EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of stories looking at the American Legion Baseball playoffs before the switch to the eight-regional format in 1960. Part 1 took a look at the first American Legion World Series in 1926. Part 2 showcased the playoff structure before 1960.
In order to win any American Legion Baseball national tournament, you need extraordinary individual efforts.
That began with the first playoff year and has continued with efforts from future major league standouts like eventual Baseball Hall of Famers like Hal Newhouser, Yogi Berra and Brooks Robinson.
The first Louisville Slugger Award winner, Jack McCormick of Yonkers, N.Y., hit .583 in national tournament competition in 1926, including seven hits in three ALWS victories. His .583 average remained a national tournament record until 1978.
There were many other exemplary performances in the early days of American Legion Baseball national playoff competition.
Before Phil Cavaretta went on to become a four-time All-Star, National League MVP and batting champion as a first baseman-outfielder, he was a pitching star in 1933 for ALWS champion Chicago. In Chicago's 5-2 regional final win over Kansas City, Mo., in Springfield, Mo., Cavaretta struck out 13 and pitched a five-hitter. A week later in a 6-2 sectional championship game victory over Stockton, Calif., in Topeka, Kan., he pitched a six-hitter.
Newhouser, a 1992 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, had his 1937 and 1938 seasons end in heartbreak despite the left-hander's individual excellence.
In a 1937 regional at Flint, Mich., Newhouser struck out 18 batters in Detroit's 4-3 first-round win over Columbus, Ohio, but was the hard-luck loser in relief in a 1-0, 10-inning loss to South Bend, Ind., the next day. In 1938, Newhouser led Detroit to wins in the Region 6 tournament at East Chicago, Ind., and the Northeast Sectional in Princeton, Ind., and an opening game victory in a best-of-three semifinal series against San Diego extended his scoreless innings streak to 65. But two unearned runs in the first and eighth innings cost Newhouser his streak and Detroit a 2-1 defeat.
Berra, a 1972 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, led St. Louis on a two-week offensive onslaught in 1942 before he was an 18-time All-Star and 13-time World Series champion for the New York Yankees and a longtime major league manager and coach.
Berra hit for the cycle and drove in 10 runs in a 25-0 win over East Chicago, Ind., in a regional final at St. Joseph, Mo. The next week, Berra had a home run and St. Louis had 21 hits in a 21-3 victory over Omaha, Neb., in the Northwest Sectional final in Russell, Kan.
Berra's team was eliminated by Los Angeles, whose offense was led by eventual major league player and manager Gene Mauch. Mauch, who hit .429 to win that year's Louisville Slugger Award, powered his team to a regional victory in Stockton, Calif., a sectional victory in Miles City, Mont., the semifinal series over St. Louis and eventually the ALWS over host team Manchester, N.H.
In a 1946 regional first-round game in Hastings, Neb., right-hander Paul Menking had a performance for the ages when he threw a 10-inning perfect game with 21 strikeouts for Fremont, Neb., in a 1-0 victory over Cheyenne, Wyo. Menking, who signed a free agent contract with the Chicago Cubs the next year and spent seven years in that organization, also scored the game-winning run.
In 1947, Waipahu pitcher Tony Don Sakai helped Hawaii's first-ever regional participant advance to the finals of a regional in Tucson, Ariz. Sakai threw back-to-back complete game victories over Salt Lake City, 9-7, and McGill, Nev., 6-5 before San Diego routed Waipahu 36-6 in the championship game.
In 1948, Phil Minnick of Trenton, N.J., was the winning pitcher in back-to-back victories on the same day over Baltimore to win a sectional title and a berth in the ALWS. Minnick went six innings in a 14-1 win in the opener, then struck out 15 in a 9-0 3-hit victory in the nightcap.
In 1949, Gene Hines of Omaha, Neb., pitched his team into Sectional D with an 11-0 no-hit victory over Cheyenne, Wyo., in the regional final in Hastings, Neb.
In 1950, future New York Yankees eight-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion Bobby Richardson helped Sumter, S.C., advance to the finals of Sectional B in Charlotte, N.C., as the leadoff batter and second baseman. Sumter went 4-1 to win Region 5 in Greenwood, S.C., to advance to the sectionals where it went 2-2 before losing to Richmond, Va.
In 1953 — 30 years before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame — Brooks Robinson of Little Rock, Ark., had two hits that included a three-run triple in a 10-2 opening-round regional victory over Hattiesburg, Miss. Robinson, an 18-time All-Star third baseman and two-time World Series champion for the Baltimore Orioles, played second base for Little Rock, which lost to Monroe, La., three days later in the Region 6 final in Ponchatoula, La.
In 1954, San Diego's Ron Wilkins pitching 8 1-3 innings of perfect baseball before settling for a 1-0 one-hit victory over Omaha, Neb., to advance to the Sectional D final in Hastings, Neb.; San Diego would win that sectional title and later the ALWS title in Yakima, Wash., the following week.
In a 1956 Region 11 opening round game, Billings, Mont., pitcher Dick Montee struck out 23 in a 5-1 6-hit victory over Tacoma, Wash.
In a 1956 sectional final, one of the longest games in Legion national tournament history ended with Roseburg, Ore., winning 5-4 in 15 innings over Hastings, Neb., on Mack McClellan's one-out squeeze bunt to score Bill Rudzik. The victory gave Roseburg the Sectional D title at Billings, Mont.
In 1957, 11 years before he was a star for the Detroit Tigers' World Series champions, Mickey Lolich won two games in three days for Portland, Ore., and scored the winning run in the 4-3 victory over Phoenix, Ariz., in the Sectional D championship game at Hastings, Neb. Lolich would also pitch and hit Detroit to a 4-3 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. Lolich became the last pitcher in World Series history with three complete game wins and he hit the first home run of his major league career in the Game 2 victory of a series in which Detroit rallied to win after trailing three games to one.
Finally, in 1958, Billings, Mont., right-hander Jerry Walters won twice in the Sectional D tournament in Hastings, Neb., including a 3-2 championship game victory over Ontario, Calif. With the win, Walters improved his seasonal record to 21-1. Though Walters would lose his next game in the ALWS to eventual champion Cincinnati, his effort had helped Montana make its first ALWS appearance.