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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:04:11 16:03:42

COURTESY OF JOHN “BOZO” CONNORS The 1951 Pittston AA baseball team of the Suburban League. Front row, from left, Frank Mangan, Teddy Louden, Al Reddington, Joe McGlynn and manager Bill Walker. Second row, Bobby Brown, Sonny Maughan, Bozo Connors, Bobby Feeney, Sime Bernosky, John Brown, Bill Donnelly, Lugsy Thomas and Fred Huthmaker.

In winter 1909, three Pittston men — Patrick Clisham, John Melvin and Al Pace — called for baseball teams from the Pittston area to form a league they called the Suburban League.

Four teams — Hamtown, Sebastapol, Browntown and Cork Lane, AKA the Pittston Athletics — joined the first Pittston Suburban League.

Cork Lane won the first pennant and were “banqueted by the young ladies of Cork Lane DCBG club,” according to the Pittston Gazette.

A story in the Gazette spelled out the 1916 league specs. Six teams played 20-game schedules, playing each other four times — two home and away. The pennant-winning team would win $100 and second place $50. Boundary limit was extended to include Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Professional players were allowed on rosters, which were limited to 20 players until June 15, and 15 after. Umpire pay was $3 per game and $5 per double-header.

By the time the league disbanded in the mid-1960s, the Suburban was one of the oldest, longest-lasting and most competitive amateur leagues in the state. The league operated from 1909 to 1967 with breaks for World War I in 1917 and 1918; WWII from 1942-1945 and for lack of interest from 1956 to ’58.

John “Bozo” Connors, a member of the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame, pitched for the Pittston AC in the Suburban League in 1951, the year he turned 19.

Connors’ connection to the Suburban is extensive. His father, Mike Connors, played in the 1910s. He had brothers, uncles and cousins who played. At one time, six Connors boys played in the Suburban. Cousin Marty Connors, a Suburban star, pitched for St. Bonaventure University in the 1910s.

In 1951, with Connors or Fred Huthmaker, from Harding, pitching all their games, Pittston AC won the regular-season pennant. Connors was undefeated and Huthmaker lost two games.

The playoffs stretched into September and October, leaving Connors unavailable. He had to report to William & Mary where he was a scholarship football player.

In the final game of a best-of-three for the playoff championship, Hamtown beat Pittston and Huthmaker 8-0. It was a bad outing for Huthmaker, who pitched a two-hitter in the first game and who pitched four seasons in the minor leagues in the Georgia State League and in the Eastern League for Allentown.

Huthmaker was one of several Suburban Leaguers who played professional baseball. Johnny Hughes, a crack third baseman from Avoca who played for Junction in the Suburban, batted .305 and .306 for the Scranton Miners in 1929 and 1930 and .257 for Buffalo in the International League in 1931.

Jim Haggerty from Plains caught one season for Greensboro in the North Carolina State League.

Adam Comorosky, from Swoyersville, was 19 when he played for Exeter in the Suburban in the early 1920s. He played in the Major Leagues, mostly with the Pirates, from 1926-1935, was a lifetime .285 hitter and led the NL in triples in 1930.

Michael “Mickey” Haslin, from Plains, was a major league utility infielder from 1933-38, mostly with the Phillies.

In the 1920s to 1940s crowds at important games were enormous.

In a 1910 postseason game between YMI (a Christian Ministry organization) and Duryea for $100 and the gate, state police had to clear a culm bank to stop fans from watching for free. Tickets were 15 cents. In 1941, 3,000 saw Lokuta’s Undertakers defeat Hilldale in the title game.

Two crowds of 8,000 — more than the average game for 13 of 16 major league teams — were reported in 1922, one for the second game of the playoff series and another for a non-league game on Labor Day between Dupont of the Suburban and Avoca of the Lackawanna League.

Even regular season games in the 1920s could draw 1,000 to 3,000. That was the Suburban’s heyday when top players from the two counties and beyond played and good teams clamored to join.

In 1922, Dupont and Exeter, winners of the Susquehanna and County Leagues joined the Suburban.

As an aside, Tommy Lillis, who was the popular manager of Browntown in the 1920s, was murdered. He was shot six times, just 100 yards from the Browntown Field in 1928. Police suspected he was killed for his mine union activism.

Back to Connors. He pitched in several different leagues in the 1950s. In 1951, when he pitched for Pittston AC in the Suburban, he also pitched in the Anthracite League for Valley House. A season later, he pitched for Brookside against Miners Mills in a Wyoming League playoff series and was paid $25 a game. The Wyoming League had a similar history to the Suburban League, lasting from the 1900s into the 1960s. Despite its name, the Wyoming hotbed was in lower Luzerne County from Plymouth to Shickshinny.

Connors, 86, said, even in the 1950s, the Suburban, and the other leagues, were highly competitive. “Oh, yeah, they had some good players,” he said citing Streaky Dardes as a favorite.

Dardes was the catcher/manager of the legendary Pittston Red Devils and played in the minors. Connors recalls winning $10 for leading the Anthracite League in home runs in 1949, the year he graduated from St. John’s High School in Pittston.

“A couple guys I graduated with O’Malley and Bob Linskey played in the minors,” Connor said.

Linskey, who also played in the Suburban, played in the North Atlantic League with Carbondale. Connors said the team sponsor Jimmy Galasso bet on all the games. “He must have made a lot of money, because we won a lot of games,” Connors said.

Damien Lokuta, 71, is related to the Lokuta family who sponsored the Undertakers, the 1941 pennant winners.

He doesn’t remember that as he wasn’t born yet, but he does remember as a boy watching the two Dupont Suburban teams, the Rebels and AC, play at the Ben Franklin school field.

“My heroes were guys like Duker Romanko, Hank Jemiola, Ed Oprendick and Paul Plisko. The umpire was Paulie Pascoe, he was a character,” Lokuta said.

Lokuta and his brother, Jan, also took in games at Hilldale where they watched from the Laurel Line tracks.

The 1946 season opened with eight teams and a lot of fanfare after the break during the war years.

Granteed’s and Sebastapol played the opener at Jenkins Field. Dan Flood threw out the ceremonial first pitch and Sam Galasso won a prize for the first home run.

After the 1946 season Avoca, winners of Upper County League, beat Junction of the Suburban 6-1. Not all Junction players were available. The pitcher was 56-year-old Yebbo Bolin, who gave up only six hits went nine innngs.

In the 1961 opener Joe Gocek pitched a no-hitter against Pittston with 18 strikeouts, winning 2-0 on a late-inning double by Ace Brogna, another Suburban Leaguer who played minor league ball.

The league held on until 1967, but was showing its age with only four teams. Old Fashioned hardball could not compete with softball which was less expensive, easier to play, with quicker games and smaller fields.

sports@pittstonprogress.com