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The History of Brooklawn Baseball


The Early Years

The Brooklawn Post 72 American Legion Baseball Team was started in 1952 by an ambitious Joe Barth and a handful of the original Post members. The first team was comprised of mostly 15 and 16 year olds. From its inception, Barth’s team played a heavy schedule and by 1953 their hard work began to pay off. The Brooklawn club exploded on the state-wide scene by upsetting Mercer County League champs in Ewing, to advance to the State Finals against Elizabeth’s Jake Wood, who later played for the Detroit Tigers. Elizabeth overpowered the Brooks, and Post 72 had to settle for second-place honors. The first State Crown, however, was just around the corner.

In 1954, a now seasoned band of Brooks steam-rolled through a host of strong opponents to a State championship. Future big league catcher Buddy Kenders, and shortstop Karl Frantz, went on to play professionally even after the Brooks were eliminated in the Regional final game. There were other stars in the 1954 squad too: outfielder Carmen Palmiero, pitcher Jack Hawthorne, and the Belz twins, Herman and Carl. Palmiero was one of the greatest athletes in the history of Gloucester High but was tragically killed in a car accident his sophomore year at Penn State before reaching predicted stardom in baseball. Hawthorne who tossed a no-hitter in the State title game, passed up an opportunity to play pro baseball for a military career, while the Belz boys went on to basketball fame at Princeton. Many Brooklawn rooters, including manager Barth, still feel that first baseman, Carl Belz, was the greatest non-pitcher in Brooklawn history. Carl went on to become an All-American basketball player at Princeton and eventually passed up lucrative contracts in both sports.

In 1956, Brooklawn captured the Moose League title and in 1957 entered the Garden State League for the first time. Brooklawn captured three consecutive Garden State titles (5, 58, 59), and Barth continued to enhance his reputation as a good judge of baseball talent– especially when he pulled a young shortstop off Gloucester Catholic’s JV team in 1957 and handed him the starting spot for Brooklawn. Herb Newman proved Coach Barth correct with two consecutive great seasons and went on to a fine pro career with the Chicago Cubs organization.

In 1957, the Trenton Scroths defeated Brooklawn in a best-of-three series for the South Jersey title and went on to win the New Jersey State crown. Yankee great, Al Downing, was the winning pitcher in both the first and final game of the series, and it looked like Downing would continue the undefeated string that lasted over two years until 1958 when Brooklawn and Trenton clashed again for the South Jersey title. Post 72 beat Trenton twice that year before moving on to capture the New Jersey crown. Fans still remember shortstop Dink Nannay drilling hits off Downing with young Joe’s little league bat! Post 72 moved on to the Regionals in Kingston, NY where they swept four straight. An injury to future pro-pitcher, Phil Brown, hurt the Brooks chances in the Sectionals; the Brooks dropped a 12-11 extra inning thriller to Everett, MA, in the final game held in Portland, ME. Phil Brown, outfielder Dick Harris, pitcher/3rd baseman John Bartley and pitcher Reds Richards went on to pro-baseball while several other Brooks went on to great college careers.

1959 was a time to rebuild, and the team managed to win the Garden State crown, By1960 Joe Barth’s boys were once again ready to challenge for the National title. In 1960, Brooklawn went into the Tri-County Men’ League and took on a new assistant coach to work with a blossoming pitching staff. Post 72 failed to capture the men’s league title, but the experience of facing strong competition with the help of Coach Lefty Rozelle paid off. Brooklawn was able to cruise through Legion opponents to capture the State and Regional titles as well as secure their spot in the 1960 Legion World Series in Hasting, NE. Dave McNally of Billings, MT defeated Brooklawn in the opener 3-0, but the Hastings people adopted the Brooks as their Cinderella team and the entire town rallied behind Post 72 as they advanced through the loser’s bracket towards another confrontation with McNally. Once again the future Baltimore Oriole great bested Post 72 5-3, and Billings went on to drop the title game to Rusty Staub’s New Orleans, LA, squad. It was an experience the players would not soon forget.

With a strong nucleus, Barth picked up few replacements in 1961 to once again make the march towards Hastings, NE. The Brooks dropped Clifton, NJ for the state title and clinched the Regionals in College Park, MD. Hastings, NE, was abuzz when the Brooks flew in for a return shot at the title; the towns rallied behind little Brooklawn, NJ. This time they won two straight before dropping a cliff hanger to Cincinnati, OH in the battle of the unbeaten. The next night Brooklawn eliminated the Illinois club leaving three teams alive in the tourney. Brooklawn then fell 4-3 in 10 innings to Phoenix, AZ. As the Brooks arrived at the Philadelphia Airport, Phoenix was busy taking Cincinnati for the national championship.

Brooklawn was runner-up to Patterson in 1962, as Johnny Briggs displayed the talent that would later make him a star in the big leagues. Briggs destroyed Brooklawn in the three game set and later signed with the Phillies on the recommendation of Coach Barth to Phil’s scout Jacko Collins. In 1963, Post 72 lost the South Jersey crown to the Trenton Schroths, but 1964 was Brooklawn’s year. In what had to be the greatest comeback in the history of Brooklawn Legion baseball, Post 72 scored 7 runs with two outs in the eighth inning to tie Westfield 7-7. They went on to score the game winner in the ninth for yet another state crown! Pro draftees Frank Bon Vardo and gutsy Steve Nunes were the heart of Post 72’s mound crop in 1964. The state tourney that year also marked the debut of a young flame-thrower: Bill Laxton. The late Joe Schlicht was the slugging star of the ’64 tourney and is still considered one of the best hitters in Brooklawn’s history.

1965 saw the development of Laxton into a legitimate Legion super-pitcher, but Brooklawn lost a classic State tourney to Lyndhurst on the last day. Union had Elliot Maddox, Lambertville had Steve Braun, and Brooklawn had Laxton. The star of the finals, however, was Warren Bogle– a giant lefty hurler who later pitched for the Oakland A’s. Bogle beat Brooklawn 6-4 to send Lyndhurst on its way to the World Series. An arm injury kept Bogle out of the action the entire tournament after the Brooklawn game.1966 through 1968 saw the Brooks eliminated in State Legion play, but in 1969 Brooklawn came up with one of its greatest teams ever. Three pitchers—Joe Neal, Bob Maneely and Mike Rocobaldo— were drafted and a fourth, Bill Geitz, was signed before the tournament. With the help of Coach Rick Laing, the Post 72 team won the team Tri-County League and the NJ State crown advancing to PA for the Regionals.

In an incredible and strange turn of events, like Maneely breaking his ankle for example, Brooklawn was topped in the final game by Towson, MD, and eventually became runners-up for the National crown. Shortstop, Don Finch, signed with the Orioles after the tourney, while second baseman, Gene Krzyk, went on to become a star at St. John’s University; he was the first freshman to start in the school’s history. Outfielder Chuck Settar went on to a great college career at Rider. In 1971, Brooklawn once again captured the State title with a slugging team led by future University of Delaware star, Ken Rouh. Pitcher Mark Ewell and second baseman, Bryan Jones, went on to pro careers.
From 1972 to 1978, Brooklawn continued to produce some outstanding players: Rich Carlucci, Jeff Jones and Scott Patterson. Each year they managed to end up short in the State tournament. Then in 1979, Brooklawn fielded one of its finest teams ever and rolled to a 22-0 regular season record and another state title. Tremendous pitching keyed the success of the ‘79 team as Pat Dewechier, John Cassidy, and future big leaguer Bob Sebra were nothing short of spectacular throughout the year. Future pro shortstop Bob Shannon and Cub signee catcher Steve Cordner joined sluggers Joe Alter, Dennis Barth and Paul Kupcha in perpetuating a long hitting streak.

The 1980’s was, perhaps, Coach Barth’s most disappointing decade. With star pitcher, Kevin Madden, joining what was already a tremendous team, Manager Barth felt the ‘80s Brooks may have been his most talented team ever. But Post 72 picked a bad time to go flat and ended up finishing third in the state tournament. In 1981, Brooklawn was picked to place fifth in the league because so many players had graduated. All the Brooks had left was Cassidy and Yowler, who carried the team for the first half of the season by routinely striking out 14-15 guys per game. Some new blood came onto the team with Mark McCarthy, a catcher from Triton HS, and Kenny Kline, who went to Upsala and Yowler. With Cassidy, Yowler, Ron Liese, Bill Narleski at the helm, the team made a powerful surge to the state tournament and eventually Regionals where they lost the final game to Richmond, VA in 12 innings.1981 was a pleasant surprise.

1982 saw the graduation of Yowler and Cassidy as well as several team members leaving to play basketball instead. So Barth took a gamble on four 16 year olds: John McGettigan, Steve Mondile, Mike Murphy, and Kevin Gallagher. Mike Basara from Triton was also snagged and he later went on to Virginia Tech. Fans were shocked by the Brooks’ state championship victory. Danny Babcock played first, Narleski played short, “Hollywood” Joe Santone was in left field, Rob Gussen played right, and Basara played center. A team who lost in Regionals to Boyertown, PA, went on to win the world championship—all with a 16 year-old pitching staff. This foreshadowed great things to come for this reformed Brooklawn team.

In 1983, Brooklawn was runner-up in the State Tournament to Roselle, who beat us in a disappointing double-header on the last day. At the World Games, Brooklawn beat State College PA, Maynard OH, Mayo MD (with 5 homers). Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, went on to be American Legion National runner-up. Losses were to Kingston NY and Endicott NY who went on to the finals; the tournament winner was Gonzales, LA. The team returned a bit battered and bruised from the “bout” with Puerto Rico. To qualify for post-season play, Brooklawn won their 14th State Championship, going 7-0 in the tournament. Each and every player contributed to Post 72’s 1989 success. Catcher Sean McKenna displayed the abilities which landed him a scholarship to the University of Nebraska, as well as a spot in the Jr. Olympics. Absent for a time from league play to participate in the Olympic trials, Sean sacrificed his positon on the Jr. Olympic team to return to Brooklawn to aid in their bid for the state title.

First base was played by power-hitting Joe Shapley, a four-year starter for Brooklawn, who went on to All-American status at KY, Wesleyan. At second base, Ed Burke showed the competitiveness that earned him E.C.C “Rookie-of-the-Year” honors at Drexel University. Stat shortstop, Jeff Knufman signed with James Madison University. One of Brooklawn’s top hitters in ’89 was third basemen Tim Taylor, who also DH’d, netting him a scholarship to Princeton. Rookie middle infielder, Brian Obermeier, did a great job for Brooklawn filling in at both short and second. In the outfield, Brooklawn was fortunate to have players who showed talent which was rewarded in various ways: Brian Kelly won a scholarship to VCU, John Rivers accepted Princeton’s scholarship offer, Chris Petrocella (who also played 3rd base and pitched) won a scholarship to Ft. Scott JC and later signed with the Brewers. Mike Patricia displayed the talent that enabled him to sign with the NY Mets.
Pitcher Jim Ambrosius went to LaSalle on scholarship, right-hander Don Melroy went to UVA and Mike Racobaldo eventually signed with the Dodgers. In 1986, new pitchers Mark Favieri, Scott Bancroft, Mark Krause and Jim Mulhern led a pitching staff that showed consistent effort all year long. Jim Mulhern and 3rd baseman John Kupsey, who later played with the Atlanta Braves, were great team additions even though both were only 16. Other fine youngsters included Steve Budd, an outstanding 2nd base player from Bishop Eustace and 15 year-old 1st baseman Joe Shapley.

Heading Toward the New Millennium

1990 marked Brooklawn’s 3 consecutive New Jersey State Titles. However, Mayo, MD won the regional title and went on to win the National Championship. Brooklawn participated in the World Youth Classic for the second year in a row and advanced to its final game by beating a good team from Puerto Rico. Gonzales, LA beat us in the final game 5-4. All of the team members received Olympic-style silver medals for their second place finish. Five boys finished their Brooklawn career in 1990; Steve Linder joined Brooklawn teammate Don Melroy at the University of Virginia; Tim Taylor joined ex-Brooklawn teammate John Rivers at Princeton University; Jeff Kaufman went to James Madison University, and Chris Harris went on to Albright.

After forty years of Legion competition, Brooklawn finally won it all in 1991! The Camden County league was very tough. We had to win eleven games in the last eight days of the season to tie Medford for first place. Haddon Heights, with thirteen 18 year-old players, finished one game behind us for third place while a very young, talented Vineland club finished fourth.The New Jersey State playoffs were brutal as we lost the first game in the District Championships and the State Finals. We beat Hoboken in a doubleheader the last day for the State title and performed even better in the Regionals, as our pitching came on strong. It all came down to Boyertown and Brooklawn in the finals. Ultimately, Brett Laxton took the bats out of their little Bear hands and catcher Derek Forchic stopped their running game as Brooklawn went on to a 2-0 victory and advanced to the World Series in none other than Boyertown PA.

Scott Lavender pitched the first day against Newark, Ohio, which was a veteran club with thirteen 18 year-old players. The next day we beat tCalifornia State Champs, Esconcido, behind Laxton’s thirteen strikeouts. On the third, day we beat a strong, undefeated Connecticut team, East Hartford, behind 16 year-old Brian McGettigan. Our bats finally broke loose and McGettigan was mixing his pitches well. Our fourth game we lost to Gonzales, LA despite the efforts of pitchers Mario Olsen and Bryan Wilson. This put us in a one-game showdown with Newark, Ohio for all the marbles on national television— ESPN. Brett Laxton started the game with less than two day’s rest, so he didn’t have his usual fastball. Scott Lavender relieved Laxton and picked up his second win of the World Series. Brooklawn came from behind in the seventh inning to overcome a 3-0 deficit paralyzing a few walks and John Mader’s RBI single into a 5-3 lead. Defensively Mike Harris made some outstanding plays at third base, and Kevin Cunane ended the game by catching a ball up against the fence in left field.
There were several leaders on the 1991 team: Captain Brian Obermier with a .403 batting average, John Mader .399, Kevin Cunane .355, Derek Forchic .337 with 69 RBI’s, and Jeff Manuola .332 with 66 walks. Pitching leaders were Laxton 12-2, Lavender 9-1, McGettigan 9-2, Wilson 7-1, Rizzo 7-3 and Olsen- 6-1. The final team record was 59 wins, 10 loses and 2 ties, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. 1991 was a victory by a group of players who, simply put, hung tough and never doubted themselves even in the face of adversity. 1991 was a total team effort.

1992— “The Road to Fargo.” The 1992 team had the ultimate “tough act to follow” coming off of the 1991 national championship season. As always, the Brooks accepted the challenge and began the 1992 season with a goal to return to the American Legion World Series and defend their crown. As usual, the Camden County Legion League presented a stiff challenge for Post #72 particularly since the top two returning pitchers from ’91 (Brett Laxton and Scott Lavender) went into the season with injuries that would keep them out of most of the regular season action. Few people would have bet on Brooklawn’s chances without Laxton and Lavender, but no one could have anticipated the kind of season pitchers Nick Rizzo and Dave Bertolino would put together.

Rizzo won sixteen in a row, and Bertolino went 8-1 to help power Post 72 to the league title. Brian McGettigan went 7-3 to shore up the staff, while rookies Alex Gandia, Jack Marcellus and Mike Luisi contributed quality efforts when called upon. As the tournament approached, and Laxton and Lavender returned to form, it became apparent that this was possibly the finest pitching staff in the country and certainly one of the best group of hurlers in Brooklawn’s illustrious history. Manager Joe Barth got a hint of just how good this club could be mid-season when the Brooks captured the prestigious World Young Classic in Gonzales, LA! Five thousand fans witnessed the final games as Brooklawn defeated powerful Gonzales for gold medals. Four teams from the World Series Games eventually made it to the A.L. World Series in Fargo, North Dakota. This was testament to the strength of the World Games participants.

Great pitching continued throughout the season while a veteran Post #72 squad displayed a great defense and a strong hitting attack led by left-fielder Kevin Cunane. At one point, Kevin bashed 10 homers in a span of 10 games! Ironman Eric Filipek handled the catching chores, while Laxton and rookie Bob Batthipat tolled first base. Shortstop, Mike Moriarty, and second baseman Ron Trabosh, formed a great DP combination while Mike Harris did another great job at third. In the outfield, veteran, John Mader, and speedster, Keven Fahy, added both great hitting and defense. Dave Bertolino, Chris Cornwall and Scott Lavender contributed both as outfielders and DH’s. Several young players contributed throughout the regular season: catcher Ray Miller, infielder Nick DelGozzo, and outfielder Ryan Brown. With the experience gained in the ’91 World Series, the ’92 squad was certainly an imposing team both in offense and defense. Pitching led the way as Brooklawn moved on to the state tournament and won five straight games before losing to Iselin. Brett Laxton then whiffed 18 against Broad St. Park to send Brooklawn into the championship round where they defeated Iselin twice to win their unprecedented 5th straight championship.

At the Regionals in Binghamton, NY, it was more of the same as Post #72 rebounded from an opening round loss to Spring Valley, NY and won 5 straight games to advance to the World Series in Fargo, ND. Nick Rizzo pitched two stellar games en-route to the title while Mike Harris garnered MVP honors. Brooklawn then flew to Fargo, ND where they participated in perhaps the finest American Legion World Series ever staged. The host team won their regional title which ensured large and enthusiastic crowds. Post #72 opened with a Scott Lavender win over Puerto Rico in a hard-fought 3-2 battle. Next Brooklawn played Arlington Heights, IL where they dropped a tough 2-1 game to a great pitcher. Two unearned runs in the first inning were all Illinois needed to hand Nick Rizzo his first loss of the season after 16 straight wins.

In the next contest, Brooklawn eliminated the powerful Fargo squad behind the pitching of Brett Laxton and the hitting of Scott Lavender. Dave Bertolino cranked out a good one and Post #72 slugged 21 hits as they eliminated East Hartford, CT to advance to the final day of the series. Three teams remained— Illinois, California, and Brooklawn. All with a loss, Post #72 was to play Newberry, CA with the winner playing Illinois on ESPN for the title. Despite a valiant pitching performance by Brian McGettigan, Brooklawn dropped 3-1 to California, and the Newberry Park club went on to defeat Illinois 12-0 for the title. It was tough to come so close to back-to-back National Championships and not succeed, but everyone would agree that 1992 was a tremendous season and the ’92 squad will go down as one of the greatest teams in Brooker history. After winning the New Jersey State Title the five previous seasons, a third place finish was quite a disappointment to some the Brooklawn fans. Hamilton Post #31 won the State Championship. This was a strong club under the leadership of Rich Freeman.

1994 was a banner year for a young Brooklawn club that had only six returnees from 1993. The three 18 year olds led our young club all the way to the National Finals in Boyertown, PA. Our 18 year-old leaders were two pitchers, Jack Marcellus and Fran Weikel, along with Bobby Barth our first baseman and cleanup hitter who had a habit of driving in runs in crucial situations. We tied Atco for 1st place in our league. They beat us twice in league play and were awarded 1st place. In NJ district play, we won three straight and advanced to the State finals in Dennville. Atco beat us when 16 year-old Steve Deyo hit a homer in the bottom of the eighth inning. The NJ state runner-up was sent to Warwick, RI to play in the New England Regional. We won three in a row before losing to Orno, ME. We then had to play Bristol, CT whom we had already defeated once. Fran Weikel did the job and we advanced to Boyertown, PA. This was a good win but a costly one because Weikel did not have enough rest to pitch the opening game of the World Series. It broke our pitching rotation, but we won the regional. Jack Marcellus pitched the first game of the World Series against Miami, the eventual World Series Champion. Jackie did a splendid job, but we could not get him enough runs. We did manage to knock the American Legion Player of the year out of the box, but they brought in a lefthander that was unstoppable.

The second day we played Bedford, VA (the Regional 2 winner) and 16-year-old Vaughn Schill pitched 11 innings but we couldn’t score the winning run. Fran Weikel won the game in relief in the fourteenth inning. We the lost our third game to Blissfield, MI and went home. Our team had a good year. We had a wonderful time in the New England Regional. They gave everybody jackets and treated us better than any other regional host ever had. 1995 started with great expectations as the Brookers won their second World Youth Classic Championship in Binghamton, NY with a record of 6 wins and 1 loss. On Sunday, July 9th, they defeated State College, PA 11-4 and Chino, CA 9-2. Eric Metzger won the State College game after relieving Dave Marks in the second inning with the bases loaded and no outs.

Since the year 2000, Brooklawn has been able to add several new achievements to their already impressive list: 3 National Champ titles, 8 Mid-Atlantic Regional Champ titles, 3 Semi-World Series Champ titles and 8 NJ State Champ titles. Brooklawn players have also earned runners-up spots for both nation and state as well. Other accolades include having several players receiving D1 full and partial scholarships and a handful of members signing with MLB teams. Brooklawn baseball has a rich history steeped in talent, hard work and pride. As the organization enters its 67th year, it’s clear that these traditions will continue into the future.