In 1929 the Burke Brothers team from South Buffalo Post 721 won the American Legion World Series Championship.
Thirty-three years later -- 1962, 50 years ago -- a remarkable bunch of athletes, the Del Bellos, representing the Adam Plewacki Post, became the second Erie County team to earn a place in the World Series, which was held in Bismarck, N.D. No local team has been back since.
The Del Bellos were honored recently at the 16th annual Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Lake Erie Italian Club in Lackawanna, and 18 players came back for the occasion.
The team was made up of players from McKinley, Grover Cleveland, Riverside and St. Francis High and added players from Kensington and Bishop Ryan for the postseason. Almost every player on the roster was either an All-High or All-Catholic selection in baseball, basketball or football.
Just getting past Erie County opposition was an achievement. To advance to District play, the Del Bellos had to defeat three-time defending county champion Troop I Post Canisius Tyros, the team they had lost to in the finals the two previous seasons. This time Chuck Barone (McKinley) and Ken Stuhlmiller (Riverside) combined on a five-hitter.
The Del Bellos moved on to defeat Batavia (11-1) and Dunkirk (11-3) in District Eight, play then moved on to state competition, defeating Bath (6-1), Rome (4-0) and finally Staten Island (2-0) in the state championship game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. At this point in the season, the Del Bellos were 17-1.
Barone, a hard-throwing right-hander who went on to Morehead State in Kentucky, pitched a three-hitter against Bath. Stuhlmiller, a knuckleball/curve-ball specialist, shut out Rome on four hits, striking out eight.
In the championship game against Staten Island, shortstop Johnny Buczkowski (St. Francis) led off the Buffalo first with a triple and scored on a single by Horst Sander (McKinley). Catcher Ken Rollek (St. Francis) scored the other run in the seventh, moving around on a walk, sacrifice and scoring on an error.
Exuberant followers of the team ran on the field in celebration after the last Staten Island out in the seventh inning. One problem: The championship game was scheduled for nine innings, not seven as was the rule up to the state tournament.
The Del Bellos were off to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals and went by air to College Park, Md. They dropped the opener to Gaslight Post of Washington, D.C., 5-4, when the usually reliable Barone walked three in a row to force home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
Unfazed, the Buffalo team came back to defeat Williamson, W. Va., 7-6, coming from behind with two runs in the eighth inning when Rollek singled, Tom Reid (McKinley) tripled and relief pitcher Steve Poliachik (Grover Cleveland) put down a successful squeeze bunt.
The Del Bellos were settled in now. They routed Cumberland, Md., 12-2, in a game highlighted by a triple and double by Russ Marotta (Kensington), who took over in center field because normal starter John Nowak (Ryan) was the winning pitcher that day. Buffalo came back to edge Paterson, N.J., 4-3, as Stuhlmiller struck out 11 in a route-going performance, then avenged the loss to Washington, D.C. (10-2) and defeated New Jersey (7-3) in the final game.
A raucous welcome at the airport and a luncheon at Plewacki Post awaited the team when it returned to Buffalo. A week later, the Del Bellos boarded a train for the 18-hour trip to Bismarck.
The Del Bellos were short-handed in the nationals. Third baseman Mike Fineberg stayed home to take his final exam at summer school at UB as did Frank Collesano (Grover), a valuable reserve. They lost shortstop Buczkowski with a badly bruised foot in the opening loss to West Allis, Wis. (5-4) and first baseman Reid was hobbled with a foot injury and unable to start the next game.
With a makeshift lineup which had pitcher Keith Thompson forced to start at second and Earl Tompkins (Riverside) shifting to shortstop and center-fielder Nowak filling in at first, the Del Bellos were eliminated by New Orleans (6-4).
The presence of Reid, who batted .417 in district, state, regional and national tournament play, was sorely missed. Left fielder Sander was a .381 batter.
The members of the Del Bellos team:
Sponsor: Nicholas S. Del Bello; Managers: Chester Kendra, John Carbone.
The usual lineup: Co-captain John Buczkowski (ss); Larry Gallin (rf); Horst Sander (lf); John Nowak (cf-p); co-captain Ken Rollek (c); Tom Reid (1b); Earl Tompkins (2b); Mike Fineberg or Lloyd Lightfoot (3b); Chuck Barone, Ken Stuhlmiller, Steve Poliachik and Keith Thompson (p). Catcher Billy Alessi, outfielders Frank Collesano and Russ Marotta offered bench strength.