Team Chicago Daily News

In 1970, Chicago Daily News reporter Don DeBat tacked a note on the newsroom bulletin board asking if anyone was interested in playing 16-inch softball just for fun. That same day, Mike Royko, the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, put his hand on DeBat’s shoulder and said: “Lad, I understand you are starting a softball team. Here’s how we’ll do it.” CHICAGO DAILY NEWS TEAM (1970-1977) With future Media Hall of Famers Royko as manager and DeBat as captain, in its first season the Daily News recruited staffers Bob Billings, Bill Jauss, John Nocita and others and played exhibition games against the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Today and Lerner Newspapers. Besides recruiting these players to start the team, the Daily News team also looked for a sponsor. And what better sponsor could a team filled with media types have than the legendary Billy Goat Tavern? The Billy Goat has sponsored the team for each of its thirtyseven memorable years. Royko reminisced about playing for the Blue Sky Lounge, his father’s saloon softball team,and in 1971 he urged DeBat to organize the Media Softball League, comprised mostly of teams from the daily newspapers, TV and radio stations. The Daily News played a full schedule on Sunday mornings in Lincoln Park for the next three years. Most of the players were staffers, including future Media Hall of Famer Tim Weigel, who made a memorable catch sliding into the Thillens Stadium fence face first in his debut game. In 1973 and 1974, the Daily News won consecutive Media League championships and participated in tournaments and exhibitions. Between 1974 and 1977, the team also played in the Grant Park Industrial League. In 1975, the Daily News won a Grant Park championship, ran off eighteen wins in a row and ended the season in the Tournament of Champions final with a tough 15-12 loss to Environmental Control. With the addition of “Royko’s Legmen,”future Hall of Famers Tom Bonen and Gil Muratori”along with stars Don Garbarino, Clark Bell, Ken Gilard, Jerry Jess, Mike Skowronski, Paul Sortal, Dean Karouzos and Moe Hines, the Daily News posted an overall record of 22-6 record while participating in several Winston “A” Tournaments. The team also played charity games and exhibitions games against world-class teams such as the Bobcats, American Rivet/Sobies, ERV-Strikers, Marauders and Silver Streaks. In 1976, the Daily News beat such top teams as the Warriors in the Mather Park “A” League, and Royko broke his leg in a game, got two hits and continued to play. Another memorable event in team history occurred that year when Royko filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Park District to halt the proposed use of fielder’s gloves in Grant Park’s 16-inch softball leagues and won. Over six years of Chicago Park District Industrial League competition, the team posted a 90-30 record. In 1977, the final season before the Daily News closed, the team played in the Portage Park “B” League against such competition as the Aces, Jokers, Rascals, Alley and Lickers. Over eight seasons, the Daily News record was 133-70 in leagues, tournaments and exhibition games against some of the toughest competition in the Windy City. With the Daily News out of business, DeBat, Jess, Karouzos and several other players formed a Saloon League team at Oz Park in 1978 and won a championship. In 1997, a Daily News Reunion Game was organized by DeBat, and more than twenty-five players from the original team came out for the festivities. Now in his early 60s, Royko pitched and got a base hit even though he hadn’t played in fifteen years. In 1998, less than a year later, Royko passed away. CHICAGO SUN-TIMES TEAM (1979-2007) In 1979, Mike Royko, Don DeBat and other staffers moved to the Chicago Sun-Times, and re-launched the team. Over the next twenty-eight years, the Sun- Times softball team would go on to win more than twenty league championships and several major tournaments. In 1979, after winning eighteen games in a row in the Grant Park Industrial League, the Sun-Times met the CTAin the Tournament of Champions finals and lost 10-7 as Mayor Jane Byrne and husband, Jay McMullen, a Sun-Times reporter, cheered for the CTA. This fine championship team included such Sun-Times staffers as Bob Gorzynski, John Nocita, Clark Bell, Herb Gould, Jim Warren, Dan Gorman and Al Hansen, plus a host of Royko Legmen,Dave and Paul Sortal, Don Garbarino, Sam Gendusa, Steve Loh, Len Cudzilo and Dean Karouzos. In the early 1980s, “Royko’s Raiders,” the Sun- Times Saloon League team, played with the “juiced” ball in the Clarendon Park “B” league against teams such as the Jets, Rox, Scorpions, Hitmen and Alley. In 1983, Royko retired from softball at age 50 to become a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. In the decade of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Sun-Times team, led by player/manager Don DeBat, was a powerhouse in the Grant Park League with such stars as Dan Cahill (Media Hall of Famer), Steve Kus, Glenn Placek, Rob Placek, “AA” pitcher Tommy (Bomber) Horn and two-time Hall of Fame player Al Placek (Playboys), Roger Franzek, Bob Gorzynski, Tony Dudek, David Southwell, Larry Comstock, Mark Masterson, John Nocita, Phil Velasquez, Big John Meyers, John Unhock and many others. In the 1990s Grant Park became an Open Saloon League, and the Sun-Times team emerged as a major tournament force. The DeBat managed team won the World’s Largest Softball Tournament, the Old Style Chicago Classic, in 1993. In 1995, sports reporter David Southwell took over as captain and led a revamped team to another Chicago Classic championship, this time sponsored by Miller Lite. Tommy Horn broke a tie in the seventh inning with a grand slam in the final. As player/manager, Southwell led the team to seven championships until 2004, when advertising executive Bill Wossow took over the league team and Bob Egan ran the tournaments. Since 1995 the Sun-Times won nine championships including two Grant Park Tournament of Champions titles, four Mike Royko Memorial Tournament championships, one Chicago Classic championship, and two league titles at Grant Park. The team qualified for the league playoffs every year and never placed lower than fourth place in the Chicago Classic.