Article

SPORTS AND THE MEN

BY DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI NEWS AND COMMENTARY

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY JULY 2, 2018) — This is THE PLANET‘s 1,800th column since we began in late September-early October of 2010. We saved it for something, and someone, special.

The week before last, THE PLANET was honored to accept an invitation from our Right Honorable Good Friend John Krol to appear on “Good Morning, Pittsfield” in the show’s last week broadcasting from the soon-to-be-defunct ghost building known as Taconic High School. Probably much to Krol’s surprise and perhaps relief, we were in no mood to discuss politics, particularly the small change of local politics. We took the guest spot as a valedictory to …

… to what, exactly? We weren’t sure, and after countless thousands of radio and TV appearances, THE PLANET has done our best work when we weren’t bound by a script, bullet points, notes, outlines, teleprompters, or any other of the props and assistances that can straightjacket a performance. We love live, in the moment, on the tight wire without a net. Back in our collegiate days and a bit beyond, we moonlighted in stand-up comedy that way, doing improv weaved from a few rough ideas formed before the introduction and channeling our inner Robin Williams.

We were, supposition must declare, being wistful.

Wistful.

It’s a beautiful word that connotatively lies between between the warmth of nostalgia and the mild sorrow of regret. Wistful is that feeling you get when you fondly remember pleasant past experiences that you know can never be repeated. That’s how we got into the twin subjects of sports and philosophy, two areas of inquiry that have always shared the same room in Chateau d’Planet. We told some Berraisms, talked about the 1957 World Series and how we loved the Braves of that year because (a) it was our first dawn-dim awareness of the great game of baseball, (b) the Braves uniforms were cool, and (c) because of grown-up talk that they had until “recently” (1953) been from Boston, diamond home of the GREAT Ted Williams. These were a little boys reasons.

THE PLANET then explained how the influx of gigantic doses of money and commercialism dampened our interest in today’s version of the game, except locally. We congratulated the Taconic High baseball team for advancing to the state finals the year after winning the state, expressing our surprise that — given Pittsfield’s great baseball past — no city team had ever won back-to-back state titles. From there, it was an easy jump to Tommy Grieve, Gene Hermanski, Mark Belanger, Dale Long, Art Ditmar, and some of the other stellar names of the city’s big league past.

That opened door brought up the names of guys like Donnie Morehead, Ray Wojtkowski, “Touchdown Tony” Ferdyn, Joe “Zavy” Zavatarro, Larry Bossidy, and our personal favorite, Larry’s PHS and Colgate roomie, Chuck Garivaltis. We called Chuck the best pure hitter ever to come out of Berkshire County. Chuck signed with the New York (soon to become San Francisco) Giants in 1957, and spent two years in the Giants chain. That included a stint at Double-A Springfield. We told Chuck’s great story of being in the outfield at a Giants practice and seeing a young man named Felipe Alou rifle a frozen rope throw from deep outfield straight into the catcher’s mitt 250 feet on the fly. To hear Chuck tell this story must be what it was like to hear Arthur Conan Doyle by fireside spin a Sherlock Holmes tale. The Alou peg became Charlie’s first true glimpse of his own baseball mortality.

Do you know that Chuck — former councilor, mayoral candidate, school board member, and parks commissioner — still to this day is the only man ever to repeat as batting champ of the American Amateur Baseball Association tournament, held to this day in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Chuck hit .483 in 1952 and .625 in 1953 against the best amateur ballplayers in the nation, the likes of which included Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, and many other future MLB stars. Chuck entertained offers from the Indians, Red Sox, and Giants before settling on the Jints.

But here’s the kind of MAN he is. After his baseball career ended, Chuck drew on his education at Colgate University and took a sales position for Revlon. He worked in Minneapolis and Boston, on a career path that would likely have led him to the upper ranks of management, along the lines of Chuck’s Colgate roomie, Larry Bossidy. It was not to be. When his father died, Chuck left Revlon to head back to Pittsfield, where he took on the management of the family business, the Pickwick Hotel on West Street.

The disaster of “urban renewal” (more like “urban destruction”) wiped out all of Weest Street, and Chuck got into a successful career in real estate, where he is to this day.

THE PLANET is privileged to count Charlie Garivaltis as a dear friend, and our period breakfasts at the Red Lion Inn are marked “can’t miss” our our VEDDY private social calendar. We had another of those breakfasts last week. We talked once more with Chuck about his football career, his legendary stop of Syracuse’s Jimmy Brown with a one-man open-field tackle, about sandlot ball at the Crescent Creamery parking lot on Merriam Avenue, and so much more when we moved beyond sports.

Sports, after all, is nothing more than the great release from the pressures and damned seriousness of Life. It is play writ big. It should be and remain that way, free from politics, from political protest, from controversies over kneeling during the anthem. Sports should always be the place where you can relax after a day in the Real World, crack open a brew, sit back, and float into the ultimate meaningless of a final score. That said, sports is nothing less than a great metaphor for life itself. It is a struggle of us-v-them, a measure of accomplishment, a result of discipline and practice, a lesson in teamwork, a test of individuality.  It is a reflection of a philosophy of life to stay in the moment, to appreciate the gift our of our limited time on this good earth, to do and be your best, and shake hands with the other guys at game’s end, win or lose.

And so we again thank John Krol for helping us find and express these thoughts which had been percolating inside for a while. We thank all the good men and women who were so solid for us back in our youth. Most of all, we thank Chuck Garivaltis for being Chuck Garivaltis.

Our beloved Casey might have stuck out, but THE PLANET finds joy on the streets of our personal Mudville.

——————————————————————————

“Hitting is timing; pitching is upsetting timing” — Warren Spahn.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

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29 Responses to “SPORTS AND THE MEN”

  1. SisterGoldenHair
    July 1, 2018 at 7:23 pm #

    Dan,

    What a nice read. Time sure does fly, and sometimes, a little nostalga is a good thing. And wouldn’t it be nice, if for just one day, we could have the old West Street back, with The Robin Hood,
    and of course the train station, which would have been a great place to put the carousel. My brother used to play football at Crescent Creamery back in the day.

  2. dusty
    July 2, 2018 at 7:05 am #

    Dan did you ask Krol if he is running for mayor next time around? Seems an obvious question.

  3. Thomas More
    July 2, 2018 at 7:39 am #

    I think you would find that Chuck played most of his ball at Clapp Park. He was too old when Little League was established in Pittsfield. It would have been interesting to watch him hit on a field with fences that were only 200 feet away. He played on a Park Dept. Midget league team called Kordana’s Midgets. In those days the teams were formed by the kids themselves from the neighborhoods or schools where they lived. Dave Campbell was the pitcher, Lou Barlow was the catcher (I think), and Doug Hugabone was at first base. I can’t remember the rest but everybody remembers Chuck.

    • Chuck Garivaltis
      July 2, 2018 at 12:43 pm #

      Right on target, Thomas. I don’t remember all the guys either, but I do know we won school and park championships. I don’t have a picture of this baseball team, but I have a gloss photo of Pomeroy’s 8th grade basketball team. Mr. O’Brien was our coach. You should see sneakers kids wore then. Youngsters today would not touch them. Not expensive or fancy enough. Loved article, Dan. Wonderful memories.

  4. Baseball Man
    July 2, 2018 at 11:04 am #

    Dan, this is a great article. Beautiifully written. What they have writing awards for.

    I remember Chuck well, his lasting impact both on the off field.

    As a boy in Springfield I saw him play for the Giants in ’58. He hit a home run one of the games I saw!!

    • Chuck Garivaltis
      July 2, 2018 at 12:52 pm #

      Baseball Man, if I had hit a homer more I’d still be with the big Giants. To hit one out of Pynchon Park was a herculean blow. Left field line was 350 feet with left center about 395, and it was not a snow fence. Height was about 15 feet high so it would take a massive blow to hit one out of there. Glad you saw me hit one of the few I hit out of there. It was not an easy park to hit in.

  5. May Hemm
    July 2, 2018 at 11:42 am #

    He would have fit like a glove in S F great Italian Heritage City. Chucky G…by the Bay!

  6. May Hemm
    July 2, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

    Chuck and Dan, don’t be so disheartened by the Alou frozen rope story, Chuck under estimated himself, Alou never tackled Jimmy Brown, and if he knew that, it was Alou who thought he was out of Chuck’s league. Anyway we’re glad to have Chuck here.

  7. Chuck Garivalti
    July 2, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

    Hi May, Nice to hear from you, and your note was wonderful. Alou never played against Army’s Lonesome End or Don Hollander who was killed in the Asian War. Good memories and sad ones of a long ago time. I’m glad I’m here, too.

  8. Dilly Dally
    July 2, 2018 at 2:20 pm #

    May, you’re a good egg,yes,we all. Love Chuck!!!’

  9. Chuck Garivaltis
    July 2, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi May, Nice to hear from you. Alou never tackled Jim Brown, that’s for sure. If he had he may not have made it to the majors playing right field for next 10 years. The “Say Hey” kid was the center fielder and not even Felipe Alou was going to replace him. As Dan says,I really do have a picture taking down Brown. Syracuse killed Colgate that year. It was 1957 and Syracuse lost to Texas Christian 28- 27 in the Cotton Bowl. This was all in era when college kids played college football – Jimmy Brown included. Not like now where football mills are merely minor league pro football factories. May, in answer to your last question, I’m glad I’m here, too. Always loved the Pittsfield I remember from my first baseball field – at the time, the roily poly field that is the Crescent Creamery parking lot on Merriam Street.

  10. May Hemm
    July 2, 2018 at 2:52 pm #

    Chuck and Dan should get together on a book about Pittsfield Sports Stories with Politics thrown in. I’d buy it. Maybe the invention of Baseball here could be the narrative, with local flavor thrown in. You could start off by saying how Wahconah Park is the only Park in America played on a Lake.

    Write about how decades of great athletes played here and how High School Americana Sports here, was second to none.

    It’s funny what you see in your lifetime. Not to long ago, I was driving out of the B M C Parking lot, and I could have sworn I saw James Taylor entering the E R? never followed up on it,and didn’t see anything about it in the news?

  11. C. Trzcinka
    July 2, 2018 at 4:55 pm #

    Nicely written essay about the role of sports and the people who made Pittsfield’s sports history worth remembering. Having played against Tommy Grieve I can tell you that the young Texas Ranger was no slouch on the gridiron. I’m glad I only had to play him once….

  12. Halo
    July 3, 2018 at 8:52 am #

    The longest home run in City History was hit at North Junior High School in a Babe Ruth game some fifty years ago. I remember it as spectator by the tennis courts are located now,and watched the ball land in the brook in the back of center field. I actually measured it a few years ago while walking the family pet. Put that in the Planet and Chuck’s book.

  13. Unwanted Carl
    July 3, 2018 at 9:04 am #

    Three of the greatest local sports people other than Planet or Chuck locally we’re Paul Brindle, John Marchisio and Roger O’Gara.

  14. Unwanted Carl
    July 3, 2018 at 9:13 am #

    …..and least we forget, the Great,Bullett Bob Shade and Bob Steiner, The Hawk’,John Codey, Jack Hogan, Buddy Pellerin, the Orazio’s,Leo Kruczjowski, Tom Sherman, Art Gwinnell, Pat Bassi,Dick Powers. I could write a Book. I once seen Paul Pierce. Former teammate of Tommy Grieve hit the light tower at Wahconah Park

  15. Unwanted Carl
    July 3, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    I saw Pop hit a ball into Sacco’ s junk yard into the back of Wahconah Park , some 600 feet. From the backstop at Wahconah Park…….he was using a fungo bat. Pop loved George Scott. Those were the days. I can remember Chris Coletta and Big Jim RussinLiving on first street. Jim used to send us over to the First National Store on North Street for cans of corn and a Porterhouse Steak.

    • danvalenti
      July 3, 2018 at 1:57 pm #

      POP was Johnny Fungo. He could place a fungo shot anywhere to within a foot. My favorite was when he’d hit them straight up for catchers to practice with popups. Pop would rocket the ball straight up the pipe at what seemed impossible heights. Great, great man.

    • 12
      July 3, 2018 at 4:55 pm #

      Are you saying a ball was hit from inside the stadium across the river into Sacco’s junkyard?

  16. Shelly Liver
    July 3, 2018 at 12:01 pm #

    Oh, yes, remember the players as well as management well. Eddie Papowski, Joe Buzos,Pat McKeran. Owen Johnson,Fireball Freddie Wenz,Paul Dowd,George Scott,Reggie Smith,Alan Montreal,Jerry Moses, Ken Brett, Carm Franzone,Chrissy Coletta,Jim Russin, Pudge Fisk,Thunder Thornton,I’m cryin…

    • danvalenti
      July 3, 2018 at 12:42 pm #

      And Al Leher, Al Montreuill, John Harmon, Billy Conigliaro, Jerry Moses, Dick Wahmacker (sp?), Pete Magrini, Dave Gray, Pete Charton, Felix Maldanado, John Thibdeau, Mario Pagano … Locally, we must also mention Don Gleason. Carl Boteze also pitched for the Pittsfield Red Sox.

  17. mi
    July 3, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

    Russ Gibson-Bill Lee Sparky Lyle and Dan., you forgot Bob Montgomery, and of course Billy Gardner.

  18. U
    July 3, 2018 at 2:53 pm #

    You mean you can’t have a scrap yard on your property?

    • dusty
      July 3, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      guy does not have the proper connections

      but he did a tremendous service for the city and if it were anyone else they would have been given special treatment…but this may funnel a bunch of money to friends at Covanta which who knows may be the

  19. Thomas More
    July 3, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    It’s interesting that with all of the great baseball minds that are chipping in you would have missed the greatest of all. I’m sure Chuck remembers Al Rosen. He lead the Can-Am league in home runs in 1946 and was a solid first baseman for the 1946 Electrics.He went on to lead the American League in homers twice and missed the triple crown by a step. He was the A.L. MVP in 1953. I’m sure Chuck also remembers the imaginative ways we found as pre-adolecents to get into Wahconah Park without a ticket.

    • U
      July 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

      There were more tunnels imto that Park than in the movie the Great Escape.

    • Chuck Garivaltis
      July 3, 2018 at 6:27 pm #

      I remember Al Rosen like it was yesterday. Had to smile at recollection of ways we got in the park. It was never through the front gate. Here’s one Thomas. Do you remember Tony Renza? He was a grizzled old baseball vet at tail end of his carrier. It was a Sunday afternoon late in the war years. I was in the men’s room where privacy and modesty was never a consideration at the time. Tony was catching that afternoon and a foul tip split a finger in his throwing hand. No doctor or ER for Tony. He came into the toilet and stood at a urinal next to mine, and immediately urinated on his bloody split finger. He saw I was wide eyed and surprised and he said, “Kid, this is fastest way to heal this kind of an injury.” As far as I know this worked for Tony. I was so shocked I got out of there as fast as I could move. I think I was 10. Does anyone remember Tony Renza? Thomas, do you?

  20. Van Lingle Mungo
    July 3, 2018 at 4:50 pm #

    Such great baseball tales. Makes me proud that baseball was invented in Pittsfield so many years ago by Abner Doublearlos.

  21. John Krol
    July 4, 2018 at 3:34 pm #

    Dan,
    Great piece. Chuck Garivaltis is a treasure for sure.
    As always, I enjoyed your visit on the radio program and was very pleased to have you there during the final week at the old studio. In particular, I appreciated the baseball talk, your wistful outlook and retrospective look at Pittsfield politics. It wouldn’t have been right not to have you in one last time after many fun, spirited conversations on-air over the years. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you down the road. Thank you, again.
    John