My father’s birthday is today. Cliff Glier would be 95. For 25 years he celebrated his birthday in Williamsport, Pa. The “uncles”, the personal aides assigned to each team at the Little League World Series, would present him a cake.They all sang Happy Birthday and then the next we heard was “Play ball.”
My dad was the Voice of Little League Baseball, the public address announcer at Lamade Stadium when it opened in 1968. He was also the first director of the Little League Baseball Museum.
I wonder what he would say about all the pageantry and fierce competition to get to the Series? Teams have cheated, gone way overboard in training, recruited, built batting cages to train all winter. Parents have made fools of themselves conniving to get to Williamsport.
Then again, the Challenger Program, which he helped start, has benefited a lot of physically-challenged kids. I’m sure some of the ESPN money that has flowed in has been a big help. You can credit President Steve Keener, who might be the only person still around when I was last there.
The Series was expanded from eight teams to 16 teams in 2001. I go back and forth on 16 teams because the Series has become a pressure-packed deal. Eight seemed like a true World Championship. Now it wrecks two weeks of school. The Chamber of Commerce in Williamsport and South Williamsport, I’m sure, is overjoyed.
It’s been 55 years since I first went to the Little League World Series. You wouldn’t recognize it from 1964 when I watched Sal Yaccarino beat Mexico, 4-0, in the final.
So some flashback:
My dad umpired in the Little League World Series in 1964 when I was 7 years old. I hounded him to let me go. We had an old car that 11 children had torn up pretty good, but a friend loaned us a convertible. Off we went, my dad, my sister who had to watch me, and maybe another sibling.
My dad was a great umpire. He also worked for the Voice of America and then the United States Information Agency and helped Little League Baseball become Little League Baseball, Inc. with a charter of incorporation in 1960. He produced a film with Dick Van Dyke called “Summer Fever.” Back then, all eight Little League teams went to the White House after the championship game.
When my dad became the PA announcer in ‘68, I was 11, brother Gerry was 10, brother Kip was 12. We lived in Northern Virginia and made the drive each August.
During the games, I sat next to my dad in the area behind home plate in the dugout.
Wakayama, Japan defeated Richmond, Va. 1-0 in 1968. Gerry found a man from ABC needed somebody to keep a scorebook. Gerry did the deal. $10 bucks. The guy tried to give us $5. “$You said $10,” my brother said. We got $10.
Meanwhile, the Japansese kids cried and cried….with joy. I still remember a couple of names: Yukio Yamasta and Hideki Higashida.
Before all the security got in place in The Grove where the teams stay, I ran all over the Grove playing ping pong with the Japanese, jumping in the pool with kids from Canada, and eating really good food.
Taiwan replaced Japan in 1969 as the Asia powerhouse, but before the Tainwanese took over the World Series for the next 20 years, they lost in 1970. I still remember a left-handed pitcher named Francisco Paz beat them. He was good. He should have been good. He was 14; the Chinese were 12. Paz and his team were from Nicaragua.
On the bank where kids today are sliding down the hill on cardboard, Chinese from the mainland fought with Chinese from Taiwan. I went out there and saw one guy take the pole with a flag in it and ram another fan in the stomach.
I saw up close___15 feet behind him__as Lloyd McLendon hit his record-setting five consecutive home runs for Gary, Indiana in 1971. Lloyd hit a three-run blast in the championship game against China in the first inning and they walked him every time after that. The Gary kids were tied 3-3 after regulation six innings against a Chinese team that destroyed opponents. Gary, the first all African-American team, lost 12-3 in 9.
I usually sat next to my father keeping a scorebook for him. Get this. I was actually official scorer at The Little League World Series in place of the legendary Ray Keyes one afternoon in the consolation games. I was 23 years old.
The best moment? Easy. In one final I sat next to my idol, Mickey Mantle. Wide World of Sports still did the broadcast. Bud Palmer was in the booth with me and Mickey. I have the autograph on the back of my scorebook to prove it.
In 1975, I didn’t go to the series, which was fine because foreign teams were banned. Little League (“headquarters” as my dad called it) didn’t like the all-in culture of the Chinese. There were also doubts about the boundaries, my dad told me. Players have to be selected from certain neighborhood lines and the Chinese were picking a team of all-stars out of thousands of kids while U.S. teams were picking from hundreds.
By then, my dad was on the Little League Baseball International Board of Directors. He knew.
In 1980, I launched my freelance business at the Little League World Series. I worked for the Des Moines Register, Chicago Tribune, and the paper in Kirkland, Wash. I saw Gary Sheffield and the African-American team from Belmont Heights. They were really good; the Chinese won, 4-3.
That’s it. Just a flashback.