By Keith Mills
On a breezy spring day in May 1974, nearly a dozen high school baseball players gathered for practice at the 6th Street Fields in Brooklyn for a workout that, in some cases, would change their lives.
The team was the Brooklyn Optimist Baseball Club, one of the premier 14-16 amateur teams in the country.
The manager was Pat O'Malley, then a sports writer for the Baltimore News American, who would go on to coach baseball in the area for a quarter-century, assembling some of the finest teams in local sandlot history.
There has never been anyone in local sports like O'Malley -- and probably never will be. There wasn't an issue he wouldn't tackle or stand he wouldn't take as a reporter and broadcaster. There wasn't a player he couldn't motivate or an umpire he wouldn't challenge as a baseball coach.
Along the way, O'Malley rocked the boat and made some enemies. He also nurtured deep and lasting relationships with his players and left an imprint that was never forgotten.
I was one of his players. So was former Poly star and University of Maryland standout Frankie Thomas.
"Pat was one of those guys who you loved playing for," Thomas said, "but you hated playing against. It was a lot like Bernie Walter and Walter Youse. When you were on their team, it was great. When you weren't, you wanted nothing more than to beat them."
Thomas grew up in South Baltimore. He spent seven years in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and always thanked O'Malley for helping shape his baseball career.
Thomas played shortstop on the 1974 Brooklyn Optimist team. I played second base. On that spring day in May 1974, we gathered on the infamous 6th Street oval in Brooklyn to begin a journey that ended a few months later with a national championship and a 72-8 record.
As with all of O'Malley's teams, the players came from throughout the area. Hal Martin was a teammate of Thomas' at Poly. Phil Pundt and Joe O'Malley played for Hal Sparks at Mount St. Joseph. Joe Powell went to Overlea; catcher Mickey Henry to DeMatha; Bobby Oswald to Calvert Hall; and Terry Cook and John Hartnett to Loyola, where they also played for O'Malley, who had replaced Jerry Savage as head coach just two years earlier.
Shawn Thompson and Cleve Heiser went to Andover; Gary Cooper to Cardinal Gibbons; Mark Kurlock to Glen Burnie; Steve Schumann to Severna Park; Gene Shover to Woodlawn; Lee Ludwig to Catonsville; and Lee Anarino, Mark Stumpf and I to Brooklyn Park, where we played for coach Tim McMullen, one of O'Malley's Mount St. Joe classmates and childhood friends.
O'Malley was our leader. Two years earlier, during the summer of 1972, O'Malley's brother Joe, first baseman Gary Bishop, center fielder Kevin Keeler, pitcher Paul Taylor and shortstop Mike Singleton anchored a team that also won 72 games and a national championship. O'Malley, then just 27 years old and already a huge influence on the local sandlot scene, had put together another team that would do the same.
"Pat was my best friend's older brother," said Bishop, who teamed with second baseman Joe O'Malley to form a 1-2 punch for not only Brooklyn, but for the Leone's-Johnny's powerhouse two years later and coach Charlie Sullivan's juggernaut at Poly. "We grew up playing at the 6th Street oval. Playing for Pat got us into a routine of 80-85 games a summer. I don't remember all the records, but I remember in '72 we were 72-11 and won a national championship. Pat coached us in everything and was a huge part of not just my career, but hundreds of kids like me."
O'Malley is now 64 and, in his own words, is back. After retiring from the Baltimore Sun seven years ago, a serious illness forced him to the sidelines the last two years for the first time during his professional career. But he's back now, covering games for the Varsity Sports Network and getting ready for yet another baseball season to document, his 43rd since joining the News American in 1969.
"It's wonderful having him back," said Tim O'Malley, Pat's younger brother, who also played at Poly before moving on to a solid career at UMBC. "I think he's a kinder, gentler Pat after having gone through what he's gone through, but he's still Pat."
O'Malley grew up in the Brooklyn section of South Baltimore and played amateur baseball for Jack Conley and then in high school for Savage at Mount St. Joe. He played left field on a team that included Tommy Hudson, John Hennesey and Victor Monti.
As a junior at Mount St. Joe, he began coaching.
"Jim's Sunoco," O'Malley said, "in the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay Little League program at 6th Street."
A love affair was born. O'Malley coached amateur baseball, football and basketball and after graduating from the University of Baltimore in 1968, he took a job working for John Steadman at the News American.
"I learned a lot of from Steadman," O'Malley said of the legendary columnist for the News American and Evening Sun, who passed away 11 years ago. "What I learned from John was to get involved. He was an amazing man, a great writer and a real voice of the people and the fan. But he got involved and did a lot of things on the side."
So did O'Malley, who hosted a radio talk show at WNAV in Annapolis for 20 years and several local cable television shows. He has been the ring announcer for Ballroom Boxing at Michael's 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie and an associate scout in major league baseball for more than 30 years, first with the St. Louis Cardinals, then the California Angels and finally with the hometown Orioles.
But it has been on the baseball field and as a writer for the News American and later the Sun where O'Malley has left his mark on Baltimore amateur and professional sports.
O'Malley coached for 25 years and has covered local sports for the last 42. At the News American, he wrote for a Sunday supplement called "Young World."
"Pat O'Malley was Young World," said Bishop, a longtime family friend who played in the Kansas City Royals farm system. "Every Sunday, you bought the News American to read what Pat wrote in Young World."
O'Malley was to high school and amateur sports in Baltimore what Steadman was to the Orioles and Colts, Vince Bagli was to local television sports and Charley Eckman was to radio. He made amateur sports a priority and in 1978 he left the News American for the Sun, where he covered high school sports and spent many nights documenting the Orioles at Memorial Stadium for his radio and television shows.
"I was out at Memorial Stadium almost every night," O'Malley said. Tim Thompson hired him in 1969 as an associate scout with the Cardinals and he later worked for former Orioles scout Youse with the Angels, and Dick Bowie with the Orioles. "I had the great pleasure of talking with guys like Earl Weaver, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Sparky Anderson, Cal Ripken. It was fun to be around the ballpark at that time."
There are five events that Pat created during his 40-plus years of covering high school sports that he looks back on with great pride, five events that helped shape the current landscape of Baltimore-area high school.
YOUNG WORLD FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT
"Back in the 1970s, I was ranking amateur football teams in weight classes," O'Malley said, "and there were always people calling and arguing about the rankings. The coaches really got into it. I organized a state tournament for several different age groups.
"Jim Hindman (who eventually started the Jiffy Lube franchise and once coached the football team at Western Maryland College) got involved. He was running the Randallstown Optimist program then. So we decided to play this tournament at Utz Twardowicz Field in Patterson Park. I had a meeting thinking maybe 60 coaches would show up and 150 teams showed up.
"The semifinals and the finals in each weight class were held at Utz. It went on for two weeks and every night, the place was packed. One thing I'll never forget is the Fort Meade team in the 150-pound class. Their quarterback was a kid named Neal Herrick. The game went seven overtimes, and Neal pushed it in for the win."
Herrick eventually led Arundel High to state championships in both football and baseball during the mid-1970s before pitching in the Orioles' farm system for four years. This spring, he'll assist his brother Jeff in coaching the baseball team at Broadneck
ANNE ARUNDEL ACADEMIC/ATHLETIC TEAM
"When I got to the Sun, we started the All-Academic/Athletic team," O'Malley said. "We did that for 15 years, and I was very proud of that. We'd get hundreds of applications."
Marvin Charles and Kelly Dirks (Annapolis), Derrick Arnold and Julie Iversen (Northeast), Ryan McGarry (Severna Park), Jonathan Higdon (South River), Nathanial Smith (Glen Burnie), and Jason King and Kathleen Brady (Archbishop Spalding) were just some of the hundreds of scholar-athletes O'Malley selected for the Sun's Academic/Athletic teams.
"It was always my hope when we started it that we would be able to one day give out monetary scholarships," O'Malley said, "and the last three years, we were able to give away $5,000 to the overall winners and some money to the runner-up as well."
ARUNDEL SUN/ORIOLELANDER ALL-STAR BASEBALL GAME
During the 1960s and '70s, the News American sponsored the Hearst All-Star game at Memorial Stadium. A group of area high school baseball stars, who O'Malley picked, played a group of prospects from the rest of the state and region called the Oriolelanders, which Orioles scout Bowie selected.
The first game was played before a standing-room-only crowd and an army of major league scouts and college coaches at Saw Mill Park in Glen Burnie. It featured future Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson of Overlea High; current Orioles scout Dean Albany of Brooklyn Park; Sparrows Point's Dave Griggs, who was also drafted by the Orioles; and a variety of other outstanding high school seniors.
Later Arundel Sun teams included North County's Mike Wooden, Arundel's Denny Neagle and Tim Giles, Northeast's Donny Gilbert, Old Mill's Kenny Pumphrey, Brooklyn Park's Jack Turek and Scott Rowe, and future major league pitcher Tony Saunders of Glen Burnie and Howard high schools.
"We had a special tabloid section we'd run with a head shot of every player," O'Malley said, "a lot of local advertising, and the fans ate it up."
ARUNDEL SUN COMMUNITY DAY
The Arundel Sun All-Star game was eventually moved to Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold as part of Arundel Sun Community Day, an idea O'Malley had through the support of then-Baltimore Sun publisher Reg Murphy.
"Reg came down to the first community day we had," O'Malley said. "We also had a girls' softball all-star game, different tents and exhibits. A lot of the county schools got involved. It turned out to be a real good thing."
ARUNDEL DECADE TEAMS
"We did it for every sport in the 1980s," O'Malley said, "and some of the players on those teams were incredible."
Tim, Jeff and Donald Brown (Annapolis), Neagle of Arundel, Terry Gaskil (Andover), Betsy Elder (Severna Park), Chuck Sturm (Old Mill), Ziz Abdur Ra'oof (Northeast), Mitch Suplee (Severna Park), and Eric and Bruce Reid (Annapolis) were among the many outstanding athletes O'Malley selected on the Sun's All-Decade teams.
"That was fun putting those teams together," O'Malley said. "I locked myself in my house in Severna Park for a week and didn't come out. It was worth it."
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Issue 170: February 2012