Thornton T. Lee
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.
Sam “Dusty” LaBarbera
The exciting third baseman was a crowd favorite with pantomime characterizations and playing in the style of Pete Rose with head first slides since 1940. Played on the championship teams of Midland Motors and the Yankees. Best season was .399 and 11 homers for '44 champion Yanks who won 23 straight. Allstar for Fewer Boilers in '48. Considered one of the toughest competitors playing. 1919 -1979. Survived by his wife Shirley and 3 daughters and one son.
Throughout his 23 year softball career, Richard Ladewig played for three of the top teams in the 1980's; the Condors, the Bobcats and the Whips. As an outfielder he had a lifetime batting average over 600, and hit more than twenty home runs a year. Ladewig accumulated four A.S.A championships and six U.S.S.SA. championships with the Bobcats. He received seven A.S.A. All-American honots and four U.S.S.S.A. World All American Team honors. In 1979 he was crowned the A.S.A. National Batting Champion with a 650 batting average. Ladewig also recewived hardball honors when he had a tryout with the Baltimore Orioles in 1970, as a pitcher. He has 3 daughters, and resided in Frankfort, Illinois in 2000.
Robert “Bobbie” Lamont
Jim “Jimbo” Lang, Jr.
Jim Lang, Jr. played softball for twenty-one years, the majority of the time with the Whips. They played at Lou Boudreau Stadium in Harvey and at Kelly Park, Centennial Park (Blue Island), Bedford Park, and Komensky Park, to name just a few. Jim played right field and was an extra hitter. He had a career batting average over .550 and hit twenty-five homeruns and drove in five hundred runs. He batted leadoff or second on one of the most potent offensive teams ever. He had a great on-base percentage and was known as a clutch hitter. In the late '70s, Chicago Softball Magazine voted him (and Jack Kelly) as two of the up-and-coming young players in the Chicago land area. Jim and the Whips won seven ASA National titles, five USSSSA titles, and five Forest Park "No Glove" championships. In 1983 he was voted MVP of the "No Glove Nationals" in Harvey. He also was selected seven times as an ASA Second Team All-American and won ASA First Team All-American honors once. Jim lives in Tinley Park, Illinois. He has a daughter, Jacqueline Winkiel.
Vince Lombardi once said ‘ The spirit to win, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.” This quote and these qualities especially fit the career of Jimmy Lang. He started his softball career in the early 1950s, playing in leagues at Harvey, Chicago, and Blue Island. In 1977 Jimmy decided to form his own team to challenge for the ASA National title. He put together a collection of players from Chicago’s Southside to create what many softball experts consider one of the best teams ever assembled - the Budweiser Whips. Jimmy’s efforts produced victory in 1980 when the Whips won their first ASA National Championship. For the next ten years they won six ASA National titles (1981, 83, 84, 88, 89, and 90). The Whips also won five USSSA World titles in the same time span (1982, 83, 84, 87, and 88). Besides being a great organizer, he also had the rare ability to attract some of the game’s best players. Lang picks the 1983 Whips with a record of 115 - 6 as the “best of the best.” Jimmy lists coaching his son at the major league softball level as a special memory. While many experts will debate the best teams of softball, most will agree that Jimmy Lang ranks as one the game’s top organizers.
Rick “Bundy” Lasky
Randy “Stretch” Lee
Stretch Lee remembers traveling to Taylor and Fuller Parks to watch his older brother play 16" softball. Little did he realize at the time that he would someday grow into one of the most feared long ball hitters of his era. Stretch’s softball career began in 1982 in local parks with Magnum’s. At eighteen he was asked to play for Safari, one of the top teams of the time. Stretch Lee especially remembers 1984 and ‘85 when Safari finished second to eventual national champs, Touch and Whips in Iowa. Like many long ball hitters, many of his times at bat resulted in an intentional walk. Pitchers could not, however, walk him each time. When they did pitch to him, he exploited the short fences by hitting twenty home runs during the two national tournaments. With a lifetime batting average of approximately .375, Stretch Lee remembers averaging fifty to sixty homers a season. Besides being a feared hitter, Stretch was also one of the top first basemen in the game. He and his pitcher, Larry Mc Ghee, created a pickoff play that embarrassed more than one unsuspecting base runner. Stretch Lee retired from the game in 1997 after a sixteen-year career. Stretch credits much of his success to his recently deceased manager, Claude Rhodes.
Michael Lee began his 16” softball career in 1970 playing with the Robert Taylor Van Dykes at Washington Park and Blue Island. In 1973, he left the Van Dykes to join the Magicians where he played with his brothers, Wesley Lee and Hall of Famer “Stretch” Lee at Washington Park. In 1980 he jumped to the famed Safari Tigers and began a twelve-year career that would solidify his reputation as one of the great players of his era. A short center with power to all fields , Michael Lee once hit four homeruns against the Stray Cats. He was known as a homerun hitter who also could place a clutch line drive over the head of the shortcenter. In 1983 the Tigers beat the Stray Cats for the State Championship. In 1985 the Tigers won nine straight games to take second place in the ASA Nationals to the Whips. They finished second to Touch in the 1985 ASA Nationals. Michael Lee was selected to the 1st Team All Tournament Team honors for his efforts. He attributes the success of the Safaris, one of the best African-American teams of the 1980s, to practicing daily, playing outstanding talent, and competing against the best teams of that time. Michael Lee finished his playing career with the BATHLETES (Black American Softball Association) in 1996. He thanks his wife, Lynetta Lee, and his children Emanuel and Laqueta for his many successes.
Starting in grammar school, John C. Lee spent nearly half of his life playing his favorite sport: softball. By age fifteen, he was learning the art of six-teen softball by serving as a bat boy for teams in the Pro Windy City League. In 1949, he played for the Alcott Aces, and helped them win the Alcott League Championship. He won the League MVP following the 1949 season and received the MVP trophy from Chicago Mayor Martin J. Kennely. In 1951-1952, he joined the Taylor Street All Stars and helped them win the Washington Park League championship. From 1949 to 1960 he played on the Santa Fe Railway team in the Commercial League where he made the Commercial League All Star Team every year, and where the team qualified for the Grant Park Tournament of Champions each year. His team reached the semifinals four times. In 1950 he played for St. CYR, in the Knights of Columbus Northside League, along with Hall of Famer Eddie Kelley, staying with them until 1960. He made the Northside All Star team every year. He also played in the Knights of Columbus Championship at the Back of the Yard Field. In 1955, he was named the MVP of the tournament and received the trophy from Mayor Richard J. Daley at the Knights of Columbus Sports Dinner. He also played for Nickey Chevrolet and Lyster Bakery at Clarendon Park from 1950 to 1959. In 1960, his company, Santa Fe Railway, transferred him to work as an office manger in St. Louis, but he returned in 1963 and rejoined his company team in the Grant Park League. He played at many parks in the Chicago area, including Thillens, Chase, Welles, Kelly, Marquette, and Forest Park. He played two years at Hart Park in Blue Island with the Erv’s team along with Hall of Famer Eddie Surma. They won the championship both seasons. His last softball game was in 1978, when he played for the Railroad All-Stars in the E.I. DuPont League in Wilmington, Delaware. Throughout his career, John played pitcher, catcher and outfield positions. He was known for his lefthanded power hitting, his speed, his strong throwing arm and his on-base percentage. In 1996, John C. Lee retired from Santa Fe Railway after forty-seven loyal years of service. He currently lives in Oak Brook, Illinois. He is the patriarch and proud father, grandfather, and great grandfather of nineteen children. He has three daughters, Linda, Marianne, and Nancy; three sons, Steven, Kevin and Cliff, eleven grandchildren, Chrissy, Tony, Johnny, Jocie, Jesse, Brynn, Brando, Bryce, Shayne, Chandler, Mya and two great grandchildren, Gavin and Luke. Since deceased.
Rev. Robert “Juice” Lemons
Robert Lemons started playing 16" softball at an early age in grammar school. He then progressed to playing in neighborhoods at every position on the field. In 1949 the Ironmen were reorganized–under the guidance of the great Stanley Sheley. Robert Lemons first played shortcenter Ironmen. He switched to short center and eventually moved to pitcher where he accumulated a reputation as a top pitcher of his era. Lemons played softball until the early 1970s when he left the athletic field for the ministry He became an ordained minister in 1990 and still carries the word today. - Robert wishes everyone God's blessings and asks that they continue the work of the Lord.
Frank “Frankie” Lentine
Eugene “Gene” Leo
Eugene Leo played in the Golden Era of softball, primarily on the South and Southwest sides, when every neighborhood had a softball team good enough for pot games. Playing four nights a week with three games on Sunday, like many softball players of this era, Eugene Leo's career can be divided into two segments - before and after World War Two. Before the war Leo played on the usual neighborhood teams. He won the O'Keefe Men's League five times before and after the war. After he returned from the war, his career diversified when he played with his first Windy City team, Harry's Owl Club. Later he formed and played shortstop on his own Windy City team, the Douglas Senators. Eugene Leo left the softball diamonds of Chicago for college in Colorado in 1949. After graduation, he returned and played for Swift and Company in the Southwest Industrial League in Gage Park. Clinching the championship in that league, they headed for the playoffs in Grant Park. They took the championship of the Greater Chicago Industrial League in 1952. Leo contributed to the championship by slugging the most home runs and maintaining the highest batting average. Eugene Leo resides in South Holland with his wife, Virginia.
Edward “Eddie” Leonard
Over his two decade career in softball, Edward Leonard was known as a tough fielding second baseman back in the days of 45 foot bases. He could also hit powerful line drives or drop a well placed ball to any field. Ed served his country in the Navy from 1942 through 1945. When he returned from the service, he played with Ed Zolna and the other Jimmie Rose players on the Cowboys from 1946 through 1950. He also helped the Snipers win many big money games during the late 40s. During the 1950s Ed played with the Marquette Club featuring Lefty Hunt, and with Electric Motors, a top money ball club of the era. In 2000, Edward Leonard was living in Blue Island, Illinois.
Blue Island resident Paul Leonard made his transition from a 16" softball player to an umpire early in his career for a simple reason - he needed money after getting married. In 31 years behind the plate, Leonard would approach each game as if it was the most important of his umpiring career. In 1952 he joined the Official Umpires Protective Association and umpired in leagues on the Southside and at Grant Park. He also officiated at Grant Park's Tournament of Champions and numerous industrial leagues. In 1964 Paul formed the Professional Registered Officials under Charlie Jensen and partnered with the ASA where he worked the ASA Nationals in Chicago. From 1964 to '71 Leonard umpired in every ASA National Tournament in cities around the midwest, and was named Umpire-in-Chief at the 1970 National Tournament. As ASA District Commissioner, Leonard raised his area's registration from twelve teams in 1964 to 460 in the 1970's. Meanwhile, Paul also continued his PRO Group affiliation , officiating in over 30 leagues. Paul Leonard left the ASA and, with Les Duncan, united four umpiring groups into the Metro Umpires Alliance, which then hooked up with the USSSA with over 120 umpires. Leonard was named to the Illinois Softball Hall of Fame in 1981 and retired from umpiring in 1983. Paul and his wife, Lorraine, have three girls, three boys, thirteen grandchildren and one great grandchild. He is now retired from Commonwealth Edison.
We showed up; we played hard. We won our fair share; we had a good time.These words by Hall of Fame manager Rich Melman summarize Lettuce softball during the 1990s. Melman and Joel Zimberoff managed Lettuce to one USSSA title in 1994, three ASA runners-up finishes (‘91,’97,’99), and four ASA National titles (‘92,’93.’96,’98). They also placed second in the Forest Park Tournament three times (‘92,’96, and ‘99) and won it four times (‘91, ‘93, ‘94, and ‘97). Lettuce has won every major championship in the game and is considered by many to be the Yankees of sixteen-inch softball during the 1990s. The stats will also say that Lettuce was the most successful team in Mt. Prospect’s storied softball history. Rich and Joel were instrumental in attracting some of the best players in the game, including Hall of Famers as Pat Caputo, Ray Topps, Ken Flaws, Matt Biondic, Ken Cooper, Kurt Uidal, Frank Mustari, Tim McManigal, John O’Conner, the Kelly brothers, John Kelleher and others. It is a safe bet a few more players will be added to that stellar list in the next few years. Lettuce was seen on television more than any team as well. The Grant Park Classic that was televised for six years and the Pro League that was televised for three years at Forest Park was co-founded by Melman
Ask any sixteen-inch softball player to mention some of the top organizers for the past thirty years and Tom Levar’s name will surely appear at the top of that list. He started his organizing career as league director at Indian Road Park, running “A” and “B” league tournaments in 1977. The next year he moved to Portage Park and ran the leagues there until 1990. The Tuesday / Thursday leagues there featured legendary teams like the Playboys, Murder’s Row, the Stompers, and the Lyon’s 45s. In 1984 he took on added responsibility when he was appointed an A.S.A. commissioner by Ferris Reed and later by Tom O’Neill. From 1984 to 1990 he was the tournament director for the ASA Metro National Qualifiers in Des Plaines, Skokie, and at Portage Park. As tournament director, he organized and ran “A” and “B” tournaments from 1980 to 1990. From 1982 to 1990, he organized and ran eight-team invitation only tournaments that showcased some of the top teams of that era, including American Rivet, the Whips, and the Safari Tigers. Besides organizing tournaments, Tom also was an umpire, a player, and a manager. He was assignment chief and head umpire from 1984 to 1990 at the following Chicago parks: Portage, Indian Road, Wilson, Athletic Field, Clarendon, and Eugene Field. From 1976 to 1990 he played all infield positions with such teams as the legendary 45s: Lyon’s, Bally’s, and Budweiser. He also played with the Stones, the Alley, the Runts, and other teams. He also managed the Bally 45s and currently manages Good Wood that plays in Mt. Prospect’s “AA” League and plays at Hamlin and Indian Road Park. These teams won titles at the City of Chicago Metro Tournament, at Mt. Prospect, and in the ASA State and Metro tournaments. He has played in six ASA National tournaments and in three USSSA Nationals. He was also the color commentator for the Sports Channel 1986 coverage of the ASA Nationals in Mt. Prospect. Tom attended St. Patrick High School and holds a bachelor of arts degree from Northeastern Illinois University. Thomas and his wife, Debra, have two children - Thomas and Lauren. They live on Chicago’s Northwest side.
Three things come naturally to Jimbo Levato; 16" softball, socializing and working. And few people have mixed in the things they value as well as Levato. Perhaps because of that, Levato, who turned 67 three days after his induction to the Hall of Fame, has the demeanor and physical movement of a much younger man. "I've had a great life," he smiles. "And softball was so big in it. That was my first love." The lifelong Bridgeport resident recalls going off with a softball and bat to the park while all his friends were out swimming. He'd hit the ball and chase after it. Then hit it again and chase it again, over and over. By the time he was 16 years old, he was playing big time softball with Tracy's. A left handed singles and doubles hitter, Levato prided himself on his consistency. "Didn't make very many outs," he says proudly, looking at his wife, Joyce. "I was always on base." "Always," Joyce nods. Much of his time was spent at McGuane Park at Halsted and 28th (then called Mark White Park) where Tracey's won nine championships, and at Armour Square Park, where they won three titles. He also competed on such legendary softball battlegrounds as Kelly Park and Donovan Park. In 1973, he was on the undefeated Diamond Oaks squad at Kelly Park. Levato recalls playing weekend round robin money tournaments against such top teams as the Amalgamonsters, and Bill Bonnetts. "They had uniforms, bats and everything. We had nothing," he says. "We wore these little dago-t's. But we knocked down a lot of those big teams." Levato retired nearly four decades later, at 55. He played center field until he was 49, then switched to pitcher. Along the way, he notes with satisfaction, he got to play with not only his five brothers, but all three of his sons as well. In 1985, while still playing ball, Levato opened Jimbo's. Situated directly across from Armour Square Park, and within sight of Comiskey, Jimbo's seems not so much a bar as an extension of the neighborhood and it's people. As he moves about the lounge and on the street outside, it's apparent Levato is at home among the people around him. Levato came to the bar business rather late in life at age 48, following an adult life working on trucking docks. He was approached by the lounge's previous owner, who was planning a move to Florida. The man asked Levato if he would be interested in taking over the place. "I said, y'know, I'm good with people. Let me try it," Levato recalls. "What have I got to loose?" He clearly relishes his role in providing a welcoming place for softball players to gather. Over 16 years, Jimbo's has sponsored local men's and women's teams and has served as the host bar for Bridgeport Crush manager Mick Ballestri's popular annual spring and fall 16" tournaments. He also sponsored the 1989 and 1995 Bridgeport Crush USSSA National 16" champions. "They all come here after the games," Levato says , smiling. "While they're playing ball they hardly talk to each other. After the games, they all come in here, they drink together, they laugh together, they sing with the jukebox. Just have a good time." Like a blue collar version of the famous Pump Room, over one hundred 8 X 12 photos of past and present patrons mix with the likes of the Three Stooges ("They come in here once in a while," Jimbo cracks), Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony LaRussa and other assorted major leaguers. "I found out that people would rather have their picture up there than the ball players," says Levato. "And it's worked out great." Of all the people he's known in softball over the years, he thanks Ballestri, along with brothers Carmen and Santo. "Mickey Ballestri's excellent," Levato offers. "And he devotes a lot of time to it. It's not easy getting 29 teams to come out for a tournament." Levato credits older brothers Carmen and Santo with impressing on him the values that would guide him through his life. "Never give up, and always give one hundred percent," he says, grinning. "And play hard," he continues. "And I always did." Still, Levato has at least one small regret. "It's still hard to watch and not play."
Burt began umpiring in the 1960s and officiated more divisions and more parks than any other umpire. He was known around softball during the 60s as atop umpire in the mens divisions, recreational divisions, and in women’s leagues and women’s tournaments. Burt always officiated the “big game” at Kelly Park during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Besides being a top ball and strike caller, Burt also started the careers of many umpires with the many clinics he would conduct around Chicagoland. As chief umpire, he was also responsible for assigning umpires to the many parks in the Chicago area. Besides being one of the top umpires of his time, Burt also served as the head football coach at Hibbard High School for 15 years. Deceased.
Rick “Monday” Ligon
Rick Ligon began his softball career with the Jugglers in the early '70's. Before he was through, his softball name, Rick Monday, would be known throughout the southside and in every Chicago area park where serious softball was played. In the mid-70's, the outfielder/first baseman hooked up with the Senators. There, under the tutelage of Floyd Glover, Monday grew into an All-Star. Besides playing with the Senators and good friend Hank Kemp, Monday played with a who's who of south side powerhouses over his career, including the Bandits, Flamingo's, Flash, Seige, Cal Gold, Windy City Bombers and B.Athletes. In addition to being regarded as the MVP of every team he played on, Monday earned All-American honors with several of those teams, won numerous tournament MVP awards, and played on National tournament teams throughout the 70's and 80's. In 1985, according to Hank Kemp, Monday batted .750 and drove in 180 runs in just one league. Those who played with and against him called Rick Monday a great softball player, and now, a Hall of Famer.
Linda “Chick” Lillis
From the humble beginnings of Ponytail softball at Kelly Park to winning ASA National Championships with powerhouse Rose and Crown, the kid who shagged softballs for the men’s teams at Kelly Park went on to become a major figure in softball, basketball, rugby, and Olympic team handball. Chick Lillis’ softball career began in 1967 when her team took second place at Kelly Park. She has played with so many teams in so many tournaments that it is impossible to list them all. Her rise to national fame, however, began in 1976 when she was noticed at a tournament in Arlington Heights by Bob Eskew, coach of Rose and Crown. From 1976 to 1984, Rose and Crown won the ASA 16" Metro Championship seven times, took second once, and third once. In 1985 Rose and Crown merged with the Deperados. Their dominance of softball continued into the 80s as they won the ASA Metro twice and took second twice. 1986 and ‘87 saw them move to the USSSA 11" National in Salt Lake City where they placed sixth and 3rd respectively, proving that 16" players can adapt easily to any kind of softball. Besides the ASA Championships, Rose and Crown and Desperados took first or second in most Chicago area leagues. 1989 and ‘90 ushered in an opponent that even the mighty Deperados couldn’t defeat. The Cal Park league folded and no other league would let them play. Some of the players went to Canada and played in the Can-Am games, designed to spread goodwill between the United States and Canada. Despite being snubbed by other leagues, Desperados won the Quest for the Best Tournament both years. In 1990 they won eight consecutive games on a 95-degree day to win the title. 1990 saw Chick Lillis and other players travel to a softball tournament in Lisdoonvarna County Clare, Ireland. With nine women and one man, they defeated Irish teams consisting of eight men and two women to win the tournament. Their efforts were rewarded with a beautiful Galway Crystal vase as the tournament prize. Chick Lillis was a spray hitter whose quickness allowed her to stretch a single into a double. A utility player whose defensive skills assured an out, Lillis once played all four outfield positions during a single inning. In 1992 Lillis switched to Bidayos. They won the USSSA State Tournament in 1992 and took the Grant Park Classic in ‘92 and ‘93. Besides being one of the greatest female softball players ever, Lillis also played on the United States Olympic Team Handball Team, missing the Olympics because of a boycott by the United States. She played basketball, field hockey, volleyball, and played rugby from 1977 to ‘83 with the Chicago Women’s Rugby Football Club. In 1976 her teams won the Chicago Park District championships in softball and basketball - both on the same day! Chick Lillis currently lives in Madison Wisconsin with her husband, Lou Pitt, where she is a fireman / EMT.
Gail “Boydie” Livingston
Like many softball players, Gail Livingston loved the game from an early age. However, she grew up in a time before girls played high school sports, so she began playing 12” softball in the parks of Chicago Ridge in her early teens. After she got married in 1967, Gail Livingston signed up to play softball in Blue Island where she was hooked up with the legendary coach, Paul Leonard and the Pets. This chance meeting lead to a six-year career with Pets where Livingston forged a reputation as one of the top pitchers of her era. While pitching for Pets, Rebels, and Ray’s, Gail Livingston amassed a record of 500 wins against only 100 losses; she pitched ten no-hitters and seventy-one hitters. With her trademark pitch that came in high and dropped just behind the plate, Livingston frustrated the hitting skills of many of the top hitters of that era. Additionally, Gail Livingston was known for her defensive skills and her hitting skills. Known as a single hitter with good speed on the bases, she carried a lifetime batting average over .450, hit forty homeruns, and drove in 400 plus runs. Livingston’s pitching and hitting skills helped Paul Leonard and Pets to championships in Blue Island in 1968 and 1969. She remembers beating the mighty Rose “ N “ Crown at Blue Island during their tournament powerhouse days and once played in a televised game with Tim Weigel and Mike Royko as announcers. Besides pitching, Gail Livingston also worked the other side of the plate when she umpired in Blue Island, Midlothian, Homewood - Flossmoor and with the I.H.S.A. as a high school softball official. Gail Livingston and her husband, Thomas, live in Chicago Ridge. They have four children - Lisa, Theresa, Lynae, and Jamie. She has worked for the Post Office for twenty years.
Bobby “Lopes” Lopez
Bobby Lopez started playing softball at sixteen in La Grange with his brother's team, the Family. Mike Spidale saw him play and invited him to play third base for the Stooges. After that, it was on to the Jaw Jackers in Cicero, the Titans and Jerry Main, and then with Lenny Nuzzo on the Blues. He moved into "big-time" ball when Angelo Alesia asked him to play center field for the Whips. He then joined Frank Holen to play for the Taggers and then played for Dick Cooper and Meadows. Rich Melman recruited him while he was playing for Meadows and it wasn't long before he was playing for Melman and Lettuce. He helped them win the ASA Nationals four times (they took second in 1998), the USSSA Nationals once, and the Forest Park No Gloves Nationals four times. Once Melman left the game, Bobby played for Mike North and Licorice, helping them win the ASA titles in 2000 and 2002 and the No Glove Nationals in 2002. He won the batting title in the 1998 Mount Prospect Nationals and won two home run titles in 1998 and 1992. He was co-MVP with Frank Mustari at Forest Park in 1993 and was solo-MVP at the1998 Nationals. He was an ASA First Team All-American in 1988, '89, '92, '93,'98, 2000, '01, and '03 and was a USSSA All-American in 1994. He was an ASA Second Team All-American in 1997. Bobby Lopez attended Lyons Township High School where he played four years of baseball (second base) and four years of football (defensive back). After high school, he played three years of semi-pro football with the Glen Ellyn Hawks as a wide receiver. Bobby and his wife of twenty-five years, Angela, live in Bolingbrook, Illinois. They have three children, Bobby, Anthony, and Nicky. Bobby is pursuing a career in law enforcement; Anthony attends Illinois Wesleyan University and was a starter on the 2010 Division III National Championship Baseball Team; Nicky plays baseball and basketball and is a sophomore at Naperville Central High School.
During his fifty-year softball career, Dick Lubera wore a lot of hats: he was great player, a great manager, and a great organizer. He played and managed his teams to 590 wins and 100 losses. With a pitching record of 400 wins against only 89 losses, many softball experts of his time called him the Eddie Zolna of the North side. Rich managed and played for the original Roadrunners team from the late '60s to the early '80s. He led them to numerous championships at Portage, Mather, Kosczisko and Welles Parks in the '60s and '70s. They came in second in the City of Chicago tournaments at Clarendon and Kelly Parks. One year they compiled a record of 112-6. Anyone who knows sixteen-inch softball knows that back "in the day," kids learned the game in the streets and in the school playgrounds of Chicago. As a teacher with the Chicago Recreation System at Patrick Henry Elementary School (Home of the Champions) on Chicago's Northwest side, Rich was one of those adults who taught the game to the neighborhood kids. His teams won city softball titles in the midget division (nine to eleven year olds) three times and the junior division (fifteen to sixteen year olds) four consecutive years. At least ten Hall of Famers can trace their beginnings to Dick Lubera. Dick Lubera passed away in 2007. He is survived by his wife, Maria, and four children: Christie, Bill, Perry, and Nick.
Bernard “Bud” Lucchetti
When Bud Lucchetti began umpiring softball, he was a member of the Umpires Protective Association Bud Lucchetti started his umpiring career when he noticed the lack of good umpires for the league he formed at Calumet Park. In his early days, he was a member of the Umpires Protective Association (U.P.A.) He later formed and was chief umpire of the Calumet Umpires Association. In 1964 he became an ASA umpire under Paul Leonard. Bud Lucchetti and the Calumet Umpires Association joined with Paul Leonard to form the Metro Umpires Alliance. In 1979 he joined with Leonard and Les Duncan to umpire in the USSSA. Besides working the USSSA, he also umpired with the ASA under Tom O’Neill and Terry Reilly. He primarily officiated at Calumet Park, but he also umpired at tournaments throughout the south suburbs. In his thirty-three years of umpiring, Bud Lucchetti officiated over three thousand games, including almost every game in the Blue Island Metro from 1975 to 1995. He also worked the Nationals twice in Harvey in 1980 and at Blue Island in 1981. Before Bud Lucchetti became an umpire, he played short center with DOBS social / athletic club in Bridgeport in the mid 1940s when he was sixteen years old at Bidwell and Thillen’s Stadium. In 1961 he organized a girls league in Calumet Park. This league produced some of the top female players during that and later eras. He also organized the DEBS traveling team in the 1970s. Bud worked the “A” league in Blue Island from 1979 to 1993, officiating almost every “A” tournaments in Blue Island and Harvey. During his many years behind the plate, coaches and players always felt their game was in good hands when Bud was in charge. Teams praised him for his consistency, his ability to remain impartial, and for his ability to always be in the right place to make a crucial call. And his calls were always emphatic, demonstrating his energy and his passion for the game. Bud Lucchetti retired as a food broker in 2004. He and his wife, Amelia, have two children, Linda Vivona and the late Timothy who died in 1998. He and his wife live in Chicago.
In 1947, as a junior player on a senior dominated basketball team, Jack Lyman helped Tilden win the Public League Christmas Tournament. By that time, Lyman already had a year of softball under his belt, having started his career with DeVries Lumber in 1946 after his junior year of high school. He played with DeVries until 1953, then went on to play with some of the great 16" players of the '40's, '50's and '60's. Beside DeVries, Lyman played with the Leo XIII Knights of Columbus ('47 to '53), Collin's 700 Club ('47 to '48), Swift and Company ('47 to '59), the Bobcats ('48 to '51), and the 2-45 Club ('54 to '60). During his tenure with these great teams, Jack contributed to many championships, including the 47th and Damen League championship in 1949 with the Bobcats, the Clearing Question Mark League in 1948 with Collins 700, eight straight championships at Gage Park with Swift, and a second place finish in the City of Chicago championship in 1949 and 1950 with the Leo XIII Knights of Columbus. In 1949, Swift and Co. took second place at Grant Park, and finished third in 1951. Jack Lyman worked for Swift and Company for 12 years and with the Chicago Board of Education for 35 years as a school engineer, retiring in 1993. He and his wife, Bonnie, have seven children and eighteen grandchildren.
Team “45” Lyons
The Lyon's 45's forged an impressive record that places them high in the annals of softball's top teams. Beginning as a CYO team from St. Pascal's Grade School, the 45's competed under long time manager Roy Kindt in the early years at Kosciusko Park. In the late 60's and early 70's they moved into the "A" leagues at Clarendon, Portage, and James Parks. With the addition of John Staley, Big Lou, and Zeke, they became one of the most prolific long ball hitting teams in 16" softball history. With Speedy and Bobby Clark on base ahead of the big three power hitters, and with Dinks, Louie Z, Ed Schaeffer, and long ball hitting Eddie Whitman in the lineup, the 45's created many big run innings. Defensively the 45's countered with some defensive standouts: Chopper on the mound, first basemen Billy Shipbaugh and Jimmy Fuller, second basemen Bobby Russ and Mike Christoi, shortstop Mike Levar, outfielder Gino Jozwiak, catcher John Gola, and reserve pitchers Bernie Horne and Tom Kimdt. The 45's will long be remembered as crowd favorites with their long ball prowess and defensive skills, which paid big dividends. In just six years of playing together they accumulated six Portage Park titles, two first places finishes in Racine, Wisconsin, one Clarendon championship, and a City of Chicago championship and runner-up finish. In addition, they took second place twice in the Andy Frain Tournament and at James Park and a third at bForest Park. A trademark of the 45's was their loyalty to existing players; they never picked up players once the season started. Thirty years later they still attend the weddings, birthdays and baptisms of teammates.