"Z," as Zolna is called, is Mr. 16-inch softball. Zolna pitches, and he claims to have won about 3,000 games, which makes him a very big hit in Chicago but does not do much for him anywhere else. There are somewhere between 10,000 and 11,000 16-inch teams in the United States today, and most of them call Chicago home. Eddie Zolna's team is Dr. Carlucci's Bobcats, named after its sponsor, a dentist from Fox Lake, Ill. Every year, Dr. Carlucci gets a letter from his local dental association. It includes a reprimand for advertising his dental practice through his team—and a note of congratulations for having won the national championship again. The Bobcats have won six times, counting their most recent victory this month in St. Louis, and Eddie Zolna has pitched every game of all six championships, winning 55 and losing seven.
Zolna says, "I've probably struck out two guys in 25 years," but he does not recall what kind of a pitch got either of them. Anyone can hit the 16-inch ball, and every new player wants to, so Eddie Zolna lets them and they hit it to his fielders. In the first game at St. Louis, Zolna's arm would come down and then at the moment of release the ball would stick in his hand—one count, two counts—and the batter never knew when to expect it. At other times Zolna leaped sideways from the rubber at the moment of release or hesitated in his motion. Each move affected the batter's timing. At the end of the game the head umpire took Zolna aside and told him of some rule changes. No more Eddie Zolna tricks, he said. No hesitations, no jumping, no crazy angles.
The Amateur Softball Association of America, it turned out, was taking steps to standardize the game, to give it broader appeal by bringing it closer to the far more widespread 12-inch game, a move that found no overwhelming popularity among the Chicago players. In the game they and Eddie Zolna like, the batter and pitcher are only 38 feet apart, enough to keep a ground ball from finding a hole. Still, enough balls do get through to drive scores up to 7-6 or thereabouts. Though curbed, Zolna pitched in all six of his team's wins in St. Louis. He knew the better batters, he kept the ball outside to the pull hitters and inside to the others. His earned run average for the tournament was under 3.00. Slow pitchers should do so well.
Many people at both Dallas and St. Louis were down on the 12-inch slow-pitch game, and it was easy to see why. The Zolnas were concerned that its growing popularity would dilute the unique qualities of their game. And the fast-pitch men were worried lest the "home run freaks," as some called the Jacksonville types, would swallow them up. They trotted out statistics: in 1965 60% of the country's Softball teams were fast pitch and 40% slow; now, only seven years later, the figures are 80% slow and 20% fast. The pitching at Dallas was weaker than in past years and an ASA official said, "A lot of fast-pitch teams have folded because many young players are going to slow pitch." As a Stratford player said, "Lots of guys play slow pitch because they'd have trouble being stars right away in fast pitch. That takes years. Anyone with a bat in his hand can be a star in slow pitch."
Someone mentioned Cobbie Harrison's feats at Jacksonville—his .875 batting average, 22 RBIs, 13 home runs and 2.125 slugging average. Now 25, Harrison played two years in the Minnesota Twins' farm system after high school. When asked about his hitting in the minors he said, "I wasn't a power hitter then." In Dallas and St. Louis, the case rested.