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Top 10 sports stories from the Gazette’s history

Most memorable moments in Gazette sports coverage history

Bill Masucci has plenty of stories to tell about the summer of 1954. Nearly all of them bring a smile to his face, even when he reminisces about the long home run ball he delivered to Ken Hubbs during the championship game of the Little League World Series.

“He hit a home run off of me that’s still going,” said Masucci, who picked up the pitching victory in Schenectady’s 7-5 win over Hubbs’ team from Colton, California, on Aug. 27, 65 years ago in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. “I hadn’t given up a home run all year and I gave up two that day. But Hubbs, who went on to play for the Chicago Cubs, hit one that’s still out there somewhere. It cleared the fence in left field. It cleared the bleachers. It just kept on going.”

A retired baseball coach who taught physical education and health in the Schenectady City School District, and now a resident of Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, Masucci was one of the stars on a team that had earned its second straight trip to Williamsport, having lost the 1953 final to Birmingham, Alabama, 1-0. Future Major League players Jim Barbieri and Billy Connors were major contributors on that team, as were Joey Loudis, Ernie Lotano and Pete Fennicks, to name a few.

On their return to Schenectady, the boys, coached by Mike Maietta and Lindy Buonome, were paraded through the city. The entire team also made an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, then hosted by Schenectady native Dave Garroway, and Masucci and Connors were featured as sportscasters by the local television station, WRGB Channel 6.

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“Connors and I had each pitched a no-hitter in the regionals,” remembered Masucci. “They called us the Twin Bills, and WRGB had us on giving the sports report that morning. Dave Garroway came up from New York to do the show, and they broadcast it all from that little park across from the YMCA and what is now the community college.”

During the summer months, Masucci says a day seldom goes by when he doesn’t think about Schenectady’s trip to Williamsport more than a half century ago. He adds, however, that part of the reason memories keep coming back is because he has a 14-year-old grandson who plays baseball.

“He’s on a travel team and we’re always on the road watching him play,” said Masucci, who in 1988 coached the Linton High baseball team to its only Section II title. “Really, I wouldn’t think of it so often or talk about it so much except that he keeps asking me questions, and then looks it up on the internet. He’s got two old baseballs of mine, and whenever I find any kind of memorabilia about me playing baseball I give it to him. My sister just sent me the Williamsport programs from 1953 and ’54. Eventually, they’ll belong to him, too.”

When selecting a piece of Schenectady sports history to lead a Top 10 list, you can’t go wrong with a bunch of 11- and 12-year-olds from Goose Hill, Bellevue, Mont Pleasant and just about every other neighborhood in the city performing at the highest level on the national stage. Masucci, who hit a home run himself in the championship game, his teammates already mentioned above, and the entire 14-man roster were made up of students attending schools in the city of Schenectady. The other members, all of them all-stars, were Chuck Caputo, Marty Dwore, Joe Kazmar, Chuck Neidel, Johnny Palmer, Mike Rakvica, Fred Riggi and Jack Scirocco.

While the Little League World Series victory in 1954 seems an easy choice as Schenectady’s finest sports moment ever, putting together the rest of the list can create quite a lively discussion. Do we put Union College’s 2014 NCAA hockey victory at No. 2, or Jeff Blatnick’s 1984 gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in Greco-Roman wrestling?

As for the rest of the Top 10, you have to find a spot for people like Frank Taberski, a world champion in pocket billiards from 100 years ago, and Marty Servo, who won the world welterweight boxing championship in 1946. Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney became the first woman to win a major drag racing title in 1977, while other memorable moments include Tommy Lasorda’s 25 strikeouts in a 15-inning game with the Schenectady Blue Jays in 1948, and Ivan Lendl’s appearance at the OTB Open tennis tournament in Central Park in 1993.

And if you’re talking about Schenectady sports, you can’t help but mention the city’s glorious high school history, including legendary basketball players such as Pat Riley and Barry Kramer, and the 1998 and 2001 Schenectady High School teams that won the state Class A championship.

Union College wins NCAA title

Union College, coached by Rick Bennett, won the 2014 NCAA Hockey Championship in April of that year. The Dutchmen advanced to the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, defeated Boston College in the semifinals, 5-4, and Minnesota in the championship game, 7-4. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had a goal and two assists in the final, earning the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player Award. It is Union’s only NCAA title in 27 years as a Division I hockey program, while Minnesota entered the game as a five-time winner and six-time runner-up.

Blatnick captures Olympic gold

A 1975 graduate of Niskayuna High School, Jeff Blatnick won a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1982. A high school state champ at Niskayuna in the heavyweight division and a three-time All-American at Springfield College, Blatnick had earlier qualified for the Olympic team but could not compete due to the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Games.

Taberski best in billiards

Nicknamed “The Gray Fox,” Frank Taberski was born in Poland in 1889 before emigrating to the U.S. as a young boy, originally to Amsterdam before the family relocated to Schenectady. In 1916 at the age of 26, he won his first world championship, and then defended his title nine more times before retiring in 1918. Known for his precision and slow play, he came out of retirement to claim the world title again in 1925. He once had a straight pool run of 238 shots.

Servo claims welterweight crown

On January 10, 1946, at the Royal Roller Skating Rink in the Hungry Hill neighborhood of Schenectady, hometown hero Marty Servo posted a 10-round unanimous decision victory over Stanley “Baby” Sims. It was billed as “the biggest fight in Schenectady history” and just three weeks later, on Feb. 1, Servo won the world welterweight championship with a fourth-round knockout of Freddie “Red” Cochrane at Madison Square Garden.

Muldowney top dragster

Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney, known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” was born in Burlington, Vermont, in 1940 and grew up in Schenectady. She made her debut at Fonda Speedway in 1958, and captured National Hot Rod Association titles in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Her life story was depicted in the 1983 Hollywood movie “Heart Like a Wheel” starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney.

Alcindor vs. Riley

Any conversation about high school basketball history in Schenectady must begin with players such as Pat Riley and Barry Kramer, both standouts at Linton High who went on to be college All-Americans. Riley, of course, went on to play and coach in the NBA, winning titles as a player and a coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and as a coach with the Miami Heat. And while many area high schools have captured state titles, Schenectady High’s 1998 and 2001 NYSPHAA basketball titles are hard to top. Still, for a most memorable moment, you probably have to look back to the 1961-1962 season when Riley and the Linton Blue Devils handed visiting Power Memorial and Lew Alcindor (who would become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) a 74-68 setback before a packed house in the Linton gym.

Lasorda strikes out 25

Tommy Lasorda, who went on to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles in the 1980s, was a minor league pitcher with the Schenectady Blue Jays in May of 1948 when he struck out 25 batters in a 15-inning game against the Amsterdam Rugmakers. Lasorda, who also walked 12 and hit a batter, ended the game himself with a walk-off RBI single, giving the Blue Jays a 6-5 win.

Linton-Mont Pleasant grid rivalry

For many lifelong Schenectadians, the biggest sporting event of the year was the Linton-Mont Pleasant football game, usually held every Election Day, a Tuesday, since 1932. In 1954, however, with both teams sporting a 5-0 record, what was one of the most anticipated matchups in the city’s history never happened because of a polio outbreak. The game was canceled a few days before its scheduled date, and the series resumed the following fall and continued until the city’s two high school football teams merged in 1986.

Lendl plays at Central Park

Ivan Lendl was an eight-time Grand Slam champion when he came to the 1993 OTB Open as the tournament’s top seed. His first match was on a Tuesday morning at 11 a.m., and before Lendl stepped on Central Park’s Stadium Court that day, the stands were filled beyond capacity. There were hundreds of people outside the gates that couldn’t get a seat, and a few of the more enthusiastic Lendl fans were climbing trees hoping to get a glimpse of their man.

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