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Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2015

Defunct leagues still leave a trace

Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2011, at 10:28 AM

Quickly, how many of you can recall more than one now-defunct professional sports league?

Probably the most prevalent in Indiana at least, will be the old American Basketball Association.

With their red, white and blue basketballs and the twice champion Indiana Pacers it's not hard to remember for sports fans here in the Hoosier State.

Some will likely vividly remember the American Football League, the World Football League or the World Hockey Association.

But what about perhaps the most obscure of them all. Does anyone recall the American Professional Slow Pitch League?

Yes at one time there was a professional men's slow pitch softball league and for a time it was scattered all around the Midwest and parts of the Eastern seaboard.

The league ran from 1977 until 1980 as a stand alone league before the formation of another rival league eventually led to the formation of another, but they were all related.

The APSPL began in 1977 with three, four-team divisions. The teams were sponsored by local businesses in their home cities, much like public softball leagues.

It featured teams such as the Kentucky Bourbons, the Milwaukee Copper Hearth (which later became the Milwaukee Schlitz), the Cincinnati Suds, the Pittsburgh Hardhats and well you get the idea.

Eventually, the APSPL had a rival called the North American Softball League which raided teams from the APSPL -- which according to some reports had the backing of ESPN -- and began business in 1980.

The two leagues remained separate for just one season then a merger took place that became the United Professional Softball League.

The merged leagues lasted until 1982 and there hasn't been a professional slow pitch league since.

My personal story of the APSPL comes from first hand exposure in around 1979 or 1980. It also reminds me that pro sports doesn't have to be elitist in it's thinking.

While on leave from the Army I had a chance to visit an old Army buddy who lived in Milwaukee. He had told me tales of the APSPL during my visit, so when he decided to take me to a game I found it intriguing to say the least.

The game was played at some out of the way field on the outskirts of Milwaukee -- in the suburb of Lannon and a place called of all things, Lannon Field. I don't know if any of you have ever been to Milwaukee, but there certainly are a lot of outskirts.

Anyway back on point, we turned into what I would have considered a nice beer league-type field. There were several fans scattered about and the bleacher seats were filled rather nicely.

You have to remember, in Milwaukee they play a lot of softball. There are teams sponsored by nearly every type of business imaginable.

Taverns, restaurants, etc. All kinds.

My friend and I, his name is Kevin Quinlan by the way, made our way to the game.

I had heard and read about the league while still in high school when it first started in 1977, but never dreamed I would ever have an occasion to watch it.

What I got and what I expected were two different things.

As the game progressed I couldn't help but think how most of the players looked just like ordinary Joe's you might see at a recreational league.

A lot of them as I recall didn't strike me as anymore athletic than any other slow pitch player I had met in my travels.

But take my word for it, looks can be deceiving.

My most vivid memory of the game between the Schlitz and the Detroit Softball City (yeah, I know the names are hokey) was the way they hit the ball.

It wasn't the usual long flyball outs with high pop-ups. There was certainly a full, robust flavor of power in almost every swing.

Whether they hit the ball or not, it was a thing to watch. Long flyballs that were smoked to the fence, liners that would tear your arm off if you misplayed them and high, sizzling shots toward the outfield.

When swings were missed, which wasn't very often and was usually an insult to the batter's ability, they appeared to be on the cusp of starting a small whirlwind.

I also remember thinking how unassuming the whole thing was. The fans were right there just a few feet from the players. They were able to talk through the fence and yak back and forth.

Professional leagues today could take something from them.

I don't really remember many more details of the game beyond that. But the simple and unassuming attitude of the league and its players still stand out in my mind and will likely remain there.

I guess if there's a legacy to be found, it would be that a pro league can exist and not be distant from its fans.

And that's something that the NFL, MLB and NBA should take note of now. They place themselves on a pedestal high above those of us who drop down an obnoxious amount of money to watch them play in their cathedral-like stadiums to help pay for their ridiculous salaries.

All the while taking themselves way too seriously and expecting us to do the same.

Perhaps if we could line up along the sidelines at Lucas Oil Stadium and trade "hello's" with Peyton Manning and the Colts or trade barbs with Tom Brady it would be more interesting and a lot more memorable.

But that's just me.

Rick is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 20. He can be reached by email at rcurl@gcdailyworld.com.

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Good story Rick! Didn't know about that one, heard of the other ones. A blast from the past.

-- Posted by baseballman on Thu, Jun 30, 2011, at 7:16 AM

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