back on all organized sports after that because I didn t want to risk the humiliation of being cut again; that was bad. But as far as the Little League thing goes, I‘d say that it haunts me now and then. It‘s there, I was on a world championship Little League team when I was twelve years old, but I can‘t bring it up anywhere because of these other feelings I have. It‘s like an ex-con. He gets a job someplace, but deep down inside something is haunting him, it’s there, and he just never forgets it. That‘s the way I feel about it.”
2. THE DODGER: JIM BARBIERI
“I remember in ‘54, the first game we played was against the other division of our league, the American Division; we were the National Division all-stars. The kids in the American Division were saying they would cream us, you know, we’ll beat your heads in, we’ll slaughter you guys; I can remember right then and there acquiring this killer instinct in me; like, all right, they got big mouths, now we’‘re gonna go out there and destroy them; not beat them, destroy them. We did; it was 23 to 0.
“After that game, I had this great feeling of satisfaction, pure satisfaction, that we completely destroyed this team that was going around saying it was going to destroy us. Funny thing, the rest of that summer, during all of those all-star games, I had this killer instinct in me, that I didn’t want to win, I wanted to destroy; I don’t know if it was because we had lost the year before or what; but I remember going into those games with this feeling of kill, kill, instead of win, win. I remember playing this team from the Bronx, Sound View it was called, in the regionals at Albany; this Sound View team was the favorite, everybody was saying that Sound View was going all the way to Williamsport; the kids on that team were big, they were like giants to us, we were just a bunch of little kids compared to them. But once we got onto the field, this killer instinct took over; I wasn’t the only one who had it, a lot of the guys did; hell, almost all of them did. We demolished Sound View that day.
“So we got to Williamsport, and the first team we played in the World Series was the team from Lakeland; now, we had already heard that Lakeland had eliminated Birmingham, Alabama, the team that beat us in ‘53. That gave us the killer instinct toward Lakeland; hey, we had to wipe out the team that beat the team that beat us the year before. We did; it was 17 to 0. But I‘ll tell you, those games weren’t fun; there was no fun to it at all. The pressure was unbelievable; you know, if I was ever going to get an ulcer, I would have gotten it then. It was an ulcer situation; one loss and you go home–that was the kind of pressure we were under. It was especially tough because we lost the year before; we had this additional pressure on us to make sure we don‘t blow the thing again. All that pressure, I think, gave us this killer instinct; it’s like, you know, we just can’t go out there and play a game, we had to go out there and win. So the only way to insure that we would win was for us to go out there and be as mean and as ruthless as we could; you know, we had a job to do, we had a mission to accomplish, and nobody, nobody, was going to prevent us from doing it. Mike Maietta, he drilled that into our heads; I’d say we were the meanest bunch of kids in the tournament.
“In fact, Mike liked us mean. I remember in the semifinal game of that series, against this team, Masontown, from Pennsylvania; the Masontown team had this little-bitty catcher, I forget his name, a little guy who looked like he was seven years old. So I come around third base, and I know I can bash into this little kid and send him flying into the bleachers; I would have, too, had he been in a position to tag me out. But when I got to the plate, he didn’t have the ball yet, so I sort of slid headfirst over him and spared him a broken neck or something. But right behind me, steamrolling around third base, is my cousin. Billy Masucci; by this time, the outfielder had thrown the ball to the catcher, and Billy is running for home. Well. Billy laid it into this little kid and sent him flying; the ball squirted out of the kid’s hands, and" he went down like somebody had just shot him. At first, we thought Billy had knocked him out; but the kid just had the wind knocked out of him. Billy did what he had to do: he scored the run, and nobody felt bad about that kid getting blown over. That’s what I mean about the killer instinct; if we had to step on the kid‘s face with our rubber spikes in order to get that run in, we would have done it.
“But Mike, he didn’t want anybody to think we were as mean as we really were. He sends Connors up to bat, and Connors goes over to this little kid. and he makes this gesture, like, ‘You all right, kid?‘ and the next day the papers say that Connors is a great sport, that he showed incredible sportsmanship, by asking after the little catcher. Mike really knew how to work the crow-d.
“That same game, I remember, we used one of our little trick plays; we had a whole bunch of them. Mike used to say that Little League managers aren‘t too smart, so he dreamed up all these little plays to capitalize on the other managers’ ignorance. So I‘m on first base, and there‘s a guy on third; I purposely get caught in this rundown between first and second and the other team‘s catcher sees they got me trapped, so he forgets all about the guy on third and throws down to second for the rundown. Meanwhile the guy from third waltzes home unnoticed; now, Mike, he used to say that once a catcher throws to second, the ball‘s got a helluva chance of winding up in center field because most Little League catchers got lousy arms; then the guy from second, who got caught in the rundown on purpose, he can score, too. That’s exactly the way it happened that day; this little kid catcher, he’s still not recovered from Masucci wiping him out, he sees me trapped, and he fires away and the ball goes into center field and I score the second run from second base. We won that game by two runs that day, and that put us into the championship game.
“So then comes the championship game and Masucci‘s pitching, and some guy from Colton slams a three-run home run off him late in the game; the next guy gets into the batter’s box and Billy lets him have it on the first pitch, right on the head. So everybody comes out of the Colton dugout to pick the kid up, and all kinds of confusion starts; I run in from center field to talk to Billy, to tell him to clam down, don‘t get upset, we only need a couple more outs for the world championship. I thought he might get flustered because of the home run and all the people showing concern for the kid he just beaned; but Billy, he’s real cool, he‘s not upset at all. He says to me, ʽWhat are you doing here? Get outa here, you don’t belong here.‘ So I trot back to center field, and Billy goes about his business like nothing happened, and he mows the rest of them down for the championship. Billy threw at the kid to intimidate the rest of the Colton team; Mike liked to intimidate other teams, make them come to bat scared. You know, Mike brainwashed us into thinking we had to destroy other teams; that way, if we fell short, we would still win, anyway.”
Jim Barbieri signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in March, 1960. He received a bonus of one thousand dollars. He spent the last half of the 1966 season with the Dodgers, and he appeared once, as a pinch hitter, in the 1966 major league World Series. Moe Drabowsky, the Baltimore Orioles pitcher, struck him out. After being farmed out to the minor leagues, he signed a contract to play in Japan, with a team called the Chunichi Dragons. His career ended in 1970–sixteen years and 10,000 miles from where it began. He had a fistfight with his manager in the dugout.
“Over in Japan, I’m playing for this manager, Seguro Mitsuhara, he was like the Casey Stengel of Japan; he was real old, and the Japanese people loved him. Now, Mitsuhara didn‘t like me at all; he didn’t like American players. I guess. So one day I’m out in right field, and out trots this Japanese player, and he tells me to get back into the dugout, that I‘m out of the game. Now, in America the worst way for a manager to show up a player is to take him out of the game, in the middle of an inning, in full view of the crowd. I was stunned; I couldn’t believe this guy was pulling that stuff on me. I’m playing good ball, hitting the ball well, fielding well; what the hell’s he doing showing me up? I kept cool, and I didn’t say anything. A couple weeks later I’m in right field, and some guy hits a line drive down the line, and I make a diving lunge for the ball, and I nearly caught it; but it got by me, and it rolled to the wall for a triple, I think. I threw the ball in, and I started dusting myself off, and I look up, and running toward me is this same second-stringer, and he says to me, ‘You‘re out of the game.‘ I walked off the field, as slowly as I could; I was enraged.
“A couple weeks later I’m in right field again, and the same kind of thing happens; this guy comes running out to me, and he says, ‘You’re out.’ This time I blew my lop; I came back into the dugout, and I threw my glove down as hard as I could, and I went over to Mitsuhara and I looked him straight in the eye and I said to him. ‘You are horseshit!‘ He pretended he didn’t understand what I had said, but I knew he understood me. Then he pushed me. I let him have it right back; I shoved him. and I was ready to kill him. All hell broke loose in the dugout; I finally got back into the locker room, grabbed my things, and went home. The next day the club suspended me: a couple days after that, the club tried to arrange a meeting between Mitsuhara and me, but I wouldn‘t show; I knew he‘d be there with all these Japanese henchmen of his and that I wouldn’t have a chance. Finally, the general manager cleared the way for me to come back to the team;
I sat on the bench the rest of the year.
“I didn’t give a damn about baseball anymore, not after that experience. The ball club knew how I felt and paid me off for the second year of my contract and gave me an unconditional release. I realized when I got back home that I would never play baseball again; I was finished. What a helluva way to go out of the game.”
3. THE BLACK MAN: WARREN FENNICKS
“When the all-stars started, I was scared; I mean real scared. I didn‘t know what all this was about; we would play games out of town and we would pack our things after the game and go on to some other town, and I would say to myself; ‘Hey, this game is over; why ain‘t we goin‘ home?‘ I realized that I was the only black kid in any of the games we played–all the other teams were white, too. It was a white environment, and, for me, that was the first time in my life that I had spent so much time with so many white people. I remember when we finally got to Williamsport, my mother called me on the telephone from Schenectady, and she asked after me. When I hung up the phone, I got so homesick that I cried, I wanted to go home; I knew I didn‘t belong there-I belonged back home with my mother. But I‘ll say this. The kids I played with, the kids on the Schenectady team, they were all right; I realized right away that I was playing ball with good people and that they didn‘t care what color my skin was. I knew they would stick up for me, no matter what. They helped me through it; if they were different, I mean if they were bigots, I knew I wouldn‘t have been able to take it; I would have cried and cried and cried until somebody sent me home.
“The night before our first game, against this team from Florida, we were in our rooms in this college; the kids from Florida were staying in the rooms right across the hall from us. So I‘m laying in bed. and I hear these kids start running up and down the halls, banging on the doors, yelling, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger, we’‘re gonna kill you.‘ The other guys heard it, too, and they started to get upset about it; I can remember them saying to each other, ‘Hey, let‘s go out there and beat the shit out of those punks.‘ Then Lindy Buonome came around for a bed check, like he always did; a couple of the guys told him what was going on. He went downstairs, and he told Mike about it; now, Mike came right up and he called all the guys together and he said. ‘Now, look, these kids are from the South, and they don’t like colored folks; they don‘t like Petey here because he’s colored. I know you guys want to go over there and beat their ears back, and I don’‘t blame you a bit; if I let you go, we don‘t have a team to play tomorrow. So I got a better idea. You want to beat them, you go out there tomorrow and you beat their tails off on that baseball field, you understand? You go out there tomorrow and you play ball like you never played ball in your lives; and then, you’ll see, they won’t say a word after that.‘ Well, the guys were really hepped up; they couldn’t wait to play that game. Me, I was still scared; I was scared the Florida pitcher would throw at my head the first time I came up to bat, or disable me some other way; my knees were shaking before that game.
“Well, as it turns out, we whipped their tails good, 17 to 0. Mike, he called time out just before I went to bat every single time. He put his arm around me, and he said, ‘Now, look, don’t be afraid; relax. All I want you to do is relax.’ Well. I got two hits in that game, and I got two hits in the other two games, too. But I’ll tell you. 1 had more pressure on me than all the other kids in Schenectady; I felt it, man, like I felt like a stranger with all those white faces around. The crowd was the biggest crowd I had ever seen in my life, and all the faces were white; nobody told me, ‘Hey, Warren, you‘re the first black kid we‘ve ever had in this thing.’ and it never really crossed my mind. If they told me, it probably would have been worse for me; I mean, I was scared enough as it was. But Mike, he used to put his arm around me before I went to bat. and he used to say, ‘Relax, relax, pretend you’re in batting practice,‘ and that helped pull me through.
“When we got home. I was really surprised by all the people who came out to see us; I remember the ride on the fire truck to City Hall, and I remember the mayor shaking our hands, and I remember all the relatives of mine and all the friends of my mother’s and my father‘s who showed up to greet me; heck, they were the only black faces in the crowd that day. After that. I remember this black fellow in town, Charlie Esmoke, he threw a banquet for me; a lot of black folks showed up, and it was real nice. If I remember, he said the banquet was to honor ‘the greatest twelveyear-old black athlete in the world.‘ and that was me. It said that on the program: Pete Fennicks. the best twelve-year-old black athlete in the world. But it was all really bullshit; I knew it back then. You know, like my friends who were my friends before Little League, they still were my friends after Little League; we all hung together like this world championship thing never happened. I went to all the banquets, collected all the loot, then I went out and played with black kids in the street like nothing was going on. You know, I got the key to the city from the mayor at City Hall; you know how many doors that key opened in twenty years? None. Not a single stinkin‘ door. How’s that?
“After I got out of Little League, my life didn‘t change a bit. My mother, she still worked all the time, and my father, he still worked all the time, and we still didn’t have nothin‘. My mother and my father used to say to us, ‘Look, you gotta do without.’ It was the family motto.
“I played baseball at Linton for two years, and I didn’t do too bad; but I didn’t like high school. Like, you know, a lot of kids in that school had money, and, me, hell, I didn’t have anything. These kids were making plans to go to college and all that, and I knew I would never go to college; I knew that back in grade school. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college, and where was my father going to get the money to send me to college? You gotta do without, right? My grades stunk. I dreamed about playing pro baseball, sure, but I was so skinny people would say, ‘Hey, you’ll never make it until you put some weight on.‘ I was really mixed up: like, you know, what the hell‘s the difference how much you weigh if you can play ball? When I was in high school, I was going with this girl, she was white, and we were thinking, hey, we‘re gonna get married someday. So all I thought about was getting a job; I figured if you’re gonna get married, you gotta have some bread.
“My first job was a counselor for the Schenectady Boys’ Club camp. Then I got a job in a women’s clothing store downtown. Lerner‘s: I was a porter. Then I went to work at the Navy Depot, in Scotia, as a laborer. Then I went to work in the G.E. I learned how to be a machinist, and that’s where I am now. Been there five years; I work the second shift, from three-thirty to midnight. Most money I ever earned in a year was six thousand dollars; that was at the Navy Depot; I used to move these piles of copper and wire and lead and zinc and graphite from one place to another; they paid bonus money, and that‘s how I got the six thousand. But it was slave work; that‘s why I left. Now, at the G.E., I gotta work overtime and weekends to make six thousand dollars. But I don’t bother doing it. Why should I? You work your ass off, and the government comes along and takes all your money. Hell with that.
“So now I‘m thirty-one years old. I‘ve got three little girls; my wife and I are divorced; I‘m living with my mother in her place, and I ain’t got no hopes at all for the future. I‘m trapped, man; I don‘t want to stay like this, working at the G.E. all my life.
“There’s got to be something better. But I don’t know what. So I work all night, and then I go and get a couple beers with the guys, and then I go home and sleep; then I get up and watch some television and go back to work again. That’s my life; sometimes I think I‘d like to get out of Schenectady, but where am I gonna go? Sure. I‘d like to get a fresh start, but what can I do? I‘m gonna walk in some place and say, ‘Hey, I’m Pete Fennicks, and I played right field on the world championship Little League team of 1954, and now I want a good job with good money’? You know what they’ll do? They‘ll call some white dude with a butterfly net, and they’ll say. ‘Hey, get this cat outa here, he’s crazy.’
“You know, if I had one wish in life. I’d wish that I was twelve years old again, playin’ Little League.”
4. THE VICTIM: ERNIE LOTANO
“Now, some good things happened to me, like winning the world championship; oh, how I loved that period of my life, right after we won it, coming back to Schenectady as heroes, going to banquets, receiving gifts, the key to the city, and all that. I loved the adulation. Let’s face it, how many kids are heroes in their hometowns when they’re twelve years old? All right; so winning the world championship was good, and I have fond memories of it, but I also have some scars from those years in Little League, and those scars are still with me today, and it’s twenty years later, and I’m an adult. We won that world championship because we were good, yeah, but we won it because we had Mike Maietta for a manager, too. Now, look, Mike was probably the best manager in the history of Little League baseball up to that point; hell, after we won, people were copying Mike’s tactics for years. The secret was that Mike had played pro ball himself and he taught us every trick in the book. We were like twelve-year-old pros when we won that title, that’s what he did to us. “Take something as simple as running the bases. Mike taught us to run to first base and touch the bag with our left foot; now, when you think about it, most kids, and most big-leaguers, for that matter, still go across first base with their right foot because that’s the natural thing to do. But Mike told us that we would pick up a step if we used our left foot because, while we were touching the bag with our left foot, the right leg was coming around to get us started toward second base. It was a little thing, but it gave us confidence, made us think that we had the edge, and we ran the bases like we owned them; a guy hits a single to right, comes around first in a hurry, the right fielder looks up and he gets intimidated, and he makes a wild throw to second, and maybe we get a guy to third base after a routine single. Mike’s method was to make us so good that we’d intimidate the other teams; he said that we had to start beating the other team from the very first man up, from the very first pitch. He said we had to shake the other team up, scare ‘em, rattle ‘em.
“But there were some other things that happened that year that were not so happy for me. First, let me say this: ever since I can remember, I was the biggest kid on the block, you see, the biggest kid in school, and all of that. All my life, my mother and my father and my teachers had been telling me, ‘Now, look. Ernie, you’re bigger than the rest of the kids, so don‘t get rough with them because you’re liable to hurt one of them.’ So all my life, I was like a happy giant, you know, laughing off the little kids’ taunts. looking the other way, turning the other cheek, all of that. I never got mad. I don’t think I had any meanness in my system to begin with; I never wanted to beat up other kids or be the king of the jungle or anything like that. But after I made the Little League all-star team, I started hearing things like ‘Ernie, you’re not mean enough’ and ‘Ernie, you’re just a big, overgrown baby.’ Well, you can’t imagine how that haunted me all the way from Little League to high school to college.
“But I don’t think Mike cared about our feelings or about what effect all of this would have on us when we grew up. All he cared about was Williamsport and winning the world championship. When we finally got to that Little League World Series in 1954, there was no doubt in our minds that We would win it. I remember the first game; we were playing Lakeland, Florida. Boog Powell was going to be the starting pitcher for Lakeland;
I remember sitting in the dugout watching him warm up. ‘Hell,’ I said to myself, ‘the kid’s throwing rainbows’– slow, arcing pitches that barely reached the catcher. Now, Powell was as big as I was, and I said to myself, ‘God, he must just warm up that way; that surely can’t be the way he pitches.’ We were used to fast balls on the corners and breaking curve balls in Schenectady, and I couldn‘t believe that any team making it to the World Series would have a pitcher throwing that soft, arc stuff, especially if the pitcher was as big as Boog Powell was. Well, sure enough, the game started, and Powell comes in with this soft, arc stuff; I‘m the clean-up hitter, and I drilled one off the fence in left field and drove in the first run of the game. We bombed Powell that day; the final score was 17 to 0. Imagine that? 17 to 0. . . .
“Now, here’s Boog Powell twenty years later, playing with the Baltimore Orioles, making a hundred thousand a year; and right here, here’s Ernie Lotano twenty years later, and if you ask me to describe myself today, I‘d have to say that I’m a failure as far as sports are concerned.”
After three seasons as a basketball star at Mount Pleasant High School in Schenectady, Ernie Lotano said, he received a basketball scholarship to Syracuse University.
“I got to Syracuse, and my roommate was Billy Connors, my teammate from the world championship Little League team. There was a lot of competition between Connors and me to see who would do better, but when the freshman season ended. I’d say that we were about even. We both had pretty good years, and we both figured to do a lot of playing with the varsity as sophomores.
“One day, this kid, Don DeLuca, calls Connors from Schenectady; he says, ‘Why don‘t you and Ernie come home for a couple days and play with us in the YMCA Easter basketball tournament?’ Those YMCA Easter tournaments were very big in Schenectady at the time. Dick Sauers, the Albany State coach, was going to coach the team in the YMCA tournament, DeLuca said, and we should mop up. So Connors talks to me, and I said, all right, since guys have been playing in those tournaments for years and nothing ever happened to them, and we both asked a teammate of ours, Loren James, to join us. He says OK. so we got into James’s car and we drove to Schenectady. Nobody paid us anything; all we ever got out of the deal was a steak dinner at Don DeLuca’s house. The YMCA welcomed us with open arms; we would draw people to the tournament. We wanted to show our stuff in Schenectady again, anyway, Connors and me, and we wanted some newspaper recognition after a four-nineteen season. Well, we blew everybody out; the team won the tournament, we got our trophies, and the newspapers gave us good write-ups. We were happy. But driving back to Syracuse a couple of days later, the thought crossed our minds for the first time that maybe we had done something wrong and that maybe we’d be in trouble for it.
“Sure enough, a couple of weeks later. I‘m going to class, and somebody tells me to report to the athletic director‘s office. I run into Connors on the way in, and he’s joking, saying, ‘Oh-oh, we’re in trouble, man.’ But now I‘m getting scared, and I‘m thinking about my father back home in Schenectady, who took a job on the second shift at the G.E. plant so that he could send me five dollars a week for spending money. Lew Andreas, the athletic director, was waiting for us; so was Marc Guley, the coach. They were upset. They said you guys broke the rule, you played in outside competition, and now you gotta go. Just like that. Connors, James, and me had lost our scholarships.
“That summer, Billy Connors signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs; Loren James enrolled at Creighton, and I enrolled at Albany State. I remember going home and looking at the two trophies I won in that YMCA tournament– they were on my bedroom shelf. I remember thinking that instead of a ten-thousand-dollar scholarship, I got two trophies that cost me five thousand dollars each. I threw them both into the garbage can.”
5. THE MANAGER: MIKE MAIETTA
“In 1951 I became the manager; I won the district title that year, and I went to the state tournament over in Corning, New York. That’s when I learned my first real lesson about Little League; I learned that a lot of guys in Little League will do anything to win. When I got to Corning, I was working the kids out, just before the game, and this district representative comes over to me and he says, ‘I gotta check your bats.’ I said. ‘What for?’ He said. ‘Gotta make sure they meet regulations.’ I said, ‘OK, go ahead; we’ve been using the same bats all year.’ The guy comes back a couple minutes later, and he said to me, ‘The bats are out; they’re no good.‘ I said, ‘What? What are you talking about? They‘re regular Little League bats. We’ve been using them all year. They‘ve already been approved for tournament play.‘ He said. ‘Sorry, rules are rules.’ I had this one bat. this broken bat I had put together with black tape; I used it to hit fungoes to the kids before games. The guy looked at it, and he said. ‘Yeah, it’s OK.’ Imagine that? He said all the good bats were no good, and the broken fungo bat was OK. So all my kids used the same bat, the broken bat with the black tape on it, and we lost. The kids were upset; they knew that something was wrong. They got psyched out. It was a helluva team I had, too.
“OK, so the next year I get to the regionals and I’m playing a team from Montreal. Now, I used to tell my kids that they had to be gentlemen, that they had to be polite, no roughhouse stuff, you understand? So we’re playing this team from Montreal, and the manager obviously has told the kids to wipe us out, physically, you know; they‘re running into my first-baseman and taking out my second-baseman, and barreling over my catcher; their pitcher is throwing at my kids’ heads. Oh, well, wow, I said to myself, my kids are intimidated: they were. The Canadian kids scared them half to death; it was the first time that any of my kids had seen the bad part of baseball. They thought you won games by outplaying the other teams; they didn‘t know you could win games by scaring the other teams half to death. That was another good team I had, ‘52; we lost that game, too. I learned another lesson there: if you’re gonna win in Little League tournaments, you gotta have tough kids, fighters, rough-and-ready kids who aren’t going to take any bullshit. I didn’t start out thinking that way, but after two years in tournaments, that was my opinion.
“In ‘53 I made it to the Little League World Series; I made it to the final game, and I lost 1 to 0 to Birmingham, Alabama. I had two runs called back on me in the first inning; they said my kids left the bases too early; it cost us the game. I said right then and there, ‘We’ll be back next year.’ The nucleus of the ‘54 team had been in Williamsport the year before. All I had to do, when ‘54 rolled around, was to fill in the spots around them;
I had to get kids who were tough, who knew how to play baseball. It wasn’t hard; we had so many kids playing in the league then that I could have taken any one of twenty or thirty kids and put them in the all-star team.”
“What do you remember about the 1954 experience?” I asked.
“Well. I remember right away telling myself that I had to be tougher than the kids were, or else I was licked. If they saw a soft spot in me, the whole thing was over, you understand? I had to make the kids hate me. I knew that if they hated me and got mad at me, they would go out there and take it out on the other teams, get all their anger out on the ball field. I told them at the very first all-star team meeting, ‘From this day on, you’re going to be treated like men and not boys. I‘ll expect you to act like men.‘ I remember the case of Masucci: I knew he had tremendous power for a twelve-year-old kid. but he wasn’t hitting home runs the way I thought he should be; I told him, ‘You‘re afraid, you’re afraid to dig in there and swing with everything you‘ve got.‘ That did it, right away; he got mad as hell that I said he was afraid, and then he started digging in and walloping the ball all over the place. He was my best power hitter from then on. I worked each kid at two, three positions; I wanted versatility instead of excellence at one position. That way if somebody got hurt I had somebody ready to take his place.
“When we got to Williamsport. I used this guy Lou Seitz, he‘s now a big shot at Springfield College. to pitch batting practice. I knew the kids would gel confidence when they started hitting this guy‘s pitches; I wanted them to feel that they could hit any Little League pitcher alive. After facing some adult who was firing at full speed, that’s exactly what happened: these kids, they got to Williamsport with this fantastic attitude that nobody in the world could beat them, not even the New York Yankees.
“The semifinals, we played this team from Masontown, in Pennsylvania; we had a tough time, but we won. The Pennsylvania team wasn’t that good; I think maybe we had a little letdown after winning so easy against Florida. That set us up for the final, against Colton, California; I remember that California team came to Williamsport in this chartered train, with a big sign on it, ‘Colton, California–World Champions of Little League Baseball.’ That ticked me off; I thought those California kids were real cocky–but, hey, they had a helluva team; they were seeded number one right away. The day before we played Colton, they had this field day in Williamsport; I told my kids not to go, to stay around the college. I didn‘t want any of them getting hurt. The Colton kids went, and. sure enough, Kenny Hubbs, one of their best players, breaks his toe. That night, a couple of my kids came over to me and they said, ‘You were right, Mike. We’re glad we didn’t go. we might have gotten hurt.‘ The kids understood; they were there to play baseball, not be in sack races. I had my kids resting, taking naps in the afternoon, eating good; the only time I let them go out was when we went to the ball park to play a game. It was the same psychology I used in practice back in Schenectady; we would play a game on Saturday, and the kids would say. ‘When’s practice start tomorrow, Mike?’
I said, ‘No practice tomorrow; no practice until Tuesday.’ The kids would say, ‘Aw, geez.’ But when they got to practice on Tuesday, they were ready to play ball; they had fire in their eyes. I felt you had to conserve their energy; you had to know when to turn them on and when to turn them off. When we got to the field to play Colton, my kids had fire in their eyes again. We had Colton down, 5 to 0, in no time.
“You know,” Maietta said, “people always asked me about my best team. I always said. ‘Hell, the ‘54 team won the world championship,‘ But I really think the ‘53 team had more talent. It’s funny, but you have those kids for a summer or two, you accomplish something with them, and then they grow up and you never hear from them again. But that’s life. I guess. I told the kids in ‘54. on the way back from Williamsport, ‘You are the world champions; I hope you represent yourselves in future years as well as you have represented yourselves in this World Series.‘ But I don‘t know if they have or not; sometimes, when I go through the scrapbooks, I wonder what‘s happened to these kids, I really do. I remember them all to this day, every single one of them; I can tell you who wet his pants at night, who was homesick for his mother, who liked eggs for breakfast and who liked pancakes. That’s how well I knew them at twelve years old. Now I don‘t know them at all.” □