die.

3) My friend had the longest home slot car racetrack for miniature electric slot cars in the entire city. The Greco’s lived in the upstairs flat of their home on West Main Street. Like most of the homes in our neighborhood, it was four rooms deep and two rooms wide. Bobby’s slot car track ran through the middle of the front, living and dining rooms of the apartment. That meant every time anyone entered or left the apartment, went into the kitchen, the bathroom, or to bed, they had to step over the two main thirty foot long straightaways of Bobby’s slot car track configuration plus at least two and sometimes as many as five bodies of kids who happened to be racing cars or spectating at the time. If I had ever attempted to put such a track in my own house, my Mom would have thrown it in the back yard, but not Mr. & Mrs. Greco, who had to be two of the kindest most patient parents I’ve ever met. Here’s another example of that.

4) Bobby played the drums when he was a kid and since his slot track took up the entire apartment, the only place he could fit his entire set of drums was on their enclosed front porch. Now Bobby was no Ringo Starr. He played those drums about as well as I played my trumpet which meant not very, so whenever he was in the mood to beat on them, you could hear the ruckus from Pine Street to Caroline in Amsterdam’s West End. As soon as he started you’d see neighbors who had been sitting on their front porches rush inside and slam their doors and windows shut. (Note: Bobby’s son Robb. also played the drums at the same time my daughter was playing Oboe in the high school bands and orchestra’s. Robb was a terrific percussionist which just goes to prove that when it comes to musical ability, sometimes the apple does fall quite a bit aways from the tree.)

5) When Bobby got his driver’s license in 1970 he would often drive his father’s 1960 Chevy Belair two-tone red & white station wagon to school. One day it was stolen from the Wilbur Lynch High School parking lot and a panicked Bobby called the Amsterdam police. At the time it was stolen, the aging vehicle had been parked in between someone’s 1969 Malibu SS and a souped up Pontiac GTO. When the cop came to investigate Bobby gave him a description of his dad’s car and kept asking him “Who in their right mind would steal a car out of a school parking lot in the middle of the day?” The cop just stared at the two classic rides sitting on either side of the spot where Bobby’s old Belair had been and responded “I think we’re looking for a blind man.”

6) Bobby graduated from Lynch High with me in 1972, got his bachelors from Albany State University and started working at GE. He then transferred over to Knolls Atomic Power Lab, where he remained for over 30 years, just recently retiring. If you asked him what his job entailed at the highly secretive installation he’d explain that if he told you then he’d have to kill you.

7) Bobby married the love of his life, Amsterdam native Sue Dygon and they raised three wonderful kids who have in turn given them a half-dozen beautiful grandchildren who Bobby absolutely cherishes.

8) Any community would be fortunate to have a guy like Bobby Greco as a citizen and neighbor. The guy has always had a heart of gold. He and Sue were tireless volunteers for their beloved St. Michael’s Church. He still serves as a Eucharistic Minister, bringing communion to all of the area institutions serving the elderly. It was Bobby who for many years organized the Harlem Wizards basketball team’s visit to Amsterdam. In addition to playing an exciting game for the entire community, members of the team would visit each district school and speak out against drugs and bullying. And he was an indispensable part of many Light Up the Sky Christmas light display set-ups every winter for years.

9) The kid who loved racing those tiny electric slot cars grew up to become a huge fan of NASCAR and stock car racing. He still goes to Fonda Speedway most Saturday nights during racing season and for many years Bobby headed the pit crew for his cousin Gary Greco’s racing team. Though he refuses to fly in an airplane, a few years ago Bobby went out and bought himself a Harley, which he now enjoys taking for cruises in the surrounding countryside.

10) It truly is an honor for me to say I’ve been a friend of Bobby Greco’s for over fifty years now. Though I don’t get to see him as often today I so enjoy each time I do. He played an integral role in some of the happiest moments of my younger days. Happy Birthday “Cheech” and may you be blessed with many, many more.