Back in the late 1960s and the ’70s, some of the best slowpitch softball players in the country were homegrown in the Washington area. They played for teams like Chambers Insurance, American Glass, Lone Pine and Sol Mintz, the latter considered the New York Yankees of softball.
Gary Smith and Denny Brown played for Sol Mintz.
“We were very good and very competitive. (Gary) was one of the best clutch players around. He was a good, solid outfielder before he started to pitch. We had one of the best all-around athletes in the league in Doug Kotar, who played for most of the summer before he went to New York Giants’ training camp.” Brown recalled.
Kotar was a Muse native and a running back who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers before being traded to New York.
“Doug was a great hitter,” Smith added. “The guy would hit homers from both sides of the plate.”
Brown, however, might have have been the best of the best.
“Denny was a great infielder …just so fast. We’re talking a sweet baserunner,” Smith said.
Brown got a lot of experience during his time in the minor leagues with the Kansas City Royals.
“I was in their minor-league system, and in spring training played with two young players, George Brett and Frank White,” Brown said. “That experience was a big help.”
Brown was running in some elite company in baseball as Brett and White went on to combine for more than 5,100 major-league hits.
After his minor-league career ended, Brown returned to Washington and spent his springs and summers playing both baseball and softball.
“I played baseball for the McKeesport Tubers and softball for Lone Pine and Sol Mintz,” Brown said.
Stan Majesky, another outstanding player, recalls his times playing alongside of some best softball players in the country.
“We were good, very good. We abused our bodies. We never stopped playing. Guys were like family and our manager, Bill Christy, ran a tight ship, a very tight ship,” Majesky said.
Like Brown, Majesky got a feel for playing professional baseball. In 1962, he was the MVP in the Carolina League (Class A).
“Our softball team was basically made up of all-stars who would play anywhere and anybody. We had the most fun playing out of state. We couldn’t be associated with Sol Mintz when playing in West Virginia, so we played as members of PFP (Players from Pennsylvania),” Majesky said.
Traveling to McKeesport to play a strong opponent was a fun time for Sol Mintz.
“We liked playing against the (Hub). They won the world title in 1968-69 by beating us. Then we won,” Brown explained.
In 1972, Sol Mintz won the world Class B championship by defeating Edna Hotel of the Arnold/New Kensington area, 15-4 in the championship game in Baltimore. Chuck Yesenchak of Muse hit two home runs, including a grand slam, in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team. Smith was selected as the MVP of the 64-team tournament and outfielder Joe Kern and shortstop George Taylor joined Smith and Yesenchak on the all-tournament team.
In 1973, Sol Mintz successfully defended its title, defeating Edna Hotel again in the championship game, 16-10, in eight innings. Smith again was named the MVP of the tournament, which was played in St. Louis. Yesenchak again hit two home runs in the final game, and Taylor, Brown and Sam Rocca, an outfielder from Belle Vernon, were named to the All-World team.
“We never got tired of traveling,” Brown said. “Back then, we raised money by winning tournaments. We didn’t have 50-50s or raffles. You had to win to advance, to get the cash go on to the next tournament.”
Other than talent, what made Sol Mintz, and at times, Hard Hats so good?
“No fences,” smiled Brown.
“Everywhere we played whether it was New York, New Jersey or St. Louis, there were no fences. We were great hitters who knew how, when and where to hit the ball.
“I think what led to the downfall in softball back in the day was putting fences in. Too many high-scoring games,” Majesky said.
The Washington Industrial League provided a great challenge for local teams.
“We (Sol Mintz) played Fairmont Supply. They were considered the best team in the county.” Brown said. “They had outstanding players like Don Roberts, Joe Kern, Jack Morris, Ken Hudak, Jack Eneix and a solid manager in Bill Walsko. They were very competitive.”
Brown and Smith did not take losing very well, but the teams they played on seldom ended up on that side of the final score.
“One year, we were 68-1. We lost to Belle Vernon. The game was played on a racetrack field in Uniontown. We were upset but, but that loss made us a better team.” Brown explained.
Chris Chambers, owner of Chambers Insurance, recalls the good old days of local softball competition.
“Every team had quality players. Chambers Insurance was very good. Union Grill had a couple of good guys. Throw in Lone Pine, American Glass and, of course, Sol Mintz. There were all-stars in every game. Those games were fun to watch.” Chambers said.
What was the best part of playing high-level softball during the peak period of the game in Washington County?
“I loved the traveling,” Smith said.
“I know we loved to play for Donnie Mintz (owner of Sol Mintz), but I think the friendships I made along the way and the opportunity to play on a lot good teams is something I will always remember,” Brown added.
Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly Sunday column on local sports history.