Happy Birthday Carl Stotz!
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa -- Saturday, Feb. 20, marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Little League Baseball’s founder. Although he died in 1992, Carl Stotz’s legacy is one of vision and tenacity that began more than 70 years ago in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
During the summer of 1938, Stotz had a revelation. He was playing baseball with his nephews, Jimmy and Harold “Major” Gehron, when he stumbled against a lilac bush. Limping to his back porch, he sat on the steps, rubbing his ankle while the boys continued to toss the ball. Watching his nephews reminded him of his own childhood and how he loved to play baseball.
He later recalled that he had a vision: “Now this next thing is hard to explain unless you have experienced it yourself sometime in your life, where all at once something comes to you that they call a flashback . . . there it is in one scene. That’s what happened . . . [Jimmy and Major] start talking baseball to me, then immediately passed before me the conditions under which I played baseball. And that’s then I said to them, ‘How would you like to play on a regular team, with uniforms, a new ball for every game and bats you could really swing?’ And they said, ‘Who would we play? Will people come to watch us? Do you think a band would ever come to play?’”
Jimmy and Major enlisted their friends, and at that first Little League practice the roster consisted of the Gehron brothers, Charles “Pete” Fortner, George Fortner, Ray Best, Stan Keys, George Keys, Charles “Noonie” Smith, James “Pete” Smith, and Bobbie Smith.
“I took a whole carload of boys up to [Memorial Park] . . . where I used old newspapers to indicate where the diamond is,” Stotz remembered, “and the boys positioned themselves accordingly. Tossing the ball so the kids could hit it, I was trying to see how far back first base should be so that when a boy was throwing from third or shortstop, it would be a good close play—not out by a mile or safe by a mile. And that’s where the 60-foot dimension was determined.”
Stotz and his wife, Grayce, enlisted the help of George and Bert Bebble and their wives, Annabelle and Eloise. John and Peggy Lindemuth soon joined the group and formed the first Little League board of directors.
When spring arrived Stotz needed sponsors. After 56 rejections, Floyd Mutchler of Lycoming Dairy Farms agreed to pay $30, becoming the first sponsor. Stotz bought two bats, a catcher’s mitt, a pair of catcher’s shin guards, and four more baseballs. He bought 10 sets of uniforms from Kresge’s (later K-Mart) and ordered more from Harder’s Sporting Goods Store in Williamsport. Harder’s still supplies Little League teams in the Williamsport area.
Stotz persuaded Jesse “Buckeye” Smith at Penn Pretzel Company to sponsor, in two installments, a team named Jumbo Pretzel. John Lundy sponsored the third team and never stopped giving. To this day, Lundy Construction sponsors youth sports teams in the Williamsport area.
The first Little League Baseball game was played June 6, 1939, at Park Point in Williamsport, with Lundy Lumber defeating Lycoming Dairy, 23–8. The first championship game to be televised nationally was in 1953 on CBS. Little League Baseball later partnered with ABC Sports, which has televised the World Series championship game every year since 1963. In 1974 Little League Baseball allowed girls to take to its fields.
Little League Baseball is the world’s largest organized youth sports
program, beginning with three teams in 1939 to nearly 180,000 teams
internationally today. It is estimated that 35 million people have
played in or volunteered for a local Little League program. On the Web
Excerpt from Play Ball! The Story of Little League Baseball
Little League Founder Dies
When Carl Stotz died on June 4, 1992, thousands of local people reeled with the implication: the founder of Little League Baseball would never be reunited with the program he had created in 1939.
Although millions of people had never heard of “Uncle Tuck,” residents of North Central
Pennsylvania had been regaled every August at the beginning of the Little League World Series. Newspapers, television, and radio personalities made a point of informing their customers that the original home of Little League is located on West Fourth Street, across the street from historic Bowman Field. Carl Stotz, they reminded all, still volunteered at Original, pushing up his shirtsleeves and sometimes raking the field. His daughter, Karen Stotz Myers, said he was a humble, yet stubborn man who wanted to give credit. In 1989, he built a monument that lists what he called his “founder’s group,” the early organizers and managers of Original Little League, she said, even though he fractured his back making it. “He would not accept any help because that was his tribute to the volunteers.”
Born February 20, 1910, the son of John A. and Lulu Fisk Stotz, Carl lived in Old Lycoming Township. As a child, former Williamsport Sun-Gazette reporter James P. Barr was his neighbor, and later his newspaper delivery boy. After Carl’s death, Barr eulogized the founder:
My first memory of Carl Stotz is a vision of him standing on the brightly-lit stage of the Roosevelt Junior High School auditorium. I, a short, skinny 9-year-old, had just finished my first year playing organized baseball in the Old Lycoming Township. As impressed and impressionable as I was, I remember being thoroughly awestruck when the master of ceremonies announced that “The Founder of Little League Baseball” would speak to us and hand out the trophies.
Sitting in the gloom of the darkened auditorium – a huge place by the standards of an untraveled 9-year-old – I marveled at the thought that such a great personage would deign to come to our awards ceremony. After all, our league was not even part of the “real” Little League. One of the first things you learned when you joined our league was that no matter how good you or your team might be, you would never, ever get a change to play in the Little League World Series, which at the time was held in Memorial Park, an easy bike ride from my Fox Street home.
Sometime later, I acquired the knowledge that Stotz lived on Wheatland Avenue, less than half a mile from my home. From then on, whenever I walked or rode by his brick house, a chill of reverence passed through me, as if I were passing a religious shrine.
I also learned, somehow, that the reason our township league was not part of Little League was because of some ill-defined feud he had with the famous organization. The feud was beyond my understanding or caring, though. Just another puzzle of the adult world.
As an adult, I could appreciate Stotz’ objections to the organization he fathered becoming a glitzy, high-powered international organization. I especially admired him for sticking to his principles that Little League should be for the enjoyment of the kids, not for garnering big-money product endorsements and television contracts.
I value what Little League has done for my hometown, though. I take pride in being able to say, “I’m from Williamsport. You know, home of Little League Baseball.” So I also can appreciate that such efforts are needed to maintain a massive, worldwide organization.
I understand, having done a couple of stories on Stotz, that the estrangement was as much his doing as anyone else’s. Still, writing his obituary the other day left me with an inexpressible sadness and sense of injustice: sadness that the man who started the largest athletic organization in the world was largely ignored and neglected through its glory days, and a sense of injustice that the community he has raised to world fame could not see its way to honor him better while he was alive.
As a reporter, I have encountered presidential candidates, Nobel Prize winners and important people all up and down the social ladder. None of them made me as nervous as interviewing my former paper route customer, probably because you never quite get over the first great man you ever met.