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Even such modest items as team shirts and caps were exceptional in neighborhood games before Little League, and this is the first and greatest key to its appeal. James T. Farrell, who well remembers the chaos of sand-lot days and the never-fulfilled longings for good equipment of his youth in the Studs Lonigan country, gives eloquent testimony to this elsewhere on these pages, and to the marvels of organization and community spirit achieved by Chicago's Roseland Little League. "A prairie was turned into a neat ball field," Farrell observed, "and the kids played in uniforms like small imitations of the big leaguers."
A seed sprouts in Williamsport
From such earthy beginnings did the seed of Little League sprout in the first place. A Williamsport lumber company employee named Carl Stotz started it all. Saddened that his nephews could not find a team to play for and reminded of his own boyhood baseball frustrations, Stotz sold a few local businessmen on the idea of backing junior baseball. Stotz's first teams—three of them—performed in a Williamsport city park in 1939. The Little League made modest gains during the war years, and in 1946 Stotz directed 12 local leagues, all of them in Pennsylvania, most of them in Williamsport. The need for a safe shoe cleat fitted aptly with Stotz's memory of U.S. Rubber as a firm which had built a boy's softball diamond in Williamsport in his childhood. Stotz wanted a rubber-cleated shoe; when he went to U.S. Rubber he not only got his shoe, but also a big, willing and solvent sponsor for a national Little League program. The occasionally heard accusation that U.S. Rubber is shamefully exploiting youngsters for financial profit appears to be nothing more than sour grapes. Assuredly, the company has sold shoes to Little Leaguers, but it has not monopolized an official shoe, as it might have, and has spent $1 million over the years to maintain the World Series and help pay the bills at Williamsport. The principal yield to U.S. Rubber has been good will.
In the old, informal days, when he was president of Little League, Stotz wore the mantle of founder with pride and rounded up converts with joyous zeal. When his baby became Little League Baseball, Inc., in 1950 a U.S. Rubber advertising man named Charles Durban took over the presidency; Stotz stayed on as national commissioner. In 1952 Peter J. McGovern went from U.S. Rubber's public relations department to the league presidency. Then, abruptly, in 1955 Stotz had the sheriff padlock the door of Little League's suite on Williams-port's West Fourth Street and filed a $300,000 breach of contract suit against the organization which he had conceived.
In his suit Stotz charged that an amendment to Little League bylaws, effected on October 11, 1951, undercut his "right to make rules and regulations of play and to authorize regional directors to grant franchises and rule on the eligibility of those leagues." The Little League countered: "The developments which have taken place to which Stotz objects were necessary and furthered the original concept, while the policies and restriction of the development sought by Mr. Stotz are, in fact, detrimental to the program."
McGovern immediately relieved Stotz as commissioner and obtained a temporary restraining order preventing Stotz from establishing a rival organization, whose name was to be Original Little League. A settlement between Little League and Stotz, the terms of which were not disclosed, was reached before the date of a hearing on the league's petition for a permanent injunction. The league said no financial consideration was involved.
There was no reconciliation. Stotz now works for Williamsport's Lundy Lumber Company, has a hand in an independent league of four teams and views Little League officials as "interlopers who recline behind nicely stated purposes."
Today, in the reasonably serene offices in the Susquehanna Trust Company building on West Fourth Street, McGovern heads a full-time staff of eight. His chief aides are Dr. Creighton Hale, assistant to the president and director of the league's research program; Secretary Albert Houghton, former president of the now defunct Canadian-American professional league; John M. Lindemuth, national commissioner and head of the rules committee, a contemporary of Stotz's in the league's Williamsport beginnings; and Robert Stirrat, a former Long Island newspaperman who serves as public relations director. Mickey McConnell, former chief scout for the Brooklyn Dodgers, now director of youth activities for U.S. Rubber, weighs in with clinics for the small fry. McGovern is chairman of the 15-man board of directors which includes Eastern League's Tommy Richardson, a college president, a university dean, a weekly newspaper editor, businessmen, grass roots league representatives, the Hearst columnist Bob Considine and the celebrated accordionist, Lawrence Welk.
Keeping the feet spread
'We don't know how big Little League baseball will be," said McGovern at its first congress in 1956, "but we do know that its growth is a challenge to all of us.... We must try to get our feet spread so that we may be in a position to cope with [its] continued expansion."