Brookline Little League Association
Traveling PONY Team - 1955
The Undefeated

Picture of
 1955 Travelling PONY Team

Sitting: Jim Nardo, Richard Mezyk, Bill Mulligan, Ronald Bua, George Cardone, Batboy Jackie Connors.
Kneeling: Coach Henry Hofbauer, Larry Valentine, Charley Watterson, Gerald Armento, Gary Wright, Bob Wertz, Coach Harry Conners.
Standing: Coach Harry Reitmeyer, Bud Auen Jr., Jimmy Klingensmith, Charles Mathias, Jimmy Lowen, Dennis Mangan, Manager Jim Klingensmith, Sponsor Frank DeBor.

Click on image for a larger picture.

1955 Brookline Team Set The Gold Standard

The Brookline Little League Association was formed in 1951, when a group of local baseball lovers, led by John Pascarosa, levelled out a baseball diamond on the recently purchased grounds of the Community Center.

Since that time the league has flourished, growing from five teams (four Little League and one Pony League) to nearly fifty teams that fill the ranks of several age groups. Children aged six through eighteen compete each year, hoping to lay claim to a divisional or league championship.

In the fifty years since the first cry of "Play Ball" rang out on the fields of East Brookline, never has a team so dominated the baseball diamond than Jim Klingensmith's 1955 Traveling PONY League team. These talented 13 and 14 year olds rang up a 28-0 record, obliterating their opposition so completely that the post-season playoffs were nearly cancelled by a unanimous vote of the opposing South Hills League coaches.

It's going on forty-five years now since Kling's Klan set the "Gold Standard" by which all future teams have been measured. Only three times have a group of youngsters risen to their level. Joe Power's 1967-68 BYMC squad put together a 29-1 string, the 1965-66 American Legion Little League team compiled a two-year run of 39-1 and Tim Reitmeyer's 1998-99 Steve Poremski Plumbing squad amassed a 31-0 two-year mark. Ironically, Tim's father, Harry Reitmeyer, was a coach on the 1955 PONY squad.

A recent visit to Jim Klingensmith's home allowed the still feisty 88-year old to reminisce on the achievement of his '55 team, and marvel at the timelessness of their remarkable season. The memories were still so fresh in his mind. After a glance at the team photo, the only one left from his 13 years with the Brookline Little League, and a walk to his sitting room, where the 1955 South Hills League championship trophy still sits among his most treasured momentos, the story began to unfold.

Kling was one of the founding fathers of the Brookline baseball league along with such familiar names as Sam Bryen, Joe Power, Bud Auen Sr and James McGaffin. With his eleven year old son Jimmy in Little League, Jim signed on as skipper of the PONY team in 1951 and slowly learned the art of managing, figuring perhaps that by the time his son moved up he would have a little experience under his belt.

"I didn't know a whole lot about managing," Jim admitted, "but as the Pirate's chief photographer I spent spring trainings with the club. I paid close attention to the Pirate coaches, asked a lot of questions and learned a few plays."

By 1955 Kling had it down to a science and, in tandem with coach Harry Connors, was becoming quite a mentor.

"Harry was a great man in sports." Jim said. "He coached basketball and football at Ressi and was a great athlete in his own right. He and I were great friends and Harry was a big contributor to the success of our PONY team."

Together, Kling and Harry began to mold their 1955 group into a serious baseball machine. They practiced whenever and wherever they could. If a field wasn't open they would find a vacant lot. They worked on bunting, fielding and specialty plays. Each player had a roll and they were all instructed to pay strict attention to the game.

"We had several pick-off plays worked out that I had learned from the Pirate coaches," Jim recalled, "but they were only successful when all the players worked as a team. If I saw anyone not paying attention I would let out a loud whistle. All nine of them would snap to. I never had to call out a name."

Jim demonstrated some of their prize plays. He explained as he went along. "If a runner on first was too far off the bag the third baseman would motion with his hand. The pitcher would say 101, pivot and throw. If a runner on second was straying, the catcher would rub his chest protector. The pitcher would say 101, pivot and throw. The second baseman always took the throw. If someone did not see the sign the ball got away, but Harry and I kept an eye on them, and if we saw them wandering, I'd let loose that whistle."

"Harry and I were also big on fundamentals," Jim asserted. "Every boy learned to use two hands to catch, and they were all taught bunting. We were also big on discipline. Never did one of our boys argue with an umpire. They all showed good manners on the field."

There was also Jim's unofficial curfew. "I'd tell the boys that I was going to drive the Boulevard at nine o'clock and if I saw anyone out they would be benched for a game. I never made the trip but got some interesting remarks from parents."

Jim remembered fondly, "I'd hear comments like 'What are you doing to my boy?'"

He'd reply, "Nothing, Why?"

Then he'd hear, "Well, they're all saying 'yes sir' and 'no sir' and coming in early at night."

With a touch of pride, Jim said, "We treated them all fairly, worked them hard, and everyone got to play in every game. They responded like champions. This was the greatest group of boys I ever had."

The 1955 Pony team played their schedule against eight local area teams: Whitehall, Carrick, Beechview A, Beechview B, Mount Oliver, South Baldwin, North Baldwin and Castle Shannon. There were also several exhibition games featuring other clubs from around the Pittsburgh area.

Prodded for more information about the actual games played, Kling conjured up a few more golden memories.

Jim recalled his pitching rotation of Denny Mangan, Buddy Auen Jr. and his 14-year old son Jimmy. Then there was "The Fireman" Richard Mezyk, who came on several times with clutch relief performances.

His starting lineup featured Auen - 1B/P, Jimmy - 1B/P, Charley Watterson - 2B, Bob Wertz - SS, Mangan - 3B, Mezyk - CF, Charles Mathias - LF, Gerald Armento - RF, and Jimmy Lowen at catcher.

He remembered Mezyk and Auen being his clutch hitters, but admitted that all of his players were good average batters. Lowen was his long ball threat, and he was also the bane of would-be base stealers.

"Jimmy Lowen was a heck of a power hitter," Jim said, "and he was the greatest catcher I ever saw at that age. He had such a good throw from behind the plate. He was up, took a step and threw to second all in one quick motion. No one could steal on him."

There were also two particular game events that remain fresh in Jim's mind after 45 years.

"We were playing Beechview late in the season," he recalled. "They were a good team and this game was to clinch the regular season championship."

"We always alternated our pitchers, using the same three-man rotation all season long. It was my son Jimmy's turn to start. Now, I always let Harry Conners handle Jimmy so it wouldn't look like I was favoring my boy. This time, however, I was a little nervous and not sure Jimmy was the right one to pitch such an important game."

"I approached Harry about changing the rotation, but he insisted that we stick with the plan and let Jimmy pitch."

"Well," Jim said, "Jimmy proved me wrong. He went out and threw a no-hitter and we clinched first place."

Then there was the post-season Shaughnessy playoffs, an annual round-robin event to determine the South Hills Champion. The coaches from all the area teams got together and unanimously decided to decline the event and name Brookline as the defacto winner, citing the fact that all the talent was packed into this one neighborhood team.

Jim would have none of it. The coaches then offered to put together an all-star squad from the other eight teams to play against Brookline. Jim argued against this, but when asked if he was "chicken" Kling accepted the challenge.

Brookline responded to the dare by winning the best-of-five series, three games to none!

Game Two was the closest of the three, and Jim remembers it as if it happened only yesterday.

Down 2-0 going into the third inning, the crafty coach told his charges, "It looks like we're going to lose our first one. You're all trying to hit home runs. Now, you guys start watching me at third base."

Jim handled the batting signs, and had a trick up his sleeve.

"All of my kids knew how to bunt," he said, "and they could place their bunts up one line or the other. What I did was make them all bunt, one after another. Would you believe we scored three runs, all on bunts. The other team knew we were bunting and still couldn't stop us. Once we went up 3-2 the boys started swinging away again and ended up winning the game 9-4."

"That was the day that all of Harry's bunting practices really paid off," Jim mused.

In Game Three the boys from Brookline comfortably won their twenty-eighth and final game, ending their season with a perfect 28-0 record, and unchallenged claim to the South Hills PONY League throne.

There may have been, and may still be, teams that attain the same level of success as Jim Klingensmith's 1955 PONY team, but there will never be one better. That golden season was one for the record books, and it set the Brookline Little League Association "Gold Standard" for the rest of the 20th century, and beyond.

* Photo and information provided by Jim Klingensmith *

* Written by Clint Burton, November 29, 1999 *

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