Boys Club Softball on the East Side

Damon Runyon

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader/May 30, 1935

New York, May 30.—This writer went down to Osborn Field, at 31st street and the East River, one night this week and chucked out the first three balls in the opening of the soft ball season of the Madison Square Boys Club League.

A large crowd witnessed the prodigious ceremony.

There was only a little booing.

It was advertised as a first ball chucking. The reason why it became a three-ball chucking was because the writer, standing on the mound, coat peeled, displaying a gorgeous pair of suspenders, chucked the first ball plumb out of the lot.

A young batsman standing at the plate awaiting the chuck looked somewhat surprised. They have had wild chuckers in the Madison Boys Club League, but never before one that couldn’t hit the ball yard. The catcher, his hands spread wide to engulf the chuck, seemed annoyed.

There were murmurs of discontent from the crowd made up of men and women, small boys and girls, and even little babies. Then some sympathetic soul said:

“Aw, give the poor guy another chance.”

So the writer chucked again, and this time the ball hit inside the lot but almost brained- an infant in its carriage on the side line. The fond mamma sitting beside the carriage looked around, as if seeking a rock, or an aged vegetable. The crowd muttered, but the sympathetic soul said cheerfully: “Well, he ain’t no LaGuardia when it came to first-ball chucking, but once more, anyway, for luck.”

In Care of 1,400 Boys

The catcher could have nailed the third chuck with ease, if he had had a net on a 15-foot pole.

But, anyway, the Madison Square Boys Club soft ball season of 1935 was on, with the 24th Streeters playing the 28th Streeters. The 24th Street lads line up like this: A. Martella, short; G. Wanderer, third; S. Sidor, second; P. Rachhia, right field; P. Piraver, first; V. Fornal, center; W. Procida, left; C. Swabe, pitcher; F. Hoyt, catcher.

The 28th Streeters were: Fabo, catcher; Ovaro, right field; V. Andrews, short; Principate, first; Cataldo, third; Zarrella, center; Hess, pitcher; John Noto, left field; Santora, second. The Madison Square Boys Club has 1,400 members, and a fine club house on E. 30th Street, also a summer camp at Carmel, New York. It is supported by private contributions, and its purpose is to take boys off the streets and to provide recreation for them.

The soft ball league with 27 teams of 16 members each is one of the many movements of the club to this end. The club taxes in the region from 23rd Street to 38th Street, from Lexington Ave. to the East River. Some of the teams are made up of small boys who played in the afternoon. The older boys play in the evening, beginning about 7 o’clock and playing as long as the daylight permits.

Among the players are listed 50 different occupations, taxi drivers, clerks, artisans, and the like. The club has been playing soft ball for several years, and with tremendous success, and the league is well organized and conducted in a business-like manner.

Playground Clears Street

All this was explained to the writer by Leonard Farley and Larry Weill, who met him when he arrived at Osborn Field to do the three-ball chuckings. They are among the moving spirits of the Madison Square Boys Club, of which Albert B. Hines is the managing director.

Osborn Field is a big vacant lot in the shadow of tall cigar and silk factories, with many garages nearby and the spires of midtown New York looming in the background. The property is owned by William Church Osborn, wealthy lawyer, who is a big contributor to the Boys Club and let it have the lot. All the softball games are played there. The East river rolls placidly along just a few yards from the yard.

The field was surrounded by spectators. Georgie Thompson, a political celebrity of the district, strolled about, deeply interested in the game. W. Egan was the umpire-in-chief, and Sam Schoffman was on the bases. The Madison Square Boys Club uses the regulation baseball bat, with the soft ball, and 75-foot base lines. The pitcher’s box is 41 feet from the plate. It makes a good, fast game.

Two elderly ladies sat perched on a fire escape landing high up one of the grimy factory buildings.

“They never miss a game,” Larry Weill said. “I don’t know who does the cooking.”

Right Thing in Wrong Place

A few of the players had uniforms. Most of them, however, were content with ordinary street clothes. Some of them can slam that fat soft ball a surprising distance. Some of the pitchers display amazing “stuff.” They have to pitch underhand.

After the three-ball chuckings, the writer was surrounded by young men who asked: “Who’s gonna win the fight?”

The writer kept answering “Ross.”

Finally he became cognizant of distinct coolness on the part of his auditors, and also of a great tweaking of his coat tails by Mr. “Mushky” Jackson, of the fistic fancy, who had accompanied him to the scene of the three-ball chuckings.

Mr. “Mushky” Johnson seemed desirous of speech with the writer, who eventually gave reluctant ear. He felt sure Mr. “Mushky” Jackson wished him to make favorable mention of the great Jackson gladiator, Donald “Red” Berry, but no. Merely a word to the wise.

“Listen,” Mr. Jackson whispered, hoarsely, “this is an Irish neighborhood.”

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