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Best Little League game ever? Probably not, but...
With the Little League World Series playing on the TV in the background, my brother suggested, “You should write a story about the greatest Little League game ever played.”
I figured immediately it must have been a game he played in, and, sure enough, I was right. He was referring to his Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the Red Sox July 8, 1961.
It is a common phenomena that our athletic achievements, like our waistlines, get grander with age. Therefore I was skeptical about his suggestion.
When he finished telling me about the game which took place on Claude Boyer Field in Oak Harbor 49 years ago, it wasn’t the facts of the game that intrigued me, but who played in it.
I surely doubt it was “the greatest Little League game ever played,” but I have no doubt it featured the two most athletically gifted teams ever to face each other on the local youth league diamonds.
The only two Oak Harbor High School graduates to play in the National Football League played in that game. Eight of the players, four from each team, received Division I (the highest level) college athletic scholarships. In high school, the players earned a combined 22 all-conference awards, three were named to all-state teams, and five were named OHHS Athlete of the Year.
The Red Sox
Ken Lee: In high school: all-conference tight end (1965), all-conference pitcher (‘65, ‘66), Athlete of the Year (‘66); University Washington football; eighth-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions. As a high-school pitcher, he compiled a 23-4 career record with 15 complete games. His senior year he was 11-2 with a 0.40 ERA and averaged over a strikeout per inning.
Jeff Short: In high school: all-conference quarterback and defensive back (‘66), all-conference pitcher and outfielder (‘67), all-state baseball ‘67), co-Athlete of the Year (‘67); University of Washington and Central Washington football. His senior year in high school, he was 9-0 as a pitcher with a 0.12 ERA. In college, after transferring from the UW to Central, he set numerous passing records. Most stood until broken by current NFL quarterback Jon Kitna. Short was inducted into the CWU Hall of Fame in 1989.
Mel Elvebak: In high school: all-conference lineman and linebacker (‘66), all-conference shortstop (‘67) with .422 batting average, all-state in baseball (‘67); Washington State University football. While at WSU, he took up handball and became the western regional champion and qualified for the national collegiate championships where he won two matches.
John Brady: In high school: all-conference running back (‘67, ‘68), league track champion in the 440 (50.1 seconds) (‘68), Athlete of the Year (‘68); University of Washington football; third round draft choice of the Detroit Lions. His senior year in high school he averaged 7.5 yards per carry in football. At the UW he was converted to tight end, and he holds the school record for touchdown receptions in a season by a tight end (10).
Keith Hoffman: In high school: all-conference running back and defensive back (‘66), all-conference pitcher and outfielder (‘67), co-Athlete of the Year (‘67); Washington State University football. In high school, he amassed nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 19 touchdowns in football his senior year. In baseball, he was 5-0 with a 0.36 ERA as a pitcher, and averaged 10.12 strikeouts, 1.1 walks and 2.93 hits per game.
Mike Waller: In high school: all-conference in basketball (‘68), all-conference catcher (‘68), all-state baseball (‘68), Athlete of the Year (‘68); University of Washington baseball. His senior year at OHHS, he hit .488, and in basketball he averaged 15.6 points per game, which, at the time, was a school record.
Bob Passmore: In high school: all-conference second baseman (‘66), conference wrestling champion (127 pounds) (‘67), district wrestling champion (‘67); University of Washington wrestling. Passmore recently retired as an Admiral in the United States Navy.
Tim Rowand: In high school: all-conference tight end (‘67), all-conference baseball (‘67); Washington State University football.
In an additional example of their athletic prowess, while Passmore wrestled, the other seven, along with Red Sox Gene Montoya, played high-school basketball, and most were three-year lettermen.
Also, Kent Dimmitt of the Red Sox and John Lengyl of the Dodgers became high-school all-league honorable mention baseball players.
Mike Garner of the Dodgers moved to Olympia before high school; there he became an outstanding golfer.
The group played a role in helping Oak Harbor High School win league titles in baseball in 1966, ‘67 and ‘68.
The 1966 football team went 9-0, the first undefeated Wildcat team since 1943. They finished ranked fifth in the state poll (there were no football playoffs at that time), the best posting to that point by an OHHS team. The 1968 basketball team was also conference champions.
Ten members of the Red Sox and Dodgers also played a prominent role in Oak Harbor’s youth football season in the fall of 1961. The team finished undefeated (8-0) and unscored upon in wins over teams from Edmonds, Everett, Port Townsend and Langley.
Now, back to the “greatest game.” Waller and Elvebak supplied me with their recollections of the game, and for the most part their facts were right. I later found the official scorebook and was able to sharpen their accounts.
The Dodgers scored the game’s only run in the fourth. Waller led off with a bloop double down the right field line. Hoffman bunted him to third, and on the play an over throw at third allowed Waller to score.
Waller’s hit was the only one off Red Sox pitcher Lee who struck out 13. Hoffman pitched a three hitter (Lee getting two of those) and struck out 12 for the Dodgers.
My brother failed to mention that the Red Sox beat the Dodgers 3-2 earlier in the season in an equally fine game, and that the Red Sox, coached by Andy Andrade, won the league title with a 13-1 record. The Dodgers, coached by Paul Lang, finished 11-3.
The Red Sox and Dodgers combined for nine of the 15 members on the Oak Harbor all-star team. In the first game of the all-star tournament, Oak Harbor defeated Coupeville 19-0 behind Clyde Eppard’s five-inning, 12-strike out no hitter. In the championship game, Oak Harbor blanked Anacortes 13-0 as Lee pitched a two hitter and struck out 11.
In 1961, Oak Harbor, like most of the surrounding communities, did not officially belong to Little League and therefore could not attempt to advance to the World Series in Williamsport.
Could Oak Harbor with its talent-ladened team have qualified for the World Series?
“No doubt,” my brother said. On this opinion, I would have to agree.