Dukes S.A.C. Softball
Westchester Park District
Larry “Butch” Danley
Don (Donny) Bianchi threw his first 16-inch softball at Portage Park in the early 1960s. He used to watch his father played there, so he grabbed a yellow Clincher and brought it to the sandlot field in Niles. Donny and his buddies played 16-inch there because not everyone had a mitt, and the windows were less “vulnerable” than a baseball.
After a successful baseball career at Hersey High School (he earned All-Conference and All-Area Honors there), Don headed to Western Illinois University where he met Buddy Doroskin (HOF). In the late 1970s, Western was a mecca for 16-inch softball teams. They were loaded with many South Side Irish players who were getting their Law Enforcement degrees. Teams from Chicago would flock to Western for the famous One-Day, One Pitch 16-inch Softball Tournament. Buddy and Donny built a team that beat everyone.
After graduation, Buddy asked Donny to play for the Badgers at Rand Park in Des Plaines. They competed against the Turtles, Rollers, Bushmen, Classics, and others. They then joined a tournament team called the Rat Pack. In its first Metro Tournament, the Rat Pack beat Otto’s 3-1 in what many called “the greatest upset in tournament history.” Otto’s won all the money that year and beat everyone, except the Rat Pack.
The next year Donny was recruited by Huey Carmichael and “Eggs” Czarnik (HOF) to play for the Runts. That same year, they took second in the ASA Nationals, losing to the Park Ave Spats. He then went on to play for AutoMart, Stray Cats, Coopers, Bud North, and The Splinters Sports Club. He ended his career after winning the ASA National tournament in 1991, redeeming his previous six runner-up finishes.
Donny was selected to nine All-American tournaments teams in his sixteen years of playing softball. He played shortstop and short center early in his career and moved to third base as he got older. He was a clutch hitter, usually batting third or fifth in the great lineups he played on. He retired in 1994 to raise his son and daughter. He has always cherished the memories he made and the teammates he played with while playing 16-inch softball.
Danny Brichetto started playing softball in the late 70’s on the North Side of Chicago at Kelvyn, Kosciuszko, Indian Rd., and Portage Parks. He was a center fielder who could hit to the gaps with power. Playing in a Sunday league at Kelvyn Park, the umpire, Al Hensel, asked him to play on his team at Hanson Park, a team that would evolve into the Wings that played at Kosciuszko and Indian Road. In addition to this team, Mike Gruber formed the Drillers with players from Brichetto’s college team, OFF. They played at Portage Park against the top competition like the Stones, Playboys, and Rollers. He also played with the Extras in the Wednesday Night James Park League, a league that featured top teams as well.
After playing against the Rollers at Portage and James, Tom “Eggs” Czarnik (HOF) and Hugh Carmichael asked him to play tournaments with the Rollers. In 1982, the Runts were formed from a merger of the Rollers and the Rat-Pac of Des Plaines. He played left field in an outfield with Mark Schuller (HOF) and John O’Connor (HOF). This was the best team he ever played on. For the next three years, the Runts placed second and third in the ASA Nationals in 1982 and ’83 and the same in the USSSA Nationals in 1983- 84. They won many tournaments in those three years, one being the North Shore Tournament where he was voted MVP.
In 1986 and 1987, Danny played with Sal Vasta’s Blues at Clyde Park in Cicero. He helped them win many class “A” tournaments. He played in an outstanding outfield that included Hall of Fame inductees Angelo Alesia and Jim Matlock. In 1987, “Eggs” asked him to join Bud North for the first of their three straight Forest Park wins. He played center field between Paul Brezinski (HOF) and Mark Schuller (HOF). They finished third in ASA Nationals. He finished the 80’s playing for Meadows during Mr. Cooper’s last season. He was teamed up with Mike Gruber again along with Jerry Rhea (HOF) and Bill and Terry Moran (HOF). In addition to playing at Mt. Prospect in the Classic League in the 80’s, he continued to play at Kosciuszko with the Wings and with his brother Larry’s team, the Critters.
As the 90’s began, he reunited with former Runt teammate, Glenn Miller, on the Turtles. The Turtles competed in the Mt. Prospect, Rolling Meadows and Franklin Park leagues along with all ASA and USSSA tournaments from 1990 to 1996. They finished ninth in ASA Major in Cedar Rapids and fourth in 1992 USSSA Major. In 1991 he played with Steve Jansen and Larry “Bass” Schumacher on the Flames in LaGrange. They finished fourth in ASA A and Danny was selected as a 1st team All-American.
Rich Mellman (HOF) brought softball back to Grant Park with many classic tournaments in the 90’s. This was special since Danny and his brother used to watch their father, “Motts” Brichetto, play center field for the Merchandise Mart back in the 60’s. Former Wing teammate, Tony Dudek, asked Danny to play on the Sun-Times team that won the Industrial Division in 1993. The team featured Tom “Bomber” Horn (HOF), the Placek brothers and Dan Cahill (HOF). In the Championship game he tore his bicep tendon swinging the bat. He had surgery that week but was back playing the following year. Luckily that was his only serious injury in forty years of competition.
In 1997, at the age of forty, Danny formed the Bugs that played in the Forest Park League. The league winner received a bid to the No Glove National. He was reunited with Mark Schuller in the outfield. They added power hitters Tim O’Neill , Jim Gierek, John Carey with Tommy Thompson (HOF) on the mound. They were the first team from the local league to win at least two games in the No Glove Nationals, losing to the eventual runner up Gamblers 9-8.
In 1998, “Eggs” asked him to play on a young Shooters team that featured Chris Downes, Michael Simpson, Tony Grillo, the Dooley brothers and of course two younger Czarnik brothers, Ray (HOF) and John. They finished second in the ASA Class “A” and tenth the following year in ASA Major. In the ‘90s, he also played at Merrimac Park for Ron “Suds” Czarnota’s Full House team.
In 2001 and 2004 he played with Bob Balzanos March teams that placed fifth in Aberdeen and ninth at Prescott. In between those stints, he played with Ralph Reporto’s Leinenkugel team in 2003-04. They placed fourth in ASA Class “A” in Bourbonnais where he was named a Second team All American and led the team in homeruns for the tournament. He played in his last two ASA tournaments in 2005 at the age of forty-nine year old lead off man for Wally Pec’s (HOF) Registers and in 2006 with Charlie Lowy’s Craftsmen.
Danny still plays softball today. He has enjoyed the camaraderie and competition over those forty-plus years.
Danny and his wife, Ellen, Have three children: Lauren, Matt, and Billy. They live in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.
Frank “Blu Blu” Dalesandro
William “Specs” Davis
Holmes “Daddy O” Daylie
Jim Di Vito
James “The Shiek” DiNardi
Team Dog’s Bite
Andrew “Buddy” Doroskin
Matt “Mattie” Dosen
Larry Downes’s softball journey began at Grant Park about 1968 where his Dad’s Continental Bank team played hundreds of games during his childhood. His Mom would take him downtown on the CTA bus to watch. He would watch them play in the ‘Pit’ at Grant Park. While the games were going on, he would pitch crabapples to himself on the sidelines, hitting them by the 1000s into the train yard behind it. This was all in anticipation that when the game ended they’d pitch the softball to him! It’s where the seed was planted. It’s also why the Grant Park Tourney wins with Lettuce and Licorice meant a lot to him.
A dozen or so years later, Larry’s friend Rick Piwowarczyk put together a team called Full Count. They were fifteen years old in an 18 and under league. They held their own and took their lumps, but it was a start. Rick then led Larry to the Pallbearers, his first men’s league team, when he was nineteen. The Pallbearers were together for twenty-seven years; Larry played for eighteen of them. Rick then created Illusion where they finally enjoyed success with multiple Wentworth Park championships. He grew up and played his early years in the Garfield Ridge area and played wherever and whenever he could. Normandy, Wentworth, Archer, and Strohacker Park were his main leagues, but he’d go anywhere to get a game.
Larry met Tom Balek (HOF) in the fall of 1987 at Normandy Park. That was a game changer! He played all over the city with Tommy, three games a night if they could fit them in; he had a blast! Balek introduced him to major softball and brought him to the Jynx (1988-90 and 2013-14). It led him to his 1st ASA Nationals appearance in 1988 (5th Place). This was an experience he’d dreamed about as a kid watching his Dad. What made it more special was that in the Chicago Metro Qualifier he made a diving catch on the line with runners in scoring position to end the game. They beat the Scooters 6-5 to secure the Jynx’s first ASA Major National bid.
From 1988 on, Larry played in all the best leagues and tournaments the rest of his career. He played at Bedford, Clyde, Hart/Centennial, Majewski Metro, Kelly, Hawthorne, Forest Park, Hodgekins, and Westchester Parks. He played in the ASA Nationals, the USSSA Nationals, the NSA Nationals, Forest Park No Glove Nationals, Windy City, LaCrosse, Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, Grant Park, and state, all major tournaments.
In 1991, Larry was introduced to Rich Melman (HOF) and most of the Touch team, a team that eventually became Lettuce Softball. This was his first powerhouse team and gave him a chance to play with the guys he grew up watching in the neighborhood. He won his first Forest Park championship that year, and the following year in 1992 he won his first ASA National Championship. This was a childhood goal that became a reality. He returned to Lettuce in 1998 to win his second ASA National championship.
In 1991 the night he won Forest Park with Lettuce, he met Tom “Eggs” Czarnik (HOF) at their post-game celebration at the Pines. Czarnik was his primary rival at the time. He was always intense, always emotional, and was always never satisfied. He was a legend of the game, a winner, a teacher, Larry’s friend, and someone he’d like to emulate on the field one day. Czarnik took Larry and a few others under his wing in the 1990s. He took him to new heights in every aspect of his game but just being around him made Larry a better player. His influence propelled the future of his softball career. They were always in contact, and they finally played major softball together in 1994-95 with PrimeTime, 1998 Lettuce, and 2002 Licorice.
In 1994-1995 Larry played for Bob Russ Sr. (HOF) and Prime Time. He loved playing for Senior who was a true character. It all worked for him although Senior drove many others crazy. Larry had some great times with this team, and the best was at having fun playing softball. We took second place at the ASA Nationals both years and won the Pro League once at Forest Park. In 2000- 2003 he moved on to Mike North’s Licorice team led by Bob Russ, Senior again, and by “Eggs” in 2002. They won the 2000 and 2002 ASA National Championships and a Forest Park and Grant Park title as well.
In 1993 Larry met Bob Rascia (HOF) from the 45’s. The 45’s were a team from Elmwood Park that was established in 1966. It was one of his best decisions ever! He played on a lot of teams over the years, and no one believed in or was more loyal to him than Bob Rascia. When other teams weren’t sure, or he was badly injured, Bob never questioned anything and always had a place for him. They played ten years together and it should have been many more.
There were a lot of great years of softball and they were all special in some way. The decade Larry spent with the 45’s was by far the most rewarding season for him. In 1996 they pulled off one of the greatest upsets in softball at Forest Park by winning five games by one run and defeating Lettuce in the final. They were Underdogs in every game and no one picked them to win it. Larry ran three balls down in the championship game that went over the scoreboard in center field. He caught them in the crowd that ringed the outfield. It was a great victory and cemented the 45’s as a perennial contender for years to come. In 1997 Larry’s Dad became ill with cancer and passed away abruptly early in the season. Larry went back to playing immediately because he knew that’s where his Dad would want him to be. He proceeded to go on a streak of hits, home runs, and catches that he really couldn’t explain. He remembers Nick Pinto calling him ‘Superman’ for the next three months, and they still laugh about it today. Larry’s pretty sure his Dad was watching somewhere, because it sure felt like it.
While with the 45’s Larry won more than 650 games, including six ASA National Championships, six Forest Park Championships, seven Classic League Titles, five Westchester/Hodgkins League Titles, and a host of other major tournaments. It was one of the greatest runs in softball history.
When not coaching girls’ 12-inch softball, Larry plays for Pete Digioia and his brother Chris on Players Inc. They took third at the SSA Nationals in 2017 and he received a 2nd Team All American award at fifty years old. He’s not done just yet; go Inc!
Larry played softball with speed and hustle on both offense and defense. His aggressiveness on the bases put a ton of pressure on the defense to make clean plays. He was left-handed and could hit to every field. He could hit for power but specialized in hitting the ground ball through the infield. Grounders always gave him a high on-base percentage and set the table for his teammates. He turned basic ground ball outs into hits. Singles to the outfield were doubles. Anything through the gap or over a head was a homerun. He scored from first on singles and tagged two bases on fly ball outs regularly. Nothing makes him smile more than causing chaos on the base paths, be it the ‘Little League Homer’ or the one hopper to the pitcher for a hit. On defense he primarily played center field and later in his career right field. He loved to run and could cover a lot ground with his speed. He was able to take away a lot of would be hits.
Larry has played competitive sixteen-inch softball for thirty-five years and competed in over 3000 games. He played one hundred fifty plus games a year in the first twenty, and it slowed down a bit after. He is thankful for all opportunities he received through the years, and the great teammates, coaches, and opponents he played with along the way.
Major Championships Won
• Eight A.S.A National Championships. Lettuce
1992, Lettuce 1998. Licorice 2000 and 2002,
Miller 45’s 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.
• Eight Forest Park Championships. Lettuce 1991,
Bud 45’s 1996, Licorice 2002, Miller 45’s 2004,
2006 2007 2008 2009 Miller 45s
• Ten Mt Prospect Classic League titles- Majewski
• Nine Hodgekins/Westchester /Gordon Park
• Four Grant Park Tournament
• Five Chicagoland Classic Tournament
• Five North South Tournament
• Three Windy City Challenges
• Eight ASA State Tournaments
• One Clyde Park Title 1988, undefeated 18-0 my
first year playing major (Jynx)
• Four Marshalltown Classics
• Two Hawthorne Tournaments
• 2006 MVP of the ASA National Tournament
• Five time 1st Team ASA All American Awards =
45’s, Prime Time, and Licorice
• Enshrined as an All Time Classic League Team
Member - Mt Prospect Park District.
He thanks his loving wife and daughter, his supportive mother, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, nieces (Olivia and Abby) and his nephew, Andrew, his friends, and teammates, who have supported him throughout the years. He sends a big shout out to his current #1 fans: Kate, Jenna, and Jillian, his brother Chris for being his biggest fan and for doing anything he could to help whatever team he was on in his youth Most of all, he thanks his father Larry Sr. who taught him to play this game with passion, desire, hustle and to play it to the best of his ability on every single play. He urges everyone to never take games off and to play hard every game, league and championship, with passion.
Rich “Chico” Driscoll
Tom Duff started playing 16-inch softball in 1975 in the Oak Park leagues with Clockwork, a team he formed. Duff also coached and/or organized most of the teams he played on, including his Leo Burnett and Optimus teams that won many Ad League Championships at Grant Park. These teams included longtime Clockwork teammate and HOF inductee, Dan “Sheik” Carmody. Duff finished his thirty-year career in the 2005 Hamlin Park tournament.
Duff was recruited to play with the Takers and Rox and helped them win additional park leagues and tournaments at the Major “A” level. Tom Duff was considered to be one of the finest defensive first basemen of his era. In addition to having great hands and stretching ability, he had tremendous range, quickness and softball “smarts.” His large, still mutilated fingers are a testament to his ability to catch everything thrown or hit his way.
In addition to his defensive prowess, his great leadership and strong desire to win inspired many of his teammates. He often channeled this “hot-headed” nature to get into opponent’s heads. One of his longtime teammates said, “Tommy never played for the recognition or pats on the back. He was the real, I love this game, deal. He respected the game, he loved the game, and he loved to win.
He was sought after by the best teams, and could have played “A” level ball exclusively if he chose to. But his first loyalty remained with his neighborhood Clockwork team, which competed at a high “B” level.
Tom Duff played 16-inch softball from 1975 to 2005 with the peak years from 1980 to 2004. During these peak years, his teams won many tournament championships and league titles. Clockwork won the Hamlin Park in 1987, 2003, and 2004; Rox won it in the 1990’s. Additionally, his teams won league titles at Oak Park (1987 and 1989), Kosciuszko Park, Riis Park, Clarendon Park, Kelly Park, and they won the Berwyn Tournament.
Tom grew up in Oak Park and graduated from St. Ignatius High School. He earned his undergraduate degree at Loyola University and his graduate degree at DePaul. Tom and his wife, Pam, live in La Grange Park. They have four children: Kevin (already a two-time 16-inch Nationals winner), Liz, Kelly, and Maggie. Tom is the President of Optimus, an Advertising Creative Services company in Chicago.