... the kids named the clubs
We came to Melrose in 1963. We had been married, Catherine and I, in 1953 and had produced six children by then. The good schools in Melrose were the thing that attracted us.
I was twenty-two in September 1953. All my teen-age years were spent in Everett, Mass., most of that time was in Swan Street Park. My stream of memory wandered back with a smile to those days.
Back in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, unlike today, there were many sandlot teams run pretty much by the kids themselves. There were The Rats, Barry Club, Rams, Junior Rams, Shamrocks, Pirates, and Hughes Club, those that originated at Swan Street Park. These were the names invented by the kids. The Rats were a bunch of “delinquents,” as they might be called today. The Barry Club was named after Ken Barry, age 16, died of rheumatic fever. The Shamrocks got its name because a lot of Irish kids belonged to it like the Doherty’s, Lafferty’s and so on.
The Park was famous for not having any grass anywhere on it. On New Year's Day, 1944, the Rams and Barry Club played an annual football game known as “The Rock Bowl”. The sign hand printed in the entry was testimony of that. Recently, I went to Swan Street Park and took a few pictures. Except for the baseball diamond which still looks like it did sixty years ago, the park is covered with grass. You can see in the picture the beat up old diamond leading your eye from home plate to right field. There were no trees there back then, so it was fairly easy for Butch Walsh to hit a ball into Mason’s soup. You can also see the framed dugout that did not exist then. We never thought about getting hurt by being beaned with a stray ball. In the other two pictures, home plate from centerfield and another from left field gives another perspective. The park was not big by any standard, but it seemed to us huge for those of us that loved baseball and football.
In 1966, a nation wide search was broadcast for members who once played at Swan Street Park. And, sure enough, people came from everywhere. The VFW Hall in Everett Square was the setting for over 136 members from the West Coast, Mid-West, South, from everywhere. Dr. Jim McNeil, a local dentist, presided for the gathering. Jock Connolly was asked to say grace which he did with aplomb. During this ceremony, Jock was presented with a varnished board to which a rock was fastened. It was a reminder to those present of the days when everyone would head for cover to avoid being beaned by Jock’s deadly rock throwing.
A Rat or Shamrock would probably choke on ‘sobriquet’ so maybe a ‘nickname’ is better. Nicknames were also invented by kids, as were the clubs that the kids also invented. Kids were left to their own imagination.
The Everett newspaper wrote a piece about the event and listed all the names present along with the nicknames. Almost everybody had a nickname back then:
Thomas Coulter (Tommy Tucker) was a tall, lanky guy named after a nursery rhyme character. He died at twenty-eight from the aftermath of rheumatic fever. Then there was the famous John Connolly (Jock) who was legendary for getting into a World Series without the benefit of a ticket. I remember him, chased by his father down Hancock Street to escape by jumping on a fire engine as it turned the corner on Cleveland Avenue. John Follo (pee wee) was the smallest of three brothers. Roger Doherty (Rorey) was a red haired kid who got that name from, “Rorey get your dory there’s a herring in the bay.” Pete LaCortiglia (Lackaday) was what Jim Barry found it easier to say.
John Barry (Flash) was as fast as a tortoise. Moody Sarnno was (The Preem). John Coakley (Glassjaw) didn’t take a shot to the chops too well. Warren Manning (Drumstake) was skinny as a snake. Henry Fitzgerald (Fuzz) used to ride around on his police motorcycle. Cops were called Fuzz then. Mario Fortunato (Oakie) looked just like Jack Oakie.
Mike Aquaviva (Black Jack) was known as “Black Jack” after Black Jack Wilson who pitched for the Red Sox in the ‘30’s. John Foley (Guv) was a little guy who walked around like he was the governor. James Barry (Case) was named after George Case, a fleet outfielder from the old Washington Senators. Jerry Devico (Jiggs) was tagged Jiggs after Maggie and Jiggs, a comic strip. Vinnie Grande (Cuddick) was the only kid circumcised in those days. Nick Forgione (Wetwash) owned a laundry.
James McNeil (Soup) was as cute as the Campbell’s Tomato soup kid. Dr. Jim McNeil was also an indispensable asset in giving a lot of the derivation of the nicknames. (He looks like the Campbell Tomato soup kid today at 80.)
There were many others, some we just didn’t know why. Others, like Al Hickman (Hickey) were all too obvious.
In the midst of the Great Depression the fathers of the kids were all too preoccupied with their everyday work. That was part of it. But another part of it was that the kids saw the ballpark as something that belonged to them and wanted hands off. As I think back to that time, I would have been totally embarrassed to have my father show up for one of our games. This was our way of asserting independence. So when thinking of the nicknames, this was a way of identifying ourselves beyond our given names. Then, too, a nickname was a way to establish that you existed as part of a group. Also, the invention of the groups and nicknames perhaps gave free reign to an imagination that does not exist today?
I don’t think we would have had it any other way.
October 3, 2008