|1962: Trenton's world-beaters|
|By GEORGE O'GORMAN / The Trentonian|
|Summers in Mercer County have always been a special time if you're a baseball fan. Even more so if you're a follower of youth baseball.
It's a tradition that dates back to legendary Trenton Schroths American Legion teams of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, and continues today with the Little League, Babe Ruth League and American Legion teams that survive tension-packed local series in hopes of bringing home a national championship.
In the summer of 1962, a team of teenage boys earned a special niche in the rich sports history of a community that has always prided itself on youth baseball.
Thirty-seven summers later, the accomplishments of the Trenton Babe Ruth League's world champions are still talked about with such fondness you might think they were the only local team ever to win national glory.
They weren't, of course. The 1948 Schroths and the '56 Babe Ruth team (led by pitcher Al Downing) had preceded them into the national spotlight. In 1970, Ewing's Babe Ruth all-stars would also bring home gold by winning a world championship in Brawley, Calif.
Still, what happened in the summer of '62 as 14- and 15-year-olds from Chambersburg, Villa Park and North Trenton captured the hearts and the interest of a proud hometown made their success one of our greatest sports moments.
While winning 17 of 18 games, and eventually the Babe Ruth world title in Bridgeton, they set a standard of baseball excellence seldom matched since.
Several are still active in area sports today -- Frank Partyka as baseball coach at Trenton High, Gary Vogler as a former winning American Legion manager, Joe Muni as umpire and ex-president of Trenton Babe Ruth League, and Carmen Nitti as Hamilton High coach.
Two of their most talented but unheralded stars -- catcher Dennis Starr and speedy outfielder Lou Glenn -- passed on. Others moved from the area.
But over the years, the group of young stars manager Gino Silvestro and coach George Wah brought together have watched their accomplishments earn almost legendary status.
And why not. They truly were a "team of destiny" after nearly being eliminated in the finals of their first local tournament by a Ewing team and its pitcher, John Smallwood, who would provided Trenton's stars with maybe their stiffest test that summer.
"I never remember a group of kids more dedicated to winning," Wah fondly recalls today. "They would give up their vacation time to come to practices, and often their parents would bring them back from the Shore so they wouldn't miss a workout."
"Of all the games we played that summer, one I will never forget was against Ewing in the local playoffs," says Wah.
"Ewing had Johnny Smallwood pitching and were leading, 2-1, in the last inning with two out. We would've been eliminated if we lost, but an error opened the door and we scored [Starr got in from third on the play] to win."
For a Trenton team that had been held hitless for five innings, it would be the win that brought them together and probably propelled them on to the title.
The nucleus of the team -- Partyka, Starr, Tony Massari, Joe DeVito, Vince Anapete, Chris Angelini, Chet Jacobi, Barry Ranieri and Ren Territo -- were products of Chambersburg Little League. Three years earlier they were rivals in the District 12 Little League Tournament final that matched both 'Burg teams -- the Americans and Nationals.
Having joined forces with Trenton Police Athletic League graduates Muni, Vogler, Carl Christman, Nitti and Ron Chiarmonti, when they moved to the Babe Ruth program at nearby Cook Y field in Villa Park, they would see success continue each time the all-star tourney season arrived.
The '62 squad got off to an auspicious debut in the district playoffs when Partyka threw a no-hitter in an 18-0 romp over South Trenton.
Playing the majority of their district and section games at the Cook Y diamond that no longer is the baseball shrine it should have become, the boys of summer '62 stopped Bordentown (8-0) and Lawrence (6-5) to win the division title, won sectional honors by beating Bayshore (3-0) after the stunning 3-2 comeback against Ewing, then reached the state finals after Partyka fanned 16 in a 9-1 rout of Haddonfield.
DeVito would get them to the state finals, which were played at the Cook Y, by facing only 21 batters and allowing one hit in a 1-0 win over East Rutherford.
The East Rutherford team, which ironically featured many of the same boys who had ousted Chambersburg from the N.J. Little League finals three summers earlier, would bounce back to deal Trenton its only loss that all-star season with a 2-1 win a week later.
That set up one of the great state championship games in Babe Ruth League history the next day at Cook Y, a game Trenton would win, 2-0, even though it got only four hits off pitcher Ben Catanzaro.
DeVito outdueled him with a two-hit shutout, gaining a measure of revenge for the 'Burg boys who lost to Catanzaro as 12-year-olds in the '59 Little League final.
With their fifth state title in the 10-year history of the Babe Ruth tournament -- it was also the last time Trenton ever won the New Jersey crown -- the Cook Y crew went on to Hornell, N.Y., for the Middle Atlantic Regional.
They had kept sharp playing an "exhibition game" against the Recreation Service League champion Trio Shop team, which had all it could do to younger Babe Ruth all-stars for a 7-5 win in front of several hundred very interested fans.
At Hornell the late, great Bus Saidt, Trenton's best radio voice and a Hall of Fame baseball writer, kept the hometown fans who didn't make the trip to upstate New York fully aware of the boys' progress with some of his most memorable broadcasts.
It started with a 6-0 win over Portsmouth, Va., when 6-foot-4 Anapete belted a grand slam homer and Partyka pitched yet another shutout with a four-hitter.
After DeVito and Vogler combined to hurl a 10-5 win over Clarksburg, W.Va., in a game that saw Anapete, Vogler and Jacobi get two hits each, the boys from Jersey went on to beat Wilmington, Del., for the region title, 7-6. They had squandered a 4-0 lead, but kept their "team of destiny" tag when Jacobi hit a two-run single in the sixth to get in Angelini with the tying run and Glenn with the winner in front of 1,800 fans.
The final stop on the road to Babe Ruth baseball immortality was Alden Field in Bridgeton, a two-hour trek from Trenton down the New Jersey Turnpike. There, in between winning four games, they would be greeted by baseball legends Ted Williams and Lefty Gomez, meet Dick Clark and Fabian of the Philadelphia-based "American Bandstand" show, and finally have their world championship game televised in the Delaware Valley by Channel 6 with Phillies manager Gene Mauch doing the commentary.
With their biggest fan turnout of the summer cheering them on and swelling Alden Field crowds to over 7,000, Trenton's teenage phenoms would defeat El Monte, Calif., 5-3, as Partyka again had a solid mound win with 15 K's, then rallied from a 5-1 deficit for an 8-6 win over Calumet City, Ill., as Partyka went 3-for-4 and Anapete and Jacobi got two hits each.
That got them into a showdown with Portland, Ore., a team that had won 16 straight on its way to Bridgeton.
Vogler would turn in his most memorable moment of the summer with a four-hit gem and a key double in the 4-1 win. Partyka had two hits, including the game-breaker that got Vogler in with the eventual winning run.
Two days later, Trenton would be back at Alden Field, again battling Portland in front of 7,500, only now with the world title in the balance.
Six years earlier, in Oregon, Trenton had won its first Babe Ruth world title -- beating the host Portland team and future Detroit Tigers pitching star Mickey Lolich as Al Downing enjoyed probably his greatest Trenton sports moment.
On this August Saturday, the Trenton boys would give their enthusiastic fans too many anxious moments as they nearly blew a 7-2 lead before Partyka survived a Portland rally for a 7-6 win and the world title.
Those who saw it in person, heard it on WBUD or saw the TV replay a day later still must recall big Vince Anapete racing to first base after Portland catcher John Shaler dropped a third strike, then threw the ball to third forgetting he had to toss to first to get Anapete out.
It would be the first time Anapete showed uncanny speed in the late innings to shock Portland. He would move to second on an Angelini walk, and to third on a Starr groundout.
Catching the Portland defense off guard, Anapete made a dash for the plate, where Shaler was waiting to make the tag. All he got was a big head fake from Anapete, who got the catcher to lean one way -- then dived to the opposite side and tagged the plate for a run that would prove so huge. Minutes later, Trenton finally shut down the Portland rally for the one-run win.
Over the next few summers, they would enjoy success at the American Legion level, but never reached the heights they did in 1962 as the Babe Ruth 15s.
Several years ago a few of them got together at Trenton Babe Ruth's new home -- South Bunting Avenue in South Trenton -- where they were saluted on the anniversary of their most memorable moment.