16-Inch Softball Gets Its Hall of Fame

The "peculiarly Chicago game" honors its hometown heroes

It's a "peculiarly Chicago game," often met with a furrowed brow by those unfamiliar with the 16-inch ball.

But, on Sunday, the game and its players finally got the notice they deserve with the opening of the 16-Inch Softball Hall of Fame.

"Invented in Chicago in 1887, 16-inch softball suited the city's smaller parks and became popular during the Depression because fielders didn't need to buy a glove," the Chicago Tribune explains in a Monday article.

But hard times turned into good times, as players across the city and suburbs spend summer nights on their own field of dreams -- often followed by time spent at a neighborhood tavern, toasting a win (or a loss. It didn't matter).

The Tribune says Al Maag has been dreaming of the Hall of Fame for 15 years.

"They said I was crazy. They said all the top players hated each other and wouldn't sit down together," Maag said.

But on Sunday morning, more than 1,000 players, fans and family members showed up in Forest Park to celebrate the unveiling of plaques honoring stars of "a blue-collar sport as synonymous with the city as ketchup-free hot dogs and deep-dish pizza," the paper reported.

"People can't relate to a baseball player who makes $10 million a year," the Trib quotes Maag as saying. "But these guys worked hard every day, then rushed to the park to play hard. They did it for the love of the game, not money."

"Beer-bellied, balding and with knuckles gnarled by decades of barehanded fielding, most players at the unveiling ceremony didn't look like elite athletes," the Trib reported.

"They were great players," said Casey Larocco, a quietly dignified 87-year-old Hall of Famer and retired beer truck driver, who won 28 major titles in his 37-year career.

He says now his game is Ping-Pong, but an observer said he looked perfectly able to hit a homer ... "or unload a keg."

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