Legion Baseball flashback: Memphis ended 1968 season with title, 22-game winning streak

Legion Baseball flashback: Memphis ended 1968 season with title, 22-game winning streak

With 46 total state titles, Memphis, Tenn., has long been an American Legion Baseball power.

That was particularly true from 1959 to 1977 when head coach Tony Gagliano guided his teams to 18 state titles, six American Legion World Series appearances and a 1968 ALWS championship team that was led by two future major leaguers.

The 1968 title came in a year in which Memphis finished with a 52-5 overall record and a season-ending 22-game winning streak.

Gagliano, who coached more than 20 future major leaguers during his time as Memphis head coach, had two stars on his 1968 team in pitcher-outfielders Don Castle and Ross Grimsley.

Castle, a three-sport star at nearby Coldwater, Miss., High School, turned down a $35,000 signing bonus from the Washington Senators after he was the No. 8 overall pick in the 1968 major league draft to play American Legion Baseball.

After winning 16 high school games (with eight no-hitters) and leading Coldwater High to a Mississippi state title in the spring of 1968, he had a 17-1 pitching record and .362 batting average and earned George W. Rulon American Legion Baseball Player of the Year honors in leading Memphis to the ALWS title.

Castle went 3-0 with 42 strikeouts in 20 innings in Memphis’ Mid-South Regional championship in Arlington, Tex., before winning two more games and picking up a save in the ALWS in Manchester, N.H.

A 10-year professional who played one season with the Texas Rangers, Castle eventually was inducted into the Northwest Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame for his time as the Rangers’ head coach after his playing career ended.

Grimsley, a two-sport star at Memphis Frayseur High School, was the No. 17 overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1969 major league draft.

For Memphis Post 1 in 1968, Grimsley had a 15-1 pitching record and .306 batting average, highlighted by being Tennessee state tournament MVP with a no-hitter and .667 batting average in three Post 1 victories and being the winning pitcher in Memphis’ 4-3 victory over Klamath Falls, Ore., in the 1968 ALWS championship game.

Grimsley would spend 17 years in professional baseball — 11 in the majors — as a pitcher who won 154 games overall and 124 in the major leagues. A 1980 National League All-Star for the Montreal Expos, Grimsley has been a minor league pitching coach for the Baltimore Orioles, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants organizations.

A 7-6 victory over San Antonio in the Mid-South Regional final was Memphis’ most dramatic win in its postseason run that also included Castle and Grimsley throwing two no-hitters apiece in Tennessee state competition.

Memphis trailed 6-0 after seven innings before scoring five times in the eighth and twice in the ninth to take the victory; Castle pitched two innings of relief for the victory and also drove in the tying run with a ninth-inning RBI double and later scoring the winning run.

Gagliano’s teams also advanced to the ALWS in 1963, 1965, 1967, 1972 and 1973 and finished as runner-up in 1963, 1972 and 1973.

Among the other professional players he coached were his nephew Phil Gagliano, Tim McCarver, Tucker Ashford and Mike Paxton.

Shortly after Anthony J. “Tony” Gagliano died at 61 after a long illness in 1978, the field his Legion Baseball teams played on was named in his honor.

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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