Photo: The 1964 Gadsden Pony League All-Stars gather for a photo prior to competing in the Pony League World Series in San Diego, Calif. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Mike Johnson, Jimmy Black, Bill Brooks, Bruce Hill, Elwin Martin, Gary Osborn, Eddie Roberts, Mike Davidson. Standing, from left: manager E.S. Black, Craig Edge, Mike Kirby, Benny Hale, Bobby Robertson, Bruce Jordan, Rod Langshore, Eddie Lumpkin, coach John Bailey. (Courtesy of Bruce Hill)
By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
When a large Delta Airlines plane touched down at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport on Sept. 1, 1964, the Gadsden Pony League All-Stars ended the trip of a lifetime.
The local youth baseball team was finishing up a 15-day, 5,000-mile trip through several western states that included a second-place finish from the Pony League World Se-ries in San Diego, Calif. The team proved to be a special group of youngsters that overcame all odds to bring home the national runner-up trophy.
Team members were Bobby Robertson, Eddie Roberts, Mike Johnson, Elwin Martin, Jimmy Black, Eddie Lumpkin, Mike Kirby, Bruce Hill, Craig Edge, Bruce Jordan, Gary Osborne, Benny Hale, Rod Longshore, Bill Brooks and Mike Davidson. Managers were John Bailey and E.S. Black.
The all-stars defeated Woodlawn Avondale in the championship game of the Central Region Tournament in Gadsden to earn a berth Southern Division Tournament in Fort Worth, Tex., where the all-stars defeated North Houston, 4-2, in the title game to clinch a spot in the world series. It was the team’s sixth straight tournament win.
Osborn had fond memories of the trip.
“It seemed like we would not get to make the trip from the beginning. Money was scarce, and [the Southern Division Tournament] in Texas was a long way to go to play baseball. We were fighting an uphill battle, but a special person came to help.”
Said person turned out to be longtime Emma Sansom High School band director Billy “Rip” Reagan.
“He came to our rescue,” said Osborn. “He offered one of the school’s band buses, and even drove us to Texas. There was no stopping us.”
With the school year starting the next week, the local Pony Leaguers boarded a chartered Greyhound bus and headed for California. Waiting for the upon its arrival in San Diego was a 23-foot long telegram from the Gadsden Chamber of Commerce bearing the signatures of 786 local well-wishers. In addition, the Gadsden Jaycees donated new uniforms for the team’s stay in California.
Along with Alabama representative Gadsden, the three other teams that qualified for the World Series were Campbell-Morehead, Calif.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Paducah, Kent. The games were played on a major league field with former major league umpires.
Gadsden opened the tournament with a 16-inning thriller against Campbell. The local squad held a 1-0 lead going into the final inning, but a manufactured run by the California team produced a pitchers’ duel. A three-run home run in the 16th inning gave Campbell-Morehead the margin of victory.
Playing out of the losers’ bracket, however, Gadsden posted a 4-0 win over Greensboro and an 8-7 victory over Paducah to set up another game against Campbell-Morehead. Gadsden lost, 8-2, to give the California team the championship. Roberts earned the tournament’s Top Hitter award with 11 hits.
During its week in California, the Gadsden team visited the San Diego Aquarium and San Diego Zoo and made a side trip to Mexico. Elwin Martin was the life of the party while the team was in San Diego. Edge, Rod Longshore and Black all celebrated birthdays during the trip.
Gadsden High graduate Bob White who was an executive with Delta Airlines, made arrangements to fly the team from California to Birmingham. The team then boarded buses in Birmingham and rode to Gadsden, where Pony Leaguers were met with a parade downtown on Broad Street.
Lumpkin, Kirby and Brooks autographed baseballs for city officials following the parade. In addition, the team was recognized prior to the Gadsden/Emma Sansom football game on Sept. 11.