Reusse: Backers going to bat for town-ball hero Driscoll

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2013 - 6:22 AM

Joe Driscoll pitched and hit on more than 100 Minnesota ball fields, from his teenage years until age 50.

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Joe Driscoll, amateur baseball legend, shares a laugh in 2001.

Photo: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune file

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There is a campaign afoot to get Joe Driscoll inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame. This would be the equivalent of suggesting there was a campaign afoot to get Bob Gibson inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In other words, most followers of town-team baseball in Minnesota would assume it was unnecessary to campaign to get this honor for a dominant pitcher and outstanding hitter of Driscoll’s long standing.

Sadly, that’s not the way it works with the MAB Hall in St. Cloud.

This was started in 1963 by St. Cloud Sports, Inc. I came to know most of the folks behind St. Cloud Sports. They were energetic and of good intention. They also wrote these guidelines for admission to the MAB Hall:

“The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honor those who have dedicated their lives … to keep amateur baseball alive and kicking. Members are not chosen by their statistics as a player, but also by their contributions to the game through volunteerism, fundraising, promotion and general community involvement.”

For a half-century, the hall’s board of directors and its selection committees have taken these words beyond literally — inducting the men who kept baseball going in the small towns of Minnesota, who served as administrators, regional commissioners and on the state baseball board.

The Hall even has been liberal in its induction of sportswriters, including my late pal Mike Augustin. I’m sure it didn’t hurt Augie’s candidacy to have consumed numerous beers back in the 1960s with the movers from St. Cloud Sports, Inc.

What the MAB Hall’s selection committee ignored for 50 years are those whose main contribution to town-team baseball has been as great players. Driscoll pitched and hit on more than 100 Minnesota ball fields, from his teenage years until age 50, and no matter if it was playing for Arlington, or Prior Lake, or Red Wing, or his hometown of LeSueur, Driscoll never failed to keep amateur baseball alive and kicking in that town.

Bill Nelson was inducted into the MAB Hall in 2007. He is most known as a pitcher, a manager and an organizer for the Dundas Dukes. He strongly endorses Driscoll’s candidacy.

“Who has done more to involve people in amateur baseball than Joe Driscoll?” Nelson said. “There isn’t anyone. When Joe’s around, everyone gets involved.”

As it starts a new half-century of existence, the MAB Hall and its selection committee could make friends by taking a new path. Rather than emphasizing administrators, the selectors could start adding outstanding players who showed equal dedication by playing for decades.

The guideline says, “Members are not chosen by their statistics as a player, but also by their contributions to the game …”

There’s a word in there open in interpretation: “also.”

To me, that means you can make it as a great player of long standing, and other involvement is merely an add-on to the résumé.

It would be an overwhelming political mess to induct players who had a meteoric run of 10, 12 years of greatness. But the guys who played for 30 years or more? They were as much contributors as any administrator.

There’s no better place for this change to start than with Driscoll. He was an ace pitcher and a .350-plus hitter. He played for six state champions. He played in 21 consecutive state tournaments (1978-98), either with his town team or as a drafted pitcher.

Joe was the MVP of the 1979 tournament for the mighty Arlington A's. That run to the Class B title started with Driscoll’s winning, bottom-of-the-ninth home run against Maple Lake in the tournament opener.

Jim Bartels, doing play-by-play for KNUJ, then New Ulm’s polka station of the nation, watched Driscoll’s blast leave the yard and bellowed: “Holy-ta-moley.”

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