Legion Baseball flashback: Cincinnati, city of champions
Cincinnati, Ohio, has long been a hotbed for the sport of baseball.
Fielding the first openly professional team in U.S. history in 1869, the city also has claimed the most American Legion Baseball titles — seven overall, with six of them in a 15-year span in the 1940s and 1950s.
After Ohio first began fielding American Legion Baseball teams in 1926, Cincinnati quickly became a power.
Cincinnati won state titles in 1930 and 1934 before the city really flexed its power from 1941 to 1996. In those 57 years, teams from Cincinnati won 24 state titles and 25 national tournaments highlighted by seven American Legion World Series championships.
Five different posts won those championships with Bentley Post 50 emerging as the dominant power with 17 state titles and ALWS championships in 1944, 1947, 1952, 1957 and 1958. Acme Class-Postal Employees Post 216 won the 1955 state title and ALWS championship. Budde Post 507 won five state titles and the 1988 ALWS championship. And Harrison Post 199 won three state titles, Gehlert Post 554 one and Chambers-Hautman Post 534 one.
Legendary coach Joe Hawk coached Bentley from 1941 to 1980 and led the team to 11 state titles and five ALWS championships.
His 1944 team went 27-3 to win Cincinnati's first ALWS championship with national tournament wins in Belleville, Ill., Grand Forks, N.D., and Minneapolis, Minn.
Bentley's lone loss came in the ALWS when Albemarle, N.C., knocked off Bentley 6-2 to force a winner-take-all final won 3-2 by Cincinnati. Seven Post 50 players eventually played professionally with Herm Wehmeier making it to the major leagues.
The 1947 Bentley team went 37-1, losing only in an 11-10 regional loss to Belleville, Ill., in Quincy, Ill. Cincinnati won two of three games in the regional against Belleville, Ill., including 6-5 in the finale when future major league player and manager Don Zimmer hit a two-run double to highlight a game-winning three-run bottom of the ninth inning rally.
Post 50 swept to sectional and ALWS titles with 3-0 records in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Los Angeles. The legendary Babe Ruth was an ALWS special guest and presented the Bentley team with its trophy after a 3-2 championship game win over Little Rock, Ark.
Zimmer was one of seven eventual pros that also included eventual major leaguer Jim Frey.
The 1952 team finished 33-1 with a 9-8 loss to Cape Girardeau, Mo., in a sectional at Bloomington, Ill. Cincinnati would win two of three games against Cape Girardeau, including a 4-3 come-from-behind victory; Post 50 scored twice in the top of the ninth to secure the win.
Bentley swept regional and ALWS titles with 3-0 records, including a 5-2 victory over San Diego for the title behind the dominant pitching staff of Howie Whitson (15-0 record) and Dick Drott (12-0). That duo was among six eventual pros, including major leaguers Drott and Russ Nixon. (Nixon also was a major league manager.)
Hawk’s last two titles came in back-to-back fashion in 1957 and 1958. Five players played on both teams, which finished with 53-7 and 53-5 records, respectively. Three future pros played on the 1957 team and four future pros were on the 1958 squad, among them future 15-year major league Eddie Brinkman.
The 1957 team was a perfect 9-0 in American Legion Baseball national competition at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field (then-home of the Cincinnati Reds), Oshkosh, Wis., and Billings, Mont. And the 1958 team lost once each in the regional (Princeton, Ind.) and sectional (Hobart, Okla.) before sweeping the ALWS in Colorado Springs, Colo., capped by a 12-1 title win over Everett, Mass.
Each loss was avenged as Bentley lost to Owosso, Mich., in the second game of the regional before beating Owosso twice to close out the tournament, then lost to Maplewood, Mo., before beating Maplewood 6-5 in the final.
Post 216’s 1955 team was coached by Bob Kenney and finished with a 44-5 overall record that included defeating Bentley in the Cincinnati district championship.
With seven future pros, including major leaguer Ronnie Moeller, Post 216 went 11-2 in national competition. After losing to Michigan City, Ind., in the second regional game, Cincinnati beat Michigan City twice on the final day of the tournament in Benton Heights, Mich.
After sweeping the sectional in Bismarck, N.D., with three straight victories, Post 216 lost its ALWS opener to Washington, D.C., in St. Paul, Minn., before winning four straight that included back-to-back wins over Washington for the title.
Finally, Post 507 won its 1988 title with a 56-12 record that included a 9-1 record in national competition.
Post 507 was coached by Jim McMichen and had finished sixth in the 1987 ALWS before many of the same players made a return trip to the ALWS, including two future major leaguers in Scott Klingenbeck and Pete Rose Jr.
Klingenbeck was the winning pitcher in both the Great Lakes regional and ALWS championship games; Klingenbeck’s 3-hitter in a 5-1 win over Ferndale, Mich., came one day after losing 6-3 to Ferndale, and his 8-hitter led Post 216 past defending ALWS champion Boyertown, Pa., 7-0 in the title game.
Rose was the team’s leading hitter with a .435 average with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs that season.
In addition to Cincinnati's seven ALWS champions, Post 50 also advanced to the ALWS in 1946, 1951 and 1973; Post 507 also advanced to the ALWS in 1949, 1969 and 1987; and Post 554 advanced in 1961.