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.