From playing with Electrician's Local 714 at Garfield Park at sixteen years of age to playing with Sam's in the St. Charles League at the age of sixty, Jimmy Nallen has been a major factor on teams (Whips, Rogues, Bruins) that have amassed 117 championships, including world titles with the Sobies and Metro and Forest Park titles with Moose Camillo and Cherry Lounge. He was a member of the Cherry Lounge team in 1963 that defeated the all-star laden Bobcat team in a $20,000 money game -- the largest amount ever wagered on a softball game. During his playing tenure, Jimmy Nallen won batting titles, was selected to numerous all-star teams, and was the leading hitter at age 60 in the St. Charles League. He even hit a game winning homerun in that league in his slippers because the unpires wouldn't let him play in his metal cleats. Nallen was known as one of the top outfielders in the Chicago and the suburbs. He was a gap hitter who could spray balls to all fields while batting leadoff or second on most of his teams. Jimmy Nallen is a retired electrician (42 years) in Local 134. He and his wife, Charlotte, have two children -- Jim and Laura and five grandchildren. He lives in Schaumburg, Illinois.
A great defensive and strong hitting second baseman, Barney Nemec began his softball career from Cornell Park at the age of eighteen, Barney Nemec played with the Fuka Bullets until World War II interrupted his efforts. After his return from the war, Barney played with Stony Tires, Bill Rand's, Shaw Jewelers (they once beat Fewer Boilers 11 - 3 with Nemec gathering six hits) and Midland Motors in a Sunday league at 103rd and Church. Some of Nemec's fond memories include hitting seven home runs in two nights at Hillburn Park, playing at Comiskey Park with previous Hall of Fame nominee Sweetwater Clifton, and the many $1,000 pot games at Cornell Park with the Robie's and the Bill Banana's. In 1948 and 1949 his team won the Industrial Division of Edison, a league sponsored by the Herald-American. In the Grant Park Tournament of Champions, Nemec's Edison team lost 2-1 to Illinois Central Railroad. Nemec hit a towering home run to score Edison's only tally. That year Barney was also nominated to the All Star team. Barney lives in Chicago.
Joseph “Joey” Neumann
"I am grateful for having played with and against some of the greatest players of the 1940s." This quote best summarizes the attitude Joe Neumann brought to the great game of softball. Joe Neumann began his career at Audubon Playground with the Vagabonds in 1936. In 1940 and 1942, they switched to Hillborn Stadium and locked horns with Fewer Boilers, Lil Coals, and the Brown Bombers. Like many of his era, World War II interrupted his playing days. From 1943 to 1946 he fought with the Army artillery in North Africa, France, and Germany. He resumed his softball career in 1946 when he and the Hub Vagabonds won the Wells Park championships in 1946 and 1947. In 1947 he was selected as an All Star and Most Valuable Player in the Wells Park Industrial League while playing with Northwestern Railroad. 1949 saw Neumann playing with the Vagabonds at Wells Park and with Spalter Finance at Northtown. In 1951 Neumann joined Alderman Fleck playing at Hanlon Stadium and with Alderman Freeman, winning championships at Hanlon Park and Clarendon Park respectively. Joe Neumann ended his career in 1962 playing with a team from the Post Office. Primarily a short center and shortstop, Neumann also played second base and in the outfield. He batted third on all of his teams and ended his career with a .380 plus batting average and notched 125 homeruns. Neumann remembers as a highlight of his career a fifteen run victory over Moose Skowron and Kool Vent Awnings. Joe Neumann is retired from the Post Office. He and his wife Lorraine have three children – Joe, Kathy, and Margaret, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Most great softball players grew up playing the game in the parks and schoolyards of the Chicagoland area. Young players would begin playing the game as soon as they could pick up the ball, and they competed against the older guys in the neighborhood until they could one day beat them at their own game, and the cycle of competition would continue. Tom Newman’s career fits this scenario perfectly. He played football and baseball at George Washington High School, but in his senior year he picked up softball as a seventeen year old leadoff man. In 1976 he played with Dago Park Softball, a team that played for fifteen years. After losing the championship at Trumbell Park, they became a y the Eastsiders (Tom Newman played with them off an on for twenty years) in 1977. They beat the older Eastside team and entered the world of “big time” softball, playing at Harvey and Blue Island, winning the 32 team Metro title at Calumet Park in 1980, and finishing fifth at the ASA Major tournament. In 1982 while playing with the Condors, Newman won the ASA batting title at the Nationals in South Dakota. In 1986 Tom Newman formed a five year partnership with the Whips, helping them to ASA National titles in 1988, 89, and 90. They were runners-up in 1987 and captured fourth place in 1986. They won numerous USSSA and ASA state titles and championships at the top parks in the Chicago area. From 1991 to 1997 Tom Newman played with the Eastsiders and the Stickmen, winning titles at Blue Island, Kelly Park, and at Hawthorne Park. 1998 found Tom Newman joining the Men from Uncle, named for their Hall of Fame sponsor, “Uncle” Pete Crnjak. They dominated play at Blue Island and ended the season with an ASA “A” State Championship and an ASA “A” National Championship. Tom Newman won 1st Team ASA All- American honors. From 1996 through 2002, Newman played at Mt. Greenwood with Jay’s, a who’s who team of softball veterans. He also played with Storm out of Whiting, Indiana. In 2002 he was named to the All Tournament team at Hawthorne Park, the NSA All-Tournament team, the ASA All American team where Storm was ASA “A” runners-up. Tom Newman was one of the top run producers of his era who showed his love of the game by being one of the first players on the field. While he never played a set position, he did favor first, second, and short center and became a pitcher late in his career. Tom Newman principally batted third and was known as a gap hitter who would get a clutch hit at a key point in the game. Tom Newman lives in Munster, Indiana with his wife, Cathy. They have three children: Lindsey, Jeremy, and Corey. He is a member of the Local 281 Sprinklerfitters Union.
Lane Niemann started the Rizza Rockers in 1986. He managed and played for them until 1999. They played in leagues from North Riverside to Mt. Prospect and won league championships in North Riverside, Clyde Park, and LaGrange and tournament titles in the Suburban Life, Forest Park, Clyde Park, and Hawthorne Park tournaments. They won the Forest Park No-Glove Nationals in 1998 and finished in the top four in the ASA Major Nationals four times. The Rockers prided themselves on being a family oriented team, with players' wives and children attending most games. Additionally, they were fortunate to have Hall of Fame sponsor Joe Rizza backing their team. He made sure that his players always looked good on the diamond. Besides managing the Rockers, Lane also managed and played for Kids softball and the Riddlers from 2001 to 2004. Despite his many successes on the field, Lane's greatest memory was introducing so many young players to the game of softball. He is the deputy chief of police for the North Riverside Police Department. He had his wife, Laura, live in Willowbrook, Illinois. They have five children - April, Carissa, Lanette, Olivia, and Lane Jr.
Stan “Nosh” Norka
The youngest of three softball playing brothers, Stan Norka was born in South Chicago in 1924. He began his playing career at 17, when he was added to the roster of the legendary Joe LaPota Steelers in the Windy City League. Like many players of his era, Stan Norka's softball career was interrupted when he answered America's call to fight in World War II. Upon his discharge from the Navy, he continued 16" softball on such teams as Wisconsin Steel, Santa Maria Council and Vi and Koys. Stan joined his brothers Tony and Ed with Higgins Boosters, Lombardi Kids and Baltimore Lumber. They helped lead these teams to numerous championships in the Herald American Tournaments. As a Chicago Police Detective, Stan also played on Police softball and hardball teams. Stan was well known throughout his era as a top defensive outfielder, first baseman and clutch hitter. Stan's softball skills were so strong that he was often recruited by Frank Witt for some of the big pot games. As an opponent once said, "Put any seven players with the Norkas, and you would have a winning team." Stan and his wife Cindy have two daughters; Nancy Carrol and Donna Myers. In 2000 he was living in Avon Park, Florida.
Tony “Buzz” Norka
After graduating from Bowen High School in 1936, Tony Norka was recruited by Dust Motors to play in the Windy City League. He stayed with them for two years before moving on to play with the great LaPota Steelers. Once they disbanded Tony continued his softball career with Joe Higgins, Mel Turner, Baltimore Lumber, and Club 22, playing at parks on the southside and at Thillens and Bidwell Stadiums, These teams won numerous park championships on the southside, Tony Norka played shortstop and second base throughout his career. He was a third or fourth hitter who won numerous batting titles in the many leagues he played in. Like many of his peers, his softball years were spent fighting World War II. He served aboard the troop ship, General Gordon, crossing the Atlantic Ocean nineteen times. On one of his trips he returned five thousand German prisoners of war to Virginia. Tony served as a police officer in Chicago for thirty years, retiring as a sergeant in districts on the southside. He worked at Gateway Industries after his retirement before moving to Florida where he headed the security detail for seventeen years at Cypress Wood, a gated community. He and his late wife, Violet, have one son and a granddaughter.
North Western Railroad Chicago
When the history of industrial teams is written, Chicago and North Western Railroad will certainly rank as one of the greatest teams because of its record and its longevity. Started in the 1920s, a 1925 photo of the team shows a twenty-three year old Abe Saperstein as the team’s shortstop and manager, the year before he founded the Harlem Globetrotters in 1926. During the 1930s, despite the ravaging effects of the Depression, the team held together because employees were retained (regardless of their work skills) until season’s end. The records of those days are gone, but the legends of the many victories and hundreds of dollars won in money games lives on. In the 1960s the team entered Chicago’s “golden age” of softball when Joe Umana (HOF) entered the team in the Clarendon Park Industrial League in 1965. The team won the title. From 1965 to 1992 “Joe’s Team” won twenty-six Industrial League and Men’s League Park Championships, two Grant Park Tournament of Champions City-wide first place titles, and one City-wide Industrial title at Thillens Stadium. They also placed second in the Grant Park Tournament of Champions, and recorded seven final four finishes in the Grant Park Industrial Tournament of Champions from 1969 to 1977. Of all the great games that Chicago and North Western played, perhaps two standout as the most memorable. In 1990 the team won four out of five games in come-from-behind fashion before losing to the U.S. Postal Service in the City-wide Industrial Tournament at Thillens Stadium. They later defeated that team in the championship game, 11 - 6. In 1976 they played their most memorable game against the powerhouse Daily News team (and 1975 champions) at Grant Park with Mike Royko on the mound and Tim Weigel in left field. But 1976 was to be different when Chicago and North Western shutout the powerful Daily News team, 10 - 0. Over the years, the Chicago and North Western team developed classic rivalries against such teams as the First National Bank of Chicago, Commonwealth Edison, Illinois Bell, the Chicago Police and Fire Departments, and other memorable teams. The strength of the team was credited to the lack of turnover at the railroad. It was not uncommon for them to field a team of players who had worked and played together for fifteen years. But many also credit Joe Umana’s leadership for their success. During his tenure, they won twenty-nine championships from 1965 to 1992. Joe Umana (HOF) Sal Pantano Jeff Liggett Mike Coyne (HOF) Tom May Roy Kramer Billy Haig Ted Lambrakis Rich Ginger Wally Friese Vince Flanagan Paul Blazek Sy Berman Tony Handzel Joe Collins Bud Allen Jim Hallgren Al Long Joe Jurkisatis Bob Franzen Howard Schulman Ron Ambroziak Gary Ogurek Joe Hill Jack Walter Ed Lydiksen Zig Wejman Noel Julian Tim O’Brien Dennis Brauner Denny Zeri Bob Madsen Pat Fiege Jerry Steigerwald Gary Kolbe Nick Poulos Clif Edington Denny Madison Larry Prince Larry Thompson Sylvester Bobo Bill Boukas Dick Stewart Lee Bellman Don Napen Don Kalinsky John Plebanek Tom Tinerella
Team North Shore Congregation
Long before cable television, internet, and air conditioning occupied our modern world, Chicagoans beat the summer’s heat by walking outside, sitting on the front porch, or watching a new sport that was sweeping Chicago : 16-inch softball. In 1937 North Shore Congregation of Chicago defeated Federal Auto Supply 9 to 2 in the first inter-city 16-inch softball game on record. Judy Rankin of North Shore held Federal Auto Supply to three hits, two of them in the first inning. He also hit a home run to help seal the victory. North Shore Congregation is the church division champion of the Chicago Evening American tournament. They won the playoffs among the title-holders in the various classes.
“No gloves. Never had them, Never will.” This motto, coined by Dave Novak best summarizes his years of dedication to Chicago’s game – 16” No Glove Softball. Dave began his career at the Park District of Forest Park 23 years ago in 1974 when Jim Sarno hired him as Softball League Supervisor. From 1975 to 1983 he was Superintendent of Recreation and from 1984 to present has held the position of Director of Parks and Recreation. 1998 marks the 30th Anniversary of the Forest Park Invitational Tournament and will also mark Dave’s 25 years of involvement with this event -- the last 15 as Tournament Director. During the past 25 years he has had the opportunity to witness the best - of the 70s, 80s and 90s and has fond memories of this “family reunion” each July. In 1993 the Board of Park Commissioners dedicated the 25th Annual Tournament to Dave - family to honor his sister Joyce Novak, an avid softball player and fan, who was killed in a traffic accident the previous January. In addition to his association with the Forest Park Tournament, Novak was also involved in the formation of the Super 16 Pro League in 1995. He is still an integral member of that league after three seasons. Dave graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Recreation Administration. He and his wife Carol have two sons. Since the age of 16, both boys have been carrying on their father’s tradition by working as members of the summer maintenance ground crew staff for the No Glove Nationals and playing 16” softball. It’s truly a family affair.
Salvatore “Sal” Novello
Sal Novello began his softball career as a teenager on the Northwest side of Chicago at Athletic Field Park located at Addison and Drake. He formed the Addison Bears, a neighborhood team that featured the likes of John Hechinger (HOF) and Don Campbell, a power hitting infielder who later led Clarendon Park in homeruns during the' 50s and'60s. The Bears were successful in several leagues and money tournaments on the North side. The later became the Social Athletic Club, an organization that still exists today. Sal was a fleet-footed, hard-hitting centerfielder with a strong arm. These talents were soon recognized by many veteran teams, so Sal was soon "drafted" to play for them in money games and jackpot tournaments while he was still in high school. After graduating from high school, he was given a "job" with the Northwestern Railroad so that he would be eligible to play for them. It was here that he met Mary, the woman that would be his wife for over fifty years. As a young player, he played in the prestigious Windy City League and at Northtown, Welles, Portage, and Riis Parks and at Thillens Stadium and Lane Tech Stadium. He played for the legendary Kool Vent Awnings and was routinely drafted to play in money games and leagues all over the city. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and represented Wright-Patterson Airfield on their baseball, basketball, and football teams. As a baseball player, he played with and against major league players. He was given a tryout with the New Your Giants and was offered a minor-league contract with them, but the small salary was not feasible for the father of two young children. After his discharge from the Army Air Corps, he returned to playing softball in every elite league and tournament all over Chicago. He switched positions to shortstop and played over fifteen years at Clarendon Park from the early '50s until the mid '60s. He was known as the top defensive shortstop at Clarendon. On offense, he was a slashing, line-drive hitter who could place the ball all over the field. He led his teams in batting average and was often at the top or among the top hitters at Clarendon. He played for O'Boyle Transfer, Nicky Branman's (HOF) S&N Jewelers, Lyster's Bakery, the Beetle Bombers, Ryan's Jungle and others. He also played in leagues at Welles Park, at Chicago and Kedzie, at Hamlin and Kelly Parks and other during the '50s and '60s. Softball was four or five nights a week and with the addition of lights, he often played two games a night. Money games and round-robin "jackpot" tournaments filled most Sundays. After one profitable year playing for O'Boyle Transfer, he purchased a mink stole for his wife with the money he earned in money games and tournaments. In the mid to late '60s, he started playing in suburban leagues closer to his home in Mt. Prospect. He played at Arlington Heights, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Des Plaines, and Mt. Prospect. In 1968, he was recruited to play for Bob Campbell's Bruins. They went 44-1 in 1969 and advanced to the World Tournament. Shoulder injuries forced him to give-up the game in the early '70s, but true to the nature of a veteran softball player, he was back two years later when he joined his son's team at Kosciuszko, Independence, and Mather Parks and in leagues in Park Ridge. By that time he was in his '50s but still going strong. In 1983 at age sixty-two, he formed a team comprised solely of his relatives. They competed in an open league in Park Ridge. With his brother, sons, sons-in-law, and nephews at his side, Sal won his last championship there in 1985 at age sixty-four. Sal was a student of the game and a mentor to young players and veterans alike. Bob Campbell of the Bruins called him a "softball genius". He was a fierce competitor who understood the game better than any player of his time. He never went to a tavern after a game. Instead, he would sit in the bleachers and talk about the game with players from both sides of the field. The origin of the two-strike-foul-rule is shrouded in mystery and has been credited to many players. George Morse cited Sal as one of the chief reasons for the creation of the rule. One evening he led off a game at Clarendon with fifteen foul balls while his team waited for their tenth man to arrive. Within a few days, the rule was enacted and softball was changed forever. Sal Novello was a great player, a great competitor, and a man who had an impact on the game like few others have. Sal passed away in 1993. He is survived by his widow, Mary, and his children, Donna, Tom, Nancy, Peggy, and Dean.