Jim Meaney put on the thick wool jersey he proudly wore 65 years ago as a member of the Niskayuna Post 1092 American Legion team, and all the baseball memories began to flow.
Meaney recalled that he and Jack Land were the only returning players on that 1953 squad that was younger than most others and consisted of teenagers from several area schools. He thought they’d win some games. He never envisioned 22 in a row, though, the last of those coming in the state title game.
August 8 will mark the 65th anniversary of the New York championship Niskayuna Post 1092 earned at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. The teams’ fifth and final playoff victory was against Phelan Police and Fire Post of Utica 2-0.
“It was quite a summer,” said Meaney, an 81-year-old Florida resident who played third base and batted first for his Legion team. “The year before we lost in district play.”
The 1953 group completed its superb stretch by catching a few breaks, getting a few clutch hits, and getting another stellar mound performance from Russ Vendetti in the state final. Meaney remembers those things like they happened yesterday. A surprise how-to-you-do with legendary hall of fame broadcaster Red Barber made the day that much better.
Barber was working for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the time, before moving on to the New York Yankees.
“He was umpiring on the infield,” Meaney recalled. “I recognized him and said, ‘Hey Red, what are you doing here?’ He said with that southern accent of his that it was something he loved to do. He enjoyed doing it. He just wanted to be a part of it.”
Meaney and Vendetti were both part of a significant play in the state final, when an offering by Vendetti was followed by a successful rundown that helped Niskayuna keep a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning.
“The bases were loaded, one out, and their best hitter was up,” said Vendetti, an 81-year-old Rotterdam resident who, like Meaney, played his school ball at Nott Terrace. “He started to go to first thinking I had thrown ball four, and their guy on third started to trot home. It was only ball three, and we got the guy going home in a rundown.”
Meaney said it took several throws to complete the frantic rundown, which kept Utica from building momentum.
“That was the key play,” Meaney said. “I made the last throw. Threw a strike to [second baseman] Ed Meyer who was covering home.”
A walk and a popout in foul territory ended the inning, Niskayuna added a run in the sixth, and Vendetti did the rest in what was his fourth playoff victory with a complete-game six-hitter.
“We all had confidence in him,” Meaney said of Vendetti, who would later pitch on scholarship at American International College. “When he pitched, we felt we were going to win.”
Vendetti went 9-0 that summer which included earlier postseason wins against teams from Amsterdam (3-1, 10 innings), Kingston (3-0) and Staten Island (3-2 in the state semifinal). He went 6-0 as a senior the following school year when Nott Terrace captured the Class A League title.
“I wasn’t overpowering,” said Vendetti, a right-hander. “I was 5-9, 5-10, 165 pounds at the time. [Stan] Margolius threw harder than I did. I had a good breaking ball.”
Vendetti gave up three hits in the opening inning of the state title game but escaped when Margolius threw a runner out at home plate from center field. Jack Stanton singled to start Niskayuna’s second at-bat and scored on a single by Land. Meyer singled in the sixth and later scored on another single by Stanton.
“Utica was good,” said Vendetti, who recalled how Utica put on a home run display during pregame batting practice. “They thought they were going to win.”
New York had no state championship tournament for high school teams in those days.
“It was a big deal for us,” Vendetti said. “If you wanted to win a state championship back then, you had to do it in the summer.”
Niskayuna’s American Legion season ended with a 6-0 loss to Pawtucket Post of Rhode Island in a regional semifinal game in Connecticut. Margolius took the loss. Niskayuna managed four hits and left the bases full in the fifth and ninth innings.
“I was left on base four times in that last game,” Meaney said. “I got on on an error and three walks. No one could get anyone in.”
Niskayuna found a way in every game before, though, stringing 17 regular season wins with the five in the postseason with its mix that included players from Nott Terrace and Draper and a handful of others just out of junior high school. Vendetti’s dad, Joe, was the head coach of the group of 14-17-year-olds. Merritt Willey served as team manager.
“Pitching and defense, no doubt about it,” Meaney said of Niskayuna’s strengths. “We scored enough runs to win. We had some close games.”