Gordy Schaaf was a mainstay in local fast-pitch softball
HANCOCK — Men’s fast-pitch softball hasn’t been seen in these parts for more than two decades, but that didn’t keep the late Gordy Schaaf from promoting the sport.
Schaaf, who died at the age of 89 this past week, was involved in the sport as a player, manager and promoter for better than six decades.
Arnie Putala of Baraga, a contemporary of Schaaf’s during that period, said the Hancock native was always talking up the game.
“Gordy (Schaaf) was always deeply involved in fast-pitch and sports in general,” Putala said this week. “It really was a lifelong thing for him.”
Schaaf played baseball for the Hancock Merchants in the 1950s. One of the more memorable games for him came in 1957 when the George Kell All-Stars (comprised of several big leaguers) played the Merchants.
“Just watching those big league players play the game was a thrill,” he said, adding the Detroit Tigers outfielder Charley “Paw Paw” Maxwell blasted two long homers that night.
He went exclusively to fast-pitch and pitched for Stevenson Chevrolet for the most part.
Pete Poggione, an opponent in those days, said Schaaf pitched without a glove some occasions.
“Gordy had the the largest hands I’ve ever seen,” Poggione commented. “He didn’t need a glove to field his position.”
Schaaf was an avid sports fan, with his favorite teams being the Detroit Tigers and Green Bay Packers.
In an interview in 2005, Schaaf said he became attached to the Packers in his younger days.
“I used to go to Green Bay with my Dad and brothers back in the late 1940s to watch games,” he said. “They (Packers) let us go down to the field and talk with the players after a game. My favorite player was Don Hutson.”
But fast-pitch was his sport of choice and became even more so after he saw softball legend Eddie Feigner pitch in a game in Lake Linden in 1951.
The game, against a group of all-star players from the local league, was held at old Caledonia Field.
“He (Feigner) was at his peak as a pitcher back then, he was throwing bullets that night,” Gordy recalled. “He was so impressive, I always said I would try to get him back up here for another appearance.”
That appearance came in the summer of 1978 when the King and His Court appeared at the Hancock Driving Park.
With an overflow crowd estimated at 5,000 on hand that evening, Feigner and his team defeated an all-star team of local players.
The late Feigner threw strikes blindfolded, between his legs and from second base in dazzling the big crowd.
“It was quite an evening,” Schaaf said. “I was just happy to be able to book him to appear up here. And he really enjoyed the atmosphere and the fans up here.”
The King appeared twice more in the area, coming to Hancock again in 1979 and to Baraga a few years later.
Putala said Schaaf was a fixture at Over 50 softball games in recent years, coming to see his son-in-law, Steve Dunstan, play for Houghton.
“He just enjoyed the game,” Putala noted. “He’ll certainly be missed.”
Just last year, the City of Hancock named the softball field at the Driving Park in his honor.