Jack Lombardi
Little League Coach/Umpire

Picture of
 Jack Lombardi.
Jack "Stanky" Lombardi was the jack-of-all-trades from 1961-84.

* His Heart Belongs To Brookline *
Jack Lombardi Right At Home Behind The Plate

by Dan McGibbeny

Jack's nimble. He's quick. You'd swear he wrote the rulebook.

This Jack isn't about to jump over any candlesticks.

But he'll squat behind a hickory stick and bellow "ball" or "strike" any old time of the day or night. Just ask him and quick as a wink he'll wiggle into the "tools of ignorance."

John (Stanky) Lombardi is as comfortable behind home plate as any backstop. He staked a claim to that spot at Brookline baseball fields from 1961 to 1984.

He'd still be - but for family circumstances - in his familiar stance back of any young catcher, croaking "stee-rike" in a guttural, threatening tone. Any manager who dared disagree with a Stanky Lombardi call would evoke nothing more than a blank stare.

"I called it the way I saw it," Stanky might offer, "Don't know how you could see it from the distance when I was right on the play. Let's play ball."

With that, Stanky Lombardi would saunter away, stretching to his 5-foot-1, 111-pound stature that seemingly would be more appropriate for a jockey.

Bystanders would frequently hear him muttering:

"You'd think they had 20-20 vision, even from 60 feet. They're good fellows and managers. Now they're trying to be umpires."

Stanky is cut from the mold of the late Bill Klem. For the uninformed, Bill Klem was a rough, tough ball-and-strike enforcer from 'way back in the 20s.' To his dying day, Bill Klem maintained he never missed a ball or strike call.

Stanky earned his nickname from another scrapper, a ballplayer named Eddie Stanky. Eddie played for Leo Durocher's Giants in the early '50s, before moving on to manage the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952. Eddie Stanky was a vociferous, belligerent opponent of umpires - any umpires.

So it is that quiet, yet forceful, Jack (Stanky) Lombardi inherits a cognomen contrary to his normal temperment. Eddie Stanky is recognized even today as a player and manager who was cognizant of the rulebook and the intricacies of performing on the diamond.

Thus John Lombardi qualifies for the nom de plume of Stanky. He wasn't any great shakes in his days at Manchester Grade School and Oliver High. Nor the Army, for that matter, although he drove a jeep. He's never driven since. He left the Army as a corporal.

But Jack found his niche during that military career. He managed a Little League team at Fort Greeley, Alaska. His Cards finished in second place in 1957. One of their 25 victories was a no-hitter on July 6 of that year.

"They were a nice bunch of kids," was his appraisal of his charges.

It's a moot point, but it's to be wondering how he felt on August 11 of the same year. He was catching batting practice without donning one of the "tools of ignorance" - a very important tool called a mask.

Yep, the batter barely tipped a pitch and Stanky Lombardi, then called Cpl. Lombardi, caught the baseball smack on the schnozzola.

"That was my first broken nose," Stanky confesses, "but I got a second one in Brookline. I was umpiring the bases and rushed to first to make a call. A wild throw from the shortstop caught me smack in the left eye. Another shiner!"

It's to be wondered if Sam "The Big E" Bryen fully understood what a gem the baseball gods were sending his way when that lean, sincere little guy approached him behind the plate, near the refreshment stand, at Brookline's old Little League field.

"Could you find something for me to do here?" the half-pint Stanky sheepishly asked Brookline's Little League president, commissioner and whatever other high falutin' titles that denote B-O-S-S.

Sam looked at the diminuative inquirer and, after a pause of two or three minutes, decided the stranger was serious. Sam, giving a good imitation of a guy who didn't need help, and did he ever, said:

"Can you umpire? We can always use a man on the bases."

Stanky leaped to the opportunity. Didn't take The Big E long to put the lithe Stanky back of the plate - where he remained for much of the next 23 years. In the moments in between, Stanky Lombardi coached, managed, cheered, carried equipment, water. You name the chores, Stanky did 'em all.

Sam Bryen, realizing he had a blooming peach here, kept placing Lombardi anywhere he needed a fill-in. Stanky was equal to the chore or occasion.

Ask Sam today for an opinion of John (Stanky) Lombardi. Five'll get you ten, the Big E will answer unequivically:

Stanky Lombardi - 1988.
Jack "Stanky" Lombardi
in familiar umpire garb.

"He did the job to the very best of his ability. You can believe that in his mind he never made a bad call as an umpire. Jack called 'em as he saw 'em."

Just like Bill Klem. Only in Stanky's case, he loves all kids too much to hurt any of them. If the managers and coaches and fans - yes, even those scattered few loud mouth kids - gave him the "Bronx," Stanky brushed it off, content in his mind that he had "called it as he saw it."

Stanky recalls his first assignment as a coach in Sam Bryen's baseball operation. He was with an instant winner.

"Sam put me with manager Chuck Barry's Automatic Sales team in 1962," Jack remembers. "We won it all."

"I'll never forget Jack Flavin, a righthander who I believe was the best pitcher ever in Brookline, although I didn't see boys back in the '50s. He was sensational. Threw five no-hitters, including one in which he struck out 20 of 21 batters. That was a great start for me. I had been in the South Side program for two years, finishing second in Little League in 1959 and second with a PONY team in 1960.

"That '62 Brookline Senior LL team had a lot of talent. On our squad were players such as Pee Wee Esposito, Dave Prehler, Jerry Barszyk, Frankie McClendon, Bob Smyczek, Tom Pfeifer, Rich Schmidt, Wally Gremba, the innovative Flavin, Rich Franconeri, Dave Hamill, Skip Scheider, Phil Dattisman, Tom Kennedy, Butch Klinzing and Nick Romak."

Stanky moved from his beloved Brookline to live with his kid sister, Suzie, the family baby who is ailing. That's a typical John Lombardi maneuver. A helping hand wherever needed.

Stanky walked out of Brookline to live with Suzie in May, 1984, but his heart has never left his kids over at the Little League complex and Danny McGibbeny Memorial Field. Even though he now manages a Castle Shannon Little League team at Myrtle Avenue School Field.

"I'll never forget Danny," Stanky says. "He took over my Spadafore Roofing team, which included slugger Tom Baginski, in Senior Little League and won a championship right off the bat. He always credited me with picking the team from the drafts and setting up the championship. He was that kind of young guy, always sharing the glory. He was sorely missed after passing away in 1977."

Stanky shifted from one job to another, filling wherever Sam Bryen wanted him, until 1978, when Ang Masullo, who replaced Bryen as LL president, assigned him to the American Legion team in Little League.

Here Stanky found his real home. He had been moving around the Brookline program from commissioner of the minor leagues, to umpiring, to any weak area of Sam Bryen's baseball operation.

I had the first true girl star in Donna Caterino," Stanky enthuses. "She put the boys to shame. I'll always remember the evening she tossed a no-hitter at Kurt Vietmeier's St. Mark team."

"After we finally got knocked off in the Williamsport LL tournament, the big one that leads you to the World Series, we were entered in the 32-team Robinson Lions tournament at Montour."

"Donna pitched for me, we won the tournament and she was named the most valuable player. It was the first time Brookline had ever won it, and she was the first girl to be selected MVP of the tournament."

"My managing career in Brookline went back to the Spadafore Roofing team, which won back-to-back Senior LL titles in 1966 and 1967. I had that team until 1970. Then Danny McGibbeny replaced me in mid-season 1972, the year the team changed sponsorship, becoming Stebbrook Healthland. He won the championship in 1974 and just missed winning it the year he died. In fact, he was in the hospital following the last regular season game, so he didn't get to manage against the Lions in the playoffs."

You couldn't meet a more friendly or honest chap than John Lombardi. "Stanky" to his friends.

Article reprinted from The Brookline Journal - May 1, 1986.


A Short Followup...

"Stanky" returned occasionally to Sam Bryen Fields to umpire games, but never got back into the program full-time, although his heart remained firmly rooted in Brookline. He stayed in Castle Shannon with his family until his death in 1996.

Jack Lombardi may have been a small man with a lanky frame, and many of us no-it-all's questioned his calls on the field, but no one could question his dedication to the children of Brookline. For a small man, he left a big imprint in the hearts and minds of those who were fortunate to have worked with him, played against him, or be called "out" by him.

1979 Little League All-Star Team
Jack Lombardi (top row-center) and his 1979 All-Star team, winner of the Robinson Township Lions Tournament,
the only Brookline team to win the prestigious 32-team event.

In Memorium
John "Stanky" Lombardi
1938-1996

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