The “Gashouse” was a group of Peoples Gas employees who primarily played at Grant Park in the Plaza League from the early 1960s until the early 2000s. They were a diverse mixture of young and old players who played with passion and had a lot of fun doing it. Although the bulk of players came from the “main office”, the team also included clerks, meter readers, union workers, management, lawyers, and vice presidents.
Teams for the railroads dominated the early years of sixteen-inch softball because they featured huge players who could hit the ball a long way. Peoples Gas wasn’t very completive then, but in the early ‘70s they started playing better and finished in first or second in the regular league most years through 2003. This success gave them more opportunities to play in tournaments. From 1973 to 2003, they finished in the top three of the Tournament of Champions or the City-wide Industrial Tournament. Their highlight came in 1987 when they won the championship of the City-wide Industrial Tournament.
The camaraderie of the Plaza League was exceptional. Peoples Gas bonded well with teams from Commonwealth Edison, Gillette, and Sears. They would compete in some great softball games and then party together afterwards, sometimes hitting golf balls over the IC tracks. Jim Voss of the Gillette team started a tradition of providing a pig roast for the whole league to enjoy. Strokerfest (the pig roast) is still a tradition.
With their success in the industrial Plaza League in the mid 80s, the team took on the opportunity to play in the tough Pasteur Park where they won the league championship in the early-‘80s and took second shortly after that.
In 1991, Jim Quinn (HOF) from Gillette and Larry Grabowski from Gashouse created a 39-and-over team, the Old Strokes made-up of players from the four mentioned teams. They played in the 39-and-over League in LaGrange. The first year they took first place and by the second year they had to form a second team, the Leftovers. When the league added a 50 and over league, both teams joined, the Old Strokes run by Larry, the Leftovers run by Jim. The Old Strokes continue to play today in Berwyn.
Despite playing together for many years, it wasn’t until the Old Strokes were formed and started playing together that they learned a large percentage of their players went to Chicago Catholic high schools and were Vietnam veterans.
1987 Champion Team Members
Ray Blevins John Lonergan Ed Proctor Mike O’Connor
Tom Fegan Vince Dicosola Sam Fiorella Jim Gabel
Larry Grabowski Dave Boyle Dean Phillips Tom Zack
Tony Jackson Darryl Preston Terry Fleming Jim Luebbers
Larry Feiger Luis Vega
Morrie Ephraim Otis Bridges Poncho Fregoso Joe Manski
Jerry Hicks Mike Kurowski Dan Durst Al Benson
Luis Molina Eddie Montes Todd Andrews Vince Vizza
Mike Gardner Andy Stankiwitz Mike Ruzich Ray Kotty
Ed Doerk Jerry Slechta Larry Wichert John Hentgen
Orlando Long Bob Miller Scott Lenz Ray Urchell
Bob Blemaster Rick Vraney Chet Sinawski