Legion Baseball flashback: Arizona’s champion coach

Legion Baseball flashback: Arizona’s champion coach

Before Jim Brock became a national championship-winning college coach, he guided Phoenix Post 1 to the only American Legion World Series title in Arizona history.

That came in 1961 when the team sponsored by Kerr Sporting Goods overcame early losses in the Arizona state tournament and the ALWS sandwiched around an unbeaten run to the Western Regional title to finish 39-3 overall and claim its historic title.

At the time, Brock had just turned 25, had been coaching American Legion Baseball for eight years and was three years away from beginning a college head coaching career that would eventually result in 1,262 victories, four national championships and a 2007 induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Before coaching Mesa, Ariz., Community College to two National Junior College Athletic Association titles and Arizona State to two College World Series titles, Brock built Phoenix into an American Legion Baseball power.

First coaching in 1954 when he was 17, Brock guided Post 1 to five state titles and two ALWS appearances in a six-year stretch from 1956 to 1961.

During the 1961 season, Phoenix was fortunate to advance into national American Legion Baseball tournament competition.

After a 6-5 win in the opening round of the double-elimination Arizona state tournament, Tucson beat Phoenix 6-0. It was the second loss Post 1 had suffered against Tucson during the season and left Phoenix facing a daunting task over the next two days.

Post 1 was up to the challenge as it would win three straight one-run games including two straight against Tucson to claim Arizona’s berth in the national tournament. After a 5-4 victory over Chandler, Phoenix beat Tucson twice — 5-4 in 13 innings and 8-7.

In the 5-4 victory over Tucson, Post 1 scored once in the bottom of the 9th to tie the score at 2 and tallied two runs in the bottom the 10th to tie the score at 4 before Greg Sorenson’s squeeze bunt in the bottom of the 13th drove in the game-winner.

In the winner-take-all finale, Dan Swingle made his fourth pitching appearance of the event and he threw 5 1-3 innings of relief for the victory that earned him tournament MVP honors. Gary Wolf, Larry Martin, Dan Swingle and Sorenson were Phoenix’s offensive standouts.

The Western Regional was a much easier task as Post 1 rolled to four straight victories at Bend, Ore., capped by a 4-2 victory over Hawthorne, Nev., in the finals. Joe Swingle hit .500 in the regional and Bucky Staley threw a 5-hitter with 11 strikeouts in the title game.

The ALWS presented a chance at redemption for Brock and six of his players — Wolf, Martin, Sorenson, Bob Conner, Jim Myers and Rich Chiate — as Phoenix had gone 0-2 to finish fourth in a four-team ALWS in 1959.

After beating Billings, Mont., 5-3 in its 1961 ALWS opener in Hastings, Neb., Post 1 lost 5-3 to Cincinnati, Ohio, to fall into the loser’s bracket.

But just as Phoenix had done in its state tournament, the team showed its championship resolve.

Post 1 eliminated Billings 5-4 in 11 innings, then knocked off Brooklawn, N.J., 4-3 before beating Cincinnati twice — 2-0 and 4-1 — to take its title.

Staley won the James F. Daniel Jr., Memorial Sportsmanship Award after pitching two complete-game victories. Other standouts were Dan Swingle (two pitching wins), Wolf and Martin. Wolf and Martin had back-to-back triples in a two-run eighth that overcame an early 1-0 deficit in the championship game.

Three years later, Brock would begin an eight-year head coaching career at Mesa that was capped by 1970 and 1971 NJCAA championships.

Then, when Bobby Winkles left the Arizona State coaching job to become a major league assistant coach, Brock began what would become one of the winningest college baseball coaching tenures in history. He guided the Sun Devils to a 1099-441-1 record from 1972 to 1994 with 1977 and 1981 College World Series titles and 13 CWS appearances.

Brock’s last game as head coach came just days before he died of liver and colon cancer on June 12, 1994.

Brock coached 112 all-conference honorees, 48 first team All-Americans, 190 major league draft picks (15 1st-rounders) and 60 eventual major league players, among them seven-time National League MVP and all-time major league home run leader Barry Bonds and future major league standouts Floyd Bannister, Bump Wills, Ken Landreaux, Bob Horner, Hubie Brooks, Alvin Davis, Kevin Romine, Oddibe McDowell and Mike Kelly.


American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball

American Legion Baseball enjoys a reputation as one of the most successful and tradition-rich amateur athletic leagues. Today, the program registers more than 5,400 teams in all 50 states, including Canada and Puerto Rico.

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