1970s: A Heyday for New Orleans in American Legion

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Kirsch-Rooney Stadium

The Louisiana high school baseball playoffs concluded recently and within a week, the American Legion regular season will follow.  Legion baseball in New Orleans is as strong as it ever has been since its beginning 90 years ago.  Within a long history of success at the state level, the New Orleans-based Legion teams of the 1970’s were among the most dominant, winning nine of 10 state championships.

In the first Louisiana American Legion state championship game in 1928, Shreveport YMCA defeated the Beekman’s entry from New Orleans.  A year later, the New Orleans White Sox defeated Monroe for its first state title, and New Orleans area-based teams have now won a total of 58 state championships.  Five of those teams went on to win the American Legion World Series, the most recent being Jesuit-based Retif Oil in 2012.  Many of the Legion players from the New Orleans area went on to have success at college and pro levels.

The 1930s were another decade of dominance by New Orleans, with Zatarain Papooses largely carrying the load.  However, a distinction of the 1970s was that five different teams contributed to the nine state titles:  Rummel captured four and Holy Cross won two while Shaw and Redemptorist each took one.

In 1970, Rummel-based Schaff Brothers defeated Lake Charles Stevedores in a three-game series.  Pitcher Joe LaSalle and first baseman Bill Surcouf were the stars of the final championship game.  Rummel High School coach Larry Schneider Sr. was the coach of the Schaff team.

Schaff Brothers repeated at state champion in 1971, when they defeated Ruston’s T. L. James Contractors.  LaSalle was the winning pitcher in the championship game for the second straight year.

Ruston avenged their loss from the previous season by winning the 1972 state title over Shaw’s Tasty Bread team.  It would be the only year in the decade a New Orleans area team did not win the title.

Redemptorist TAC Amusements defeated Lake Charles Stevedores in two games for the 1973 title.  Bob Dean went the distance on the mound for TAC, while Bruce Bono led the offense with three hits.  Legendary high school and amateur league coach Skeeter Theard was the TAC skipper.

Schaff Brothers returned to the championship round in 1974 and swept New Iberia in two games.  At one point, Schaff had a 30-game winning streak.  Rick Zibilich, Vince DeGroutolla, and Matt Bullinger were among the team’s talented group of players, eight of whom would go on to play college baseball.  Schaff ultimately advanced to the American Legion World Series in Roseburg, Oregon, where they won two of four games for a third-place finish.

The 1974 Schaff Brothers team tied with the 1980 Jesuit-based Odeco Drillers for honors as the best American Legion team of all-time in New Orleans, as determined by a panel of former players, coaches, and sportswriters organized by New Orleans journalist Ken Trahan in 2009.

Odeco Drillers won the state title in 1975, the first championship for a Jesuit-based team since 1965.  They defeated Monroe in two games in the championship series.  Brian Butera, Jim Gaudet, and Drew Lukinovich were among the stars of the team.  Gaudet would eventually play in the majors for the Kansas City Royals.

Schaff Brothers got their fourth state title in seven seasons in 1976, qualifying them as one of the “dynasty” Legion teams from the New Orleans metro area.  Schaff defeated Lafayette Burger King in a tight championship game in Lafayette.

For the second time in three years, Schaff appeared in the American Legion World Series in Manchester, New Hampshire.  However, they fell short again of getting the national title.  Ken Francingues was one of the star pitchers, while David Stokes and Gus Malespin provided offense.  Stokes was named the Region IV Player-of-the-Year, while Malespin captured the Legion’s national honor.  All three players advanced to play at the college level, while Francingues and Malespin also played professionally.

Holy Cross-based Saucer Marine defeated Bossier City Legionnaires in two games for the 1977 state championship.  It was the first Legion title for a Holy-Cross-based team since the 1940s, when they captured three.  Billy Hrapmann (Tulane), Lou Wineski III (Nicholls State), Don Bourgeois (Southern Mississippi), and Armand Sinibaldi (UNO) went on to play at the college level.

Behind the 13-strikeout performance by Conmaco’s Paul Mancuso, the Shaw-based team defeated Layafette Burger Chef for the 1978 state championship.  Greg Delaune and Darren Barbier were the hitting stars for Conmaco.  Delaune later played at Tulane. After playing at the University of New Orleans, Mancuso pitched five seasons of minor-league ball.

Dickie Wentz pitched Jesuit-based Odeco Drillers past Lake Charles Abe’s Grocery in the third and deciding game of the 1979 state finals.  It was Frank Misuraca’s second win as coach for Odeco in five years.  Tim Parenton and Steve Riley recorded key hits in the game.  Parenton later coached at several colleges, as well as a stint in the pros in the Tampa Bay organization.

Nico Van Thyn, former sportswriter and editor from Shreveport, recently coordinated a compilation of information about all the Louisiana American League state champions for the past 90 years.  He has plans to make this information publicly available through various media outlets.  His compilation was used as a source for some of the material presented here.

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Richard Cuicchi

New Orleans baseball historian

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Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.

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