By George Von Benko
It might be a little known fact, but one of the greatest baseball teams in WPIAL history came from Fayette County. Back in the day, area newspapers gave that distinction to the 1952 WPIAL champion Redstone Blackhawks.
“We had a good team,” Former Redstone star right-hander Bobby Locke recalled. “I still remember some of the great players we had like Jim Pringle our catcher, Gene Zimmerlink our first baseman and Larry Rechichar our third baseman, we had some good players.”
“Reading the Pittsburgh Press and other papers at the time,” Zimmerlink offered. “They considered that team one of the strongest in Western Pennsylvania
Coming into the 1952 season, the newspapers had Redstone pegged as one of the favorites to win the WPIAL title and they didn’t disappoint, rolling to a Section 20 championship and finishing the season 15-0 with a WPIAL championship.
“It was overall a solid team,” Rechichar stated. “We had good fielding, good hitting and our pitching was outstanding. Locke completely overwhelmed whoever he pitched against.”
“We had four pitchers: Locke, Ed Cassurole, Tom Medved and me,” Zimmerlink said. “Locke was a workhorse and pitched in the big games. We had great pitching.”
Redstone was coached by George Zoretic who had led Redstone to a WPIAL baseball title in 1942.
“Zoretic was a really good guy,” Locke said. “I really
liked him, he was a very good coach. Everybody loved the guy, he was encouraging. He encouraged
you even in school in the classroom. He wanted to see you progress as a player and a person.”
The players had great admiration for their coach.
“Zoretic was an outstanding coach,” Rechichar opined. “I knew he was a coach back in the early days and he coached a lot of basketball. He was well known as a basketball coach, but he knew
“Zoretic coached basketball and had a lot of experience in all sports,” Zimmerlink said. “Really with the experience that we had, there were only a few things that he would have to instruct us on, hitting the relay man, bunting a guy over. He was pretty sharp.”
The Blackhawks rolled into the WPIAL playoffs and dispatched California 5-1, Perry Township 12-4, and won a 1-0 nail biter against McKeesport to forge their ticket to the WPIAL championship game
“I pitched against Tom Qualters of McKeesport,” Locke stated. “Great ballgame, we won 1-0. It was a good game, a real pitching battle between Qualters and me. He signed a contract for $40,000 as a bonus baby with the Philadelphia Phillies.”
Locke and McKeesport ace Qualters hooked up in a classic pitching duel. In the third inning Qualters smashed a tremendous drive to center field. It was McKeesport’s only hit off Locke and an apparent home run. That’s when Redstone shortstop Tom Gmutza stepped into the picture.
“There was no fence at Munhall and the ball rolled a long way,” Gmutza recalled. “The second baseman went out to get the relay and I covered second base. Qualters missed second base by at least six inches maybe even a foot, he missed it bad. I looked at the base umpire and he was right there, so I knew he saw what happened. When the ball came in I was screaming throw me the ball. I got the ball and stepped on second and Qualters was called out and credited with a single.
That turned out to be the only hit that Locke allowed as he recorded 14 strikeouts.
In the WPIAL championship game, Redstone downed Har-Brack 5-3 in front of 2,000 fans at West Field in Homestead. Locke had two hits including a two-run home run and a double. He surrendered three hits and only allowed one hit after the second inning, and he fanned 11 batters.
Locke was an outstanding hurler, but he could also swing the bat.
“I was signed as an outfielder and a pitcher,” Locke explained. “I wanted to be an outfielder not a pitcher, but they said no you are going to be a pitcher, so I had no choice.”
“Locke was a great baseball player and he was a great football player,” Zimmerlink stated. “He was All County and All Big Six.”
During the season Locke tossed two no hitters, both against South Union, 4-0 and 7-0. “South Union was a tough team,” Locke said. “I had their number, but they were good.” Locke was the centerpiece of the Redstone team, but he was surrounded by great talent.
“Bob Motil played in the minor leagues,” Locke said. “Zimmerlink and Rechichar were in the Pirates system. We had a very good team.”
“Zimmerlink and myself signed at the same time with Pittsburgh,” Rechichar said. “We went to spring training together at Brunswick, GA and we went to Hutchinson, KS together and he left and went to Dublin, GA .”
“We had myself, Rechichar, Motil and Locke that went on to pro baseball,” Zimmerlink said. “We had several guys that went to spring training for tryouts with the minor leagues and didn’t make it. George Yurek was one of them and Pringle and Jack Misenko”
“That was a great championship team that we had,” Locke remembered. “Everybody stuck together. We had no problems, and we just all played together.”
The Redstone team made the rounds on the banquet circuit after winning the championship.
“We had a couple of dinners,” Rechichar remembered. “We had a dinner at Republic and George Sisler the former big league first baseman who was a scout for the Pirates spoke at that dinner.”
A lot of years have gone by, but the 1952 Redstone Blackhawks WPIAL Championship baseball team stands the test of time.
“I think back on it and I played in the minor leagues for four years,” Rechichar said. “I never played on a team that was more cohesive than our Redstone team. That team would back each other, and we helped each other out a lot. It was a real joy to play with them.”