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Chevrolet UAW Local 659 Connie Mack Baseball Team - 1967


Coach Walt Head Team in alphabetical order: Chuck Cassady, Dennis Cole, John Cross, Wally Dutkowski, Dave Frost, Steve Gerych, Mike Hamacher, Keith Hamilton, Leo Haynes, Vince Jesue, Jerry Kramer, Jerry Mays, Bob McCombs, Jim McMillian, Larry Norfleet, Dave Ohler, Don Paliani, Barry Pertler, John Pitts, Ron Pruitt, Tim Ranville, Phil Rashead, Mel Rettenmund, Whitey Rettenmund, Bob Rickard, Arnie Schwartz, Larry Sedlarik, Dick Smith, Dave Sova, Jerry Topolinski, Paul Trevarthan, Tom Ulmer, David Wilson (batboy).



BASEBALL FEVER IN '60'S BORE 2 AMAZING MACK TEAMS

It was an era of great baseball in Flint, a time when kids filled the diamonds and packed the stands and players by the score went on to pro or college ball.

From this goldmine of talent, a young coach named Walt Head hand-picked a couple of 18-year-old teams that would set the standard for Flint youth ball for years to come.

The 1967 Chevrolet Local 659 club and the 1968 UAW Region 1C team put Flint on the national map of Connie Mack baseball and blazed the trail that ultimately led to a national championship in the '70s.

The '67 team was the first from Flint to reach the national Mack tournament in Farmington, N.M., finishing third, and the 68 squad, with seven holdovers from the previous year, fell just short of the national stage but stunned local fans by winning Flint's Class A league, the best in town.

Their accomplishments, including a combined 69-12 record, will be recognized this year when both teams are inducted as a single entry in the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame.

"Baseball was so good in Flint then, it was just a treat to be a part of it," said Head, now the baseball coach at Saginaw Valley State University. "Those first two teams were real trendsetters."

The core of both clubs was the up-the-middle strength of catcher Phil Rashead, shortstop Whitey Rettenmund and second baseman Ron Pruitt -- all of whom were drafted by major-league teams -- and pitchers Jerry Kramer and Dave Frost. Bob Rickard also played on both teams.

Other key players in '67 were Flint Junior College pitchers Jerry Mays and Dave Sova, who had just been to the Division I JUCO World Series. Outfielders John Cross, Don Paliani, Larry Norfleet and Mike Hamacher also pitched, while other position players were third baseman Dick Smith, first baseman Mel Rettenmund and ouffielder Arnie Schwartz.

In '68, the regulars included pitchers Barry Pertler and Larry Sedlarik, third baseman Chuck Cassady, first baseman John Pitts and outfielders Leo Haynes, Dennis Cole and Jerry Topolinski.

In both years, Head entered his teams not only in the Class C Mack league, but in the rugged Class A circuit comprised of veteran teams like Bishop Construction, Genesee Tool and Skaff Furniture.

The kids were not intimidated.

"Not at all," said Whitey Rettenmund. "It was a challenge to us. We knew we had nothing to lose and everything to gain."

The 67 team took its lumps in Class A with a 10-10 record, but the competition hardened them for the Mack tourney.

Mays threw a no-hitter in the district opener and Flint won two eight-inning games to stay alive.

At the state tourney in Marshall, Flint immediately fell into the losers' bracket and had to win four straight games, including another eight-inning battle against Ann Arbor.

"That seemed to be a Flint trademark," said Rashead. "We'd lose the first game and have to win out through the loser's bracket. It seemed to light a fire under us."

An exception was the regional at Fort Wayne, where Flint swept Cleveland in a best-of-3 series to advance to Farmington.

In New Mexico, Flint routed Chicago 9-1, beat Farmington 6-3 with the help of Pruitt's 350-foot homer and edged Portland, Ore., on Mays' four-hitter.

But eventual champion Long Beach, Ca., handed Kramer his first loss of the season, 3-1, then ousted Flint 5-1 the next day.

Rashead led the tournament with a .533 batting average and joined Rettenmund, Pruit and Mays on the all-tournament team.

With three of those guys back in 68, Region 1C electrified local baseball fans by snapping Bishop Construction's four year reign as Class A champion.

In back-to-back games at the end of the season, the "kids" beat Bishop 1-0 on a Sunday night, then edged the defending champs by a run again Monday night before what are still regarded as the two largest crowds ever at Broome Park.

"The place was absolutely packed, all the way down the lines," said Head. "An hour before the game, the bleacher was full.

"Winning that Class A title was like winning the national championship because that league was so tough."

Region 1C didn't even get to the national tournament in '68.

The team rolled through the district with 4-0 wins over Dearborn and Livonia, a 14-8 slugfest over Saginaw, a 9-0 thumping of Region 11C and a 4-2 title win over Saginaw.

At Marshall, they again lost an early game, to Coldwater, then came back to beat that team twice, 1 -0 and 8-3 to win the state title. Pertler's three-hitter won the first game and Pruitt hit his third homer of the tournament in the second.

But Flint couldn't get past Cincinnati in the best-of-3 regional. After losing the opener 4-1, 1C stayed alive with a 3-1 victory on a gutty pitching performance by Dearborn pickup Steve Gerych.

Pertler, pitching the rubber game on one day's rest, went all nine innings, and Rashead gave Flint a 3-2 lead with a towering two-run homer to center in the fourth.

But a homer in the ninth ended it, and Cincinnati took a 44-3 record to Farmington, where it won the first of its 11 national Mack titles.

Six years later, Head coached another Flint team to its first national championship. The 1974 Carpets by Smith team also is in the Flint Hall of Fame.

But Head still has a soft spot for Region 1C.

"What those kids did in '68 will never be accomplished again," he said of winning the Class A City title.

"People don't realize what a feat that was."