Bill Virdon was a key contributor in the Pittsburgh Pirates 1960 World Series championship and an assistant coach when the Bucs won it all again in 1971.
In his first year as manager, he led the Pirates to the 1972 NL East title.
Virdon knows about winning Pittsburgh baseball.
And, he likes what he sees in this year’s Pirates.
“They’re in first place right now. That’s pretty good isn’t it?” Virdon quipped after one of the approximately 600 people attending the 20th annual AAABA Hall of Fame banquet asked him what he thought of manager Clint Hurdle’s club. “There are 50 or 60 ballgames left. That’s a lot of time. You’ve got to do it all year. You’ve got to get it done.”
Virdon was the featured speaker during an entertaining and often emotional banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center.
The event was held in the memory of George Arcurio Jr., the longtime Johnstown Oldtimers president and creator of the AAABA Hall of Fame in 1994. Arcurio died in May after a lengthy illness.
“Twenty years ago, Junior decided to have a hall of fame banquet,” said current Oldtimers President George Arcurio III, fighting back tears as he spoke about his father. “We started with a few people and 20 years later look what it has grown into. George Steinbrenner. Bob Friend. Dick Groat. Vernon Law. Manny Sanguillen, Steve Blass, our friend Kent Tekulve and many more have graced our presence.
“Without Junior, none of this would have happened. He had a dream. That dream actually came true.”
Five new inductees were added to the AAABA Hall of Fame, which has a permanent display at Point Stadium and is open throughout the AAABA Tournament, which will begin Monday.
Hometown heroes Ross Kott and Joe Scaletta each had the audience laughing and sometimes crying.
A two-time MVP of the local league, Kott helped Sani-Dairy reach the 1995 AAABA championship round against New Orleans.
Former New Orleans manager Joe Scheuermann, a AAABA Hall of Famer, introduced Kott, who he signed to play at his Delgado Community College program in New Orleans.
Kott had special praise for Johnstown Hall of Famer Dee Dee Osborne, describing him as “the most colorful manager this tournament has seen.” He talked about Sani-Dairy manager Scott Close and his coaching staff, and how Kott “loved” the Somerset way of playing baseball. He thanked Scheuermann. He highlighted his close friendship with Delweld manager Chris DelSignore.
“The first week of August always was my second favorite week of the year behind Christmas,” Kott said. “The Point Stadium was my Yankee Stadium. The tournament was my big leagues.”
Scaletta has served the AAABA Tournament with the Oldtimers for 35 years, the past 14 as tournament chairman.
“The people I work with are the greatest,” Scaletta said. “I started out with Junior when Lassie was a pup.”
Chicago Metro’s Len DiForte, 90, made the trip to Johnstown despite health issues. The former national AAABA president had some in the crowd wiping away tears as he detailed his determination to attend.
“My doctors told me I shouldn’t make the trip, but I had to make it,” DiForte said, his voice breaking. “I thank the executive board and the Oldtimers for what they’ve done for me. Junior, I know he’s looking down on us and, knowing Junior, he’s probably organizing the angels up there.”
South Amboy twins Ed O’Brien and Johnny O’Brien delivered upbeat, often humorous acceptance speeches, mixing in stories about playing for the Pirates in the 1950s and their Hall of Fame careers at the University of Seattle in baseball and basketball.
Congressman Frank Pallone, who represents South Amboy, sent a proclamation honoring the O’Briens. New Jersey’s Middlesex County, City of South Amboy and the New Jersey Legislature each sent congratulatory documents.
“On that (South Amboy) team, eight of the players went on to play professional baseball,” Ed O’Brien said of the 1948 team that went 3-2 in the AAABA Tournament. “Four of them are in your Hall of Fame.”
South Amboy brothers Jack and Bill McKeon were inducted in 2011. Jack McKeon is a World Series-winning manager.
“We came here in ’48 and here we are 65 years later and it’s still going strong,” Ed O’Brien said.
“The first time we ever engaged in a national tournament was back in 1948 in Johnstown, Pa.,” Johnny O’Brien said.