Chicago Catholic League Baseball
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When Christian Friedrich took the mound for the Colorado Rockies in his major league debut in May of 2012, the tall lefthander aspired to join fellow Loyola Academy alum Charlie Leibrandt in a rotation of former Chicago Catholic League pitchers who own Cy Young awards, World Series rings, multiple All Star Game appearances and more than 500 big league victories.
The reality of harsh spring weather might affect the amount of baseball Chicagoarea
high school teams can play, but professional scouts have always regarded the Catholic League as a well-armed entity, with ample talent among position players as well.
In 2005, Cesar Carillo (Mount Carmel/Miami) and Brian Bogusevic (De La Salle/Tulane) were first-round picks in the same draft, by San Diego and Houston, respectively.
That Catholic League ”alumni rotation” would be headed by Dennis Dale “Denny” McLain, who was the last pitcher to win 30 games in the majors, going 316
for the world champion Detroit Tigers in 1968, six years after he graduated from Mount Carmel High School. McLain would repeat as the American League Cy Young winner in 1969, capping a remarkable five-year run in which he had a 104-51
record, a 2.94 ERA, 88 complete games and 1,380 innings, or an average of 276 innings per season. In the days before pitch counts and carefully monitored star performers, that workload probably contributed to the brevity of a brilliant career.
Friedrich, a 2005 Loyola grad who was the Rockies’ first round draft pick out of Eastern Kentucky in 2008, had his rookie season curtailed by a back injury. He’ll have to go some to match Leibrandt, Loyola’s Catholic League Player of the Year in 1974 who was 140-117 over 14 major league seasons with Cincinnati, Kansas City, Atlanta and Texas. Leibrandt won a World Series ring with the Royals in 1985 and pitched in the Series for the Braves in 1991.
One of his teammates that season was a former Catholic League rival: sturdy Jim Clancy, St. Rita ‘74, who won Game 3 of the ‘91 Series out of the Braves’ bullpen. A tall righthander, Clancy was a starter for most of his career after being drafted by the Texas Rangers out of St. Rita. He compiled a 140-167 record over 15 seasons, mostly with the Toronto Blue Jays.
For additional left-handed balance, the Catholic League alumni rotation might turn to Jim O’Toole, who helped pitch the Cincinnati Reds into the 1961 World Series with a 19-9 record, en-route to a 94-81 career mark over 10 seasons. O’Toole graduated from Leo in 1955. He signed with the Reds out of a South Side rec league, as Leo’s Lions weren’t playing baseball in those days.
Leo revived its program in time to produce John Boles, Leo ‘66, who would manage
the Florida Marlins after an extensive career as a college coach, and Tom Brennan, Leo ‘70, a firstround draft pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1974 who pitched for three big league teams over five seasons after helping Lewis University reach the Division II World Series.
The strongest staff needs a reliable setup man, and out of the bullpen by way of De La Salle comes Lou Pote (‘77), who was 4-4 in 120 games over five seasons with the Angels and Indians.
Pote would be joined by Bryan Rekar (Providence ‘90), Colorado’s second round
draft choice out of Bradley in 1993 who appeared in 118 big league games over eight seasons with the Rockies, Rays and Royals.
The closer? No question: Ed Farmer, a St. Rita basketball/baseball star who signed with the Cleveland Indians as their fifth round draft choice in 1967. Farmer, a hardthrowing righthander, reached the majors in 1971 and would pitch for eight teams over the next 11 years. He had 75 career saves, 30 of them for the White Sox in 1980. Farmer remains a highly visible Chicago baseball presence as the radio voice of the White Sox. Catholic League references are not uncommon in his broadcasts.
Farmer was surely a dominant high school pitcher, but one hitter who occasionally solved him was Jim Dwyer, St. Laurence ‘68, who prepped for an 18-year big league career by playing at Southern Illinois University. A tough out as a left-handed hitting outfielder, Dwyer finished with a .260 lifetime average, 77 home runs and 349 RBIs, playing for seven teams. He won a World Series ring with the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. Dwyer, also a lightweight basketball standout at St. Laurence, sets the standard among Catholic League alums for big league longevity, player division.
Among coaches and managers it’s Rick Stelmaszek, Mendel ‘67, who spent 31 years on Minnesota Twins’ coaching staff after three seasons in the majors as a catcher with the Cubs and three other teams. The Twins also employed a former Catholic Leaguer as their manager for four years in the 1970s: Frank Quilici, St. Mel’s ‘57, who took over in 1972 after a five-season playing career as a Twins utility infielder.
The title of “most decorated” CCL alum goes to a player from an earlier generation: Bill “Moose” Skowron, Weber ‘48, was a slugging first baseman for the Yankees’ powerhouse teams of the ‘50s, winning five World Series rings with the Yanks from 19551962 and a sixth with the Dodgers in 1963. At his best in the clutch, Skowron hit .293 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in eight World Series.
A three sport star at Weber who signed with the Yankees off the Purdue University campus, Skowron played three seasons with the White Sox toward the end of his career and was working as an ambassador for the team when he died in 2012.
“Moose” was a misnomer for a guy who stood 5 foot 11 and weighed 195 pounds in his heyday. The nickname derived not from his size but from a haircut Skowron once received as a youngster that resembled a Benito Mussolini ‘do.
There are no Yankee-like dynasties dominating Catholic League baseball; 15 teams have won at least one league or division title since competition officially resumed as a league sponsored sport iin 1959.
Brother Rice is probably the closest thing to a dynasty, having won nine Catholic League championships, eight other division crowns and the 1976 state title, the only one a CCL team had claimed until Mt. Carmel added a state baseball crown to its collection of football trophies by downing Libertyville 21 for the 4A championship in 2013..
The baseball field at Brother Rice bears George Sedlacek’s name, and it’s a fitting tribute to a coach whose teams had a .676 winning percentage (616-295) in his 29 years, along with a state title, a runnerup finish and four regional and three sectional crowns.
Sedlacek had 16 players drafted by major league teams. They include Pete Mackanin ‘69, who played for four teams in nine big league seasons, managed two others and was a longtime minor league skipper in the Cubs’ organization, and Jim Adduci ‘77, a standout on Rice’s ‘76 state champions.
St. Rita, with state runnerup finishes in 2009 and 2010 and 16 league or division titles, has also been a consistent powerhouse, along with Mt. Carmel (14 titles), St. Laurence (13) and Fenwick (10).
But beware of Providence Catholic; in addition to winning two state titles before joining the Catholic League in 1996, the Celtics have claimed eight league or division championships and a runnerup finish in the 2011 state tournament.
Two Providence pitchers were drafted off the same staff: Carmen Pignatiello by the Cubs in 2000 and Kris Honel by the White Sox (first round) in 2001.
It’s Loyola Academy, though, with an alum who claims baseball’s highest honor. Fred Lindstrom was a 16 year-old Loyola sophomore when the New York Giants signed him out of a Chicago tryout camp in 1922.
A slick fielding third baseman, Lindstrom reached the majors with John McGraw’s Giants in 1924 and would hit .311 over 12 seasons with the Giants, the Cubs and two other teams.
Lindstrom was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1976. He is the only Catholic Leaguer enshrined in Cooperstown … to date